Federation voices deep concern over policing plans Fishing Monthly Published: 16 April, 2004
THE Scottish Executives enthusiasm for intensifying monitoring, control and surveillance of Scottish fishing vessels raises important questions,the Scottish Fishermens Federation warned today.
In a response to executive plans to toughen enforcement, Hamish Morrison, the federations chief executive, said the implication of this operational priority is that underlying policy is sound and lacks only improved compliance to secure biological sustainability and commercial viability.
But in fact both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Prime Ministers Strategy Unit had stated that in their considered opinions the policy is very far from being sound.
It followed therefore that whilst these enforcement initiatives may result in additional prosecutions the policy objectives of sustainability and equity will be unaffected.
On executive plans for administrative sanctions instead of criminal prosecutions, Mr Morrison said arguments set out by the executive are not acceptable.
The option of administrative sanction may appear attractive in some circumstances but only if basic civil liberties are jealously guarded in the process. Such concepts as the right to silence and the presumption of innocence are vital.
Mr Morrison added:”Unfortunately the two examples being pursued by the executive are not at all reassuring in the matter of these basic liberties. There may be a case for administrative sanctions where accused persons voluntarily waive their rights to formal proceedings. There is no case, whatever, for arbitrarily limiting basic rights because the executive branch of government is dissatisfied with evidential standards, sentencing policy and a perceived lack of urgency in the due legal process. This proposed suborning of the Rule of Law so jealously protected by the Scottish justice system, is deeply disturbing.”
And while there can be no rational objection to prudent measures aimed at improving traceability of landings for customer reassurance and scientific monitoring, there is however a general commercial difficulty in potentially restraining entry of buyers into a free market. Although it may not be the intention of the authorities the act of registration must imply a condition to register and circumstances in which registration may be withdrawn. Even under present, relatively liberal, arrangements concerted action amongst buyers to drive down prices is not unknown.
And in the federations view the reduction in tolerance for the weighing of fish is a wholly regressive step. It could be argued that the outcome of the proposed new arrangements will increase the yield to fishermen but any gain will result in a disproportionate amount of additional administration and additional risks of prosecution. At all events there will be very little gain in the accuracy and reliability of monitoring data.
On arrangements for designating landing ports the relevant question on this issue is not whether intensification of designated landing port restrictions is possible but whether it is desirable and useful. Will the degree of monitoring implied by extending the scope of the regulation to many more vessels and requiring prior submission of log sheets result in any significant reduction in mortality in the relevant fisheries? What is certain is that additional enforcement resources will be necessary and the new log sheet procedure risks self incrimination for nothing worse than carelessness.
“Enforcement effort should be ranked by its effect on policy objectives. Scarce enforcement resources applied to certain infringements might secure criminal convictions or administrative sanctions but do very little for the overall cause of sustainability or equity.
“The federation is most anxious to play a full part in any further development of the executives proposals concerned with monitoring and enforcement of controls on Scotlands fisheries. It is important that the limited resources available for this task are applied proportionately and to the maximum benefit to stock conservation and the equitable management of fishing opportunities.”