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Scottish Quota Climbdown
It has been evident for some time now that the Scottish administration’s proposals for a separate quota and licensing system, on terms defined unilaterally in Edinburgh, and based around UK quota self-defined as “Scottish”, were going nowhere.
From the outset the NFFO stressed that, under the Scotland Act, Edinburgh simply didn’t have the legal authority to unilaterally set quota transfer rules and separate Scottish economic link conditions, not least because these would affect vessels not under Scottish jurisdiction.
If introduced, the proposed measures would also have added a further layer of restrictive measures on an industry already sagging at the knees under existing legislation. Add to that the proposals’ distinctly lukewarm reception in Scotland, and Defra’s provision of an escape route for any vessel defined as “Scottish” who wanted to reregister in England, taking their FQA units with them, and it was only a matter of time before the Scottish administration would have to find a way of extracting itself from the tree that it had climbed into.
The legality of the moratorium on the transfer of licenses and quotas out of Scotland, which had never been recognised as legitimate by Defra, became increasingly shaky as time moved on.
Against this background, the announcement that the Scottish administration will join 4-way talks with the UK fisheries administrations on the future direction of the UK quota and fishing vessel licensing, is very good news and hopefully, signals a return to a constructive, inclusive approach. The imminent reform of the CFP and the overriding need for a clear, unambiguous UK negotiating line in those talks is another reason why it was critically important to put this issue behind us.
In fact, aside from the proposal to put a “tartan tag” on quota currently attached to vessels defined as “Scottish”, there was much of interest in the Scottish proposals. Shorn of the politically driven attempt to apply a regional economic link, the proposals contained a number of sensible, pragmatic suggestions well worth discussing within the context of a UK review of the quota and licensing system. It is hoped that these will now become the focus of the discussions between administrations and with the industry.