Scots uneasy over unrestricted herring fishing

The Poles like them. The Danes and the Dutch venture through the North Sea oil fields for them. But the Scottish fishermen who used to make fortunes out of the herring which once bred abundantly off Scotland's coasts wonder if the small creature now faces extinction with unrestricted European Economic Community fishing.

It is the end of an era for the Scottish fishermen. The Common Market commissioners in Brussels have declared Scotland's rich fishing waters free to all EEC trawlers. It was the reversal of a decision taken by the EEC in 1977 to preserve herring shoals around Britain by banning all Common Market herring trawling around the United Kingdom, a ruling that meant great hardship for Scots fishermen used to working in Scotland's Atlantic seaboard and the North Sea off Aberdeen.

But what has deeply angered these bronzed seafarers from the northern ports of Mallaig, Fraserburgh, and the Shetland Islands is the suddent way that Brussels announced the "free-for-all" in the herring zones. Scots fishermen have claimed that the Brussels commissioners secretly decided to lift the ban and that foreign trawlers were already on their way to Scottish waters before UK skippers had learned the news about the reopening of herring fishing.

"Everyone knew -- but the British negotiating team didn't know. The EEC clique, behind our backs, had already made up their minds. They never listened to Britain's point of view," declared an irate Scottish skipper.

The fisherman was basically complaining about the ruling allowing the unrestricted fishing of 55,000 tons of herring, most of it near Scottish shores. The Scots claim that their share of this year's total quota should have been 37, 000 tons, but EEC commissioners could not agree to this UK figure and allowed French, Danish, German, Dutch, and other Common Market trawlers free access to northern waters.

Apart from what the Scottish fishermen see as foreign "poaching" on their traditional herring preserves, the sudden lifting of the EEC ban caught the UK fish processing plants totally unprepared. (Scottish herring factories have been run down since the unilateral ruling forbidding regional herring fishing was passed by Brussels in 1977.)

Another problem facing local fishermen is that British housewives have missed herring in the shops for so long that they are no longer interested in the bony fish and have turned to haddock, cod, and mackerel, and other species. After refusing to put to sea as a protest against the EEC's unrestricted fishing ruling and commenting bitterly about the British government's failure to obtain a UK quota of over 60 percent of this season's herring catch, the Scots' boats joined the foreign vessels in what has appeared to be a mad scramble for the best fish shoals.

But UK skippers found in early August that landings in home ports were fetching very low prices. One Scots fisherman sold his herrings to dealers for threepence each, and many of the Scottish catches were used for fish meal.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.