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White-fish Vessels

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Environment and Rural Development – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 18th November 2004.

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Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 2:00 pm, 18th November 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive how many dedicated white-fish vessels there are in the Scottish fleet. (S2O-4118)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

There is no official definition of a dedicated white-fish vessel. Currently, there are 142 Scottish-based fishing vessels of more than 10m in overall length that fish exclusively with demersal trawl gears or seines with mesh sizes that are generally associated with white-fish activity.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Does the minister accept the view of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association that only 120 vessels are prosecuting a mixed white fishery, which is approximately one third as many as there were five years ago? Does he stand by his claim earlier this week that he is not in the game of accepting further reductions in the current 17 days at sea a month in the forthcoming Brussels negotiations? Does he accept that 17 days is simply not enough if we are to keep the fleet even at its existing reduced size? Furthermore, does he accept that haddock and prawn stocks are in excellent heart and that the fishermen have proved to the scientists that they can avoid targeting threatened cod stocks? In that case, should he not be thumping the table at Brussels for more days at sea, rather than simply fighting to retain the status quo?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will weave my way through the six or seven supplementary questions.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

At least they were questions.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am obliged.

I do not accept Ted Brocklebank's first point. The answer that I gave in good faith is based on the number of vessels that have notified the fisheries department of their exclusive use of category 4(a) gears under the terms of the annex V effort management regime. There is little merit in getting into a great debate about this but, in good faith, those vessels have notified us that they are using that gear exclusively, so it is not unreasonable for us, in good faith, to say to Ted Brocklebank that there are 142 vessels.

On the number of days, I was asked the question to which I responded in the context of whether there should be further cuts. My position on the December negotiations is that I accept the proposition that the science on nephrops and haddock is generally good, therefore we must be able to improve on last year's situation, when we managed to separate out the previously held view that there was a one-to-one relationship between cod and haddock fisheries. Having effectively established that principle, we must build on it, therefore we must seek to strike a balance between accepting the need to conserve cod—which clearly remains in a difficult condition—and allowing our fishermen to prosecute the fishery in a way that will give them a viable living.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister will be aware that the scientific advice on the white-fish stocks that are caught by the fleet, which was mentioned by Ted Brocklebank, states that the mortality of cod stocks has increased while the mortality of haddock stocks in the same waters has decreased. What conclusion has the minister reached on that advice? Do not the figures show that other factors and fleets other than the Scots fleet are influencing the state of cod stocks, and therefore that the Scots fleet should not bear any more of the pain?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member refers, properly, to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice, which is supported by the raw data. He will be aware that—as is the case every year—the Commission's Scientific and Technical Committee reviews those raw data to arrive at recommendations to the Commission for the purpose of the Commission coming forward with positive proposals. I am always reluctant to draw conclusions before we have been through at least the second process and have had the benefit of the Scientific and Technical Committee's appraisal of those raw data. I am therefore not in a position to draw a conclusion. However, I understand that, in the next day or two, the review of the data will be available to us all, and that is the point at which we will start to formulate a view on how to proceed.

On whether other issues are in play, Fisheries Research Services in Aberdeen is aware that that is the case and that those factors must be taken into account. It is not a question of singling out Scottish fishermen, and I will be anxious to ensure that there are no moves in that direction in the December council.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does the minister agree that the total number of boats in the fleet is scarcely relevant and that what is relevant is the fleet's total catching capacity? Does he have a way of calculating that capacity and, if he does, can he give me a figure for it?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

There are one or two complicated calculations with which the scientific community calculates the fishing mortality factors in relation to the data. I think that Mr Harper is aware of those calculations, and I would be happy to have my department write to him setting out the bases of them.

Mr Brocklebank's question about the number of vessels was legitimate, but the December council is about achieving a level of effort reduction. At the December council two years ago, it was agreed to seek an overall reduction of 65 per cent in fishing mortality in relation to cod stocks. The reason for we in Scotland arguing that we have already achieved 35 per cent of that relates to the number of vessels that have been decommissioned multiplied by the formula to which I have just referred, which talks not about vessels, but about fishing effort. I agree that, at its heart, the debate is about fishing effort.