10 December 2013

S4M-08540 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08540, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the end-year fisheries negotiations.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

PG Wodehouse used to have Bertie Wooster insist that Jeeves had some fish when a particularly knotty problem had to be dealt with, so I naturally had fish for my dinner today in the canteen, in preparation for the debate.

This is the most exciting time of the year for me, not because of the fisheries debate but because, in a few short weeks, that most beautiful product of the sea—cod roe—will appear. My wife does not like it—she prefers herring roe—but we share the belief that nothing beats scallop roe, which is often taken off the scallop. We also share the belief that what comes out of the sea is good for us. So obvious are the benefits that people have known that for years, without the assistance of scientists.

Scottish fishermen are the arch conservationists, because they depend on a natural resource. They know that how they treat that resource determines their future success. They are competitive and innovative in everything that they do. Central control via the CFP sits uneasily with our fishermen’s entrepreneurial spirit and generations of detailed experience.

Our fishermen are gifted with significant problems. Having a mixed fishery creates difficulties when we seek to protect one species and catch another. One fisherman’s bycatch is another’s target species, so there is often debate in the industry.

Our fishermen’s efforts in recent years in experimenting with selective gear are very much to be commended. We have not yet developed the perfect selective gear, but we are making the progress that we need to make.

The cabinet secretary referred to a key problem with developing that gear, which is having the quota available to test it. If fishermen have no quota for cod and they know where a lot of the cod are, they will avoid those areas. However, when they need to test a selective-gear net that is designed to go into an area with cod and not catch cod, they must go into a cod area and take the risk that their net—whose selectivity is not yet perfect—might catch cod. Fishermen are burning up their quota quickly by experimenting with selective gear. We need more support and more quota for that valuable work, which is being done voluntarily by many of our fishermen. We must not move to the position that we have seen in the whaling industry, which lives off the back of so-called scientific research, but we need a little more help.

Our fishermen, conservationists that they are, work with other environmentalists such as WWF Scotland. That absolutely shows that they are prepared to be driven by good science and to work with others using their local knowledge and experience. Only 14 months ago, in September 2012, a headline in The Daily Telegraph stated that there were 100 cod left in the North Sea. The author of that absurdity now says that there will be no brown crab left. That wonderful Radio 4 programme about statistics, “More or Less”, described that as

“the worst wrong number that we have ever reported”,

the correct number being 21 million cod.

I know someone who is learning Icelandic and I have a nephew who is fluent in Danish because he lives there. We will have to engage with some difficult people in difficult times through difficult negotiations. I hope that the minister can do his bit for Scotland’s fishermen.


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