I am pleased to open our annual fisheries debate by welcoming the broad consensus across the Parliament in support of the motion.
We go into the year-end talks with an industry and sector in rude health. The mood on the quayside right now is positive, and rightly so, with a 25 per cent increase to £557 million in the real-terms value of landings in 2016. Therefore, we must focus on the current needs and interests of the industry, the onshore sector, our coastal communities and our marine environment, and build on that success to ensure a good year of sustainable fishing in 2018.
I understand that a number of the smaller boats that fish inshore are worried about the increasing costs of licences. Is the Scottish Government aware of that and is there any way that we can tackle that issue?
That issue has been raised on a number of occasions on which I have visited several of the smaller fishermen. I am therefore recommending that, with immediate effect, we make shellfish entitlements detachable from parent licences. That will enable smaller vessels that need that entitlement to get access to licences and shellfish entitlements without directly competing against, for example, a big pelagic skipper. I believe that that is of particular importance to local inshore vessels. I know that the issue has been raised by fishermen in the Western Isles, the Clyde, Orkney and Fife, and I hope that the announcement will be warmly welcomed by those fishermen.
There are, of course, dark Brexit clouds on the horizon. I do not intend to focus too much on the politics of that; rather, I want to concentrate on the work that we are doing to get the best possible deal for Scottish fishermen. However, I welcome the Liberal amendment in that regard, which acknowledges the uncertainty that has been caused for the sector, offshore and onshore, by the prospect and risk of Brexit.
We now have the full set of scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which, as usual, shows mixed fortunes. The advice on white fish in the North Sea is broadly encouraging. Increases are advised for a range of stocks, including cod, haddock, whiting, saithe and monkfish. There is also positive advice for North Sea prawns. However, the west coast remains more difficult, with the fortunes of cod and whiting remaining challenging, and a cut advised for west coast prawns. For pelagic stocks, the science advises increases for blue whiting and North Sea herring but decreases for mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring, or ASH.
One of the Scottish Government’s key negotiating principles is to follow the best scientific advice. Respecting such advice enables us to make decisions and secure outcomes that are responsible, credible and objective, and which have sustainability at their heart. That commitment to sustainability and responsible management is one of the reasons why we need to press forward with effective measures to tackle discards. The Scottish Government remains committed to the ambitious principles behind the landing obligation—namely, to reduce waste, to improve accountability and to safeguard the sustainability of fishing stocks.
Next year—2018—will be the final year of phasing, and the full discard ban will take effect from 2019. To that end, we must endeavour to tackle the issue of choke species. It is essential that the livelihoods of our fishermen are protected. I am absolutely clear that I could not accept any situation in which our fleet is unnecessarily tied to the quayside when there is still quota available to fish. However, there has not yet been sufficient progress at a European level. By themselves, the existing tools, which I support the full use of, will not result in a total solution to choke species in some areas.
Therefore, we must urgently explore other solutions. For example, to avoid choke risk, quota distribution must more accurately reflect the distribution and abundance of fish that are likely to be encountered on the grounds. North Sea hake, whose distribution has shifted since the current quota shares between member states were fixed, is a perfect example of the mismatch that exists. Those and other tools will be discussed at the forthcoming Brussels negotiations, and I will make those points forcibly.
There are many tools, and I accept that monitoring and the use of TVs and so on increasingly form part of the overall approach to sustainable fishing. Electronic monitoring is appropriate in some cases.
This year’s talks are now well under way, and some strong results have been delivered at the coastal states talks and the talks between the European Union and Norway, which, together, deliver more in economic terms than the December council does.
At the October coastal states talks on mackerel—which is our single most valuable stock—our officials were key in influencing the shape of a new long-term management strategy for the stock. Fishing levels were aligned with the principles of maximum sustainable yield and the reduction in catching opportunities was constrained to 20 per cent in 2018. That is worth around £130 million to the Scottish industry.
The coastal states talks on blue whiting and ASH continue in Copenhagen, and we are working hard to secure agreement—we hope to do so today—on a full, five-party deal that will deliver sustainable and sensible fishing levels for the coming year.
Last week’s negotiations between the EU and Norway delivered increased catching opportunities for five of the six North Sea stocks that are jointly managed with Norway, with four of those six stocks now being fished at sustainable levels. We also successfully secured a strong additional package of inward North Sea quota transfers from Norway that is aligned with the priorities identified by our industry. That included increased tonnages of whiting, Norway others and Norwegian monkfish compared with last year. For North Sea whiting, the effect of a 38 per cent increase in the total allowable catch, combined with an additional inward transfer from Norway of 800 tonnes, will give a significant increase in quota for whiting stocks. As such, there can now be no rationale for the United Kingdom Government to continue to top-slice the Scottish whiting quota for the sole benefit of English vessels, and I expect that to cease immediately.
Of course, by definition negotiations involve compromises; there will inevitably be areas in which we are unsuccessful in fully achieving our aims at the EU-Norway talks. The EU has continued to trade away saithe in both the North Sea and the west of Scotland. That is a significant choke-risk stock for Scotland in the North Sea and we remain firmly opposed in principle to giving away to Norway stocks that we remain short of ourselves. That makes neither economic nor fishing sense, and it risks putting the industry in a difficult position under the landing obligation.
Furthermore, the EU has again retained an overreliance on the use of northern blue whiting as a currency with which to bring in Arctic cod quota from Norway. Within the EU bloc, the UK is the largest shareholder of blue whiting; Scotland holds more than 92 per cent of that and yet we do not receive a single tonne of the Arctic cod that comes back in return. Despite those disappointments, I considered that on balance the incoming package of North Sea opportunities was stronger than last year’s and signalled a sufficient shift in the dynamics of the exchange with Norway to allow me to accept the deal that was on the table.
The EU-Faroes talks are currently under way, and they are of particular importance to fishermen in Shetland. The agreement provides essential quota and access opportunities to Faroese waters for our whitefish fleet, which are worth about £2 million. In return, Faroese vessels may fish a range of quota in our waters, including mackerel. While I accept that, I have previously made clear that I cannot accept how the level of Faroese access was fixed in 2014, via a private deal done by the European Commission without any consultation with member states. Members from fishing constituencies are only too well aware of that unfairness. I therefore welcomed the significant step forward at last year’s talks, which put that issue back on the negotiating table. While I recognise that delivering a reduction from the current 30 per cent access level is going to be very challenging, my officials will continue to pursue that goal during this week’s talks. Next week, I and my officials will attend the December council meeting to conclude this year’s negotiations, at which quotas for stocks fished solely by the EU fleet will be set.
Today, I seek input and views from across the chamber, as well as support for our approach. My focus at the council will be to champion the interests of the industry and to ensure that Scotland’s interests are fully represented by the UK in discussions. In general terms, the best possible outcome entails ensuring that scientific advice is realised as quota, resisting cuts that are not supported by scientific evidence.
I will also seek to secure appropriate quota uplifts to support continued implementation of the landing obligation. That includes seeking action on west of Scotland cod to provide the fleet with additional benefit while solutions are developed for resolving that significant choke risk. I will pursue additional interarea flexibility arrangements that allow the fleet to move quota between different sea areas to address choke risks. The Scottish industry will, as normal, be well represented at the council, and I will discuss progress with it on a regular basis.
The autumn negotiations are complex but vital, and the Scottish Government officials are very well respected and listened to for the expertise and knowledge that they bring to the process. I saw that when I attended the talks in Brussels as the head of the Scottish delegation last year. My recollection is that the representations made with the excellent assistance of my officials were so proficient, respected and efficacious that we achieved a quite extraordinary 24 out of our 26 negotiating aims—something that was welcomed by the industry.
What is straightforward is that the industry and I will work together closely and tirelessly to deploy all options available to us in order to deliver the best possible outcomes for our fishing interests and our marine environment, enabling our industry, communities and economy to benefit from continued sustainable growth in 2018.
That the Parliament acknowledges the conclusion of negotiations with Norway on shared stocks in the North Sea and the forthcoming annual fisheries negotiations in Brussels; notes that 2018 will see the last year of phased implementation of the landing obligation for whitefish stocks and that the outcome of the Brussels negotiations will be pivotal in helping Scotland’s fishing fleet to reduce the potential impacts of choke species; is concerned that failure to explore and adopt all available solutions in this regard could potentially tie the fleet up; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to respect the scientific advice in relation to next year’s quotas, and supports its efforts to achieve the best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishermen, coastal communities, marine environment and wider seafood sectors at the Brussels negotiations.
I am glad to lead off the debate for the Scottish Conservatives today. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the fishing industry has been extremely positive about the challenges and opportunities that it faces. It has been a pleasure to work with its representatives over the past year and it is a privilege to speak on their behalf in today’s debate.
The past 18 months have been good for our fishermen. Landings are up, prices are good, record numbers of new boats are being built and the mood is buoyant. In the past year, Peterhead port has invested more than £50 million in deepening the harbour and building a new, bigger fish market. Likewise, there has been considerable investment in harbour facilities in Shetland, to facilitate increased landings there.
However, the fish processing sector has seen a decrease in capacity. From 2008 to 2016, there has been a 34 per cent decline in processing capacity in north-east Scotland. We are losing business and jobs to Humberside, where fish processing is growing. We appear to be uncompetitive, due, in great measure, to large increases in business rates. We need to reverse that trend in order to handle the extra fish that Brexit will bring.
Cod is a great example of how stocks have improved over the past 10 years. In 2006, Scottish cod stocks had fallen to 44,000 tonnes from a high of 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s. However, through a combined effort by our fishermen, using innovative technology and gear, and restricting our fishing effort, our cod stocks rose to a level of 149,000 tonnes in 2016. That is good news and a step towards a long and prosperous future.
If anyone mistakenly thinks that the EU or the common fisheries policy can take credit for any of that increase, they should take a look at the dire state of fish stocks in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Good stocks saw last week’s bipartite EU-Norway talks award increased quotas for five out of the six North Sea stocks. They included increases of 38 per cent for whiting, 25 per cent for herring, 24 per cent for haddock and 10 per cent for cod. Although those increases have been agreed, it is at the annual talks of the agriculture and fisheries council that take place next week that EU member states will divide up fishing quotas for the year ahead.
Although there has been an increase in stocks, there are serious concerns with regard to choke species. For instance, without major uplifts in the quotas for cod and hake at next week’s meeting, there is a real industry-wide fear that landing obligations will lead to restrictions on fishing. If those problems occur, the Government must be prepared to act beyond the existing tools of article 15 of the basic regulation. That has already happened, with dab and flounder being removed from the TAC and the quota regulation.
Today, it is important that we recognise that the upcoming end-year negotiations will be the last ones in which the UK will be awarded quotas from the EU for a full year, as, in April 2019, the UK will cease its membership of the EU and will be out of the CFP. We all know that the fishing industry voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, as membership of it and the CFP has been little short of disastrous. The UK catches only 40 per cent of the fish zonally attached to our exclusive economic zone, while Norway catches 80 per cent and Iceland 90 per cent. That shows the size of the prize that is up for grabs. We can—and we must—start to redress this unfair situation. We must listen to the industry, and we should consider a nine-month bridging arrangement. The industry does not want—and we do not need—a two-year transition period for fishing.
This time next year, at the council talks, the UK will be in a unique position. The negotiation must recognise that three months on from the December 2018 talks, we will be out of the CFP. We will be an independent coastal state with control of, and responsibility for, our EEZ out to 200 miles in March 2019. We must, therefore, start to redress the balance of the quota shares in December 2018 and then allow those agreed shares to run from March for the next nine months until December 2019 when the UK takes its place at the top table alongside Norway, Iceland, the Faroes and the EU. That is the nine-month bridge that the industry is arguing for and which I hope the cabinet secretary will get behind. Once the UK has achieved coastal state status, it can make clear its intention to seek adjustment to existing fixed shares. The UK would work with others to create new fixed shares based on objective criteria, with zonal attachment being the fairest indicator.
Is the member telling us that we can retrieve only those parts of the fishery out to 200 miles that are fished by other states with their permission? He seems to be indicating that, rather than, as the fishing industry tells me it expects on the day we leave the CFP, us controlling 100 per cent of the fishery out to 200 miles. He is suggesting that the rights of those who currently fish in our waters will continue. That is what I heard.
That is not what I said. It is correct that we will control the fishery zone out to 200 miles but we will also work with our partners. Nobody is saying that, on day 1 in March 2019, the shutters will come down and no other boat will ever fish in our seas. Nobody has ever said that.
Zonal attachment is the fairest indicator. A University of Aberdeen study suggests that significant gains for Scotland based on zonal attachment can be delivered for key commercial species. That is the model that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is working to achieve and it is being closely studied at Westminster. It has merit, as it is a pragmatic and fair way forward, because we must work collaboratively with our EU neighbours who would continue to have access to our waters, but with lower catching levels. They would operate under our control, and our rules and regulations, just as happens right now when our boats fish in Norwegian waters. We must not swap access to our seas for access to EU markets.
The other big prize once we leave the EU will be our ability to set the rules and regulations governing our fleet. We need a regime that is fair, sustainable in the long term, respects the environment and keeps our fishermen fishing. We can design a better way to manage our fish stocks. This is an important debate, and it has allowed me to outline a possible way through the Brexit negotiations for our fishing industry. We can deliver a vibrant future for our fishing industry, and our towns and villages around the coast that are dependent on fish for their future prosperity. We aim to realise the sea of opportunity that is within our grasp.
For the past 40 years, oil has been a huge boost to the economy of north-east Scotland but we must never forget that fishing and farming were the mainstay of that economy long before oil was discovered, and both those primary industries will still be important long after the last drop of oil has been pumped from the North Sea.
I move amendment S5M-09406.2, to leave out from “available solutions” to end and insert:
“, including those of a political nature,“.
I feel that it is like the end of an era. Some of us, including Lewis Macdonald and, indeed, Fergus Ewing, have been here from the early days of these fishing debates. This is one of those moments when we might wonder whether we will pine for the language of the CFP, common access to a common resource, relative stability and the Hague preference. I recall Ross Finnie being asked by Mr Salmond in the first fishing debate whether he would invoke the Hague preference. As Mr Finnie said to us afterwards, he knew that question would be asked, so he went away and did his homework before the debate to find out what the heck the Hague preference was. Heaven help any fisheries minister who does not know what it is, although, in future, Mr Ewing may not need to know, because it will no longer have any bearing—it will all be gone.
Whatever happens in the future, the common fisheries policy will be gone. It has never been common. It has never been a policy. It has not worked for fishing communities here in Scotland and right across the coastal states of the EU. On that, I entirely agree with Peter Chapman.
I want to make two points today, the first of which is about the reality of the industry now. We are not really debating in detail the catch quotas set for monks or haddock or cod at the recent EU-Norway annual negotiations. This is not a huge fight about days at sea or the discard ban. As the minister and Peter Chapman said, there are problems—choke species being the main one—and Marine Scotland needs to work with the industry to sort them out. However, nothing compares with the high drama and dark days of decommissioning and the financial losses by boats affecting families in every fishing community around the coast of Scotland. Broadly, as the minister rightly said, stocks, science and fishing effort are in reasonable balance. The seas for which we have responsibility appear to be healthy. Science says so.
My second point is that the Government wants to double the size of the food and drink industry by 2030, and seafood has and will have a significant role in that objective. Shetland’s fish landings have grown from 300,000 boxes in 2015 to more than 400,000 in this year. This year, £33 million of whitefish alone will be landed in the isles and, every night, 21 containers of fresh seafood are on the boat from Lerwick down to Aberdeen and on to market.
There are two issues that I ask the cabinet secretary to consider. First, we need to ensure that there is enough shipping capacity as landings grow. If Shetland cannot get fish on to the boats, we cannot play our part in meeting the Government’s export target. Secondly, the ferry freight fares review needs to be concluded. Putting up freight charges by 2.9 per cent, as the Government has done, has not helped the industry’s competitiveness, nor is it consistent with other Government policies, such as the food and drink strategy. I know that Seafood Shetland wrote to the cabinet secretary this week and it would greatly appreciate his assistance on those matters.
To export and expand, to genuinely harvest the sea of opportunity, means having access to market. That is the reason for my amendment this afternoon. Bertie Armstrong’s Scottish Fishermen’s Federation briefing paper for today’s debate is accurate in many respects. Bertie Armstrong writes:
“With trade talks imminent, we must achieve the best and most free access to all markets including the EU.”
That is absolutely right. Much of Shetland’s catch, and that of most ports in Scotland, is destined for the European market. We can argue about weight, volume, value and the statistics that go with all that, but fishing depends on selling fish to Europe. Europeans simply eat more fish than we do.
We therefore need a deal out of Brexit that makes sense not just for the car industry or financial services, but for fishing. However, this week, as we debate the fishing industry, we find out two facts. First, the UK Cabinet has not even discussed the shape of the trade deal that it wants to achieve. Secondly, no impact assessment of fishing, never mind the rest of the economy, has been carried out. That is a dereliction of duty on the part of any Government. We are almost in 2018. We are months away from the UK Government’s date for leaving the EU in March 2019 and the UK Cabinet has not discussed trade, nor do we know what any of this will mean for our economy.
The message for our industry is clear. It should not depend on the UK Government to defend its interests. Sadly, the only party that the UK Government is defending is the DUP, and that is because the DUP is keeping the Tories in office—in office, but not in power.
The other reason that I worry for fishing is the speech that the UK fisheries minister Michael Gove, a member of the UK Cabinet and a leading Brexiteer, gave to a meeting of Danish fishermen on 31 July. As reported by the
, he assured the Danish food industry that their fishermen would
“still be able to catch large amounts in British waters.”
If ever there was an illustration of the need for our industry to be on its guard it was that. Gove is a highly intelligent individual. He did not misspeak—he meant it. What he was really saying is that the fishing industry is part of the overall negotiations. It does not stand outside them. Many old hands on the quaysides from Lerwick to Anstruther remember what happened in the 1970s when the Tories took them into Europe.
I therefore urge my good friends in the SFF and at home in the Shetland Fishermen’s Association to hold the UK Government’s feet very firmly to the fire. Mr Gove has opened up what many of us feared on day 1 of Brexit—a Danish or Dutch veto of the fishing part of Brexit in their own national interest. It is not just the UK that has national interests. The Dutch and the Danes most certainly do.
In economic terms, the industry is highly significant to both countries. Just as Ireland is currently holding a veto over number 10, and rightly so, it is all too easy to envisage the same from the Danes or the Dutch over access to the UK parts of the North Sea.
The SFF’s advocacy of a nine-month bridge after March 2019 makes intellectual sense, but the question is whether it makes political sense. It is a way forward, but it will need support as part of the Brexit negotiations here and in London and, as an approach to the future management of our seas, it will need to be sensibly explained to other coastal states and to the EU. Who is doing that? I rather doubt that it has got to the top of David Davis’s inbox and Michael Gove seems more interested in being chancellor than fisheries secretary, so it is a tough period for assessing the next steps.
Bertie Armstrong and the SFF are quite right to set out a plan across the nautical chart. It is now a question of how that chart is navigated across a very stormy political sea.
I move amendment S5M-09406.1, to insert at end:
“, and notes the uncertainty of the UK Government’s role in the 2018 EU Fisheries Council, given the anticipated departure from the EU in March 2019, and what this might mean for the long-term sustainability of the fish catching, processing and supply chain industries.”
This debate is an annual event ahead of the fisheries negotiations with the European Union. The Norwegian talks that concluded at the weekend have been reasonably successful and that augurs well for the forthcoming talks with the EU.
The fishing industry is doing well, which is a good backdrop to the talks. Fish stocks have recovered and there are plenty of fish to catch. Fishing is also more profitable because of the weak pound, which means that exports of fish are bringing more pounds home. As they say, it is an ill wind.
It feels like a long time since the fishing industry was in such buoyant mood. We should not forget the painful decisions that were taken in the past and the real hardship in the industry at that time. However, it looks as though it has paid off. The lesson that we must learn is that we take fish stocks for granted at our peril. We must farm the seas and tend them to ensure that we never face the cliff edges of the past again.
Whether inside or outside the EU, discussions on the control of stocks have to be held with our neighbours as fish respect no borders, and it is only if we work together that we will ensure healthy stocks in the future. The talks could well be our last as members of the common fisheries policy for the full term of the negotiating period, as the next negotiations will be for the year that we are due to leave the European Union. I hope that the parameters for post-Brexit discussions on fisheries management will be in place by then so that those talks can be meaningful.
With our fishing industry so buoyant, it would be good to take stock and to plan strategically for the future. Where will our European exports enter into Europe? How will we ensure the least possible delay for fresh seafood if we are not in a customs union? Are there new markets that we should be exploring and targeting?
The European Union is currently the world’s largest single fisheries market. In 2015, the UK exported more than £900 million-worth of fish and fish products to the European Union, which is almost 70 per cent of total UK exports for the sector. If Scotland is to continue to trade effectively with that market, it is vital that, in future, our seafood industry at least meets, if not improves on, EU standards. We have led the way in the past and we should continue to do so in the future.
For the protection of our islands’ fishing industries, we need to ensure that freight costs are island proofed and that there is sufficient freight transport available. It will not matter how big our catch is if we cannot get it to market. Tavish Scott mentioned that there is a looming capacity problem in Shetland, and that must be addressed now so that we are ready for the future.
The main issue that needs to be dealt with at the negotiations is the landing obligation and choke species. Although the landing obligation is currently going well, it will become more difficult when it extends to species in mixed fisheries. To ensure that boats do not flout it, the regime has to be workable. It should not lead to boats being tied up for a prolonged period of time when they cannot fish due to a lack of quota for choke species. There surely must be a way of ensuring that all the fish that are caught are landed, while also making it unattractive to target choke species that are at or beyond their allowed quota.
Before the landing obligation was in place, if fish were caught for which a boat did not have quota, they went back over the side. Let us be clear that that must not happen again. The fish were already dead. When so many people go without enough food, such waste is immoral. It does not conserve stocks, either, because the fish are already dead when they are returned to the sea. Discards do nothing for over-quota species or, indeed, the environment. At best, they provide an easy meal for seabirds and other predators.
If illicit fishing does occur, the result will be unaccounted-for mortality, which will undermine confidence in stock assessments and, in turn, in quotas themselves. That could result in overfishing and a decline in stock, with knock-on negative impacts on fisheries. We need a workable landing obligation policy and not one that stops fishermen working and so causes hardship—not just to those at sea but to processors on land. We need a policy that allows bycatch to be landed and used and that neither punishes nor rewards the boats that inadvertently catch the fish. Landing bycatch should not be profitable, but there is a risk that it will be, especially if the species caught is in short supply and there is high customer demand. There must be a way of allowing a boat enough profit to land the bycatch but not enough to make the catch attractive to target. That way, it will not be wasted.
We must also invest more in science and technology to find ways of fishing more selectively in mixed fisheries, which will allow effort to be much more targeted. Technology is advancing to enable gear to fish more selectively, but it needs much more investment to help to avoid choke species altogether, which is obviously the best option for us all.
These debates happen every year and this year, despite Brexit, they are as important as ever. Our coastal communities are vulnerable and need a stable industry for their survival. It is not just the crews and boats that depend on the industry; processors and workers onshore do, too. We all want the very best deal for our fishing industry. We want a deal that ensures that, while stocks are protected for future generations, the current generation can make a living and we can all have fish to eat.
Not every MSP attends the fishing debates. My first speech in Parliament in June 2001 was on the subject of fishing, just as my 716th today is on the subject. However, fishing and its products touch us all. Only yesterday, the lead item on the menu in the Scottish Parliament canteen was Peterhead smoked haddock fish cake—I see the Presiding Officer nodding—and absolutely delicious it was. This is not an abstract issue; it touches our palate, our stomach and our very being. It sustains and supports our population and our health.
Speaking of health, I think that the fishing industry is in pretty good heart. It is looking forward to the sea of opportunity, which is the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation catchphrase for the opportunities to come from leaving the common fisheries policy. For my part, I have always been opposed to the CFP. From the outset of the UK joining the European Economic Community until he demitted office, my political colleague, Donald Stewart MP, the member for the Western Isles, made speeches that are testament to his long-standing opposition to the CFP. Some 20 years ago, before his early death in office, Allan Macartney, that wonderful member of the European Parliament, wrote an excellent paper on what should be a successor plan to the CFP. It is worth getting that out and having another read, because we are now thinking in terms of what next.
This year’s negotiation is for the very last complete year before Brexit. We must keep our eye on the prize—fishermen expect that to come in 2019. I understand in tactical terms why Mr Gove has been speaking to the Danes and the Dutch but, given some of the comments that Mr Chapman made today, we are seeing the Tories give away the prize that exists with the sea of opportunity, for no obvious benefit that we are hearing about.
We have to get 100 per cent control over our waters out to 200 miles. I welcome the hint—or perhaps it was more than a hint—that the London convention will be abandoned, because that will help us between six and 12 miles, although I am not absolutely sure that that is nailed down. Unless and until we get that control, we will not have the opportunity to map a way forward.
In that context, we are looking at what Westminster is doing on the leaving the EU bill, or the great reform bill, or whatever one chooses to call it. The SFF is absolutely clear that the powers in relation to fishing must come straight to Holyrood, because it fears—quite reasonably—that it might not get the kind of solutions that will meet its needs if we rely simply on London. There is a reason for that; I do not criticise, but English fishing interests are mostly in controlling how much we catch by restriction of effort rather than by quota, whereas the Scottish fishing industry wishes to take a quota-based approach. Under the CFP, we went through a period when we had both and it was absolutely horrendous. We would have clarity if we made the decisions in Scotland: we would set the strategic objectives and take control of our waters. That is a simple understanding of where the SFF wants to be.
How optimistic is the fishing industry? New boats are being built all over the place. The new fish market in Peterhead, to which Peter Chapman referred, will open next year—I met the harbour authority on Friday and got an update on that. This very week we had the European maritime and fisheries fund and the Scottish Government providing funding for a factory to take over a facility in Fraserburgh that was previously occupied by Young’s Seafood. There truly is a sea of opportunity out there.
Science is important to how we take decisions on fishing—there is no division among any of us on that. ICES is the key place from which scientific opinion and understanding come. It is, of course, unaffected by Brexit, because it has been around for more than 100 years telling us about the fishing industry—it is really the arch conservationist at heart, even if not every individual in it necessarily is—and we will continue to participate in it. However, will the Scottish contribution to the scientific work be damaged by Brexit, given that quite a lot of people who are working on our science might not readily have a long-term right of residency here?
Peter Chapman said that he speaks on behalf of the industry, but the industry speaks on behalf of the industry—we are all here to support it. I do not know whether Peter has been elected as a representative of any particular part of the industry, but the important thing is that we are all united—I think that we will be at decision time—around a shared position that promotes the interests of our industry, ensures that we can exploit the sea of opportunity and sees success in fishing communities across Scotland.
Here we are again at the annual series of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral summits that determine next year’s fishing quotas for EU, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic fishing fleets. We await the lobbyists, politicians, commissioners, Council officials, European Parliament staffers and journalists at the annual two-day, all-night bun fight at the Berlaymont emerging exhausted and waving the various deals and agreements that they have wrestled over.
It is of course, in the main, a front. The summit is, for the British fleet at least, a rubber-stamping exercise, with the major deals having been agreed with little fanfare. The big decisions for our North Sea fleets, for example, were taken last week at the EU-Norway summit, with deals struck on cod, haddock, whiting and herring.
The December council is fundamentally about dividing the EU’s portion that has been decided through the coastal states arrangements. That is concerning because, currently, fishing quotas are allocated to the UK as part of the EU’s common fisheries policy, with individual UK countries having devolved responsibility over their share of the UK quotas. This is the final time for that; this time next year, we will be about four months away from being a coastal state, sitting at the table, negotiating for ourselves.
That is good news because currently, non-UK EU fishing boats land, on average, 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth almost £530 million, from the UK exclusive economic zone each year. Non-UK EU fishing boats therefore land almost eight times more fish and shellfish by weight from the UK EEZ than UK boats do from other areas of the EU EEZ.
Brexit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it involves a systemic change in restoring the UK’s exclusive economic zone. That gives the country the potential to become a world leader in seafood production and exports. That is not to say that the UK’s position will be one of isolation, of course. After Brexit, the UK will still need to co-operate with the EU on quota setting. Co-operation on sharing stocks is required, as many fish stocks—as was pointed out earlier—are migratory and cross boundaries. Such co-operation is currently seen in Norway and other non-EU European countries and is enshrined in international law. The United Nations agreement on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea require co-operation on the conservation and management of fish stocks, and the UK has ratified both of those.
That leads me to the motion’s call for the best outcome for our fishermen, because they work to give themselves that best outcome. Our fishing industry is innovative and hard working and has been at the forefront of pioneering new nets to reduce discarding practices, the voluntary use of closed circuit television monitoring on boats and an on-board observer scheme.
When on board fishing vessels in Peterhead and Stonehaven, I have been struck a number of times by the thought that fishermen are among the country’s best entrepreneurs. There are supertrawlers of more than 70 metres, with yards of flat digital monitors and suites costing some £20 million; there are family businesses with shareholder crews; and there are fishermen who foresaw that pelagic fish would be worth something and invested—as the cabinet secretary pointed out earlier, the mackerel that they fish is the biggest value species not just in the UK but in the whole of the EU. That locally driven investment benefits the industry, the locality and the local supply chain. That is why I commend the motion and the Scottish Conservative amendment in calling for support for our innovative, pioneering and hard-working fishing industry.
Very briefly, it is to narrow down in the motion the specific political issues that others could raise—if it were not made clear, those might not be a consideration. [Interruption.] Forgive me—someone was not listening. They can read it back in the Official Report.
The industry includes fish processing. To pick up on a point that Peter Chapman made when he talked about fish processing, which draws on the motion’s mention of the wider sector, Scottish processors conduct primary and secondary processing, with many factories carrying out a mix of both types. Peter Chapman rightly highlighted serious challenges: there has been a 34 per cent decline in processing sites since 2008—a decline that has been more marked in Scotland than in England; and seafood-related employment in North East Scotland has fallen by 4 per cent since 2008, while in Humberside, there has been an increase of 7 per cent.
Why has there been that decline? A number of reasons have been suggested, such as high operating costs and challenges in attracting investment—a low-margin industry competing in a global market; and business rates that have disproportionately impacted North East Scotland. At the cross-party group on fisheries, industry expert Jimmy Buchan put together some suggestions, principally around business rates relief and innovative changes, many of which merit further consideration.
We are pleased to back this motion calling for the best-possible deal from the fisheries negotiations and we very much support the Scottish Government in its efforts to achieve the best possible outcome for fishermen, coastal communities and the wider seafood sectors.
We acknowledge that the motion seeks to recognise the real opportunity of sustained economic benefit for our coastal communities and seafood sectors. However, such benefits can be realised only if parliamentarians from all parts of the political spectrum join together and throw their support behind our fishing communities to ensure the best possible deal for fishing. As we give that support, let us never forget that, tonight as on every night, there are people out on the boats who are willing to face all weathers and risk life and limb to put food on our tables. That is something for which I hope all members in the chamber are eternally grateful.
I remind the chamber that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s motion and commend the cabinet secretary’s constructive involvement in recent negotiations. Scotland secured a number of its objectives as negotiations between the EU and Norway concluded. There will be quota increases for five of the six North Sea stocks that are jointly managed with Norway, which will increase catching opportunities for Scotland’s fishing industry and deliver more economically for Scotland.
The Scottish Government will fight hard to ensure that the negotiated settlement promotes sustainable fisheries and has the best interests of Scotland’s fishermen, coastal communities and wider seafood sectors at its heart. Vitally, we will be guided by the science and respect stock sustainability while maximising fishing opportunities.
The EU plays a key role for Scottish fishermen by setting the annual total allowable catches for all quota-regulated species and EU fishing fleets. That is always a complex negotiation and, given Scotland’s majority interest in UK fishing, the Scottish Government plays a prominent role in promoting our fishing priorities in Brussels annually. Although the common fisheries policy has been cumbersome for the fishing industry, membership of the European Union has brought benefits and the prospect of Scotland being taken out of the EU has very real implications for the industry, which I will discuss.
The EU is the largest overseas market for Scotland’s seafood exports. The UK Government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit will likely create huge barriers to trade with vital European markets. In the south of Scotland, fishing is a key industry. The region’s harbours and many directly related onshore jobs depend on the industry, as do other local livelihoods not directly connected to it, such as the food and drink sector.
Inshore fisheries in thriving towns such as Kirkcudbright could be financially impacted by non-tariff barriers after Brexit. For example, if trade barriers delay the process of exporting food such as shellfish past a certain time of day, the price can drop by as much as 50 per cent. In the absence of a trade deal with the EU, a switch to the default World Trade Organization tariff arrangements could lead to EU tariffs averaging between 7 and 13 per cent being imposed on Scottish seafood exports to the EU.
Yes, but the EU is still our biggest market so, although there are export countries outwith the EU, we should not negate other opportunities as we proceed.
James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, has described such a no-deal scenario as a disaster. In the absence of full EU membership, Scotland’s interests would best be protected by remaining in the single market and customs union. Last week, leaked draft plans for the Irish border showed that British and Irish officials had agreed proposals that would, in effect, keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union after Brexit by retaining EU regulations. If one part of the UK can retain regulatory alignment with the EU and, in effect, stay in the single market, there is surely no good practical reason why others cannot.
It is also vital to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the powers to fully manage Scottish fisheries after Brexit. That would ensure that fisheries management in Scottish waters reflected the interests of the Scottish industry and fishing communities, and was sensitive to the Scottish marine environment. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation supports that position and has expressed deep concern about clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would allow Westminster to retain powers that the EU currently holds. Those powers include the operable elements of the common fisheries policy, which the UK Government has indicated it intends to roll forward and which will become subject to the decisions of the UK Government, but not the Scottish Government, after exit day. In its submission to the Finance and Constitution Committee earlier this year, the SFF referred to that approach
“dramatically limiting Scotland’s ability to ... deliver effective, reactive, fisheries management.”
That is not an outcome that the industry wants to see, and I look forward to Theresa May beginning to engage fully with our First Minister in an attempt to give us some much-needed certainty over the legislative landscape for the industry post-Brexit.
I know that the Scottish Government will continue to do all that it can to protect Scotland’s interests and ensure that devolved functions continue to operate fully and effectively. Scotland is strategically placed to have the best fishing industry in Europe, and the Scottish National Party is committed to doing all that it can to make that a reality.
Next year, 2018, will indeed be a complex year for our fisheries. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, our ambition to supply high-quality seafood to high-quality environmental standards must never waiver. The cabinet secretary is right to state in the motion that the Scottish Government will look for the
“best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishermen, coastal communities ... and wider seafood sectors”.
He also recognises that a healthy marine environment is vital for the prosperity of them all.
Although it has had many critics, the common fisheries policy has anchored sustainability into EU-wide fisheries management. Whatever the future holds, any new trading relationships should enhance that. There will also this coming year be a UK fisheries bill, and we hope that there will be proper liaison with our Westminster colleagues about the issues that affect Scotland and, indeed, the whole UK. There will of course be scrutiny as the bill develops.
I thank all those who have provided briefings for the debate, from a range of perspectives, including that of the SFF and the newly formed charity Open Seas. Scottish Labour is clear that responsibility for our fisheries should revert to Scotland after we leave the EU. There are colossal challenges. We need to support the wide-ranging industry and underpin that with a continuing, robust commitment to the protection and—I stress—enhancement of our marine environment, on which some good progress has already been made. Together, we must forge a sustainable way forward for our fisheries sectors and our marine environment, which gives us such plenty, for now and for the future, as Rhoda Grant highlighted.
We will still be subject to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which demands quotas and sustainable management. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s words on scientific advice in the motion. The sharing of knowledge and research is one of the greatest tenets of the EU, and it is a great shame that our involvement in EU-wide data exchange remains uncertain at this stage, although I note what Stewart Stevenson said about ICES being very important.
The European maritime and fisheries fund has made a significant contribution to our coastal communities and maritime sector, as well as to Marine Scotland’s expenditure on science, data and compliance. It is therefore concerning to learn that there is no assurance that that position will be protected after Brexit. Will the cabinet secretary acknowledge in his closing remarks the significance of the support that that fund has provided and inform the chamber of any discussions about the need for future funding of that nature and how that might happen?
Climate change is a major threat to our marine ecosystems, and scientific advice will become increasingly vital to support a sustainable fisheries industry in warming seas. The Scottish Association for Marine Science has predicted that global warming could cause cod, herring and haddock—all commercially important species in Scotland—to vanish from our west coast by the turn of the century, unless more is done. Effects of that kind are already being felt, as cod and haddock are now being caught far further north—near Iceland—and being sold back to the UK to satisfy consumer demand. I would welcome it if the cabinet secretary could comment on how those changing ecosystems and shifting species are being accounted for and discussed in quota negotiations, given that such issues lie alongside other pressing issues such as choke species that are being discussed in this year’s negotiations. In that respect, I hope that the cabinet secretary has noted Rhoda Grant’s point about choke species.
I commend the fishing fleets for their adaptation to the landing obligation and the steps towards self-regulation that they have taken. Marine Scotland is working to make compliance as easy as possible for fishermen and is experimenting with technologies, but that support—which must indeed be in place—is reliant on the organisation’s resources.
Plastic pollution in our marine environment has become one of the most compelling environmental issues of the day, thanks not just to Sir David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet” but to the work of the Marine Conservation Society and many other environmental groups. However, people might not know about the impressive work of fishing for litter. Since 2005, that project, which engages the fishing industry, local communities and schools, has landed more than 1,102 tonnes of plastic litters in 18 ports, including some in my South Scotland region. Humans absorb less than 1 per cent of plastic fragments, but the effect is cumulative. In any case, people around the world are interested in our famous fish and shellfish exports, and many are working to sustain that reputation. I am therefore interested to know whether the Scottish Government will raise the issue in this year’s negotiations.
Finally, I want to focus again on Brexit. Our significant seafood processing sector must continue to be supported; in Dumfries and Galloway, as in the rest of Scotland, the fishing and seafood sector plays a significant role in the local economy. From fishing out of Kirkcudbright to processing in Annan, the sector contributes more than £20 million to the economy and provides employment for 1,000 people. Indeed, in just one town—Annan—more than 120 people are employed at Young’s, which after 70 years is now Scotland’s biggest-selling scampi producer, while just around the corner, Pinneys of Scotland, which is now owned by Young’s, employs 200 people in fish processing. I know that he is keenly aware of this, but I point out to the cabinet secretary that much of that work can be seasonal. However, some of it is not seasonal, and those workers have brought their families to Scotland and are now part of our world. It is therefore very important that we protect both ways of working.
On behalf of Scottish Labour, I wish the cabinet secretary well—again—in this year’s negotiations, and I am sure that that view is shared across the chamber and by the fishing industry. We look forward to hearing positive results.
As is the Holyrood tradition, I, too, wish the cabinet secretary good luck in the forthcoming December talks. It is always the culmination of a long and very involved stakeholder process across Europe, and having spent a brief spell as a member of the North Western Waters Advisory Council, I recognise the toil involved in spending many months poring over stock assessments in windowless meeting rooms in Brussels.
Of course, we do not know what the arrangements in bilateral and multilateral agreements will be post-2019, and nor do we know what common UK frameworks will emerge from the UK fisheries bill. However, whatever machinery of negotiation we end up with, the hard-won principles around sustainability must endure post-Brexit.
It is absolutely clear that nature demands that we do not fish beyond the capacity of a species to reproduce itself, which is why the principle of maximum sustainable yield needs to be embedded. Alongside that, the key European principle of the precautionary approach must be retained, and it is essential that we hold back from levels of fishing effort that could tip stocks into serious decline. Stock recovery plans will always cause fishers pain, but preventing collapse through precautionary action is the best up-front course we can take. With regard to this year’s negotiations, will the cabinet secretary be pushing for the science to be followed on all stocks to ensure that we meet our MSY 2020 obligations? If he does not support the advice on some stocks, he needs, in the interests of transparency, to set out in more detail than he has today his reasons for not doing so.
A number of members have reflected on the fact that in the EU we have turned the corner on overfishing. Just a few years ago, nearly three quarters of stocks had been dangerously fished out; the figure today is less than half, but there is still a long way to go. A commitment is needed to ensure that scientific advice and limits are actually reflected in fishing practice on the water. Discarded fish may not contribute to business balance sheets, but they have a big impact on ecology, so a discard ban needs to be enforced. Illicit discarding also undermines the very stock assessments that fishers, conservationists and Governments need confidence in to make the right decisions, leading to a downward spiral of overfishing and further declines in stock health—a point that Rhoda Grant reflected on.
Eliminating discards on the six key whitefish species would clearly add economic benefit, with estimates showing that the additional value of landings in Scotland could bring in an extra £28 million a year by 2020. It is worth investing in developing the selective gear and techniques to avoid non-target species and Scotland has a good track record in leading those conservation approaches over many years, but we should now also be leading the way in monitoring. At present, less than 1 per cent of fishing activity is monitored at sea. That will change, obviously, and Scotland has the opportunity to lead that race to the top in verifying the quality and sustainability of our produce through remote electronic monitoring cameras on our boats.
I note the cabinet secretary’s response to my earlier question. I would like to hear in his closing speech whether he would support remote electronic monitoring on all boats over 10m long, because the data that we can gather through electronic monitoring will not only ensure that we make the best use of limited budgets for compliance, but it will also help to deliver some of the science needed for more accurate stock assessments that benefit everyone, including the industry.
Science also tells us where key habitats and species thrive and how we can save and enhance them through marine protected areas. By enhancing spawning grounds, we protect the parts that lead to greater productivity and resilience overall, which is essential in an age of real and growing threats from climate change. Boldness is needed from the Scottish Government in completing the MPA network set out by Scottish Natural Heritage three years ago.
I turn briefly to the post-Brexit picture—a subject on which we have already heard many contributions in this debate. The fishing lobby in Scotland and the UK want to take back control of the exclusive economic areas of the UK’s seas and unpick fishing rights held by other countries, some of which pre-date our entry to the European Union. The question is at what cost that could be done and whether it would actually result in any more fish being landed. The United Nations laws of the sea require states to allow access to surplus fishing quota based on historical use and it is unlikely that the EU would want to strike a deal with the UK without preserving some access to those historical catches. If the UK ignored that, what would the impact be on trade?
We are in a position in which the vast majority of what is caught in our waters is sold to Europe, as we have heard from many members, while the tastes of our domestic markets rely heavily on the nets of Greenland, Iceland and Norway, so unravelling and separating access to markets and fishing areas would be highly problematic. If the UK decided just to walk away from deals, that could be disastrous, leading parties to ignore the science and go back to the unsustainable levels of catch that we saw during the mackerel wars, alongside all the sanctions and port prohibitions that that brought.
That is why we need a debate on both fisheries and agriculture that focuses on what the public interest actually is and what public goods those sectors can deliver. What replaces the European marine fisheries fund in a post-Brexit UK fisheries policy remains to be seen, but to deliver public goods it must be focused on science and technological innovation to deliver healthy stocks and an industry that serves the needs of communities, rather than a small handful of quota barons.
It has been some time since I took part in a fisheries debate in this Parliament. My last one was probably at the end of session 4, so I am pleased to be contributing today, even though there is a feeling of déjà vu and some members still start their speeches with, “Here we are again.”
Being a fan of all things Nordic, I was pleased to see that the relative success of the EU-Norway deal, following negotiations last week, brought some additional success by securing for Scotland a number of its negotiation objectives when fisheries talks between the EU and Norway concluded in Bergen. As the cabinet secretary mentioned, the coastal state negotiations continue with the Faroe Islands as we speak.
As a result of the negotiations in Bergen, there has been a welcome quota increase for five out of the six North Sea stocks that are jointly managed with Norway, with increases of 38 per cent for whiting, 25 per cent for herring, 24 per cent for haddock and 10 per cent for cod. In addition, cod, haddock, saithe and herring will be fished at sustainable or MSY levels in 2018, with whiting on a clearly defined path towards MSY by 2020.
There was, however, disappointment that the EU’s negotiators have continued to trade away saithe quota in both the North Sea and the west of Scotland. Saithe is a significant choke risk stock for Scotland in the North Sea and it seems crazy to give away to Norway stocks that we remain short of ourselves. It makes no economic or fishing sense, and puts the industry in an extremely difficult position under the landing obligation.
Historically, Scotland has been very supportive of the landing obligation and stopping the practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea. We certainly would not want to return to unaccounted levels of discarding, which would ultimately harm the stocks, resulting in reduced scientific advice and reduced economic returns for the fleet.
Under our catching policy, if we are allowed to develop one, we would deal primarily with fish availability and practical solutions, ideally allowing juvenile fish to be returned to the sea—they have no value—as long as they were accounted for, perhaps by cameras, or cameras on vessels. I will develop that point later.
Overall, it is fair to say that the negotiations in Norway went well. They followed the good news a couple of months ago that the quantity and value of fish landed in Scotland had once more increased with the value of fish landed by Scotland-registered vessels in 2016 increasing by 25 per cent in real terms, according to the latest statistics published by the Scottish Government.
Driven by an increase in the value of pelagic species, 453,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish were landed by Scotland-registered vessels, with a value of £557 million, as the cabinet secretary said. Mackerel continues to be the most valuable stock, accounting for £169 million-worth of Scottish landings.
Compared to the previous year, the volume of landings has increased by 3 per cent, so it is far from doom and gloom for Scotland’s fishermen these days, although we still do not know whether, after we leave the EU, powers over fisheries will be returned to this Parliament and not retained by UK Government.
With fish processors also facing the uncertainty of Brexit, it has been good to see the Scottish Government supporting them through the EMFF. We know that the UK has been allocated €243.1 million in fisheries funding from 2014 to 2020 under the EMFF. The Scottish Government fights hard to ensure that we get Scotland’s fair share of that funding, which is currently 46 per cent of the UK’s share, with £81 million allocated from the EU to help Scottish businesses expand and become more sustainable. The Scottish Government provides a further £53 million to EMFF-awarded projects. We are also a major recipient of EU scientific funding.
Although the EMFF funding will remain available while the UK is a member of the EU, once the UK leaves—some of us harbour a slight hope that we will not leave—our fisheries will still need financial support to make the transition to a sustainable fleet that is moving towards discard-free fisheries. That will require funding to improve selective activities—both behaviour and gear—monitoring and enforcement, and strong science to underpin management decisions. Will that funding be available? We will simply have to wait and see, but there is no doubt in my mind that effective monitoring, control and enforcement is key for sustainable fisheries management, particularly for monitoring the effectiveness of the landing obligation.
It is estimated that less than 1 per cent of fishing activity is monitored at sea, as Mark Ruskell mentioned. Better use needs to be made of existing resources to monitor fisheries compliance at sea effectively. The use of cost-effective remote electronic camera technology to support best practice should be implemented with the added benefit of collecting catch data that could be used to feed into assessments and support quota management.
Scotland has huge potential to market high-quality, sustainable seafood, and it must continue to work hard on providing confidence that that is the case. It is worth noting that New Zealand has just introduced remote electronic monitoring with cameras across its fleet, citing the reasons for doing so as the reduction of waste, more responsive decision making and increased public confidence. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary acknowledge the benefits of remote electronic monitoring, following Mark Ruskell’s intervention.
Without monitoring technology, the only ways of certifying catches involve relying on vessels’ own reporting, patchy satellite observations and occasional onshore monitoring of catches, nets and practices. If the move to on-board cameras is resisted by the industry, it is worth highlighting that, since 2015, the cost of modern technology per vessel over 10m in length has come down by more than a fifth to less than £4,000 a year. It is clear that remote electronic monitoring is a gateway to sustainable fishing, providing correct data for science and reassurance for consumers.
I wish the cabinet secretary, Marine Scotland and officials good luck at the imminent December council meeting, and look forward to confirmation of a good result for Scotland’s fishermen, as was secured last year.
It is fair to say that, the last time that Parliament debated the future of Scottish fisheries, there seemed to be a clash over the merits or otherwise of Brexit.
I am glad that the cabinet secretary today tried to avoid a repeat of that, and I note that his motion does not mention Brexit. I am saddened that other members have not done the same, but have instead tried to drag the debate down to the level of “Brexit or no Brexit.” Leaver or remainer, it does not matter to me—the message from the public is clear. Whether we are standing on the quayside or in the field, people tell us, “Stop continually bringing us problems: bring us solutions.” That is what we should be doing.
I am sure that we are all pro-Scottish fisheries, and we all need to support our fishermen by laying the groundwork for the industry’s post-Brexit future. Scottish fishermen want a speedy exit from the common fisheries policy, but they recognise that they will need a nine-month bridge to smooth that exit. I support that. Their sights are firmly set on the future and on what works best for the industry.
However, our fishermen are rightly concerned that the Scottish Government is not always as proactive as it could be in taking advantage of the obvious opportunities that Brexit might present. Why is that the case? It is simple, really: there are too many mixed messages. The SNP says that it opposes the common fisheries policy but it still squirms at the thought of signing the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s pledge to leave the failed CFP. Of course, that is not true of every member of the SNP—Stewart Stevenson might prove to be the biggest catch of the day, after joining Scottish Conservative MPs and MSPs in signing the pledge.
I thank the member for giving way. I have a genuine question, because we are very puzzled. Mr Mountain is the third Conservative member to speak in the debate, but none of us in the rest of the chamber has a clue what the Conservative amendment means. Could he enlighten us?
I am delighted to take an intervention from Mr Rumbles.
Signing the pledge does not make the person who signs a Brexiteer; it makes them someone who wants to do what is right for our fishermen by re-establishing the UK as an independent coastal state. That is the prize that I believe our fishermen are after.
Although we welcome the good news of this year’s EU-Norway talks, which saw quota increases for five of the six North Sea stocks, it was a different story last year. In 2016, the same talks were a mixed bag for fishermen, with no uplift in the UK quota for blue whiting, and cuts to the size of the quotas for herring and haddock. Those decisions favoured Norwegian fishermen, despite Scottish fishermen having worked hard to restore the stocks to healthy levels, and the quotas highlighted the superior position of independent coastal states in negotiations with the EU.
As our fishermen know only too well, the EU has an uncanny habit of negotiating a bad deal for our industry. This year’s talks were far more positive, but Scottish fishermen still lost out, as the EU negotiated what was best for the other 27 member states. The Scottish Conservatives were as disappointed with that as the cabinet secretary was. I want to quote his words back to him. He said:
“we remain firmly opposed in principle to giving away to Norway stocks that we remain short of ourselves. This makes no economic nor fishing sense and risks putting the industry in a difficult position under the landing obligation.”
Re-establishing the UK as an independent coastal state with the power to negotiate our own quotas will give us the potential to stop bad deals that are brokered by the EU. When the UK finally sits at the table, it will be able to strike a bilateral deal with Norway on the northern North Sea and a tripartite deal with the EU and Norway on the southern North Sea. Those deals will better serve the interests of Scottish fishermen.
In Scotland, as we all know, we are fortunate to have some of the best fishing grounds in the world, and a fishing industry that is growing in confidence. During the summer, I visited Kinlochbervie and saw the fish market there. I heard about two new boats that were almost ready to go into service. Such examples of investing in Scotland are what we all want.
That is not the only good news in the region that I represent. The Glenmorangie distillery has partnered with Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society to restore the population of oysters in the Dornoch Firth for the first time in 100 years, but it is not stopping there. The distillery is now aiming to establish a new reef within five years.
Those are two success stories from the Highlands that show a confident industry that is investing in its future. Now it is time for the Scottish Government to take a proactive approach that matches the confidence of our fishermen. I urge the Scottish Government to listen to the fishing industry and to make every effort to assist the UK Government in seeking a smooth exit from the common fisheries policy. As the UK moves ever closer to becoming an independent coastal state, the work to prepare for what is required once that happens must begin now.
The fishing industry is vital to Scotland, and its success is critical for many of our communities around the country. It is a central component of our successful food and drink sector and a key part of our national economic growth strategy, built, as it is, on the four pillars of innovation, inclusive growth, investment and internationalisation. Scotland’s food and drink sector, whose rapidly growing exports are valued at more than £5 billion, is vital for our future prosperity, being focused on premium products that are in great demand around the world.
Fishing is an industry that we should protect and encourage to grow. All parts of the industry—the catching sector, the larger processing sector and the part that deals with onward marketing and sale of our fish around the world—are important. The catching sector employs almost 5,000 people in Scotland and has seen recent growth. Over the course of 2016, the value of fish landed by vessels that are registered in Scotland increased by 25 per cent in real terms to more than £0.5 billion, and the number of vessels that are registered in Scotland also increased.
Although it is vital that we ensure that the catching sector is successful in order to protect the coastal communities that it is such a key part of, we must also strive to ensure that the processing sector is not threatened by lack of access to the EU labour force on which it relies. Up to 70 per cent of fish processing workers in the north-east are from the EU, and their ability to stay and support that vital sector is under threat as a consequence of the hard Brexit decisions that have been taken by the Tory Government.
As Liam Kerr well knows, the biggest threat to the processing industry—as it is to so many sectors of Scotland’s economy—is the hard Brexit that the Tory Government that he supports is following, and the restrictions that it will place on the industry’s ability to access EU workers.
Overshadowing the current fisheries negotiations is the shambles of the Brexit negotiations. The UK Government’s ill-advised pursuit of a hard Brexit creates significant risks to Scotland’s vital and growing seafood export business. Uncertainty abounds around the Brexit negotiations, and the risk of both tariff and non-tariff barriers to Scottish food exports is real. As James Withers, who is the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, has said, a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster. Without free and unhindered routes to market, fish stocks will rot in trucks at customs ports, which will destroy the value of the produce, and of a source of export revenue that is vital to the Scottish economy.
The EU is the largest overseas market for Scotland’s seafood exports. Scotland’s food and drink exports in the first half of 2017 were £119 million more than over the same period in the previous year. A move to World Trade Organization arrangements would lead to tariffs of between 7 per cent and 13 per cent being imposed on Scottish seafood exports to the EU. In addition, non-tariff barriers are a real risk, including the additional certification that will be needed in order to comply with EU rules-of-origin requirements, which would result in longer delays at customs ports.
We all agree that fish stocks need to be managed, and that that management should be science-based and rely on the work of ICES to inform sustainability of our fish stocks. As the cabinet secretary has made clear, the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring the sustainability of fisheries in line with scientific evidence.
The EU common fisheries policy negotiations are now under way, and are likely to conclude at the December council meeting next week. We support the cabinet secretary in the work that he will do as part of that process. It should be remembered, of course, that Scotland will not have a seat at the negotiation table, but will have to work through UK Government ministers, despite the fact that two-thirds of the total fish that are caught in the UK are landed north of the border. It should also be noted that the UK—unlike the Norwegians, for example—does not include fishermen in its negotiating team.
The outcome of the Brussels negotiations will be pivotal in helping Scotland’s fishing fleet to reduce the possible impacts of choke species and the potential that they have to tie up the fleet. The Scottish Government is concerned to ensure that all available solutions are explored and adopted in order to prevent that happening. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has made many constructive points regarding how the UK Government should approach the December council negotiations, and the briefing that the SFF issued was very helpful in that regard, in setting out how stances that might be taken by the UK Government in this year’s negotiations could impact on the success of future negotiations, when the UK will act as a coastal state in its own right.
There is, however, a lack of clarity from UK Government ministers on whether the UK will leave the common fisheries policy in March 2019, when they intend that the UK will leave the EU, or at the end of the transition period. Whatever happens, the key point that we must not lose sight of is that control of Scottish fisheries and Scottish waters needs to come to this Parliament, rather than their being controlled by Westminster. The Scottish Parliament has the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry at heart; Westminster, on the other hand, has other priorities, as has been evidenced by the commitments that were given by Michael Gove to the Danes and the Dutch concerning their access to Scottish waters post-Brexit, as part of wider UK trade negotiations, which has been mentioned already in the debate.
The Scottish fishing industry, including the catching, processing and exporting parts of the business, is not only an iconic part of Scotland’s economy and vital to ensuring that many of our coastal communities survive and thrive; it is also a critical part of Scotland’s dynamic and expanding high-quality food and drink sector, and as such it has a key role to play in the future success of Scotland’s economy.
Scotland is strategically placed to have the best fishing industry in Europe, and the Scottish Government is committed to doing all that it can to make that a reality. With that in mind, I take this opportunity to wish the cabinet secretary the best of success in representing Scotland’s interests at the negotiations in Brussels in the coming week.
Mr Ewing will be the third fisheries minister to conclude a fisheries debate, this being the 18th such debate, I think, over the life of this Parliament; he follows Mr Lochhead and Mr Finnie. I had a quick look back last night at some of our more memorable debates, when the cabinet secretary had to have a phalanx of ministers around him to protect him from the vagaries of whatever was being debated at the time. Mr Ewing has only one with him today, so this must go down as a quiet afternoon before he heads for Brussels.
I will not criticise directly the number that the member used, but I will say that, in my first five years here, I participated in 14 fishing debates, so I think that the number is substantially higher than the one that he has just quoted.
That, of course, will be right. [
.] However, I meant the annual debate on the negotiations, in the lead-up to Christmas, rather than the many others that Mr Stevenson rightly says that we have had.
Mr Ewing set out an entirely fair assessment of the current position leading into the talks. Without a shadow of a doubt, and as members from across the chamber have reflected, the situation is considerably more positive than has been the case in some years, which is a reflection of the state of our seas.
I take the point that Mark Ruskell and Claudia Beamish made about environmental criteria. One of the strongest points that Stewart Stevenson made was about the scientific evidence from ICES and the baseline for that evidence. The fact that we in Scotland—I presume that this is also the case in the UK—absolutely commit to that for the future is important, because the essential component is the long-term data. I also take Claudia Beamish’s point about “Blue Planet”: not only is it fantastic television, but David Attenborough’s narrative throughout is about the strength and importance of science over time. Even for industries such as fishing, which has had its critics of science—there have been some dodgy days for scientific assessments, on both sides of the argument—the fundamental argument that Parliament is making about the strength of science is both reasonable and important for the future.
Rhoda Grant and many other members, including the cabinet secretary, have made the argument about choke species—and they are right. My only contention—I am sure that Fergus Ewing would be the first to acknowledge it—is that the minute that we enter into a discard ban, we create, as a matter of principle, choke species. That is a point of practical import. When policy is being devised for the future—when and if Marine Scotland and Government advisers ever get the space to get to that point—we have to tackle the fundamental contradiction between a discard ban and the inevitability of choke species and how the quota system works in a mixed fishery. I hope that we will get to that point at some stage. Frankly, if we were to have the famous blank piece of paper, a different policy approach would be important in progressing that. Nevertheless, what members from across the chamber have said about the reality of choke species is absolutely the case.
I was very grateful to Mr Ewing for his point about the so-called EU-Faroes deal in 2014. Many adjectives could be applied to that, but I will not enter into the rhetoric around it, as it is now some time past. However, I am genuinely grateful for his point that the Government is looking closely at how the position can be reassessed for the future in the right way. I hope that he will press that point with all vigour.
Mr Ewing said that he had achieved 24 out of his 26 goals last year. That is an absolute disgrace. Why did he not achieve the full 26? What was wrong with the other two? I hope that he will come back this year with a much better deal that takes all those on board. Of course, it would be unfair and churlish of me to make such a remark, although we might all have some fun later about which two points did not quite make it.
Peter Chapman made two points with which I agreed entirely. The first was on the importance of local infrastructure. He made a point about Peterhead fish market. My recollection is that Peterhead received a large grant from the EU to erect that market. We have the same aspirations in Lerwick, once we get one or two small issues sorted out, such as the tendering procedure. However, Claudia Beamish and a number of other members made a point about the benefits to Scotland of EMFF funding—it used to be called something else, but that is what it is called now—which are considerable and should not be ignored. What will be there after Brexit? Fisheries is another area that will not be funded in the way in which it has been funded in the past. I have yet to see a balance sheet that shows me which fund will replace it in relation to future investment in our quaysides, fish processing sector and important infrastructure such as fish markets.
The other point on which I strongly agreed with Peter Chapman, certainly from the perspective of my constituency, was on oil. He is absolutely right when he says that fishing, and the seafood industry more generally, will be worth more than the oil and gas industry over the long term. That was an important reflection, and it makes the case as to why funds such as the EMFF have been so important for the future.
I also share a general view that is held by a number of members. I do not envy Donald Cameron. He has to explain what his amendment means. I hope that he will not have to spend his entire 10 minutes doing so, but it would not half help the chamber if he were to do a bit of that to finish up with.
Emma Harper and Ivan McKee mentioned the important issue of tariffs and what that might mean for the future. The truth is that we do not know, but we know how bad it could be. Even if they are part of the negotiations, we learned this week that the UK Cabinet has not even discussed them in the context of a future trade deal. That is not a point for Donald Cameron; it is certainly not his responsibility or fault. However, the country and the fishing industry need clarity on the UK Government’s position on these issues without further delay.
I will finish with Stewart Stevenson’s observations. He first set an important test that, I suspect, the industry is also setting, which is that there should be 100 per cent control out to 200 miles. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the coming weeks, months and years and whether it makes it into the nine-month bridge or transitional period, however that shapes up. If Mr Stevenson has made 716 speeches, I am deeply impressed. I am never going to get to the stage of counting how many speeches I make.
I give Fergus Ewing my best wishes for the fisheries council next week. I hope that he will not have to make 716 interventions during that debate.
A number of members have taken the opportunity to look backwards as well as forward, particularly Tavish Scott. I agree with those who said that this year’s fisheries council will be historic, but I am not sure that anybody can say today in what way. All that is certain about Britain's future relationship with the EU is that it remains shrouded in a fog of uncertainty, which has only got denser and darker over the course of this week. What that means for the fisheries sector, and for the rest of our economy, is that we are on a journey to a destination as yet unknown. We now understand that the UK Government has not seen fit to look into the impact of leaving the single market and customs union on any part of the economy, which is bad news for our fish processors and exporters, just as much as it is for everybody else.
We also know that sailing on the sea of opportunity charted by the SFF will not be straightforward, even once the wider issues around Brexit have been settled. The debate has been useful in laying out the areas that will need to be addressed next year and in 2019, and perhaps for a number of years after that.
We will support the Government’s motion and Tavish Scott’s amendment, with which we entirely agree. The Conservative Party amendment, I fear, remains almost as much of a mystery as Mrs May’s Brexit strategy. One thing that we have all surely learned is not to assume that the Conservatives’ purpose is what it seems, so in the absence of greater clarity from Mr Cameron, we will not be able to support Mr Chapman’s amendment.
Reducing the impact of the landing obligation and choke species on the Scottish fleet will be important, whatever happens with Brexit. As Rhoda Grant said, we agree with the cabinet secretary that the discussions must be driven by the need to find a solution that protects both the future sustainability of fish stocks and the commercial sustainability of the fisheries sector. Indeed, seeking that balance should be the guiding light for everything that we seek to do.
A large proportion of the large-scale commercial fishing fleet in the north-east and Shetland understands that forward planning for both the whitefish and pelagic sectors has to continue to be science based and commercially aware, while the often smaller-scale fishing sector on the west coast and in the Hebrides has recognised the need for a policy to protect some fragile marine environments, balanced with the need to protect some fragile coastal communities. Around our coast, the same essential balance will be required after March 2019 as is required right now, and the views and experience of the catching sector, fishing communities, fish farmers and fish processors must all be taken into account as well as the expertise of those who are focused on protecting the marine environment. We must also continue to support decisions that are based on evidence from scientists in this country and elsewhere. It would be a mistake to assume that the hard work in matching effort and capacity to biomass and sustainability is all behind us. For those who have left the industry in the past 10 years, it would add insult to injury if stocks were to fall below sustainable levels, despite the reductions that have been made in the size of the fleet.
I am glad that we have also heard today about the issues facing the processing sector. Like Stewart Stevenson, I was involved in the Fraserburgh task force that was set up after hundreds of jobs were lost at Young’s Seafood in 2015. The other day, I was pleased to hear of new developments on one of the company’s former sites in the town, which Mr Stevenson mentioned.
As well as the impact on the local economy of the loss of so many jobs, one of the striking things about the fish processing workforce in Fraserburgh was just how international it had become. Many of those who lost their jobs were from the Baltic states, Poland or Portugal, and many of those workers were mobile enough to find jobs quickly in other towns or even in other countries. There is, however, no doubt that the seafood sector will be hard hit by the loss of free access to EU labour. Indeed, many who work on fishing vessels are not only from outwith the UK but from outwith the EU.
The response of the seafood sector might involve more technology and fewer workers. That is a distinct possibility and threat. Such a response would protect the interests of those businesses at the expense of jobs in coastal communities. The loss of free access to EU markets is also a risk for the sector. Glib assumptions that other markets will open up instead will not be of much comfort if the orders dry up.
The SFF is right to want to talk about what lies ahead in the post-Brexit world. All parts of the wider industry will be affected by whatever deal is done—or not done—in the next few weeks and months. I said that the UK Government appears to have done little work on economic impacts, and that is particularly worrying for a sector such as fisheries. It is surprising that not even a sector such as fisheries, in which, as a number of members have said, there was support for leaving the European Union, has found the United Kingdom Government taking seriously what the economic impact—whether it is the downside or the upside—might be of whatever happens next. That is a sobering thought and a source of real concern.
Older fishermen in north-east ports still talk bitterly about having been sold out at the time of the initial negotiations on joining the European Community back in 1973. The problem then was that access to fishing grounds was a tradable commodity when it came to seeking the best possible deal for Britain on joining Europe. Many fishermen are worried now that access to fishing grounds might still be a tradable commodity when it comes to seeking the best possible deal for leaving Europe. They are right to be nervous at the increasing signs that UK ministers have no coherent plan or strategy for the shape of our possible post-Brexit relationships—that lack of a clear strategy applies to fisheries as it applies elsewhere—and at the apparent willingness of ministers to offer access to UK fishing grounds as an early negotiating gambit with other members of the EU.
I wish Mr Ewing every success in delivering a fair deal for Scottish fisheries in Brussels in the next few days. We also need to see a fair deal for all our communities in the Brexit negotiations in the weeks that lie ahead.
This is my first fisheries debate and, after the past two hours, I am kind of hoping that it will be my last.
I jest, of course. I am delighted to be able to close for the Scottish Conservatives. As a Highlands and Islands MSP with many fishing communities across the region that I represent, I take great interest in this area.
The amendment in the name of Peter Chapman, not myself—
Our amendment talks about
“‘available solutions’ ... ‘including those of a political nature’”.
That is a reference to the point in Peter Chapman’s speech—I am sure that everyone was listening to it intently—that without the council meeting delivering a major uplift in quotas for choke species, the discard and landing obligations will lead to restrictions. In that scenario, the Government must be prepared to use its political clout by negotiating on choke species so that fishing is not restricted, or boats “tied to the harbour wall”.
I, too, wish the cabinet secretary luck in his role at the council meeting, and I want to close the debate on behalf of the Conservatives in the spirit in which he opened it, and not make it a Brexit tit for tat.
As a representative of the Highlands and Islands region, I am acutely aware of the importance of fishing to our local economy, particularly the shellfish sector, which accounts for the vast majority of catches in the west Highlands and the Hebrides. I am aware of the multiple benefits of a strong seafood industry for the region and for Scotland as a whole. Our nation is, rightly, famed for the fish and shellfish of the Highlands and Islands, and for many other seafood products. They allow excellent and renowned local businesses such as Loch Fyne Oysters, the Stornoway smokehouse and the Crannog seafood restaurant in Fort William to operate and flourish. I believe that the sector can continue to expand, create new jobs and invigorate the communities that have been built around it, but we will only get that expansion if we secure a good Brexit deal that meets the needs of the fishing sector.
On Tavish Scott’s point about access to markets, I am aware of the need for our fish and shellfish to reach the European markets. I have stood on the piers in Oban and Mallaig and seen the boxes of prawns that go off to Spain and France, and I am confident that our fish and shellfish will remain in great demand in Europe. There will still be buyers queuing up to get the top-quality fish that we supply, which should make it even more likely that we will get a comprehensive free-trade deal.
We have seen what 13 Scottish Conservative MPs, many of whom represent fishing seats, have achieved and I have no doubt that they will stand up strongly in Westminster for those communities, many of which wanted Brexit and voted to leave the common fisheries policy. I have no fear that our MPs will not stand up for those fishing communities or will allow them to be treated as bargaining chips.
The outcome of the recent talks in Bergen shows us that, although good progress can be made, there are also drawbacks and there is talk of the trade away of saithe, or pollock, quota in the North Sea and the west of Scotland. That is one example of being forced to compete with a variety of other states that all have their own interests at heart.
Leaving the EU and the CFP will give us autonomy over our waters and allow us to determine our own fishing policy that balances sustainable fishing—I welcome the comments that members made about that—and ensures that the industry can remain competitive. That is not just the view of members on the Conservative benches, but the mood music that is coming from the sector and the bodies that represent fishermen in Scotland. There is a great sense of optimism and the SFF recently reported on data that showed that
“56 per cent of people agree that exiting the Common Fisheries Policy will provide greater opportunities for UK fishermen”.
Notwithstanding the cabinet secretary’s dark clouds, there are also rays of Brexit sunshine.
In a newspaper article earlier this year, Mike Park, the chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said that securing our own waters will mean
“Scotland securing a far greater share of the stocks that swim in our waters and deliver greater stability for the coastal communities”.
He added that that would be of benefit to the
“engineering, haulage and processing firms that often go unmentioned”.
It will undoubtedly be a long process to get the right deal that works for the sector and the country, and it would be useful and helpful if the Government worked to get a good deal overall. I earnestly hope that we do not fail to achieve a good Brexit deal for Scottish fishermen. We must not allow our fishing industry to remain shackled to the common fisheries policy, which has, to paraphrase the SWFPA, scarred coastal communities.
I turn to the matter of the end-year negotiations and the December council and what it means for the here and now. Acknowledging the fact that we are not formally leaving the European Union until March 2019, probably with a period of transition thereafter, we must ensure that Scotland gets a good deal from all discussions that relate to the fishing sector. We must continue to work closely with the EU and those member states that have a stake in the sector, as well as with non-EU nations such as Iceland and Norway. Realistically, this could be the final year in which the pre-December talks include the United Kingdom’s position and, once again, I welcome the generally positive agreement that resulted.
In the cabinet secretary’s summing-up, I ask him to address the question whether he is in favour of the nine-month bridge in 2019 that was suggested by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
We need to look to the future and plan ahead. With the announcement in the most recent Queen’s speech that the UK Government will introduce a fisheries bill, this is the perfect opportunity for our colleagues in Westminster and all of us in this Parliament to engage in that process. We need to ensure that after years of decline, our industry gets the boost that it deserves, while simultaneously working with our neighbours on the continent to ensure proper parity. The bill could be the catalyst to reverse those lost years, which, for example, have seen Scotland fall behind England in seafood processing, with 12 per cent of jobs lost in Scotland compared to 10 per cent in England. I have heard that often enough in my region, the Highlands and Islands, particularly when I visit places such as Stornoway.
We welcome the quota increases secured in the EU-Norway talks, the positive news on total allowable catch and the hard work that our fishermen have put into maintaining stocks. We are mindful of the fact that we are leaving the EU in 2019 and that we must, as the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation described it, take advantage of the sea of opportunity to secure a Brexit deal that works for fishing and the communities that depend on it. We all need to get behind that process. I am confident that if we do, one of Scotland’s most important sectors will reap the rewards for years to come.
I am very grateful to members for their support for my efforts and those of the Scottish Government over the next few days to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland. This is a traditional debate and, as some of the older hands have pointed out, traditionally parties unite in wishing the cabinet secretary who has the privilege of discharging that responsibility well. I am grateful for those warm wishes and the generally constructive tone of the debate.
It is always good to hear stories, anecdotes and views about fishing communities throughout the country, from Shetland—which Tavish Scott mentioned—down to Dumfries, including all the fishing ports on the east coast. Fishermen in those communities make an enormous contribution to Scottish society and, as Mr Kerr pointed out, they do so at some risk to their lives. It is one of the few jobs left where there is a genuine, serious risk. When I represented Mallaig some time ago as a humble back bencher, I always made that point in these debates, because I think that we should not forget it.
As it happens, I had the pleasure of opening Aldi’s new distribution and administration centre in Bathgate, serving Scotland, where I learned that consumption of fish—sea fish and farmed fish—is growing in comparison to meat. Aside from the obvious enjoyment, more people are seeing the nutritional benefits of fish—not that, as a hardened and committed carnivore, I have anything against meat. More and more people are enjoying Scottish seafood, and that is increasingly the case globally. To refer to Claudia Beamish’s point, at the gathering in Gleneagles of 150 buyers from all over the world and 150 food and drink companies from Scotland, many buyers from places such as Singapore made the point that the provenance of Scotland’s seafood, given its clean, green image, is increasingly important for retail purchase. We should not forget that either.
Some members raised the issue of Brexit. I will try to address that issue, although it is not the primary purpose of the debate. In response to Mr Ruskell’s point, I say that we are committed to sustainable fishing, which means respecting the science. The scientific evidence is about what is happening beneath the surface of the sea, which is open to debate—it is a legitimate area for discussion. Nonetheless, in principle we accept the science. At the same time, we should recognise the efforts that the fishing sector has made, for example in the cod recovery plan.
There was a headline in a newspaper stating that there were only 1,000 cod left in the North Sea—what rubbish that proved to be! The fishermen, who, as Mr Stevenson said, have a direct interest in conservation, helped to deliver the recovery plan and it is right that they get the credit for that.
Tavish Scott made an excellent speech on choke species. It was perhaps less pressured and stressful than some speeches that he has had to make over the years—I will not go into all that, but he and I know exactly what I mean. He pointed out that having TACs and a discard ban leads to pressures.
I say in response to Mr Cameron’s speech that I do not think that the use of the word “political” is helpful in this debate, so we cannot support the amendment. We could support it in the sense that it is ambiguous and does not really have a clear meaning and, if it is part of the motion that is agreed to, it could really mean anything that one wishes it to mean. The reality, however, is that it means acting in an extralegal way and moving away to bad practices. That is how it is perceived and I do not think that it is the correct approach to take. Incidentally, I know that it is not at all the approach that the UK Government will take, so, in that sense it is academic.
On the choke species, as well as setting TACs that take account of current discard levels—discard levels of cod are thought to be around 1,200 tonnes, so that would take care of that if it could be achieved—there is a plethora of other measures, which Mr Cameron did not mention, although perhaps he did not have time. In the west of Scotland, whiting choke species selectivity measures might be a solution. In respect of North Sea ling, a potential choke risk, there could be interarea flexibility—having the TACs and quotas apply across differing areas of the North Sea can provide the flexibility to remove the choke problem.
I do not know whether there is a sustained appetite for another five minutes or so of discourse on the choke species. Tavish Scott is nodding—I have reached the most intelligent of the electorate here on fishing, apart from Mr Stevenson, who I should mention quickly.
It is correct to say that we will not support the Tory amendment. It would send out the wrong signal that we are moving away from the principles that the public expect us to observe of ensuring sustainable fishing, using all the available technology. I confirm that we support that and I think that we will develop the use of technology as time goes on. I want to make that assurance clear, because I know that the Greens have a particular interest in the matter, and rightly so.
Many members mentioned the problems that are associated with Brexit. Mr McKee mentioned the maintenance of processing and the number of people from EU countries who are involved in it. As in so many other areas of the rural economy, it is difficult to see how processing operations can continue without the labour of those who choose to give the benefit of their working lives to Scotland and Scottish industries.
Many members made points about the importance of trade. Rhoda Grant, Stewart Stevenson and Angus MacDonald referred to the importance of trade. Obviously, the European market is the largest overseas market. As far as Brexit opportunities are concerned, it is not clear to me what export market is not currently accessible. What new markets are inaccessible to us at the moment? There are not any. However, if we are subject to WTO rules, the tariffs that the industry will face will be 7 per cent or perhaps up to double that, which I understand would add around £41 million to the tax burden as a direct Brexit cost. Therefore, we should surely all say that that is a very bad idea.
Claudia Beamish asked me to say what we have done about the EMFF. I am happy to do so. As Mr Stevenson said, the EMFF contributes around £80 million—€107 million—to Scotland. Incidentally, our share of the total is not as much as it should be. That money has provided enormous benefits. I have seen what has been done at Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Scrabster to improve harbours and to enable processing plants to up their game and be more competitive and thereby operate more successfully and pay their staff a decent remuneration. It has been invaluable. It is secure up to 2020 but, thereafter, we do not know. I can tell members that I asked Mr Gove when I met him last, “Will you replace the EMFF post-Brexit?” Answer came there none. We simply have no idea—on that or indeed on any other substantive issue—what the UK is saying should happen post-Brexit, and that is unfortunate.
However, on a consensual note, I say that I am grateful for the support of all members and I undertake to do everything that I can to get the best possible deal for fishing communities throughout Scotland over the coming days.