Section 23 — Close times for freshwater fish

Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:45 pm, 1st March 2007

Group 4 is on management of freshwater fisheries. Amendment 4, in the name of Dennis Canavan, is grouped with amendments 5 to 7 and 9.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

The broad aim of the amendments is to improve fishing opportunities for ordinary anglers. For many working people, the only opportunities they have to fish are at weekends. Those opportunities would be destroyed if fishing were to be prohibited on Saturdays and Sundays. Amendment 4 or amendment 5 would ensure that people had the opportunity to fish on at least one day at the weekend.

Amendments 6, 7 and 9 would repeal the provisions that were introduced by the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 and would establish a Scottish anglers trust. About 30 years ago, I voted in the House of Commons against the 1976 act, which introduced protection orders. The Government at the time claimed that protection orders would be granted only in return for increased access. In fact, the opposite has happened. Instead of increased access, there has been decreased access in many areas and in some areas there is no access at all. I have been campaigning for more than 30 years for repeal of the 1976 act. After the Scottish Parliament was set up, I welcomed the repeated firm commitments that were given to Parliament that the Executive would repeal the 1976 act.

On 28 March 2002, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Allan Wilson, told Parliament:

"We aim to repeal the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 and replace protection orders with a new system".—[Official Report, 28 March 2002; c 10780.]

On 25 April 2002, the Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Ross Finnie, told Parliament:

"The 1976 act will be reformed and repealed. It will have to be replaced."—[Official Report, 25 April 2002; c 11359.]

However, instead of repealing the 1976 act, it has been consolidated in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003, and there is no mention of repealing protection orders in the bill that is before us today.

On 1 July 2004, Allan Wilson told Parliament:

"there is a provisional slot for a fisheries bill this session. That will provide the means for repealing the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 ... We are in the process of consulting on what we would wish to put in its place."—[Official Report, 1 July 2004; c 9780.]

For years, I have been suggesting what should be put in its place, namely a democratically constituted Scottish anglers trust to administer freshwater fishing throughout Scotland. Indeed, Allan Wilson apparently expressed support for that idea when, on 1 July 2004, he said:

"we intend to repeal the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 and replace it with more modern mechanisms, which will include the trusts to which the member— me— refers."—[Official Report, 1 July 2004; c 9781.]

So—where is the Scottish anglers trust? There is no mention of any trust in the bill. The bill completely fails to honour the repeated commitments that have been given to Parliament. The only excuse from the Executive so far has been that more time is required for consultation. I submit that an additional two years is time enough. Amendments 6, 7 and 9 would ensure that within two years of the legislation reaching the statute book, the Executive would be obliged to bring an order before Parliament to repeal the 1976 act and to introduce proposals to set up a democratically constituted Scottish anglers trust.

I have said it before in Parliament and I will say it again: the mountains, hills and glens of Scotland do not belong just to the landed gentry: they are part of our national heritage. That is true also of Scotland's rivers, lochs and burns. Parliament took radical legislative action in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to ensure fair access to the countryside. It is time for Parliament to ensure fair access to freshwater fishing so that ordinary working-class anglers can enjoy one of Scotland's most popular sports.

I move amendment 4.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am afraid that Mr Canavan has lured in too many members so I am going to have to impose a two-minute restriction on speeches. I call John Home Robertson.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

Two minutes is impossible. Sorry.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

It is essential that ordinary anglers be able to access our river systems to fish. Since most of those people are working folk, they have to fish at weekends. Amendments 4 and 5, which suggest that there should be no weekly closures on Saturdays or Sundays, make a lot of sense. Parliament has talked about total catchment area management; fishing and angling could also be dealt with under that process, but unfortunately the bill does not even begin to tackle it.

Dennis Canavan has addressed a long-standing grievance. The Scottish National Party believes that people should be consulted specifically on what should replace the 1976 act and we think that the act could be replaced within two years. It is important that Parliament send a message to the Executive that there is a good deal of urgency on the matter.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I refer to my entry in the register of members' interests. I give Dennis Canavan credit for pursuing the matter over a number of years, but what I find difficult in what he is saying is that he suggests that the protection order system has reduced access throughout Scotland. That is simply not the case. The protection order system has, in fact, increased angling on a number of rivers in Scotland. Therefore, the fundamental basis of his argument is suspect. If there has been a reduction in access in a number of places, that is fundamentally against the spirit of the 1976 act and the protection order system.

I turn briefly to the concept of a Scottish anglers trust. It would cut across the dozens, if not hundreds, of local angling associations and clubs that manage rivers, often voluntarily. To remove the local effort that goes into providing fishing throughout Scotland and replace it with a centralised quango of some description would run counter to Dennis Canavan's arguments.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I commend Dennis Canavan for putting his arguments so eloquently and for having done so in Parliament for the past eight years. His amendments are on a theme that he has pursued consistently in Parliament and the SNP agrees with much of what he said.

However, unfortunately the SNP will today be unable to support amendment 7 on the anglers trust. The reasons why are simple. We have to ask ourselves some questions. First, is freshwater fisheries management in Scotland archaic? Yes, it is—in some cases it could not be more archaic if it tried. Is it in desperate need of modernisation? Yes, it is—modernisation of freshwater fisheries management in Scotland is long overdue. Is it appalling that although we have been waiting for eight years, the current Administration has in the bill put forward nothing that would address the situation? Yes—of course that is an appalling situation, especially when so many promises have been made by successive ministers over the past eight years. However, we are where we are. The freshwater fisheries forum has been meeting over the past few years and is considering a new, modern way in which to govern our freshwater fisheries. As Rob Gibson rightly said, it should be governed on a river catchment area basis.

A key point to make is that the Environment and Rural Development Committee did not consider the freshwater fisheries management because it is not included in the bill. There has been no scrutiny of Dennis Canavan's proposal or of any others. I say to Dennis Canavan that that is an important point, which Parliament must take into account. After all, today we will be asked to pass primary legislation, so it should be scrutinised properly. I am afraid that the proposal in Dennis Canavan's amendment 7 was not included in the bill or in amendments at stage 2, so it has not been scrutinised. Parliament should have to take that fact into account.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

As Dennis Canavan said, his amendments 4 and 5 seek to ensure that weekend fishing would still be available to anglers if weekly close times for freshwater fishing had to be established. I understand his fundamental point, which is that he wishes to ensure that people who work during the week should be able to fish at the weekend. As a general rule, I can do nothing but support that aspiration, but there are no plans to introduce weekly close times for freshwater fishing. If the fisheries are managed sustainably, such a need would not arise.

However, freshwater fishing is likely to be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the sport of angling in Scotland. Our watchword has to be sustainability. If—it is a big "if"—it becomes clear that any fisheries suffer from overexploitation, appropriate measures will, after consultation, have to be taken. In addition, if a fishery deteriorates as a result of other factors, such as habitat degradation or pollution, it may be necessary to introduce short-term effort-reduction measures to allow stock recovery.

If the greatest fishing effort occurs during weekends, closing the fishery on other days of the week may have little or no effect on the difficulty that has been identified and may, indeed, prolong the recovery period.

We do not really want to close fisheries at weekends, but to completely rule out such a move would not be in the best interests of fish conservation. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a weekly close time would be introduced across Scotland. The proposals in section 23 allow for highly targeted time-limited measures to be taken to address particular problems that might become apparent. It is essential that Scottish ministers have the necessary tools to do the job in the best interests of fish and fishermen.

As Mr Canavan said, amendment 6 seeks the repeal of the 1976 act's protection order provisions. Like other members, I acknowledge Mr Canavan's long-standing and passionately held opposition to the protection order system. Indeed, he repeated his views on the matter during the stage 1 debate.

However, it has been made very clear to the Executive that the overwhelming majority view of the freshwater angling sector in Scotland is that the current provisions must be retained until new management structures are in place. The new management bodies will require new primary legislation, which we propose to introduce as soon as the proposals are formulated.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 4:00 pm, 1st March 2007

That comment goes to the heart of this issue. How much longer are we going to have to wait for accountable management of fisheries? Is not it absurd that some landlords get the benefit of statutory protection without maintaining reasonable access for local angling clubs and visitors with appropriate permits?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I agree, but as John Home Robertson is aware, we have established a number of forums to address the matter. If we are to have a more inclusive process, we must use the steering groups that have been established with the widest possible involvement of stakeholders to develop proposals from the bottom up. We cannot impose a structure from the top down.

As Dennis Canavan made clear in his remarks, the steering group is currently developing a strategic framework. One of its major aims is to put together proposals for the new management bodies, which will develop fish and fisheries management plans that will do away with the need for protection orders. As a result, the days of the protection order system are very clearly numbered. However, we have not yet reached that point and we cannot simply throw the system away in the next two years. The problems with the protection order system that most exercise stakeholders have been drawn to our attention and are addressed in paragraph 5(4) of the schedule to the bill.

Amendment 7 calls for Scottish ministers to lay before Parliament proposals that would establish a Scottish anglers trust and that trust's constitution. I am aware that, as long ago as 1965, the committee that was chaired by Lord Hunter and which reviewed the law on salmon and freshwater fisheries proposed the establishment of such a trust to address issues in relation to brown trout and sea trout fishing.

As I said earlier, the Scottish freshwater fisheries forum and its steering group are now addressing the matter in the current context and have acknowledged the importance not only of managing fisheries but of ensuring that there is close co-operation with organisations that protect and restore Scotland's aquatic environment, in order to provide an integrated and holistic approach to fisheries management. I hope that that addresses Richard Lochhead's point about river basin management.

The formation of the new bodies that will deliver the management will require primary legislation which, as I said earlier, we are keen to introduce. They will have a wider remit than that which was proposed for the Scottish anglers trust, but I hope that they will also embody the thrust of the proposals that Dennis Canavan has promoted for many years.

Amendment 9 will be necessary only if amendment 6 is accepted. It is clear from the extensive consultation that has been undertaken that there is no appetite to repeal the protection order provisions. I hope that, with those assurances, Mr Canavan will seek to withdraw amendment 4 and not move his other amendments.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am exercising my power under rule 9.8.4A(c) to extend the time limit for the debate on this group of amendments in order to allow Mr Canavan to wind up. I would be grateful if he did so as briefly as possible.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

Ross Finnie has performed yet another Liberal Democrat volte-face. On 25 April 2002, he gave an unequivocal commitment to Parliament that:

"The 1976 act will be reformed and repealed."—[Official Report, 25 April 2002; c 11360.]

By coming out with the codswallop that he has just given us, without any reference to that commitment, he belittles Parliament and brings it into disrepute.

All I am saying with amendment 6 is that the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 should be repealed within two years. In other words, after a maximum of two years' consultation, the Executive should stand by its commitment.

I turn to Euan Robson's point on protection orders increasing access. There are 14 protection orders across Scotland. I have had many complaints from anglers throughout Scotland, including anglers who have complained about a drop in access because of the Tay protection order and the Assynt-Coigach protection order. Ross Finnie has the documentation in his notes. I know that because I have taken people into his department to complain about the matter.

I turn to the contribution from the SNP. Richard Lochhead made a fair point when he said that the SNP would repeal the 1976 act, which can be done by means of a simple order. The question is this: what will we replace it with? I accept that primary legislation is preferable to secondary legislation, but if he were to look again at the wording of amendment 7, he will see that it simply says that Scottish ministers should bring forward "proposals". That includes the possibility of primary legislation, rather than just doing it by secondary legislation.

I do not view the Scottish anglers trust as an overcentralised body. I believe that it should have a decentralised structure, one that takes into account local situations. That said, we need a national strategy for freshwater fishing in Scotland. My proposal in amendment 7 is flexible enough to allow for a Scottish anglers trust with a constitution that takes account of local circumstances. I will therefore press my amendments, including amendment 4, to a vote.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAveety, Mr Frank, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 26, Against 73, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 4 disagreed to.

Amendment 5 moved—[Dennis Canavan].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 8

For: Adam, Brian, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 26, Against 74, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 5 disagreed to.