03 December 2015

S4M-15031 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is the annual debate on fisheries negotiations. We will debate motion S4M-15031, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

It is fair to say that our attachment to the fishing industry is in part emotional. The occupation of being a fisherman, besides its biblical connections, is one of the earliest identified occupations that the human race got itself involved in. Today, the fishing industry survives as one of the last hunter-gatherer industries, so it speaks to something quite deep.

That places special obligations, responsibilities, duties and difficulties in the way of the successful prosecution of the trade, because the stock is much less managed than sheep or cows on a farm or crops that are sown. Our fishermen are absolutely to be commended for the way in which they have risen to the challenge of stock management, often in the face of total misunderstandings of science and totally ineffective and uninterpretable regulation. Nonetheless, our fishermen have found a way to rebuild an industry. Stocks of cod are at three times their level in the relatively recent past, and this valuable stock is exploited.

I cannot speak in a fisheries debate without referring to the estimable Jamie McGrigor. When I first spoke in a fishing debate, in June 2001—a single day after I was sworn in to this Parliament—he was there. He was not alone—others were there, although I think from looking round the chamber that he might be the only member here who was in the Parliament at that time. Even though I seldom find myself agreeing with everything that he says, I always listen to him with close attention, if only to know what the contrary arguments are.

If I may speak directly to Jamie rather than through the chair, I say to him, on behalf of myself and I suspect many others, “We shall miss you, Jamie, for your wit, your humour and your engagement in this important issue.” I hope that his successor is not nearly so successful on the Tory benches as he has been, but that is a political comment.

It is worth expanding that point and saying that the fact that members might be in different political parties does not mean that we cannot make common cause and have friendships. I get on extremely well with the fisherman who stood against me for the Conservative cause at the 2011 election in Banffshire and Buchan Coast. We have secret assignations under cover of darkness, when I manage to get most of the cod roe that he has landed, because that is absolutely my favourite food from our sea. I am going to work to keep that relationship going well.

We have an issue not just in catching fish and the regimes that surround that but in fish consumption levels, which are pretty static. We have not seen much increase in fish consumption, despite the fact that our processing and catching industries continue to grow and become a more valuable component of our economy. We have to address that issue. In other debates and other places, we have referred to the UK body Seafish, which we have to keep an eye on.

When I was a minister, I was tangentially involved in marine protected areas. For east coast fishermen, those areas do not seem to have been the issue that they have been for the west coast and small communities. To be frank, I would welcome more targeted and specific information about that.

Speaking about information, I last met Roddy McColl, the secretary of the Fishermen’s Association Ltd, on a train, when we had an excellent discussion. I am obliged to FAL for the 16-page newsletter that arrived in my inbox this week, which covers a wide range of subjects. I will not pretend that I agree with every word in FAL’s newsletter, but that will not come as news to FAL, to Roddy McColl, to my constituent Tom Hay or to others.

Some very good things are in the newsletter. In particular, it draws attention to the imminent prospect of our cod stocks being awarded MSC status. That is a huge step forward that will rebuild consumer attitudes to North Sea cod that is caught by our fishermen. Much of the comment about lack of sustainability has been ill informed and inappropriate, so I hope that MSC status is awarded in early course.

Fishing does not stand alone. When the fleet shrank, we saw butchers closing in rural Banffshire, because they had been supplying food to boats. Such effects are replicated across a whole economic ecology that depends on sea fishing. When we stopped dumping sewage at sea, we saw a reduction in seabird populations. I hope that we monitor what happens when there is a reduction in the dumping of fish in the sea.

If the SFF wants to meet me, it should give me an invitation. I am entirely happy to meet it. We can kiss and make up any time it likes.


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