Shetland fisheries safe but UKIP ticks the wrong box

Shetland Box conservation zone will continue for a further three years

Strasbourg, 14 February 2006 -- The European Parliament has voted to defend the Shetland Box for a further three years despite attempts by French, Spanish and British UKIP MEPs to open the delicate marine conservation area to an armada of Spanish fishing vessels, Sir Robert Atkins MEP, Conservative Deputy Leader in the European Parliament, said today.

Although Sir Robert had expected many Spanish and French MEPs to vote in favour of scrapping the box, he was astonished to see UKIP's ten members vote for a measure that could destroy many British fishing livelihoods.

Sir Robert said:

"Fishermen across Britain will rightly be disappointed UKIP was not defending their interests today. UKIP MEPs owe our fishermen an explanation.

"We have fought off the challenge of Spanish, French and Mediterranean MEPs who wanted to send their armada of fishing fleets into one of the most sensitive marine areas around Britain. Conservative MEPs were part of a crucial coalition that ensured the box will continue. This delicate coalition was almost undermined by UKIP.

"Many fishermen depend on this conservation zone for their livelihood and ending the Shetland Box would have added yet more to the mounting pressure faced by our whitefish fleet."

Notes to editors:

The Stihler report deals with the review and the future of the Shetland box. Established in 1983 to protect the ecosystems of this delicate area. In line with the precautionary principle, the Stihler report follows the advice of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) and the North Sea Regional Advisory Council (NSRAC) and argues that the box should be maintained for a further three years while further evaluations of its effectiveness, are done. It is also suggested by the scientific studies that eliminating the Shetland Box might result in some increase of fishing effort in the area.

This stance, also fully backed by the Commission, was jeopardised by a whole series of amendments, tabled by some Spanish MEPs and voted on by the Parliament today. These amendments call into question the conservationist value of such boxes and argue for opening up the Shetland box to the European fleet. Some amendments "regret that the Commission has decided to maintain the Shetland box for a further three years", calling "for a new assessment to begin immediately and to be completed rapidly so as to avoid any further extension of the box without a proper basis" and argue for the "abolition of the box if there is no scientific reason to justify it".

Council Regulation 2371/20021/EC requires an assessment of the justification for restrictions on access to waters and resources outside of the 12-mile zone. With regard to the future of the Shetland box, the Commission’s own view is that, whereas in the case of the Plaice Box the conservation objective is clear, namely the protection of juvenile plaice, the conservation objectives of the Shetland Box are much more general. The scientific working group could not demonstrate any clear conservation benefit of the Shetland Box and the NSRAC has also failed to put forward convincing reasons why the area covered by the Shetland Box should be treated more favourably than other areas.

Nevertheless, the NSRAC recommended that the Shetland Box be continued while further evaluation of its effect is carried out. The United Kingdom and German authorities have also requested that the Shetland Box be maintained. The STECF also suggested that eliminating the Shetland Box might result in some increase of fishing effort in the area. Given this weight of opinion, the Commission considers that the Shetland Box should be maintained for a further period of three years, while further evaluations are undertaken. The STECF should be asked to recommend how such an evaluation could be done, and whether any changes to the access regime in certain areas analogous to those being suggested for the plaice box could be considered.

With regard to the Plaice Box, the Commission is of the view that the issue should be further examined, but that in the meantime the existing Plaice Box and associated access restrictions should be maintained. However, it is essential that those access restrictions are properly applied, notably by a strict control of engine power to ensure that it is consistent with licensed power. The provisions concerning the Plaice Box are currently laid down in Article 29 of Regulation 850/98 (the "technical measures" regulation). Given that a consultation process has been launched with a view to replacing this Regulation with a simpler regulation, it would be an opportunity to propose revisions to the plaice box, which should be fully integrated with the plaice recovery plan, as part of the same exercise.

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