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The following letter by Roddy McColl appeared in the 19 June 2002 issue of The Scotsman under the above title, and emphasises that British fishing policy is "determined by the political imperative of EU integration." When the "derogation" ends on 31 December 2002, the North Sea will be considered a "common resource" open for exploitation by the entire EU. Mr McColl, of Save Britain's Fish recommends "the only answer"

Richard Lochhead, the SNP fisheries spokesman (Letters, 18 June), refers to the founding Common Fishing Policy's principle of relative stability. He says it will ensure that Scottish fishermen will always receive their share of fishing entitlements in our seas.

Regrettably, the seas around the United Kingdom are not "our seas" but part of the EU fisheries common pond.

His contribution to the debate on the Scottish fishing industry's future after the European Union Commission's CFP reform proposals is welcome. But despite the many occasions on which we have tried to ensure that MSPs understand the difference between the real CFP and relative stability, none of them seem yet to have grasped the position.

The European Court of Justice has made it clear that the community system of national quotas initially contained in Council Regulation EEC 170/83, and the annual TAC [Total Allocated Catch] and Quota Regulation is a derogation from the general rule of equal conditions of access to fishery resources and the principle of non-discrimination laid down in Article 40(3) of the Treaty of Rome.

In community law, every derogation, whether of the CFP, the CAP, or anything else, terminates at the end of its transitional period, when, if a new derogation is not established we immediately move into the full acceptance of the terms of the treaty, which in this case is "equal access" to a "common resource".

This is the real CFP, which was first introduced in Council Regulation 2141/70, and was signed up to in Britain's Treaty of Accession in 1972, just prior to our joining the Common Market in January 1973. Ten years later, the principle of relative stability was introduced to divide up the European TAC between the relevant member states.

It is clear that relative stability is a fundamental principle of the derogation, not of the CFP, otherwise it would be written into the treaty.

Being part of the derogation, it is an exception to, and therefore incompatible with, the non-discrimination principle of the Treaty of Rome, and since European law stipulates no exceptions can be allowed, other than those agreed on for a transitional period, it will terminate on or before the expiry date of the derogation, which is 31 December, 2002.

Mr Lochhead is correct to sound a warning that vigilance is necessary to protect Scottish fishing interests in the tough negotiations ahead, but 20 years of relative stability, a temporary derogation to the real CFP of equal access to the common resource, does not mean that Scottish fishermen have historic rights.

Commissioner Franz Fischler, in a speech to the Spanish parliament on 7 June said, with regard to access: "Because of the expiry of the Act of Accession, from 1 January, 2003, onwards Spain will have access to the North Sea.

"We will re-examine the quota allocations made during the period when Spain was excluded from these waters. Based on the council's allocation criteria, and in particular on historical catches, we will then examine whether Spain would have been entitled to a quota ... As regards access to resources, I can in any case assure you that the Commission will apply community law to Spain in just the same way as to the other member states."

So, Mr Lochhead's proposal that the fishing minister, Ross Finnie, take the lead in EU fisheries negotiations may some resonance in certain quarters but when faced with community law he will be on a hiding to nothing.

British fishing policy is determined by the political imperative of EU integration. The objective is to create an EU fishing fleet catching EU fish in EU and third country waters under an EU permit system controlled from Brussels.

The only answer is to regain national control; 30 years of senseless destruction is enough. Britain's fish stocks are our responsibility. It is our duty to protect them and the communities dependent on them.

The Fishermen's Association Ltd,  c/o McColl & Associates Ltd,  11 Burns Road,  Aberdeen

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