UK fishermen face cuts after EU complaint of cheating

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The Independent Online

British fishermen could be confined to port after EU investigators uncovered a catalogue of rule-breaking, including illegal or "black" landings of fish and falsification of catch records.

The European Commission yesterday blamed the Government for "unacceptable weaknesses" in enforcing Europe-wide rules designed to protect fish stocks. The commission has new powers to cut the number of permitted days at sea, if ministers cannot give satisfactory guarantees to uphold the law within two months.

British officials are responsible for surveillance of the fishing fleet but the EU has 25 inspectors who mount spot checks to monitor enforcement.

Among the cases cited are misreporting of catches off the west of Scotland, "black" landings at ports including Brixham in Devon, and breach of rules which require ships to operate satellite-tracking equipment. One investigation, off the west of Scotland, found on-board vessel monitoring systems (VMS) had been switched off. The commission says herring, mackerel, sole and plaice have been recorded as caught in one area, when the VMS showed the vessel was elsewhere.

Catches were misreported, with saithe, cod, hake, megrim and monkfish listed as ling, greater forkbeard, tusk and dogfish. "Cod have been concealed under ling in large containers declared as holding only ling," the commission's complaint says."Considerable quantities" of fish were under-recorded, and standard boxes overfilled by up to 20 per cent.

The commission singled out the British and Spanish governments for making insufficient resources available for enforcement of fishery laws. These place strict limits on operating in specified areas to preserve stocks.

A British official said: "We take this seriously. We are going to investigate all alleged breaches. We hope to be able to satisfy the commission by its deadline of two months."