17 January 2017

S5M-02438 Fishing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02438, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the sea of opportunity campaign.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s (SFF) A Sea of Opportunity campaign; considers that full control over fishing in the offshore economic zone represents an opportunity to reinvigorate coastal communities; recognises that appropriate conservation measures must also be in place for all fishing activity; welcomes indications that arrangements for ownership and exploitation of existing quota will not be changed to adversely affect existing investments in them; believes that the ownership structures and economic benefits derived from new quota arising from full control of the offshore economic zone must be of value to adjacent communities, and notes calls on all political parties to consider whether they can agree with the SFF that UK fishing interests can best be protected in upcoming negotiations by the lead minister being from Scotland.


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

I am pleased to bring to Parliament the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s sea of opportunity campaign, and I would like to recognise Bertie Armstrong, who is the chief executive of the SFF, and Mike Park, of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who are in the public gallery.

Since the outset, the European Union common fisheries policy has been opposed by our fishermen, my political colleagues in the Scottish National Party and others in other political parties. Indeed, my first speech here in Parliament in 2001 was on the CFP. In theory, the CFP protects the long-term interests of those who fish, those who eat fish, local economies that are dependent on fish and the environment on which our fish depend.

In practice, however, its effects have been very different. First, when the United Kingdom signed up to the CFP, it signed away rights to fish in our own waters. Today, the majority of the fish that are caught there are caught by fishing vessels from other jurisdictions, and the majority of our fish are landed elsewhere.

Secondly, although those who eat fish can generally buy the fish that they want, the majority of it is imported. That is a very strange situation when our waters are the most productive in Europe.

Thirdly, the economic benefit to our communities has been much less than it should have been. In England, major fishing ports are all but gone and the fishing rights that remain are largely in foreign hands. Although Scotland has fared somewhat less badly, it has been in Norway and the Faroes that we have seen much of the onshore growth in recent years.

Finally, the chaotic fishing councils each year—I have attended a couple—have not involved fishermen to any meaningful degree. They are the people with real knowledge, yet they are not involved in the dynamic decision-making process, which has often left everyone scratching their heads to justify the outcomes.

The SFF’s a sea of opportunity campaign lays out the opportunities that are available to our catching sector as we look to leave the common fisheries policy. For our processing sector, there are both opportunities and risks. Last week’s report of increased losses at Shetland Catch, largely due to the closure of the Russian market, shows the dangers of any restriction of access to markets. Even the worst-case scenario should leave us able to sell into the EU, but on what terms? We have yet to discover that.

However, for our catchers, our gaining control of our waters should be a win-win-win and an opportunity to do things very differently. We have to protect the investments that our fishermen have made in quota under the existing system, but when new quota becomes available, we must look at how to manage that in a way that shares the benefit between the catchers and the communities that, by their proximity to the relevant waters, have a proper interest in it. That will require hard thinking and collaborative working. I do not have the answers; we all have yet to find what might work.

On the day when we leave the CFP, we need to have a new management regime in place. It might be reasonable to make changes over time, as disruption at one point is in no one’s interests. We need to have agreements in place with other states, but this time we need to make sure that we make the decisions and keep control of how fishing is undertaken in our waters. A key part of that is to ensure that the management regime protects stocks for future generations of fishermen and fishing-dependent communities. I am frequently told of the difficulties that sons of fishermen have in becoming established in the business. With increased control, we have an opportunity to control differently and differentially the access to quota without which no new skipper can reasonably fish.

Fishermen are independent individuals who often refuse to share their catching data even with members of their own family. They compete with each other as well as with the elements, management regimes, the hunted fish and—until now—the CFP, so it is a substantial achievement on the part of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation to have reached an agreed position that reflects the opportunities and risks that are presented by our leaving the CFP. It is working with our Government and the UK Government in a more effective way than for many years, and it is ensuring that we as parliamentarians are informed.

However, delivery of the prospective control of our waters in a way that suits our interests is not a given. In the 1970s, our rights were traded away to achieve the wider agreement to enter the then European Economic Community. We knew nothing of that deal until it was done and it was too late. That danger exists this time as well, not because of malice on the part of the UK Government but because of expediency, the need to reach a deal and the comparatively small economic contribution of fishing compared with, say, Nissan in Sunderland, which seems to be positioned for special treatment. The UK also faces a significant resource bottleneck that means that allocating civil service expertise to getting the best outcome for fishing might not be top of the priorities.

My motion asks that political parties “consider”—I am not seeking their commitment to support the idea, yet—whether the UK’s and, in particular, Scotland’s fishing interests might not be best served by a Scottish minister leading for the UK in the forthcoming negotiations.

Today’s speech by the UK Prime Minister delineated potential difficulties for Spanish fishermen through loss of market access to the UK while saying nothing whatever about the position of Scottish and English fishermen. That illustrates a worrying disengagement from the real-life issues that affect our fishing industry and gives an astonishing insight into how little our industry is on her radar.

We need to avoid our prospective rights being traded away as they were 40 years ago. Having our minister at the table would be our insurance. It would not be a free ticket, because they would have to negotiate for the agreed position of the whole of the UK and not solely for Scottish interests.

I again congratulate the SFF, wish it well and trust that we in the Parliament can all support its efforts. Locally in Banffshire and Buchan Coast, which—with Shetland—is the heart of our fishing industry, I recognise that all the candidates who stood in this year’s election voted remain in the referendum in June but I now expect, as fishermen do, that all of us will work for the best possible result from our leaving the CFP. Fishing has been central to the history of many Scottish communities, and it must be central to the future of those communities too.


Stewart Stevenson
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