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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is to push the Scottish Government on the possibility of implementing a fairer community-led method of distributing additional fish quotas.

At a meeting of the council's Sustainable Development Committee yesterday (Tuesday February 6), chaired by Councillor Donald Crichton, councillors agreed to write to the 'relevant government minister' asking for a meeting to express its view, as well as lobby for a system that it believes will grant the Western Isles better control its waters.

The Comhairle's move comes in response to the government's consultation on how to allocate an additional fish quota that resulted from the UK leaving the European Union.

Previous additional quotas have primarily been distributed based on historic track records, which grant quotas to vessels that have recently been engaged in fishing a specific stock.

However, the Comhairle is arguing that this system has created a monopoly due to vessels being unable to build up a necessary history. It cites the pelagic sector - which accounts for 85-88 per cent of all the additional quota share available in Scotland - as evidence, stating that currently 21 vessels owned by nine families in the north-east and Shetland dominate the sector.

Conversely, the Western Isles has seen pelagic and whitefish landings fall away as locals do not have the quota to fish.

The Comhairle is proposing a pilot community quota scheme, as it already runs locally. The Scottish Government has said such schemes have socio-economic benefits to local communities and allow for communities to develop new entrants to the fleet, but it is not considering such a move due to questions of how quotas would be devolved, and potential financial costs.

The council has described the government's position as 'disappointing'.

Speaking at the committee meeting, Vice Chair Norman Macdonald said: "Some of the quotas we are talking about are on our doorsteps. They might have moved further west and further south, but they are predominantly not in the north-east of Scotland or Shetland where the concentration of these supertrawlers are."

He added: "We should fight as hard as we can, and lobby as hard as we can, for the reinstatement of fairer quotas across Scotland, not just the nine families who are multimillionaires as a result of their stranglehold over the quotas that they had.

"For the Scottish government to perpetuate the monopoly would be disgraceful."

Councillor Angus McCormack said: "This seems like a golden opportunity to renew our fishing industry to something like it was when I was young.

"It would be lovely to go back to having our own fishing industry, and it could bolster against any issues with the current industries that we have."

The council’s response is built on a report that was delivered at the meeting by Economic Development Officer Iain Kennedy.

The report notes community quota schemes 'should be the blueprint as to how all quota is distributed, i.e. local authorities with devolved powers over the allocation of the fishing quotas in their own waters.'

It concludes: "This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redistribute (particularly) pelagic quota in a more equitable manner. In 1973, 97.5% of landings by volume into Stornoway comprised pelagic and whitefish species. Since then, this volume has been steadily eroded to the point where the local fishing industry is extremely reliant on shellfish stocks. Should these stocks suffer a collapse then the entire industry would disappear in Stornoway."

The Scottish Government's consultation period ended on January 11, prior to the latest round of Comhairle committee meetings. However, a proposed response was circulated to the Primary Industries Member Officer Working Group in advance, prior to formal submission.

A video of the Sustainable Development Committee is available on the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar YouTube channel.