This year, of all years, feels particularly pivotal as we debate the annual fishing negotiations. At the end of the year, it is always useful to reflect on the past year and, of course, to look ahead to future opportunities and challenges. At the end of this year, as the next stage of the discard ban commences, we stand on the brink of what could be a generational change for the fishing industry in Scotland.
It is said that the only thing that is constant is change, and that is certainly true of the regulatory framework within which fishing and marine management take place. What has not changed, however, is the hard-wired significance of fishing to our country. Individual livelihoods and the social fabric of many coastal communities depend on the industry in all its varied forms.
As the year of food and drink reaches its conclusion, it is fitting that we celebrate the international success story of Scotland’s seafood sector, which is the cornerstone of the incredible success of the wider food sector that we have all witnessed over the past few years. Scotland’s fishermen and seafood businesses are playing a leading role in strengthening our reputation as a producer of world-class food and drink, making Scottish seafood—from shellfish to white fish and mackerel—a prize product across the world.
The opportunities are there. Fish now accounts for almost 17 per cent of the world population’s protein intake, with per capita consumption of fish doubling from 10kg in the 1960s to more than 19kg today. Moreover, recently published statistics underline the economic importance of fishing to Scotland, with the value of landings up by nearly a fifth last year and revenues now worth more than half a billion pounds. As a nutritious, self-replenishing resource, seafood is and will be a key element of food security now and into the future.
Scotland is very blessed to have such a rich fishery on its doorstep. Our seas are the fourth largest of core European waters, and they make up more than 60 per cent of the United Kingdom’s waters. On average, around 4 tonnes of fish is taken from each square nautical mile of Scottish water compared with an average of around 1 tonne of fish per square nautical mile throughout the waters of the European Union. All of that underlines the importance of our role as custodians of what is a very precious resource. As we are borrowing that resource from not only our children but their children, we have a moral duty to manage it carefully and responsibly.
That is, of course, why this year’s negotiations are so important—and the good news is that they look promising. The scientific advice on our fish stocks, particularly our white-fish stocks, paints a very positive picture. We can expect increases in no fewer than 10 of Scotland’s top 15 white-fish stocks, which is great news and something that should be celebrated.
Of course, we have to take a moment to give credit to the Scottish fishing industry for the transformation in our fisheries, particularly the transformation in North Sea cod. As we all know very well, that fish used to be the altar on which the fishing industry’s fortunes were sacrificed. How far we have come. As I reflect on my time as fisheries minister, a post that I have had the privilege of holding since 2007, I recall how, back then, we were struggling with the old common fisheries policy and cod stocks were at rock bottom. We had to endure big reductions in quota and cuts to days at sea under the cod recovery plan.
Despite that, the fleets redoubled their efforts to help cod stocks recover. They worked with Government to implement a system of real-time closures at sea to protect the growing stock, and they fished with more selective gears and for bigger fish to allow more juvenile fish to escape and reproduce. We also developed new innovative schemes such as the conservation credits scheme, under which we awarded more time at sea in return for avoiding cod. All of that hard work, commitment and creativity by our fishermen, working with Government, has now produced dramatic results. The North Sea cod stock is now more than three times its size in 2006, and that is reflected in the scientists’ highest advised catch—now almost 50,000 tonnes—since 2002. The shift is truly momentous, and it is astonishing to think that North Sea cod is on a journey towards Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, something that was unthinkable less than a decade ago.
Given those positive developments, I find it ironic and sad that at this year’s council we might once again have to spend energy on fighting the provisions of the dysfunctional cod recovery plan, which is still in place. When we achieved the freeze on days-at-sea cuts in 2012, the Commission and the European Parliament objected not so much to the freeze itself but to the procedure that the council used to achieve it. Earlier this week, the European Court of Justice ruled against the council and annulled the 2012 regulation that gave effect to that effort freeze.
However, that is in the background, and we in this Parliament must not allow ourselves to worry about wrangles between the institutions in Brussels. We must focus on our national interest and the continuing success of our fishing communities.
On the cabinet secretary’s comment about wrangles in Brussels, they sure do matter, as he well knows.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that next week crucial talks involving the Faroese are taking place in Copenhagen on access to mackerel. Will he outline his position on that to Parliament, given the importance of the issue to the Scottish and Shetland pelagic fleets?
Tavish Scott has quite rightly highlighted the importance of those talks, and we will be ensuring that Scotland gets a fair and just deal on access and quota shares. At the same time, we have to take into account the implications for Scotland’s white-fish sector, which will benefit from the talks as much as the other sectors.
On the cod recovery plan, which I was just referring to, it is good news that, even though it is still in place and is dysfunctional, member states and even the European Commission accept that it should be repealed. I call on the European Commission to bring forward a proposal to do so as soon as possible. I assure Parliament that, in the meantime, the Scottish Government will not implement any proposals for further cuts in days at sea.
Many other North Sea white-fish stocks are showing similarly encouraging trends, with healthy increases for haddock, monkfish and megrim. In the west, Rockall haddock and nephrops are also enjoying increased catch advice for 2016. Again, there are challenges in some of this year’s science, including more difficult advice for North Sea nephrops, prawns, whiting and saithe. In the west, the fortunes of cod and whiting remain stubbornly intractable. However, we see some welcome increase in pelagic stocks, including of North Sea herring, sprats, Atlanto-Scandian herring and western horse mackerel.
I am happy to update the member on that after the debate because, clearly, a number of interacting issues will be under negotiation in those talks. Western herring is a particular challenge this year, with zero catches being recommended. As members can imagine, we have discussed that issue with the industry and will keep a close eye on it.
Even for mackerel and blue whiting, where the advice is also less positive than it has been in the past year or two, the mackerel advice remains the third highest since 2002.
Of course, none of the scientific advice has yet been translated into actual quota for 2016. That is what is now being negotiated. Last week, I met representatives of the Scottish industry to ensure that they understood their priorities and that we get our position correct as we go into the talks.
The EU-Norway talks began in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago and should conclude tomorrow in Bergen. As usual, those talks are crucial for Scotland, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all our quota stock fishing opportunities. If all the scientific advice is followed at this year’s negotiations, we anticipate that, for white fish, around £95 million-worth of quota will derive from the EU-Norway talks, compared with around £3 million-worth from the December council.
The EU-Norway talks set quota for some of our most important North Sea stocks whose management is shared with Norway, including cod, haddock, whiting, saithe and herring. They also establish mutual access arrangements and a range of quota swaps in each other’s waters, which we can use to address some of the challenges that we face.
As we have just discussed, next week sees the start of the EU-Faroe talks, at which we will negotiate the terms of the agreement that provides quota and access opportunities that are worth around £2 million in Faroese waters for our white-fish fleet alone, as well as a refuge for many of our white-fish vessels from the restrictions of the cod recovery zone.
The week after sees the final push at the negotiations in Brussels. This year’s talks are more complicated than usual because, for the first time ever, we are agreeing extra quota to account for fish that were previously discarded. The extra quota will apply to all stocks included in the discard ban next year and the increases are over and above those that I have already mentioned. The quota uplifts from the discard ban will help the fleet to adapt to the times ahead.
Although I very much understand the challenges that we face in implementing the discard ban in our waters, there is no doubt that, in the medium to longer term, the development will be a positive one for the industry. The wasteful practice of throwing perfectly good fish back into the sea, dead, makes no sense to anyone and benefits no one. In 2005, it was estimated that 7.3 million tonnes of fish was discarded globally, which is the equivalent of 8 per cent of all catches. Based on the average per capita fish consumption in Scotland, the total amount of fish that was discarded in 2014 could feed an extra 2 million people. That is equivalent to, for instance, the population of Slovenia.
If we are serious about managing our natural resources, conserving fish stocks and playing a meaningful role in improving global food security, the discard ban is a no-brainer. The pelagic discard ban has been in place for nearly a year, with no significant issues. However, I do not doubt for a second that the demersal, or white-fish, ban which is being phased in from 1 January, will be much more complex, given the highly complex mixed fisheries that we have in our waters, with more than 15 quota species swimming together. I know that Scottish fishermen are concerned about how all of that will be delivered and about the impact on their businesses. I assure everyone that the challenge, although it is big, can be met if we work together. There are many areas in which we are pursuing a partnership approach and the Government is working closely with the industry. That approach is proving to be beneficial.
Most important, we listen to the industry and have worked hard with it through the regionalisation process to avoid a big bang approach in 2016. Instead, we will phase in the discard bans in a pragmatic and proportionate way over the next two years. The arrangements for 2016 are a sensible, pragmatic starting point. Having said that, we know that there is still a lot of work to do. From now until 2019, all the bans will be in place and there will be a process of evolution. It is vital that we build on the experience of this year and next year, because it will be more challenging to get the later years right. We will continue to keep in regular contact with skippers, the onshore sector and everyone else. We will have to adopt more selectivity, spatial measures and a smarter use of our quota, and businesses will have to change how they operate. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach will not succeed, so we must approach this carefully.
We have a discards steering group up and running, which is doing a lot of good work, and we will ensure that the European maritime and fisheries fund will be available to support the measures that will have to be adopted. We will continue to work with other EU member states to resolve any difficulties that arise over the next few years, particularly in relation to choke species, because, in the next fishery, there may be insufficient quota to cover catches of certain species, leaving our vessels unable to catch other quota species. We recognise that fishermen alone cannot fix that and that all countries will be required to work together. There is no point in one country having unfished quota if another country has to stay in port because of the discard ban.
There is a lot to get on with but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a pivotal year for Scotland’s fishing communities and our fishing industry. We have the potential for a massive double benefit for Scotland’s fishermen. We have rising quotas—an incredible number of our vital quotas will experience substantial increases for 2016—and, at the same time, there will be a reduction in the discarding of healthy fish in our waters, which will lead to additional benefits for fisheries and conservation and will leave more fish in the sea to breed for future generations.
I am proud to represent Scotland’s fishermen and will ensure that Scotland’s priorities are at the forefront of the minds of my UK counterparts at the forthcoming negotiations. We will work tirelessly in pursuit of their best interests.
That the Parliament notes the forthcoming annual fishing negotiations in Brussels and the ongoing negotiations with Norway on shared stocks; welcomes the recent scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which proposes increases to many of Scotland’s key stocks, including North Sea cod, which is at its highest level in a decade; notes that 2016 will see the commencement of the discard ban for whitefish fisheries and that the outcome of the negotiations will be pivotal in supporting the fleet’s implementation, and supports the Scottish Government in its efforts to achieve the best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishermen, coastal communities and wider seafood sectors.
I am pleased to speak in the sea fisheries and end-of-year negotiations debate for the fourth year—I have been doing so not quite as long as the cabinet secretary. I thank the cabinet secretary for his detailed and comprehensive account of the range of species and for his forward look to the negotiations. We are able to support the Scottish Government’s motion and the Tory amendment. We would have liked to support the Lib Dem amendment but, unfortunately, it uses the word “substantially” in relation to quota uplifts rather than the word “sustainably”, so we are forced to abstain on that amendment.
At the time of the Paris summit, it is of grave concern that the world’s oceans are not being discussed. I will take a step back from the negotiations and highlight some concerns about that.
In Scotland, we are, in some ways, ahead in focusing on marine climate change, with the national marine plan, its pilot regionalisation and the body of work that is being done across the sector. As members may be aware, in the first report on policy and proposals there was a box on peatlands; now, there is substantial information about Scotland’s commitment to peatlands. In RPP2, there was a box on blue carbon and reference to carbon sinks, and the progress that has been made is encouraging. I hope that, in RPP3, there will be a substantial amount on marine carbon sinks. I seek reassurance on that from the cabinet secretary in his closing remarks.
It is absolutely vital for the future that we focus on the twin concerns of monitoring and addressing the effects of climate change and taking the opportunities that we are increasingly learning about. We must make future commitments here, in Scotland. I will focus closely on marine climate change issues from two perspectives: changing fish stocks and fishing practices.
Research into the migratory pattern of the bluefin tuna cited by Blue Planet Society Marine Conservation says:
“The extent of bluefin distribution is limited by temperature, despite their advanced thermoregulatory capacity.”
However, for the past four years, there have been increased sightings of bluefin tuna off Ireland and Scotland. The research is in its initial stages, but a possible cause that is being explored is that the warming ocean climate is allowing tuna to exploit waters that were too cold previously.
I also recently heard from Claire Nouvian, of Bloom, and Pete Ritchie, of the charity Nourish Scotland, who have shared some challenging research with me. It is a great relief that some fishing practices in other parts of the world and, indeed, in some European waters, do not take place in Scottish waters. One of those practices is deep-sea bottom trawling.
Research by Bloom has shown that deep-water marine life has a long life span, late-life sexual reproductivity, limited plant life for feeding and slow repopulation, and so is vulnerable to extinction from overfishing; that destruction can be discreet—indeed, it is less obvious on soft corals than it is on the closer inshore reefs that we have around Scotland; and that British deep-water fish sequester 1 to 2 million tonnes of carbon a year. Although the research is in its initial stages, I draw it to the attention of those in the chamber and seek reassurance from the cabinet secretary that deep-sea bottom trawling is, indeed, not happening around our Scottish waters.
The evidence shows the importance of building incrementally the research base in relation to marine ecosystems. Is funding secure for Marine Scotland? Are we sure that we are auditing what future skills base is needed? Are the links with academic research, which is so robust, strongly bonded and nurtured by the Scottish Government?
The evidence of the damage caused by deep-sea bottom fishing and the tentative findings of research into changes in the migratory patterns of bluefin tuna show the need for collaboration and funding. As all of us taking part in this debate are keenly aware, fish do not know the boundaries of territorial waters.
The stark reality of the film “The End of the Line”, which some members may know, and the repercussions of global overfishing of species are certainly not lost on anyone.
As I made quite clear at the beginning of my speech, I intend to move to those topics. I am dealing with the global context in which we must all operate. I am quite surprised that the member felt it necessary to intervene on that basis.
International collaborations are essential, too. Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether the Scottish Government is contributing to any international or regional forums on marine climate change? Is it working with different countries either by itself or as part of the United Kingdom? If not, will he agree to investigate the possibilities of taking forward that imperative?
Scottish Labour is clear that sustainable development is the key to ensuring that Scottish waters are healthy waters. Through the fusing of the economic, the social and the environmental, we can contribute to the best possible outcomes for now and for the future. The challenges that that approach poses do not have simple answers, as the cabinet secretary has stressed. However, it is clear that through strong partnerships at all levels and a determination to work together, we are moving towards, as I would put it, a future positive.
Turning to the socioeconomic issues, I believe that the everyday challenges faced by those in the fishing industry are manifold. At sea, in rapidly changeable weather, they have to consider health and safety issues, and, just like any other business, they must keep accounts and make decisions on forward planning.
Fishermen often live in fragile coastal communities where there is the added complexity of the social structures as well as issues with what else underpins those communities—transport services, broadband access and broader infrastructure.
There are also the pressures on the processing industry and the threat to job security, not least because of the changing patterns of catches. Development of the landing obligation is essential, as the cabinet secretary said, and as the motion and the amendments reflect.
I understand that the European maritime and fisheries fund is intended to have a broader scope than did past arrangements. Marine Scotland has said:
“It has a greater focus than before on measures which can support the management and protection of the marine environment.”
That is essential.
I welcome the landing obligation and its gradual implementation. It is a significant step in the enhancement and preservation of our seas as a sustainably bountiful resource. Scottish fishermen must be commended and thanked for their dedicated efforts in adapting to the pelagic discard ban so far this year. As we approach the next phase, the challenges are undeniable, and I wish the cabinet secretary success in negotiating the maximum sustainable catching opportunity, as hoped for by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
My colleague Graeme Pearson will discuss further the implementation and monitoring of the obligation, but I call on the Scottish Government to commit to evaluating a cost-effective approach to monitoring and enforcement. I thank the SFF and the Scottish White Fish Producers Association for their ready information and guidance on the matter.
The industry, environmentalists and foodies alike will rejoice as cod hits the highest recommended catch level for 15 years, although I listened with concern to what the cabinet secretary said about the complications of the cod recovery plan. The picture on other species is mixed.
In our amendment, we highlight the need to support the implementation of the landing obligation. Will the cabinet secretary explain specifically how the EMFF will aid a smooth transition for the communities that need it most in that complex development? How widely will the fund and application process be promoted and advertised?
The cabinet secretary touched briefly on regionalisation. I wonder if he might say a little bit more about that in his closing speech. In previous years’ debates, it has been a large point of discussion and it would be helpful to hear something of an update on it, too.
I move amendment S4M-15031.3, to insert after first “stocks”:
“; believes that sustainable development should be at the heart of all marine and fisheries policies; further believes that sea fisheries must be managed holistically with a sustainable ecosystem approach that takes into account the marine biodiversity and climate change challenges that Scotland faces to ensure healthy Scottish waters; supports the research and monitoring work of Marine Scotland and its partners, including the fishing industry, in developing scientific evidence for the implementation of the discard ban and for sustainable and profitable fisheries in the future; calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that this work is adequately funded; notes that the new European Maritime Fisheries Fund is designed to help fishermen in any transition period, support coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finance new coastal projects and encourages the widest possible consultation on its guidelines”.
I thank all the organisations that provided briefings in advance of the debate.
I am pleased that many of the key fish stocks that are important to Scotland’s fishermen are in good health. Indeed, even a couple of years back, few of us would have believed that experts would now be saying that, within a decade, we will have Marine Stewardship Council-certified North Sea cod.
I will make a little bit of progress, if I may.
We must be clear that the recovery in cod and other fish stocks is down to the sacrifices of Scottish fishermen, who have done more for conservation measures in the past 10 years than any other fishing fleet in Europe.
On a personal note, I have been fisheries spokesman more often than not during four parliamentary sessions, and my recognition and respect for the calibre of Scottish fishermen, who face great dangers in bringing much-needed protein to the tables of our people, has done nothing but increase. I shall miss representing them as much as anything else that I have done.
Although there is some good news, I will run through the many issues and difficulties that our Scottish fishermen currently face.
The phased introduction of the discard ban in the demersal sector from 1 January next year, with the full ban to be in place by 2019, is a truly massive challenge. Last week at a briefing in the Parliament, Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association described it as an approaching storm with the potential to go badly wrong, especially at the mid-point in the transition period. Ross Dougal of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, whom I saw today at the European and External Affairs Committee, described it as
“a potential economic disaster for the Scottish fleet and subsequently the onshore processing industry.”
The problems of choke species—I am referring to the point at which an individual vessel runs out of its lowest quota in the mix and has to stop fishing altogether—and how the landing obligation will cope with species with a zero total allowable catch are still to be addressed. All industry stakeholders agree that a quota uplift is crucial to allowing demersal fishermen to manage the move towards a discard ban. However, that in itself will simply not be enough. The Scottish Government needs to give the industry more support to fulfil the landing obligation, especially in small ports that have no nearby processing facilities.
My colleague Ian Duncan MEP has been at the forefront in arguing that case. He makes the point that, even at this late stage, funding should be made available, especially to smaller and remoter ports such as Mallaig, to help them to adapt to what will be a transformation in the way that demersal fishermen go about their business and the additional burdens of disposing of fish once it is shore side, which will include the storage and transportation of fish that cannot be sold. I think that there is £107 million in the European maritime and fisheries fund; perhaps some of it could be used for that.
I call on the Scottish Government to do everything in its power to ensure that there is a level playing field across all demersal fleets that fish in EU waters as regards compliance and monitoring, and I am pleased that WWF Scotland makes that point in its briefing for today’s debate. It would be unacceptable if our demersal fishermen were subject to extra monitoring controls while other fleets were not. Our fishermen must not be put at a competitive disadvantage.
In the pelagic sector—that is, the sector in which herring and mackerel are caught—I support Scotland’s mackerel fishermen and processors, who want a reduction in the current access arrangements for Faroese fishermen who catch mackerel in Scottish waters. In a recent report, Seafish found that the current arrangements are heavily skewed in favour of the Faroese, and Scottish pelagic fishermen and processors rightly want a more equitable agreement to be reached between the EU and the Faroes. Our processing sector is under real pressure, because the current arrangement allows the Faroese to catch more than £40 million-worth of very high-quality mackerel in Scottish waters. That mackerel is being sold into the same market as the mackerel from our own processors.
I realise that there is some heated debate on that issue, but will Jamie McGrigor accept that Faroese access to Scottish waters was reduced from 42 per cent in 2010 to 30 per cent in 2015, and that it is extremely important that we do not selectively quote different figures?
I suspect that that is the truth, but if we think about what the Faroese caught before 2005, we are talking about a huge impact on our industry.
Another key issue for the pelagic sector is the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice for a zero TAC for western herring. The Pelagic Advisory Council has proposed positive initial plans to rebuild that stock and improve the quality of the scientific data on it but, to do that, it needs a quota in order to be able to progress the scientific programme. That is a hugely important issue for pelagic fishermen, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will push for it at the December council.
I must again voice my support for the west coast fishermen who continue to campaign against the proposed marine protected areas on the west coast, or rather some of the effects that they might have. The fishermen have made it clear that although they are not opposed to MPAs in principle, the current proposals—which do not reflect agreements that they believe were reached in the consultations—are disproportionate and go beyond the protection of specific marine features that MPAs are designed to safeguard. I remain concerned about the potential impact of the MPAs on the livelihoods of individual west coast fishermen and the processors who depend on their catch.
There are also real safety issues, for example in relation to the MPAs in the small isles and Wester Ross, where small mobile nephrops trawlers still operate and where cutting off areas that have hitherto been fished could lead to fishermen having to work in more dangerous waters, could increase pressure on other grounds and could eventually result in fishermen tying up their boats altogether. None of those options is attractive.
I continue to urge the cabinet secretary to take on board fishermen’s concerns. Many fragile communities up and down the west coast are dependent on those local fishing jobs and the associated income.
I move amendment S4M-15031.1, to insert after “implementation”:
“; further notes the significant concerns of fishing industry leaders about the impact of this discard ban on the demersal sector and urges the Scottish Government to consider giving additional support to the sector to help it meet the challenges of the obligation as it is phased in over the next three years”.
If that was Jamie McGrigor’s last speech in Parliament on fisheries, we will all miss his contributions. Richard Lochhead might remember the sketches that Rab McNeil, then of The Scotsman, used to write about fisheries debates, right back to the early days. Jamie McGrigor will certainly remember them, as will John Scott. If I remember rightly, Mr McGrigor used to be called Mr Prawn in those sketches, which was an outrageous slur on his character. He has been a doughty fighter for the industry over the years, regardless of who has occupied the cabinet secretary’s seat in the annual debate.
There are a couple of broad questions that I would like to address this afternoon. The first concerns the importance of fishing to fishing communities in the islands, on the west coast and, as we have just heard, in the north-east—the cabinet secretary’s part of Scotland. It is important not only to the skippers and the men on the boats, but to those who work in the shore-side businesses—whose issues do not always get the same airing—and the men and women who run haulage businesses across Scotland and provide logistics support. They all contribute to the wider economic impact, and therefore the social impact, of an enormously important Scottish industry. It is occasionally right, in debates on fishing, that we ask whether the powers that be in Europe understand that.
The acid test, as the industry now sees it—and I share the view—is how any country will implement the discard ban. If countries get it wrong, those that currently have a white-fish industry will not have one in the future.
Angus MacDonald organised a very good parliamentary meeting last week, for which I am grateful to him. Mike Park—who has already been mentioned—said in that discussion that the discard ban regulations that were drawn up by the European Commission were the worst piece of law ever written in Brussels. To be honest, thinking about legislation over the years, I could probably come up with a few other examples.
Mr Lochhead mentioned the cod recovery plan—that was a pretty appalling piece of drafting, too, but no matter: the cabinet secretary made a serious point, and that concern is mirrored by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and any skipper or fisherman whom we care to meet. It is important that we reflect on the industry’s concerns in that respect.
Tavish Scott referred to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s concerns. Is he aware of any briefing from the SFF? As yet, I have had zero contact on the subject from the organisation, and I know that some colleagues are in exactly the same position. I use this opportunity to urge the SFF to engage with members, which it is clearly not doing at present.
All that I can say to Mr Stevenson is that I phoned up Bertie Armstrong, and I went to meet the Shetland Fishermen’s Association. I assume that a member such as Stewart Stevenson, who, as a former minister, is very familiar with the industry, is quite capable of running along to the SFF’s offices in Aberdeen and meeting its members.
It is up to Mr Stevenson how he engages with the industry; I certainly do not have any problems on that front. I regularly speak to Bertie Armstrong, who does an admirable job of representing fishermen across Scotland.
Fisheries management should not be an ideological crusade: it either works or it does not. As other members—including the cabinet secretary—have pointed out, for European policy to stop any fish being thrown over the side of a vessel, it must work in a practical sense. It can work where there is no by-catch—for example, mackerel and herring shoal, so they will be caught without other species—but the basis of Scotland’s North Sea and west coast white-fish fishery is that boats catch many more than one species at one time.
Can an EU-wide discard ban work in a mixed white-fish fishery? That is why my amendment highlights the importance of not only 2016 but the next three years in getting the implementation right. The interpretation of the regulations must be sensitive and appropriate, and it must work. As the cabinet secretary recognised, the industry has highlighted the danger of choke species, but if Government gets that interpretation wrong, ministers will face the unenviable task of having the fleet tied up because of the lack of just one species in a mixed fishery. That is the reality of the discard ban. Beneath the rhetoric and language about how wonderful it all might be is the reality of what such a ban could mean.
At the EU December council, quotas for the stocks affected in 2016—principally haddock and prawns—must be large enough to cope with the discard ban. That is why I use the word “substantially” in my motion, and I cannot see why anyone would be against that. Indeed, the cabinet secretary will, in winding up, probably point—rightly—to the increases that there will be for a number of those species: they are very large indeed, which is helpful. There we are—that is the reality.
The other point that I wish to raise with the cabinet secretary is that Shetland’s fleet—and it will not be alone—will catch only two thirds of this year’s haddock quota. The fleet is worried, as I know Scottish buyers and processors across the country are, by a glut on the market and a collapse in price. That is, as usual, the dichotomy that that market faces.
As Mr McGrigor said, Scotland must not get ahead of itself on implementing the discard ban. No other EU fishing nation will be doing that. Fishermen from the Baltic to the Mediterranean are as worried as our fishermen are about how the ban will work in practice. The cabinet secretary was right to say that a discard ban must be implemented consistently, and with enforcement and compliance, across EU waters.
I bow to Graeme Pearson’s knowledge about enforcement and compliance. However, I hope that he would take the point that we cannot have circumstances in which, while our boats are enforced in a certain way, our fishermen see a Spanish, French or Dutch trawler steaming by without experiencing the same level of enforcement or compliance. The outrage felt by our fishermen about the actions of the Faroese pelagic fleet in Scottish waters or, indeed, about Spanish gill netters and their aggressive behaviour west of Shetland should be warning enough. I have raised the matter of the Spanish gill netters with the cabinet secretary and I am grateful for his responses. Between 2016 and 2019, the discard ban must be fair, seen to be fair and fairly monitored.
As the cabinet secretary said, the omens are reasonable, indeed positive, for Christmas. That is good news for all and I strongly welcome it. Next week’s negotiations in Copenhagen on access to mackerel quota are important to the industry. Ian Gatt from the pelagic industry said today that the industry is looking to demand an urgent rethink of the political deal that allows the Faroes to catch a third of its mackerel quota—40,000 tonnes—in EU waters. I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for recognising that point and being prepared to make that case. He is right that our white-fish industry benefits from some counterbalance to that, but that is a small part of it. There are not many boats from Lerwick steaming up to Faroese waters, yet we see Faroese white-fish and pelagic boats in Scottish waters. I am sure that the cabinet secretary and his officials will seek to achieve that balance.
I have two final points. The first is on investment in fisheries science. I appreciate that the cabinet secretary is strong on the need for stock-deficient species to have the right scientific support. I hope that he wins the internal funding battles on the spending review that are no doubt going on and ensures that fisheries science is maintained.
My final point is that the cabinet secretary must ensure that, in the quota consultation, which is on-going, he makes the right decisions, conscious of the unknown consequences of the discard ban and how important it is for the Scottish white-fish industry to have flexibility, certainty and, crucially, banking confidence in the decisions that it makes over quota swaps, quota leasing and quota purchase. I suggest to the cabinet secretary that he might wish to be pretty cautious of any change in that area that would be damaging to our industry at this time of incredible uncertainty, which has been caused by the introduction of the European discard ban.
Those are important matters. We wish the cabinet secretary well in his deliberations and negotiations, and we all hope that he comes back with a deal that will help the Scottish industry in 2016.
I move amendment S4M-15031.2, to insert at end:
“; believes that the December 2015 EU Fisheries Council must ensure that quota allocations for species covered by the introduction of the discard ban in 2016 must increase substantially; notes the widespread concerns of the Scottish industry and processing sector regarding the difficulties of introducing a discard ban in a mixed whitefish fishery governed by quotas and relative stability; notes the importance of Marine Scotland applying enforcement and compliance regimes that are consistent for all EU vessels in Scottish fishing waters; expects the Scottish Government to avoid the gold-plating of regulations imposed on the Scottish fleet that would create both an uneven playing field and increase financial risk to the Scottish industry, and recognises that data-deficient fish stocks should be the subject of scientific research and not arbitrary quota changes”.
It is that time of year again when we get that feeling of déjà vu and are back once more at the fishing negotiations debate. Every year, the UK fisheries negotiations in the EU are watched closely by fishermen throughout the country, as policy develops that will, ultimately, govern their livelihoods.
Sweeping regulations, such as the landing obligation and the TAC quotas, are handed down from Brussels to our Scottish shores, where they directly affect the business of our Scottish vessels and fishermen, which has knock-on effects on our processing and haulage sectors. However, as we heard from the cabinet secretary, there is a much more positive outlook this year—not least due to the large increase in cod stocks and the forthcoming rising quotas.
Scotland’s relationship with the European Commission’s directorate-general for maritime affairs and fisheries has, of course, been complex over the years. However, the healthy relationship that reflects Scotland’s prominent role in North Sea and north Atlantic fisheries is welcome.
Just last month, the Commission rightly sympathised with British and Irish fishermen when it abandoned a proposal to adopt a blanket drift-net ban. The ban, which was an attempt to address abusive large-scale practices in the Mediterranean, would have jeopardised the livelihood of thousands of small-scale fishermen in Scotland and around the UK, where drift-net fishing is practiced responsibly on a seasonal basis. By opting instead for regional regulation, the Commission allowed for greater flexibility. Issues that are unique to different fisheries and environments can be appropriately addressed. It is an approach that should be extended to other areas of policy.
The European Commission’s landing obligation, which began this year with pelagic fisheries and will be phased in to all TAC species by 2019, is an example of a blanket approach that has had negative ramifications beyond the immediate good that the policy intended. The discards ban, which will be fully implemented by 2019, will mean that all fishermen in EU waters will be banned from discarding any or all of their catch. In an attempt to remedy the shortcomings of the TAC quota system, which perversely incentivised fishermen to discard species, the European Commission has enacted another policy that has its own set of adverse consequences.
Just last week I was delighted to host and chair a WWF briefing on implementing the discards ban in Scotland. I was pleased that the cabinet secretary was able to attend the briefing, which touched on the well-intentioned attempt to curb wasteful practices as well as on the adverse consequences that will be associated with the ban’s implementation.
The motivation behind the total allowable catch quota system was, rightly, the need to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries, but in an effort to comply with the legislation, fishermen discarded catches that violated the quota. Discarding occurred for a variety of reasons, of which we are all aware.
The central issue is that the Commission did not address the incentives to discard. It has tackled the symptom—discarding—instead of the core problems that are caused by its own TAC quota policy.
However, we are where we are, and the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland have produced guidance for fishermen on disposing of undersized catches, which will now have to be landed, as well as on managing quota and effort under the landing obligation.
The TAC quota, coupled with the discards ban, leaves fishermen in a difficult scenario as they try to meet the obligations that are imposed by the two policies. In particular, the emergence of choke species will inhibit fishermen in their efforts to meet their quotas on certain species while avoiding exceeding their quota on others. Scottish fishermen operate in a mixed fishery in which multiple species of fish overlap in a single area, so bycatch becomes an issue as fishermen seek one species but unintentionally trap others in their catch. The North Sea Advisory Council said that
“Choke species may have a strong negative effect upon fishing businesses. Potentially large quantities of quota could remain uncaught” and that
“choke species pose a threat to the economic viability of fishing businesses”.
Even if we use various policy instruments, such as quota uplift, de minimis discard allowances, interspecies flexibility and survivability exemptions, it will be difficult to mitigate the negative effects on revenue of unfilled quotas. We will have to wait and see.
The other problem that the landing obligation poses relates to compliance and enforcement. Traditional methods of enforcement are limited: they deter non-compliance only when they are in the vicinity of the vessel, which encompasses only a small percentage of a vessel’s fishing effort, or they rely on self-reporting. A recent WWF report asserted that remote electronic monitoring coupled with closed-circuit television would be the most efficient means of monitoring compliance; it would provide a continuous monitoring presence and high-quality evidence. It would also be economically viable, compared with traditional methods.
However, it will be unfair to subject Scottish fishermen to such an intense level of monitoring if boats from other nations are not subject to the same measures, as Tavish Scott said. In the interests of having a level playing field, monitoring and enforcement legislation must be as universal as the discard ban that necessitates such laws. Mike Park raised that issue last week.
Scottish fishermen should be commended for their proactive approach to reducing discards and pursuing sustainability. Many have adopted more selective gear to reduce bycatch, and strategies such as spatial management and seasonal closures have been employed to ensure sustainable stocks.
Time is running out, as always. I wish the cabinet secretary and Scottish Government officials well in the upcoming negotiations in Brussels. The recommendations from ICES, which proposed increases in many of Scotland’s key stocks, are encouraging and we expect other nations that will be present at the negotiations to share the view that sustainable fisheries are desirable, in accordance with the scientific recommendations.
Given that Scotland lands 80 per cent of the fish that are caught in British waters, and given that Europe’s longest-serving fisheries minister is our very own Richard Lochhead, I hope that Westminster will see the good logic of allowing Scotland to lead the UK voice in the upcoming negotiations. The situation last year, when the unelected Lord Rupert Ponsonby, seventh Baron de Mauley, represented the UK Government in a crucial discussion about fish discards, was totally unacceptable.
I wish the cabinet secretary and his officials well.
It is pleasing to hear the cabinet secretary comment on the many positive developments in this area of activity.
In reply to Stewart Stevenson’s observations about the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, as a novice, I have to say that I made contact with Bertie Armstrong, who is in Bergen representing the federation. He has during these past days been very generous with advice and the briefing that he has given me for our debate.
In his introduction, the cabinet secretary indicated that the fishing industry is worth about £500 million per annum to the Scottish economy. In the region of 5,000 people rely on the industry for their employment. Fishing fields around Scotland are acknowledged as being among the best in the world. The fish that are caught in those fields are acknowledged to be healthy and tasty, and thereby create demand for the future. Catches from our seas are devoured by people across Europe and further afield. Tavish Scott made some good points about the importance of the industry not only to the communities that he represents, but to the entire population of Scotland.
The debate therefore provides an opportunity for Parliament to feed into the discussions about the future development of a vital element of Scotland’s national interest. It is also an opportunity to thank all those who are involved in the fishing industry—in particular, those who risk their lives to provide the fish that we eat.
The new options for policy that we debate today seem by implication to acknowledge two vital issues. One is the comprehensive difficulty that the cabinet secretary and others face in balancing the competing needs that have been expressed across the chamber this afternoon. The second is probably the more important element. The development of operational guidance based on the regulations that emanate from the agreed common fisheries policy will necessarily rely on the goodwill of everyone in the Scottish industry.
I am grateful for the various briefings that I received before today’s debate, particularly that from WWF, and for my conversations with the SFF. From speaking to Bertie Armstrong, it is apparent that Scottish fishermen—it is exclusively men who operate in the seas from Scottish harbours at the moment—want to ensure that their industry maintains good health and contributes to the environmental wellbeing of our seas.
Enforcement of the regulations that emanate from the common fisheries policy, especially in relation to discards and catches, will be the responsibility of Marine Scotland, which will ensure compliance. Although I am advised that additional resources would always be welcomed by the department, Marine Scotland is highly thought of across the industry.
Additionally, the introduction of the technical surveillance that has been mentioned by members around the chamber is a vital part of monitoring how catches are achieved across our seas. However, it would be wrong to overburden our fleets with surveillance when they are economically disadvantaged and in competition with other fleets across Europe. In that connection, The Commission must ensure that its approach is standard across Europe, and that fishing fleets from every nation respect and reflect the efforts that have been made in Europe’s name.
When the efforts of those who are involved in the industry fail, we will see the development of illegal practices such as the unfortunate recent black fish scandals that have resulted in criminal prosecutions, or our fleets being disadvantaged as they try to maintain their respect for the regulations that have been put in place.
Our efforts to get things right and practical are therefore important. Behind that, the essential co-operation of all those involved in environmental protection and the industry is absolutely at the kernel of taking things forward. Other members are more directly involved in such issues and have spoken with wisdom about the specific needs that arise in protecting the environment.
I have been advised that Scotland’s voice plays an influential part in the development of the European common fisheries policy. We have the inshore fisheries groups, the inshore fisheries management and conservation group, the fisheries management and conservation group and the Scottish discard steering group, all of which feed in with the knowledge of what is required for the future. I can only hope that the cabinet secretary will continue to listen to the advice that he receives from across the industry, and that he will reflect that knowledge to ensure that Scotland not only maintains an economically viable industry, but protects our environment for children in the future.
I remind members that I worked for 30 years in the Scottish fishing industry before I started in a new career as an MSP, which has a lot fewer challenges and is a lot less dangerous. I hope that we can all agree on that.
I am honoured to have represented the many fishing communities in the north-east since May 2013. We in Parliament do not always give credit, or as much credit, as we could to an industry that has served Scotland for so long. Let us take an example. Today and for many weeks, we have heard about the desperate state of our steel industry and the 400 jobs that are at risk in communities in Motherwell and Cambuslang. We have heard a lot about the iconic steel industry, but I have still to hear a contribution in this debate about the fishing industry being an iconic industry for Scotland. More than 600 jobs are at risk across only one small community in the north-east—in Fraserburgh.
Two years ago, in the Government’s annual sea fisheries and end-year negotiations debate, I called for more common sense and flexibility in dealing with discards of spurdogs. Last year, I made a similar call to address the problem of closures of the skate and ray fisheries in the north-east and west of Scotland. There will be a lot more by-catch landing of those species next year. I know that the cabinet secretary has worked hard to help the commercialisation of by-catch in the past few years. I ask him to redouble his efforts in ensuring that that fantastic food is not wasted any longer.
Food waste is our next biggest challenge. Let us start here; let us not wait for some television chef to ask consumers to choose imported food instead of our locally produced seafood. This year, we are celebrating the increase of many of Scotland’s key stocks, including North Sea cod, which is at its highest level in a decade. Although skippers have known about that for a decade, it took us a long time in Parliament to acknowledge the fact that there are many more fish in our seas. That is thanks to the hard work of our fishermen, the resilience of our fish processors and the actions of the cabinet secretary, who is the most experienced fishing minister in the EU.
The Smith commission was very clear when it said that Scottish Government representation of the UK to the European Union can be achieved by
“presuming that a devolved administration Minister can speak on behalf of the UK at a meeting of the Council of Ministers according to an agreed UK negotiating line where the devolved administration Minister holds the predominant policy interest across the UK and where the relevant lead UK Government Minister is unable to attend all or part of a meeting.”
There should be no more lords representing the Scottish fishing industry. However, I would wait before celebrating. Time will tell whether the voice of the most experienced fishing minister in Europe can be discarded and replaced by that of an unelected lord with no previous experience in fishing whatsoever. The most appropriate person must always take the chair and speak.
The future is bright for the industry, and 2016 will prove to be a milestone for Scottish fishing, with the launch of the ban on discards for white fish and prawn stocks. The discard ban is indeed a no-brainer. It is a challenge in our waters, with mixed fisheries, and it is also a fantastic opportunity for our fishermen and fish processors to increase the Scottish-fish share of the seafood market both at home and abroad.
I agree with the cabinet secretary that we must focus all our efforts on our national interest and on the continuing success of our Scottish fishing communities. Like Stewart Stevenson, I did not receive briefings for the debate from many of the organisations from which I usually get them; for example, I got a briefing last year from the Scottish Pelagic Processors Association, but not this year. However, I met Ian Gatt and Ian McFadden from the SPPA a few weeks ago and I congratulated them on how the pelagic sector—fishermen and processors—worked to tackle successfully the discard ban that was in force in January, and the Russian food embargo.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation must be delighted with the work of the cabinet secretary, because I did not get a briefing from it, either. I know that some other members said that they asked for a briefing and got one. However, I am not in the habit of disturbing Mr Bertie Armstrong when he is on his way to travel the world. I would have thought that the SFF, with the amount of funding that it has—funding which matches that of a lot of non-governmental organisations—could just send that briefing to everybody. It would be much easier for us and it would make life a lot easier for the SFF, too. Perhaps we can take that proposal to Bertie Armstrong and Ross Dougal.
The WWF has provided a briefing—it always does—but I will not talk about it. Usually, I let Labour talk about the WWF, but as Jamie McGrigor was ready to be the voice of the WWF today, I let the Tories talk about it.
I share the cabinet secretary’s frustration that the UK Government has thus far denied Scotland a say over the seafood levy-raising powers of Seafish. He is right—that was one of the key recommendations of the Smith commission. The UK Government must reconsider. Full devolution of seafood levies has to happen now; if not, Seafish may have no future in Scotland. I am delighted that the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee made that point in this Parliament in May. The committee report added that it is important that Scotland has the ability to introduce an EU-recognised “Made in Scotland” label; it is an important label.
I heard something about the haulage industry from a couple of members—Tavish Scott and Angus MacDonald—so I remind the cabinet secretary of the problem at Calais. I urge the cabinet secretary to stop in Calais on his way to Brussels and to support our haulage drivers who get stuck there from time to time.
In conclusion, I would like to make a call to people in the gallery and across Scotland: we must all put pressure like never before on our retailers to put Scottish fish on their shelves.
If food waste is on the agenda for the UK media in 2016, let us welcome the ending of discards. There must be an opportunity to commercialise both at home and abroad the extra landings—especially of by-catch species. Buy and eat Scottish fish—that is my message to consumers. Ask retailers to put Scottish fish on the menu.
As I always do at the start of debates on our fishing industry, I pay tribute to all of Scotland’s fishermen, who risk their lives daily in braving the conditions of the sea to bring us high-quality fresh fish. However, the seas are not the only challenges that our fishermen face; recently, there have been the challenges of the struggling economic climate and the need to find new and emerging markets because of the Russian trade sanctions.
In 2013, Russia took 18 per cent of the UK total mackerel export market. Since the sanctions, Nigeria has become the biggest export market—it took 20 per cent of the UK mackerel market in 2014. There has also been significant growth in markets in the Netherlands and China. I am delighted that, despite tough times, our fishing industry has managed to adapt and survive.
While I am on the topic of mackerel, and having raised the issue in previous debates on fishing, I say that I am happy to hear that the mackerel dispute—it was about the overfishing of mackerel stock by Iceland and the Faroes and it led to a proposed decrease in the total allowable catch for Scottish fishermen—has finally been resolved. Talks between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands reached a solution when a 15 per cent reduction in mackerel quotas was agreed. In practice, this means that the TAC will be 10 per cent higher in 2016 than it was five years ago. That is good news, as mackerel is still Scotland’s most valuable fish and is expected to be worth £130 million in 2016.
Larger quotas for mackerel and other fish stocks are clearly good news for our fishing industry. However, we must strike the right balance between economic growth in the sector and sustainability. Developing sustainable fisheries is essential not only to the Scottish fishing industry’s future but to protecting our fragile fishing and coastal communities, the wider seafood sector and our seas.
Creating a fully sustainable fishing industry is no easy task, but we are making progress. Just over 50 per cent of North Sea fishing stock is being sustainably managed, but in my area—the west of Scotland—progress has not been so healthy, because there has been overfishing of small fish. That is disappointing, as the west of Scotland used to be one of Scotland’s most productive fishing areas.
It is clear that, while some progress is being made, we still have a long way to go. I suggest that the situation could be tackled by implementing the discard ban effectively, fishing at sustainable levels and helping to deliver a good environmental status, while retaining a profitable and sustainable fishing industry.
Quotas and the discard ban, which is due to be phased in from 2016, will go some way to help. However, before the ban is brought in, I suggest that the Scottish Government listens to the calls from WWF, which asks all parties to develop a strategy for the implementation and cost-effective monitoring of the discard ban. We need more hard data on our fishing industry and we should ensure that proper monitoring is introduced not only for the discard ban but for quotas.
Thank you. I pointed out to WWF last week that it would be of benefit if it, as a worldwide organisation, pushed other countries to have the same kind of restrictions in their fisheries as we have in Scotland.
I absolutely agree that the discard ban must be Europe wide. If we get it right, WWF estimates that the ban could prevent 25,000 tonnes of fish from being thrown back into the sea in Scotland alone. However, if we do not get it right, it will carry additional risks and create further problems for Scottish fishermen.
Some Scottish vessels have adopted selective measures to minimise unwanted catches, but many still have not been able to do so. With that in mind, does the Scottish Government envisage the new European maritime and fisheries fund being sufficient to support the transition where needed?
I am curious to know whether the Scottish Government has carried out any assessment of the use of remote electronic monitoring to monitor the discard ban. WWF’s research indicated that that would be the easiest and most cost-effective way to monitor discards, gather data and promote best practice but, for it to be fully effective, it would have to be adopted across the EU rather than just in Scotland or the UK, as many have mentioned.
Effective monitoring and better data collection will allow us to take an informed scientific approach and will also increase the openness and transparency of our industry. However, to be able to adopt fully evidence-based decisions, we need to consider spending more on marine research. Funding for research is vital to support our sustainable goals, whether it be through Marine Scotland, NGOs or working with Scottish fishermen. In addition, further research will allow our sector to be more adaptable and flexible, so that it can react better to the changing environment.
I welcome the progress that has been made so far. I am pleased that the mackerel dispute has finally been resolved, that quotas are increasing through good management and that we have managed to break into new and emerging markets. Beyond that, we need to get better at monitoring and data collection and to ensure that Scottish fishermen are ready to meet the requirements of the discard ban. We must keep up the momentum and start planning now for the future, to ensure that the industry remains profitable, sustainable and mindful of biodiversity.
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.
It is always a difficult task to follow Stewart Stevenson, but I will do my best. I speak with some expectation but also with some apprehension about 2016, which will be an important year for the Scottish fishing industry. All who are involved are tentatively looking forward to January, when the long-awaited discard ban for white fish and shellfish—prawns in particular—is due to come in.
It is worth remembering that fish conservation is reserved to the EU and does not feature in the UK Government’s current renegotiating agenda. At this morning’s European and External Relations Committee meeting, we heard from Ross Dougal of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. He said that, if the UK or Scotland left the EU, that might add complexity to negotiations about the North Sea, but there would likely be continued regard to the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which is an important body.
There are positives. The scientific community is advising us that stocks are on the increase and, with fishing revenues that are worth more than £500 million, there is certainly much to celebrate. Haddock is set to increase by at least 30 per cent and monkfish is due to rise by 20 per cent, which is good news indeed. In addition, the mackerel agreement that was reached in October, which allows the total allowable catch for 2016 to be 10 per cent higher than the figure five years ago, is a plus. At the discards briefing meeting that was held last week, which was referred to earlier, my feeling was of an increasingly optimistic outlook. However, much reference was made to the need for a level playing field, which is required for our fleet’s continued success and prosperity.
In its briefing, WWF acknowledged that the implementation of the discard ban represents one of the biggest operational shifts in European fisheries and that Governments and stakeholders need new approaches to fisheries management in order to incentivise behaviour that brings social, economic and environmental benefits. Innovation will be a key aspect of achieving that.
Intelligent measures are required. Technological electronic means such as sensors appear to be the most effective way to ensure that quotas are adhered to. There is the risk that discarding could continue illicitly because of various pressures, which would result in unaccounted-for mortality. WWF believes that remote electronic monitoring with cameras and sensors is the most effective means of assessing how measures can be controlled on the water. Such monitoring has the added benefit that data can be used for multiple purposes, including contributing to and improving confidence in stock assessment and demonstrating best practice. It also provides a tool with which to support all the operators that are working responsibly and with integrity.
However, the approach needs international co-operation. We need to export the measures that have allowed the success that our pelagic fleet has achieved in adhering to quotas. Joint regional agreements are required, especially with countries such as Sweden and Germany, which appear to require convincing of the need for closed-circuit television on vessels.
At last week’s briefing, Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, which represents 1,200 fishermen, reinforced how hard the Scottish industry has worked to adhere to the quotas. Although measures such as regional and real-time closures have not been easy for fishermen, they have successfully contributed to producing the desired results.
We hardly need reminding, although the estimable Jamie McGrigor reminded us earlier, of how dangerous this occupation—or, one might argue, way of life—is for those fishermen who brave the elements in the inhospitable North Sea and other waters that surround our extensive coastline. Their commitment to the industry should not be taken for granted. They have continued through what have been hard times, with the fleet enduring many years of restrictions on its fishing, and praise is due for the self-discipline and determination to persevere that so many of our fishermen have demonstrated.
The cabinet secretary, too, has achieved much. I wish him well in the fishing talks in the weeks ahead, especially in view of the frequent reluctance of UK Governments to allow him—not unreasonably, given Scotland’s predominance in the UK fishing fleet—the privilege of representing Scotland at the top table. It does not seem long—in fact, it was 9 December last year—since the cabinet secretary said that he was shadowing his fifth UK fishing minister, with the expectation of a sixth this year. Sure enough, on 11 May 2015, his expectation became a reality with the appointment of George Eustice MP as yet another Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment. I welcome the Scottish Government’s endeavours, including the creation of the national marine plan, which is allowing an improved framework to be put in place to manage the competing demands on marine resources that are of such great value to Scotland.
Fish is a great part of a healthy diet, and it is great that customers are able to buy more with a “Produced in Scotland” label from local shops and supermarkets. I expect that most members celebrated the Marine Conservation Society’s announcement in September that cod could once again be eaten as an occasional treat, following a recovery in numbers and its removal from the society’s red list of endangered fish. However, we must remind ourselves of the hard work that has been required and which will need to continue in order to preserve what has been achieved.
I commend the Scottish fishing industry for all that it has achieved this year, wish it well for next year and wish the cabinet secretary every success in the weeks ahead.
First, I apologise to the chamber for missing an earlier part of the debate because of a meeting with a minister.
This is an important debate, given that, as we have heard, Scotland is a key player among Europe’s fishing nations and accounts for around two thirds of the total fish caught in the UK. The cabinet secretary has already mentioned the industry’s £514 million turnover, and given that and the fact that nearly 5,000 fishermen are employed on Scottish-based vessels, this is a key economic resource for Scotland generally and for the Highlands and Islands and the north-east specifically.
The EU end-of-year negotiations are, of course, crucial to member states in determining total allowable catches. Like most things to do with Europe, the rules around fishing opportunities are complex, but since 2014 they have been reformed under the principle of maximum sustainable yield.
The big picture is of a world with a global food shortage, while on our own doorstep we have a fresh, affordable and varied food stock for both domestic and, crucially, export markets. As the year draws to a close, we look to 2016 as a landmark year for the industry, as it faces the implementation of the landing obligation—or discard ban—for white fish. Although the discard ban will have various positive impacts, including the increasing conservation of fish stocks and new quota flexibility for fishermen, it is essential that it be implemented effectively, efficiently and in a way that avoids adverse effects on the industry and especially the workforce.
After all, it is the local communities and hardworking fishermen who provide the backbone of the fishing industry. As a long-time representative of the Highlands and Islands, I am well aware of the distinctive traditions, customs and close-knit communities that the pursuit of fishing has created along the coasts of Scotland. Although the majority of the fishing industry now operates from major harbours with large, efficient fleets, we should not forget about the small coastal communities whose residents have lived with the salt of the sea in their blood for generations. In recent years, advances in technology and the EU’s demands have left many of these communities in a state of flux. For example, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association has made it clear that it is unhappy with the landing obligation, particularly the challenge of implementation, and it is very keen to have a clear route map outlined to 2019.
As the new landing obligation is put in place, starting in January 2016, there are still some uncertainties on the horizon for many of our fishermen. One of the main issues that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has raised is the need for clarity regarding the disposal of unwanted fish that are landed as a result of the discard ban. The federation argues that the costly burden of the transportation and disposal of those fish will fall on the fishermen. According to the federation, that is an undue financial liability that will ultimately cause economic distress throughout parts of the industry, particularly in the smaller coastal communities. As I stated earlier, it is imperative that the Scottish Government makes plans for a successful and smooth implementation of the landing obligation while carefully recognising the need to protect the interests of our fishermen and small fishing communities.
It is also proper that the Government should have sufficient support measures in place for the fishing communities that might have to deal with the transportation and disposal of unmarketable fish. Such a transitional struggle is one of the many reasons why the new European maritime and fisheries fund has been set up, and I would welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments on the new fund when he winds up the debate.
I would like to ask the cabinet secretary a few other questions on the matter. What will be the total budget for EMFF? What will be the criteria for successful application? What is the application process? Will matching be required in order to access the funds? When will Marine Scotland publish its guidance? How will the funds that are allocated to Scotland compare with those that are allocated to other countries? I am happy to give way now, if the cabinet secretary is willing to make a first pass at answering those questions.
I was not planning to make an intervention but, as I have been invited to, I will happily inform David Stewart that the plan for the fund is on track at €107 million, which is, in my view, less than Scotland’s deserved share of European funds, but that is what the UK has negotiated. The fund will be open to applications as scheduled, I hope, in January.
In Scotland, our fishing communities often exist in a fragile balance, with onshore and offshore livelihoods at stake, requiring any significant changes to be viewed with a careful and critical eye. When looking towards the future of this industry, we know that sustainable development of fisheries is beneficial environmentally, socially and economically, but still we must proceed with caution.
Our fishermen are some of the most resilient workers in the whole of Scotland, whether the adversity that they face stems from the high seas or from newly mandated EU regulations, Scottish fishermen will rise to the challenge. The challenge for the future concerns the level of funding for marine research, the enforcement and monitoring of the landing obligation and how to gear up the new EMFF process to aid our fishermen in this transition period.
I do not know whether my voice has got extra time in it, but we will see.
“The fishing sector ... is worth seven times more per head in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK”.
With 70 per cent of the landings in the UK taking place in Scotland, the industry is one of our key platforms for the support of our rural coastal areas and the many associated downstream activities. The potential for making a sustainable fishing industry is, obviously, the focus of the debate today, and I am delighted to hear about the strength of some of the major stocks.
I will concentrate on one of the ways of monitoring what is being caught, with particular regard to WWF Scotland’s idea of remote electronic monitoring, using cameras and sensors. Scientists conducting the monitoring must work in partnership with the fishermen, so that the fishermen and the regulators can have confidence in the system.
Remote electronic monitoring is all very well, but the fishers themselves must be able to confirm that they are a part of the process and not something that is being monitored separately. Trust and confidence must be built on that basis. With that caveat, I would like to see more confidence in our fishers among some members.
I am glad that the European maritime and fisheries fund has been mentioned a couple of times. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee scrutinised secondary legislation on the subject just the week before last. At the time, we noted that the fund is important to many fragile coastal communities. I ask the cabinet secretary whether he can confirm in correspondence—or now—that the harbour at Kinlochbervie, which requires modernisation and was built at the same time as many of the other west coast ports, will receive funding from the European maritime and fisheries fund to modernise its facilities, which would allow it to compete on a level playing field with neighbouring ports such as Lochinver and so on. It would be important to that fragile community if that were possible.
We have an awful lot of excellent seafood, which—as, I think, David Stewart said—is important to the export trade. However, we must ask ourselves whether the fishers get any more when the fish is eaten in France than they would get if it were sold here. The answer at this stage is no, because it is the middle men who take the profit throughout. I am not looking particularly at Christian Allard when I mention France.
We know that the trade in lobsters at Christmas in France, Spain and Portugal is very important for that part of the seafood sector. I hope that that trade will be stronger than it was in the period after the crash and that those who have been collecting lobsters all year to sell at this time will realise the potential.
If we are to have more of our fish being consumed in Scotland, the Scottish Government’s approach to Scotland’s becoming a good food nation by 2025 must make it possible for many more people to eat fish that are caught in our waters and sold by our fishermen. Not many of us get to the fish van in our village on a Tuesday compared with the number of people who buy fish in a supermarket, although that fish is in no way as fresh as the fish from the Bell’s of Scrabster van. How are we going to maximise that market? The importance of such things must be carried through.
On seafood more widely, of which aquaculture is a part, it is concerning that the Food and Drug Administration in America has given the go-ahead for genetically modified salmon, which will take a couple of years to develop. We are not sure whether that is just a cat’s paw to get protein introduced into people’s diets in other forms, but the potential for an escape of such salmon into the wild—something that we have been predicting—is unacceptable and must be stopped.
I will return to the problems nearer shore. To echo comments that have been made by my colleague Ian Blackford, there are concerns about the extension of the British underwater test and evaluation centre torpedo range near Kyle—[Interruption.] Excuse me while I cough, Presiding Officer.
The member talked about middle men. Fish processors are not middle men; they are very much an integral part of the industry. Without them, the fish would be shipped abroad and processed abroad. Let us not forget that fish processors are integral to the industry, not only important because of the employment that they provide.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer—it is kind of you to do so. I agree with Christian Allard that we have to take on board such downstream socioeconomic effects.
I will return to BUTEC. There is a desperate need to have talks among the nephrop fishers, the Ministry of Defence and QinetiQ, the firm that conducts the torpedo testing. At the moment, there is no socioeconomic study about the impacts of quadrupling the torpedo range. That is a key sector where nephrop fishers can fish in safe waters in winter. We will be asking the Government to monitor that and to ensure that, as we do in all cases, we take forward the policy as best we can for Scotland and the fishing community.
That was a tour de force—I can only congratulate Rob Gibson on getting through his speech, and Christian Allard on his timely intervention, although I thought that it was a bit short by his standards; he could have kept it going for a minute or two longer.
I will pick up one of Rob Gibson’s points, because it also referred to Claudia Beamish’s interesting observations about climate change in the context of the industry that we are discussing. The Paris conference is taking place, so it is entirely appropriate to consider that topic. The “Shetland Fishermen Year Book 2016” has a whole section on the carbon footprint of the industry, which is worth contemplating in the context of Rob Gibson and Claudia Beamish’s remarks. A study by the marine centre in Scalloway of the pelagic industry has found that just 0.41 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent is released into the atmosphere for every tonne of fish caught. That compares with 10 tonnes for beef, 11 for lamb, 4 for chicken and 3 for pork. Therefore, the carbon footprint of mackerel fishing is eight and a half times lower than that of the lowest-scoring meat product and 47 times lower than that of the highest-scoring meat product. If we are making the argument about the carbon footprint of any industry, it is worth recognising what the fishing industry does in that context.
Rob Gibson also rightly mentioned food security. It strikes me that fishing can play a significant role in that, not least because it is the world’s biggest protein producer—according to the United Nations, it produces about 17 per cent of the world’s intake of protein—and the health benefits in particular are well understood.
I want to make two or three other points in the context of security. Margaret McDougall’s points about the mackerel industry profile are important. Sadly, it was not just the Russian market that was closed, because of sanctions in that case, but the Ukrainian market, which certainly used to be significant for the north-east and Shetland catch. The Ukrainian market was closed because of the armed conflict and there being basically no hard currency. The implications of that were significant for quite a number of our export businesses.
Margaret McDougall rightly observed our pelagic industry’s pursuit of Africa, which is not a new market for the industry. It is also pursuing the far east, which is a newer market for the industry, because the Norwegians have always had such a good grip there. Her point was well made. Those markets are important for how the industry develops and, given the minister’s quota point, for ensuring that the price does not collapse if the market pressures are considerable—in other words, if there is too much supply and not enough demand. The minister will need to bring to bear all the powers that he can, including those of Scottish Development International, to assist the industry in that area overseas.
I also want to touch on the point made by Stewart Stevenson, Margaret McDougall and other members about science. As I mentioned, there are data deficient stocks, such as lemon sole. Although those stocks are not the highest volume or value landings for our industry, the important point is that the stronger the science, the easier it is to win the arguments with the European Commission and to avoid the precautionary principle applying. Although we may all agree with that principle, it is never easy to sell to the industry.
Absolutely—that is exactly the point, and it inevitably brings one to the discard ban and the importance of those issues being resolved in 2016. I ask the cabinet secretary to clarify in his closing speech what he expects Marine Scotland’s role to be in conjunction with the industry. The reality is that the discard ban will be an on-going issue. It will be important to work through the details, which will not all be done by the end of the year. It cannot be, simply because more species are to be introduced at the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. Therefore, it would be helpful for all members who meet the industry and represent it to have an understanding of how the cabinet secretary’s department plans to implement that.
I take the point that Stewart Stevenson and Christian Allard made about the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. It would be useful for us all to have a briefing. There may be things going on in the background of which I am not aware, but I also gently say that it does not help when some members attack the SFF, as happened in the debate last year. Nevertheless, Stewart Stevenson and Christian Allard make a fair point.
I confess that I did not worry quite so much about not getting an FAL briefing. Some years back, we all used to quote FAL briefings and the debate was much more about a rather more extreme form of fisheries management, which was completely withdrawing from the common fisheries policy. It is funny how times move on and that proposal does not feature so often now. Nevertheless, it is important that MSPs be able to consider not only the WWF briefing, which is important, but the industry’s thoughts. Members have made important points in that regard.
In that case, I will just say that it was a strong point.
I recognise the challenges that the minister has, particularly on the discard ban. As he observed, the December fisheries council nearly takes care of itself this year but for the access discussions about mackerel in Copenhagen next week. However, the strongest and most difficult issue that we all have to contemplate is the discard ban and, therefore, the importance of the sustainable use of fishing opportunities to achieve economic sustainability for coastal communities and make the contribution to food security that we all require.
It is very touching and I am grateful.
Members on all sides have rightly referred to the positive news of the ICES advice on many of the stocks that are most important to Scotland, including North Sea cod, which is at its highest level for a decade, thank goodness. I emphasise again that it is thanks to the efforts of our Scottish fishermen that those stocks are in a healthy position. They have made many sacrifices over the past decade and a half and introduced more conservation measures—be it real-time closures, adaptations to fishing gear or spatial management—than any other fishing fleet in Europe. We should commend them for that. They have done a great job.
The biggest issue of the debate has understandably been in the impending phased introduction from next year of the discard ban on the white-fish sector. The discard ban on the pelagic sector has been relatively easy to manage due to the nature of the fishery—pelagic species tend to swim together, unlike demersal stocks, in which different species swim together—but the challenges of fulfilling the obligation in a mixed white-fish fishery, which is governed by quotas and relative stability, are very hard indeed. In fact, Ian Gatt of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association told me that. He said that it had not been so difficult for the pelagic sector but would be much more difficult for the demersal sector. There are real risks along the way.
I welcome the general consensus on and understanding of the need for an uplift in quotas. That is fundamental, but it is not the solution in itself. Like Tavish Scott, I mentioned in my opening speech the need for a truly consistent approach to enforcement and compliance across all vessels fishing in EU waters. That is vital. I also agree with Tavish Scott’s argument that there must be no resistance to the application of flexibilities and no gold plating of regulations to the disadvantage of our white-fish fishermen.
Claudia Beamish referred to the European maritime fisheries fund, and I agree that it should be utilised appropriately to support our fishermen during the transition to the full discard ban. That is a point that my colleague Dr Ian Duncan MEP has made many times. It was, of course, Ian Duncan who inserted into the text of the relevant European law on discards the clause that said that member states should have in place measures to facilitate the storage of, or to find outlets for, undersized fish, such as support for investment in the construction and adaptation of landing sites and shelters, or support for investment to add value to fisheries products. Rob Gibson talked about investment in Kinlochbervie, which I think is an example of the point that my amendment makes.
I reiterate my previous comments about the importance of us achieving for our pelagic fishermen an equitable deal with Norway and the Faroes on the mackerel and blue whiting quotas. Quite simply, the Faroese are catching too much in our waters, and we are not benefiting from access to their waters in return. We must support our pelagic fishermen and the important processing facilities that are dependent on their catch. The market is already challenging for them, given the on-going trade dispute between Russia and the EU, the devaluation of the Ukrainian currency, which has been mentioned, and the significant currency import problems with Nigeria since the oil economy crash.
I again call on the cabinet secretary to consider providing specific additional support for the demersal sector to help it to meet what will be a profound challenge in meeting the discard ban from next year and during the transition to the full ban in 2019. On behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I wish him and his team well for the negotiations in Brussels and the on-going negotiations with Norway and the Faroese, which are also extremely important. I wish him all success in achieving maximum catching opportunity for the Scottish fishing fleet because, in doing so, he will be supporting sustainable economic activity, communities all over Scotland and food security.
I have no problem with the Liberal or Labour amendments, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will see fit to support my Conservative one.
It has been a wide-ranging debate in which we have been able to explore the issues together, across the chamber.
At the end of Scotland’s year of food and drink, I want to turn to the quest for fresh, affordable food. I highlight the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s new publication, “We’ve Got an Idea”, idea 30 in which talks about inspiring
“a step-change in consumer habits to eliminate demand for unsustainably sourced seafood.”
Each section of the booklet has a talking point. The talking point for the section entitled “Marine & Coastal” is:
“What is the most effective way of changing consumer habits with regard to sustainable seafood?”
Many fresh ideas have come from this afternoon’s debate and beyond. I ask the cabinet secretary to reassure the Parliament that the task of taking those ideas forward will not be siloed in Scotland Food & Drink or elsewhere. That is not a criticism of any of the organisations involved; I simply want there to be a collective drive to ensure that those who sell our seafood purchase wisely and promote effectively so that we know what is on offer. Interestingly, Seafood Scotland, which I understand is wholesale facing, has a handy seasonal guide to sustainable fish eating. The guide is for international buyers, chefs and the media, and I learned quite a lot from it, even though it fits on to one sheet of A4—that is the perfect size of briefing for MSPs with their busy lives.
I also want to highlight some of the benefits that arise from the fishing industry and which create jobs onshore. I will begin with the medicinal properties of fish. The cod recovery plan has given those who know about sustainable fisheries more confidence to take cod liver oil, which helps the heart and provides vitamin D for the immune system, which is important at this time of year. It also contributes to normal bone and muscle function, which I personally find quite useful. I am only glad that I am being given the modern capsule form that my partner buys, rather than the teaspoonful that I was force-fed as a child.
Fish oils are also used in the beauty, skin care and nail product industries. I hope that the cabinet secretary agrees that checking out the wider opportunities for sustainable harvesting, processing and marketing of medicine and beauty products from fish and nature is an opportunity to create jobs that Scotland should not miss.
I thank my colleague David Stewart for his perspective from the Highlands and Islands. He rightly paid tribute to the resilience of the fishing industry and of our small communities, which have—as he said—lived with the salt of the sea in their blood. I echo his call to the Scottish Government to commit to the European maritime fisheries fund and to make it available—whether for transport, distribution or diversification—to all those involved at this transitional time.
The only way to develop any industry in a sustainable way is to entrench its future in science and research, as we have heard from a number of members this afternoon. As Margaret McDougall said, we need investment in research to monitor progress clearly and assess the changing needs of ecosystems and of industry. Will the cabinet secretary consider fighting to direct more funding to Marine Scotland to ensure that there is an evidence-based approach? Good luck with that, cabinet secretary.
Tavish Scott pointed out that the fishing industry’s carbon footprint is 8.5 times lower than the lowest carbon footprint in the meat industry. That is an interesting figure indeed. According to research from Bloom—to which I referred in my opening remarks—the north-east Atlantic has greater biodiversity than all the rainforests of the world put together.
I am not going to take an intervention—I have very little time.
The ecosystem approach is essential for the future of our fisheries. In my speech on fisheries in December 2011, I welcomed the staged implementation of the discard ban as it was being planned.
Graeme Pearson and many other members who have spoken in the debate have exposed the fragile nature of the future of our fisheries and highlighted the utter necessity of ensuring that the landing obligation is proportionately planned, managed and monitored. I am grateful to be able to rely on Graeme Pearson, as my colleague with the justice brief, to explore the issues surrounding compliance with the landing obligation.
As the ban encapsulates demersal fish, the cabinet secretary will need to address a number of questions in the negotiations that—as many members have mentioned—will raise very complex issues within a mixed fishery. Will the cabinet secretary seek a pan-European consensus on the role of enforcement, for which Tavish Scott, Angus MacDonald and others have argued?
I too offer my best wishes to Jamie McGrigor and recognise his significant contribution in fisheries debates and in fisheries management, not only on the west coast. I thank Angus MacDonald for the meeting that was hosted in the Scottish Parliament, which was organised by WWF Scotland and included the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, Marks and Spencer at the consumer end and the Scottish Government. That is testament to the sort of partnership working that we need in Scotland in the future.
I wish the cabinet secretary well in navigating the complexity of the EU negotiations and other negotiations—as members have mentioned—relating to the Faroes, Norway and Iceland in the near future. I hope that he will be able to take a leading role in those negotiations within the UK delegation. Good luck, cabinet secretary.
I thank all members for their contributions as we prepare to go to our key annual negotiations in Brussels the week after next. I start by referring to Jamie McGrigor. None of us knows whether we will be in our respective seats following May’s election, but Jamie will voluntarily give up his seat. Even though I am afraid that I cannot support his amendment, even though I cannot claim to have his knowledge of prawns and even though we often disagree on some of the big issues of the day, I pay tribute to him, because he always has the fishing industry’s interests at heart and has made many fine contributions to our annual fishing debates over the years since 1999.
I was going to say that Jamie McGrigor was like an old cod back in 1999—he did not have many colleagues, and many of them have been discarded in subsequent years through human intervention. Although it has survived until 2015, I am not sure that his party has had the same kind of recovery as the cod has had. Jamie has survived, though. He is a survivor and, like me, he was part of the 1999 intake. I wish him all the best for the future. I am sure that he will continue to take a close interest in fisheries.
We are content to support the Labour Party’s amendment, lodged by Claudia Beamish. Unfortunately, we cannot support Tavish Scott’s amendment. We support many of his comments but, on securing an uplift in quota allocations for species that are covered by the introduction of the discard ban, we have to pay attention to the science. There will be more discards for some species than there will be for others, so there will be more justification for an uplift. We have to take that into account, which is why we do not support Tavish Scott’s amendment.
Although the cabinet secretary will not support my amendment, will he admit that the insertion by Dr Ian Duncan MEP of the clause that refers to extra support in the transition to the discard ban was a good thing? I do not know whether the cabinet secretary thinks that it is a good thing, but all the fishermen think that it is a good thing.
We disagree with the Conservative Party south of the border on many things, but we share the UK Government’s interpretation of Ian Duncan’s amendment to the regulation involved, which is that it is not incumbent on member states to give any more support than they are already giving. On Scotland’s support, I believe that we have a good plan in hand to work with the industry to ensure that it can get through the discard ban. I may refer to that in my forthcoming remarks.
Many members have made good comments and referred to the contribution of the fishing industry to Scotland and to the fact that many fishermen have made the ultimate sacrifice to bring fish to our tables. In the 21st century, our fishermen are not just fishermen; they also have to be conservationists and experts in paperwork. They have to share space at sea with other users and industries—not least the renewable energy sector.
We must have spatial management to protect our precious sea-bed features. That is why the Scottish Government is implementing a network of 30 marine protected areas. In the process, I have considered carefully the economic impact on Scotland’s fishing communities.
I have listened closely to recent representations, particularly from the Clyde and west coast fishing communities. However, I think that we have struck a fair balance. We will make our final announcements in a few days’ time. It is clear that opinion is divided even in the fishing industry. One part of the fishing industry has expressed concern about some of the MPA boundaries.
I turn to some of the issues that members mentioned. Rob Gibson referred to the proposal by the Ministry of Defence to extend the torpedo testing range between Skye and the mainland. I assure him and other members that I am following closely the consultation process that the MOD is conducting. At a recent inshore fisheries conference, I heard at first hand from fishermen their concerns about the potential impact on small fishing vessels in the area, and I urge the MOD to take full account of the responses from local fishermen in that part of Scotland.
I cannot cover all the issues that Claudia Beamish raised but, on her question about the European maritime and fisheries fund, which David Stewart also mentioned, the fund will open in January for applications. There will be €107 million in the fund, taking account of matched funding from the Scottish Government and the European element. Given some of the comments that have been made, it is important that I say that there will be a lot of support to help the industry to adapt to the discard ban in Scottish waters, through better selectivity and other measures.
David Stewart asked about disposal of unwanted fish. The position under the discard ban is that the responsibility for storing and transported unwanted catch will lie with the vessel. That is what the regulation says, and it is the position for all member states. As I said, the European maritime and fisheries fund offers a financial mechanism for supporting fishermen in that regard.
I emphasise that, in the first year of the white-fish discard ban in 2016, we expect unwanted catch at Scotland’s quaysides to be very small. We hope that that will be the situation in 2016, although it is clear that there will be an on-going issue in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Claudia Beamish asked about deep-sea trawling. Scotland is leading the way in brokering a European agreement on deep-sea trawling, to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and species. The issue is difficult and we are paying close attention to it.
Tavish Scott asked about discard bans beyond 2016. With the regionalisation of the common fisheries policy, neighbouring states will work together; we will also work with our industries. Many decisions remain to be taken on what species will be included in the bans and how in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but I assure Tavish Scott that we will stand up for Scotland’s interests.
It is understandable that much comment has been made about the impact of the discard bans in Scottish and European waters. As I said, given that it is estimated that 7 million tonnes of fish wasf discarded globally in 2005—that is one of the most recent estimates available—it is no wonder that public opinion, political opinion, scientific opinion and industry opinion is that there is a chronic waste of what should be a good food resource and a good economic contribution to the economies of Scotland and Europe. Tackling discards in Scottish and European waters is therefore a no-brainer.
We should take the opportunity to congratulate the Scottish industry on the huge steps that it has taken to reduce fish discards in our waters. Scottish discards of North Sea cod have almost halved since 2007, from 51 per cent to 24 per cent, and 16 per cent of white fish caught by Scottish fishermen in 2012 was discarded, compared with 47 per cent in 2007. Fishermen have been making the utmost effort to reduce discards.
However, there is still a long way to go, and public opinion wants an end to the discarding of good-quality fish that is thrown overboard, dead, into our seas. That is a complete waste and is of no use to anyone. That is why we support efforts to tackle discards and will work with the industry in that regard.
There is no bigger illustration of the industry’s progress in recent years than the recovery of North Sea cod. It is incredible to think that the North Sea cod stock is now three times—three times—its size in 2006. It is only a couple of years since a Sunday newspaper famously emblazoned on its front page the message that only a handful of cod remained in the North Sea. That caused consternation in the fishing industry in Scotland and beyond.
Here we are in 2015, and stocks are at three times their 2006 level. It is fantastic that our fishermen are preparing to apply for Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for cod stocks, which will open up new markets in the UK and throughout the world.
That is happening against a backdrop of our going into the negotiations with 10 of our 15 key white-fish stocks in line for significant quota increases. We normally enter the talks trying to fight off big cuts in days at sea or an avalanche of quota cuts; this year, we are going in with the prospect of quota increases for 10 of Scotland’s key white-fish species, which is good news and represents huge progress in anyone’s book.
The debate has been about our fishermen, but it is also about the fish processing jobs, the painters, the shipyard workers, the electricians, the software companies, those who build and maintain the vessels, the net makers, the workers in the harbour cafes, the lorry drivers, the fuel suppliers and so on. It is about everyone in Scotland whose livelihood depends on having healthy fish stocks in our seas and an active fishing industry.
The debate is about the multimillion-pound pelagic boats that are based in the north-east of Scotland and Shetland, down to the one-man creel boats in our inshore waters. Most important, it is about ensuring that future generations can benefit from having rich fish stocks in our waters and access to those stocks through quotas and having a vessel.
The debate has been about the future. Implementing discard bans from 2016 will be tough and challenging, but it is the right thing to do for our fishing industry, for fisheries conservation and for Scotland. I will fight to get the best possible deal for Scotland’s fishing communities the week after next at the annual fishing negotiations in Brussels.