25 April 2002

S1M-3021 Freshwater Fish and Fisheries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on a motion on "Scotland's freshwater fish and fisheries: Securing their future" and two amendments to that motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Fishing for pleasure has been around for at least 4,000 years. The first reference to rod angling is in Greek texts in Macedonian times. "The Compleat Angler" is still a subject of controversy. Apparently Jeremy Paxman disagrees with many of the recommendations in Izaak Walton's historic text.

Fishing is important. We know that. Even the Financial Times has an angling correspondent. In 1792, William Pitt the younger joined the first angling club to be formed.

In introducing the debate, the minister said that the Executive has planned few activities in the short to medium term. In responding to the debate, I hope that Mr Finnie will tell us about some of the specific things that will happen in the short term because, sure as heck, we need them. Just to reinforce something that came up earlier in the debate, research into the Scottish economic impact of salmon and sea trout was announced on 29 July, to Mike Rumbles. It is time that we got off the pot and got on with it. We welcome the early introduction of a ban on the sale of rod-caught salmon.

Jamie McGrigor said some quite astonishing things. He felt that part 3 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was deficient in applying only to the crofting counties in the Highlands and Islands. I agree with him. We should have exactly the same rights as are being proposed in part 3 of the bill across Scotland, to recover derelict fishings for the public good.

Mr McGrigor: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I have no time.

Of course, we could follow the example of many across the Highlands and Islands and acquire those derelict fishings for the public good by confiscating them, as so many of the landowners did in the first place. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is far too moderate in that regard.

I share Mike Rumbles's disappointment that some of the environmental agencies are not acting to the extent that they should be in protecting water quality and hence the environment for freshwater fish.

Dennis Canavan made an interesting point in relation to the common law. Looking across the chamber, I can see that the gamekeeping fraternity is represented. I will not point to where the poaching fraternity is represented, but I am confident that it is.

If Alasdair Morrison will forgive me, I will forgive him. I was once a water bailiff, when I was a student. Would that I had been suitable for the police force, I could have followed another path.

Rhoda Grant made points about fishing management. If we bring crofters in the Highlands and Islands into fishing management, we will see an improvement and derelict fishings will return to making effective economic returns.

Winnie Ewing made the point about research on where salmon come from when they migrate. The fact that we need 15 years of research indicates how urgent it is that we start now. We cannot wait.

Like John Scott, I was a fisher as a boy—for brown trout—but unlike him, I have fished for salmon. Alas, I have never caught one. The key point is that we have seen a decline in the salmon fisheries since the 1960s. That tells us that reform is urgently needed. Alasdair Morgan tells me that he has seen a picture of a salmon—so have I.

We need a new bill to protect our freshwater fisheries, and we need it urgently. I would like the Executive to tell us when it wishes to make progress on that. Please protect some of the historic terms that are used in the existing legislation. I have in mind gaffing, hang nets and, of course, sniggering. We will not snigger at the Executive's proposals if they are worth listening to.


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