Loophole gives Russian trawlers access to £16m of fish in UK waters, despite fishing ban

Russian trawlers still have access to £16 million of fish in UK waters because of a loophole that affects a stretch of sea off the coast of Scotland, government officials have warned.

Despite a ban on Russian vessels fishing in UK waters or landing at British ports, trawlers have access to a “Special Area” that is jointly controlled by the UK Government and the Faroe Islands.

At least six Russian boats have recently entered the area to fish for whitefish, estimated to be worth around £16 million, using Faroese licences, government sources said.

In response, British officials have urged their counterparts in the Faroe Islands to take a “tougher stance” and stop approving fishing licences for Russian trawlers because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Whitehall source said ministers are concerned that allowing the boats in during an upcoming six-week window of migration for Blue Whiting will allow Russia to profit from the fish, funding its “war machine”.

Blue Whiting is from the same family of marine fish as cod, haddock and pollock, and is usually processed into fish food and oil, although it is sometimes eaten fresh in Russia.

The UK has already slapped a 35 per cent tariff on imports of Russian whitefish in an attempt to damage the country’s fishing industry, and has announced it will not issue any licences to Russian trawlers because of the war in Ukraine.

But under a series of international agreements, Britain cannot block access to the “Special Area”, off the north coast of Scotland in the North Atlantic Sea, if the Faroe Islands choose to issue licences.

‘Ultimately the right thing to do’

A government source said: “The Faroe Islands must take a tougher stance on this. Allowing Russian vessels access to an area worth around £16 million in the midst of the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine is simply wrong.

“We, alongside our allies and partners, have taken urgent action to maximise damage to Putin’s war machine and degrade the Russian economy for years to come.

“We will categorically not licence any Russian flagged vessels to fish anywhere in UK waters, and we will continue to urge the Faroes to follow our lead, ban these vessels, and do what is ultimately the right thing to do.”

Under existing fishing law, foreign boats can only fish in UK waters if they are granted licences, which requires a framework agreement between Britain and the other country.

The UK does not have such an agreement with Russia, so trawlers are not usually allowed in British waters anyway, except to pass through.

The majority of foreign licences are granted to French trawlers, which have previously been involved in altercations with British fishermen over scallops in the Channel.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said Russian boats were “not welcome here”.

The Government of the Faroe Islands was contacted for comment.

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