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It is a privilege once again to represent the fishing industry ahead of this year’s December council.
I reiterate my admiration and respect for the fishing industry and its achievements, and, at a more personal level, for the resilience and sheer bravery of Scottish fishermen. As we face the uncertainties of Brexit, that resilience and determination will be called on as we fight to deliver the best deal possible both at this year’s December council and in the longer term.
I am dismayed that the United Kingdom Government’s negotiations with the European Union have still not delivered the clarity on a host of critical issues that all of us—individuals, communities, industry and Governments—badly need. We are on the edge of an economically damaging separation from the EU without any real assurances on the terms of our departure or our future relationship with the EU and other nations. The postponement of today’s meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement does absolutely nothing to bring that clarity. In fact, it does quite the reverse: the disarray engulfing the UK Government has muddied the waters even further. That the UK Government could even have countenanced a draft withdrawal agreement that is so obviously detrimental to Scottish interests after there being no substantive engagement with the Scottish Government is no coincidence; rather, it is confirmation that the UK Government sees Scottish interests as entirely expendable.
Although this is not the subject of the debate, it is imperative that Scotland’s voice is heard when the UK is establishing a deal on fisheries relations with the EU. It is my intention to champion the views and priorities of the Scottish industry in any scenario and all scenarios. It is also essential that we carry on with the day job. I am determined to approach this year’s quota negotiations with a business-as-usual attitude.
Let me summarise where we are in this year’s negotiations so far. It is fair to say that this year’s scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has been challenging. There have been bright spots, including increases advised for some stocks such as northern shelf saith, hake, monkfish, megrim, and—further afield—Rockall haddock and Atlanto-Scandian herring. There has also been more positive news for west of Scotland nephrops after last year’s difficult negotiations. However, across a range of other important stocks, the advice has been more difficult. Advice was presented for significant cuts next year in some of our most important pelagic stocks including mackerel, blue whiting and North Sea herring. Cuts were similarly advised in the North Sea in a number of our key white-fish stocks such as cod, haddock and whiting. In the west of Scotland, cod and whiting stocks remain intractably low and no catches are advised.
Significant cuts and low or zero-level quotas clearly present very difficult choke risks in 2019, the first year in which the landing obligation will apply to all quota stocks. We continue to play an active role in the EU’s regional groups to drive forward the development of innovative solutions to choke risks. It is essential that, at next week’s December council, all member states embrace the spirit of finding collective solutions to the remaining choke risks. We must prevent a situation in which our fleet is tied up when there is still quota available to be fished, and we are working tirelessly to address the challenges. I assure the chamber that the resolution of such choke risks will be my top priority at next week’s council in Brussels.
Of course, the scientific advice may not translate directly into the final quota for next year. The negotiations are where balances and compromises sometimes need to be found. As is usual at this point, this year’s negotiations are well under way and have already delivered strong outcomes in some areas.
After protracted negotiations, the coastal states have finally reached agreement on fishing levels in 2019 for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring. For mackerel—Scotland’s single most valuable stock—the Scottish Government was influential in delivering a principled and justified approach to limiting the advised cut to 20 per cent, which will deliver a benefit to Scotland of around £101 million. However, the coastal states have once again failed to agree comprehensive sharing arrangements for those important and valuable stocks, meaning that it is likely that they will continue to be fished beyond agreed levels in 2019.
At this year’s November council, the quotas for a number of deep-sea stocks in 2019 and 2020 were agreed. These important bycatch quotas will allow the Scottish fleet to continue to target other important shelf-edge fisheries such as monkfish under the landing obligation in 2019.
This year’s negotiations between the EU and Norway have been particularly difficult and delayed because of a number of unforeseen complications. The negotiations finally concluded in principle on Friday evening but, due to time constraints, full details of the verbally agreed deal have yet to be provided in writing. That is unsatisfactory, but it is not in our gift to control the wider process. Needless to say, my officials will scrutinise the agreement in great detail when it appears. I fully expect it to confirm as good a deal as could be hoped for in the context of difficult scientific advice.
The advised cuts in North Sea cod and herring have been limited to 33 and 36 per cent, and we have secured advised increases in saith and plaice of 16 and 11 per cent.
In the exchange of quotas with Norway, we have again delivered a package of inward transfers of North Sea opportunities that will help to avoid choke risks in 2019, and we have successfully reduced the outward transfer of blue whiting.
The EU-Faroe talks are under way in Brussels as I speak and are expected to conclude tomorrow. That agreement will allow for essential quota and access opportunities in Faroese waters for our white-fish fleet. In contrast, reciprocal arrangements that allow Faroese vessels access to fish some of their quotas of key stocks, including mackerel, in our waters are unutilised by the Scottish fleet. Therefore, I am pleased to report that this year sees the end of the private deal that the European Commission struck in 2014 granting inappropriately high levels of access for Faroese vessels to fish mackerel in our waters. I will seek to reduce, in percentage terms, the level of Faroese access to mackerel next year.
This year’s negotiations will culminate at next week’s December council in Brussels, which will negotiate the remaining stocks that are to be fished solely by EU fleets in EU waters. My focus at the council will be to ensure that good scientific advice is converted into actual quotas, to resist cuts where there are scientifically justifiable reasons for doing so and to continue to secure other outcomes that are linked to tackling choke risks.
Brexit has loomed large during the negotiations on fishing opportunities, and the negotiation dynamics are certainly different this year, given the wider political landscape. Technically, this year’s talks have been business as usual, given that the UK is still a member state. However, as expected, the wider scenarios that are still in play around Brexit are having an upstream influence on what we may expect to achieve at this year’s talks. That may make things more difficult but, in some ways, it could give us a lever that we have not had before.
The Commission will wish to strike a deal that the UK is happy with and will honour during 2019 in the event of there being no deal. Third countries such as Norway, the Faroes and Iceland also wish to make stable fisheries agreements for 2019, and I have no doubt that the Commission will have taken those points into account.
We are, of course, working hard behind the scenes. My officials have been preparing the ground with the Commission and with many others who have a say in the final outcomes. Much is achieved well before we arrive in Brussels.
We still have outstanding issues with choke species—particularly North Sea ling and west of Scotland cod and whiting. We have been working proactively with the industry to generate solutions to avoid the fleet being tied up.
In the final preparations for the December council, we will use the Scottish Government’s full weight to get solutions in place. It is vital that the UK Government understands the need to prioritise practical and pragmatic solutions and that that message is delivered loud and clear in Brussels. Consequently, I have reiterated our concerns to George Eustice ahead of the council.
We can see that the autumn negotiations are complex. This year, they take place in an increasingly complex political landscape. What is clear is my commitment to ensuring that the talks bring about the best possible outcome for our fishing industry and have Scotland’s best interests at heart.
That the Parliament acknowledges the conclusion of coastal state negotiations and the bilateral negotiation with Norway on shared stocks in the North Sea and the forthcoming annual fisheries negotiations in Brussels; notes that 2019 will see the full 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 and wider seafood sectors at the Brussels negotiations.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with the fishing industry this year. I am pleased to speak on its behalf in this important debate, to open for the Scottish Conservatives and to move the amendment in my name.
Yesterday, the industry got good news when David Mundell visited Peterhead fish market, which was bursting at the seams with more than 9,000 boxes of prime fish on the floor. Let me tell members that that is quite a sight. Mr Mundell announced that another £37.2 million of extra funding for fishing will be spent during the transition period, of which Scotland will get £16.4 million.
The past year has been profitable for the catching sector because of good catches and good prices. In Peterhead, the new fish market has proved its worth and sold a record weekly total of 36,241 boxes in the last week of November, so the investment of £51 million to deepen the harbour and build the new market has been fully justified.
However, when we look ahead to next year, things are not so rosy. We face cuts to many of our pelagic and white-fish quotas, mainly in line with scientific advice. North Sea cod is to take a 33 per cent cut, when 47 per cent was advised. Haddock is to take a 31 per cent cut and whiting is to take a 22 per cent cut, as per the advice on both. Herring is to take a 36 per cent cut, when 51 per cent was advised. Mackerel, which is our biggest and most valuable stock, is to take a cut of 20 per cent, when 60 per cent was originally advised.
On the plus side, quotas for saith are up by 16 per cent and for plaice by 11 per cent—both as per the scientific advice. The total allowable catch for monkfish and hake will be set at the December fisheries council, and the changes to TACs that I referred to will also be ratified at that time.
Cutting the quotas for some of our most important species when the landing obligation is coming fully into force is unhelpful at best and could be disastrous at worst. The North Sea cod quota reduction could make it a choke species, alongside others including west of Scotland cod and hake. The landing obligation is explicit that catches of all regulated species—those that have quotas—must be brought ashore. Once the quota for a choke species has been caught, the fleet must stop fishing. There is, therefore, a significant risk that tens of millions of pounds’ worth of fish could go uncaught as a result. The cabinet secretary’s motion speaks about exploring “all available solutions” on choke species. Today, will he give us clarity on the action that he will take to avoid early closure of our fisheries?
There is also now real concern about the number of foreign vessels that operate in Scottish seas, mostly in the waters around Shetland. A recent survey carried out by the industry found a total of 122 foreign vessels in Shetland waters. They consisted of 19 UK foreign-flagged vessels, 12 Spanish, 33 Norwegian, eight German, 27 French and 23 Danish vessels. All those foreign vessels were targeting white fish. To give members an idea of scale, I point out that the Scottish fleet has only 85 vessels that do the same. That is a significant increase in the number of foreign vessels over previous years. It seems that other EU member states have exhausted their own stocks and are encroaching in Scottish seas north and west to catch various species that we have worked hard over a number of years to protect and rebuild.
Our fishermen were completely in the right in that argument. The French were not supposed to be fishing in those waters, whereas we were allowed to do so. To be quite honest, their reaction to our boats was absolutely illegal. We could never support what went on there.
I ask Mr Ewing whether he agrees that that level of foreign fishing pressure is unsustainable. It is clearly unfair on our fishermen, so I ask him what can be done to protect our stocks from such excessive pressure.
Another anomaly that rightly annoys our fishermen is the annual swap with Norway of 100,000 tonnes of blue whiting, of which our share is 20,000 tonnes. In return for that, the EU gets 21,500 tonnes of Arctic cod. That is of no use to our fishermen: we get no benefit from it because those cod are caught by Spain and Portugal. Therefore we must push for those countries to pay their share of the blue-whiting transfer to Norway in order to mitigate the cut from the Scottish fleet.
As we heard from Mr Ewing, the EU and Faroe Islands negotiations will take place today and tomorrow. Those agreements are heavily skewed in favour of the Faroe Islands. The Faroese catch about £45 million-worth of mackerel in Scottish waters, while the entire EU fleet catches only £5 million-worth in Faroese waters. So, again, during this week’s negotiations we need to push for the reduction of Faroese access to mackerel.
As I have said, this year has been good for our skippers. However, the fish processing sector has seen a decrease in capacity. Between 2008 and 2016 there was 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. Our lack of competitiveness is due, in great measure, to high business rates. We need to reverse that trend so that we will be able to handle the extra fish that the sea of opportunity will undoubtedly bring.
The workforce is absolutely an issue. However, the decline has been going on for nearly 10 years, which is long before anyone ever spoke about Brexit, so the issue is not just Brexit.
Never in the history of UK politics have our fishermen and fish processors had such a high profile. I guess that, in the past six months, fishing has been mentioned at the dispatch box at Westminster more often than it was in the previous 40 years. That proves just how important the industry is to the Conservative Party and, indeed, to our Prime Minister. Fishing matters to the Conservatives. We are the only party that recognises and is fighting to obtain the sea of opportunity that Brexit will bring.
I say quite frankly that I am disgusted by the way in which the Scottish National Party Government and the Labour Opposition try to suggest that the Conservatives will sell out the industry. It is rank hypocrisy of the most blatant kind. We are the only party that is working hard to deliver on the instructions of the people to come out of the EU and to take control of our borders, our money and our waters. That means coming out of the common fisheries policy and taking the shackles off our fishermen.
I have taken two already, so I will not.
It has been blatantly obvious to us all that the SNP Government has used the Brexit vote as a weapon to build more and more grievance between here and Westminster in the hope of levering another independence referendum. In fact, that tactic has changed again. At last week’s First Minister’s question time, the First Minister made it abundantly clear that she wants to stop Brexit in its tracks, so the message to our fishermen is clear: the SNP will do everything it can to keep them in the hated CFP. That would mean our having no chance to take control of our exclusive economic zone; no chance to redress the balance in the percentage of fish that we catch in our waters, given that at the moment, we catch only 40 per cent of the fish in our waters; no chance to come up with solutions to the landing obligation; and no chance to grow prosperity in our coastal communities.
How many members have signed the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s pledge? All Conservative members have done so. How many Labour Opposition members have spoken to our fishermen recently? I have. With David Duguid, 10 days ago I hosted a meeting with 30 members of the industry, including skippers and processors, and I was at Peterhead fish market only yesterday morning, when David Mundell and I again talked to the industry. On both occasions, the message was clear—members of the industry want the only deal that is on the table to go through. They recognise that it will deliver what they need and what they voted for in 2016.
The deal would give a degree of certainty, whereas voting it down would create chaos. Of course, chaos is exactly what the SNP and Labour want for their own political motives. They have given no thought to what would be best for our country, or to the fact that our fishermen and our business leaders want that deal. They want only to vote it down in an effort to gain some political advantage from the chaos. That is politics at its worst.
The deal is not perfect, but it is the only game in town, and it is pragmatic and workable. Our fishermen will never forget and will never forgive the SNP if it prevents us from leaving the hated and discredited CFP.
I move amendment S5M-15096.4, to insert at end:
“, and recognises the opportunities that leaving the EU and CFP presents for the Scottish fishing industry.”
I was going to try very hard to avoid mentioning Brexit, but given that Peter Chapman did not amend his speech in the light of the fact that there is to be no vote on the deal in the UK Parliament this week, I must turn to that issue and state clearly that we are concerned about the fact that the deal that is to be put before the Westminster Parliament at some point in the future will keep us in the CFP. We will have no negotiating rights, and if the backstop should come into force, we will, as well as remaining in the CFP, have to negotiate trade arrangements that would certainly not be good for our fishermen. The Conservatives can sign any pledge they like, but when they are working against the good of our fishing community, that carries no weight at all.
There have been years when the debate on the fishing negotiations has been all about cutting effort and quotas, and about tough decisions for our fishing communities. There are still tough decisions to be taken, but if the fact that the difficult decisions that have been taken in the past have led to a recovery of stocks teaches us anything, it is that we should manage the seas to ensure that we have an abundant supply of fish for future generations.
Brexit has drawn attention away from the year-end fisheries negotiations, so we must make sure that that the Brexit pantomime does not distract us from the big issues in this year’s negotiations. Not only will the outcome of the negotiations form the foundation of what we take with us as we go forward into Brexit—if Brexit ever happens—it will also affect our fishing sector and what it will do in the coming year.
Labour’s amendment recognises that there will be increased quotas for prawns on the west coast and in other fisheries where stocks continue to rise. We are asking the Scottish Government to distribute that increase in order to provide the maximum economic benefit to rural communities, while safeguarding that quota from being traded away. That would create a foundation for Brexit that must lead to a greater allocations of quota to our rural communities, while also preparing for stepping up our effort in preparation for—eventually—a greater share of our fishery.
Some island communities already lead the way. They have kept quota in public hands and they lease it to the fishing community. That means that it cannot be traded away; nor can it gain an inflated value that puts it out of the reach of new entrants to the industry. If new quota is distributed through local authorities—or, where there is a distinct community, through community ownership—it can be leased to local fishermen and new entrants. In order to provide the maximum economic impact on remote rural areas, practical priority should be given to smaller boats that are rooted in their communities. The people who work on those boats are more likely to live in and spend their earnings in those communities.
That also provides the opportunity to be innovative with licences. The Scottish Government could keep ownership of the licences, but lease them out, thus preventing the licences being leaked elsewhere or traded, as we have seen in the past. In order that the assets keep on providing the maximum economic benefit, we should keep them in public ownership, to be leased rather than traded.
In order to attract new entrants, funding must be provided to help to purchase boats. That will undoubtedly be commercially viable, if a business can show that it has access to a licence and quota. However, small grants might be required in order to provide a degree of collateral. That would allow us to maximise the benefit of the new quota while gearing up for Brexit.
However, we need to increase processing as well as catching. Processing creates jobs and adds value. Where possible, it should be carried out in rural communities, which needs workforce planning and training. The workforce issues that currently affect processing will get worse with Brexit’s impact on immigration.
It is sad to see salmon processing factories closing or relocating when we need that part of the industry to grow. We might need to adapt the factories for other species, but we need the infrastructure and workforce. To achieve growth, we must make sure that the sector is seen as an attractive career choice, and that the infrastructure is available, so that workers can live in the communities. They need houses, schools and services. If we provide those, we can take steps toward repopulation. If we are to reap the benefits of increased catches, we must plan for the workforce in the catching and processing sectors so that we can capitalise on increased catches.
We agree with the discard ban, but it is disappointing that there is as yet no solution to choke species. When there is no quota for the bycatch, then the fishing industry cannot catch the quota of the species that it is lawfully pursuing, regardless of the amount of quota that it holds for that species. Every year, at this time of year, I argue that the Scottish Government or local authorities should own quota for choke species. If they owned that quota, they could make it available to those who must land bycatch. They could lease that quota at a cost that would neither encourage nor discourage its landing, but which would, crucially, allow the industry to continue to fish.
Furthermore, everything that is landed must be used. Because of advances in selective fishing, we are catching less and less bycatch, which means that there are fewer uses for it. Traders are not interested because of the small quantities, which means that it is difficult to dispose of. The Scottish Government must step in to ensure that bycatch is put to good use. Failure to do that will mean that bycatch will not be landed. It would be just as bad if it were to be landed and left to rot on the quayside. It would be better discarded at sea—at least it would feed birds and sea life. Finding a solution to that problem is now essential.
Although we need to develop even more selective fishing methods, it is realistic to prepare for some bycatch. The smaller that bycatch, the more difficult it is to find uses for it or markets to sell it, which means that we must step in to find a solution for the fisheries that are affected.
I turn briefly to the other amendments. We will support the Liberal Democrat amendment. However, although we have sympathy for the Green amendment, it is too widely drafted and would apply to static gear boats. It is widely accepted that static gear is the most selective form of fishing, and those small boats are community based, which makes them crucial to the rural economy. They are also the boats that have the narrowest margins. I do not believe that the Greens meant to add to their costs or thought that they needed to be tracked in the way that the party’s amendment suggests.
We cannot support the Conservative amendment. Although we recognise that what it talks about is the aspiration of the fishing community, the Brexit deal that we have on the table will not achieve that. In fact, it will do the very opposite and will keep fishing within the parameters of the CFP without giving us a role in the negotiations. It will also, in the long run, leave the people who are involved in fishing open to export levies. It will be the worst of both worlds.
The negotiations are crucial to our fishing industry. Although the talks are not anticipated with trepidation, as they have been in previous years, we cannot be complacent. We need to build the foundations for the future of the industry, and we must plan how to reap the highest economic impact from that future for our rural communities. We must build the workforce and infrastructure that we need in order that we can do that. To miss that opportunity would be to let down future generations.
I move amendment S5M-15096.1, to insert at end:
“; notes that there will be increases in quotas; calls on the Scottish Government to support the industry to grow to meet the increased capacity both within the catching sector and processing, and further calls for protected quota shares for new entrants with smaller community-based vessels.”
In the past month alone, two incidents of illegal scallop dredging—in Loch Gairloch and Wester Ross—have caused untold devastation to our marine ecosystems. The Firth of Lorn was subject to similar destructive dredging in February, and few of us can forget the shocking footage that we saw last year of the decimated sea bed of Loch Carron, which forced emergency action by the Scottish Government to protect our precious flame shell reefs. We know that it is a tiny minority of the fishing sector that engages in that illegal activity, but every time that an incident is reported, the public lose a little more faith, and the environmental and scientific communities rightly question the commitment to protecting our seas.
We have to think urgently about implementing a full and comprehensive monitoring scheme for our fishing fleet in order to build confidence in the sector while addressing the pressing issues faced by our fish stocks and our ecology.
Given that the member has said that the illegal activity is engaged in by only a tiny minority of the fishing sector, why does he think that it is important to have monitoring technology on all Scottish fishing vessels?
It is true that that activity is undertaken by only a small minority, but the proposal is not only about monitoring and compliance, but about data gathering and creating a level playing field. We have to support those who are acting legally and who are employing monitoring technology at the moment, and we can do that by extending that requirement across the whole fleet. I think that most fishers would welcome such a commitment.
Remote electronic monitoring is the most up-to-date system available. It combines satellite tracking with sensors and closed-circuit television on fishing vessels. It goes beyond the vessel monitoring systems that are currently used in the industry as it can provide near-live information about not only where a vessel is but when it is actively fishing. It also captures video footage of the crew’s behaviour and imagery of the fish catches, which can be reviewed for compliance and scientific purposes.
REM has been trialled in the UK through the fully documented fisheries scheme, with positive results. However, in Scotland, participation in the scheme has concentrated mostly on North Sea cod, and it is entirely voluntary. Participation peaked with 32 vessels in 2014, and has declined since then.
A roll-out of fully documented fisheries in the scallop sector has been limited to only the largest boats, meaning that only 14 of the 94 scallop dredgers that are registered in Scotland are fitted with REM. Full-fleet coverage would likely have prevented the illegal fishing that we have witnessed this year.
That is a good point, and something that could be taken forward through further reform of the CFP. Of course, we will not be in the CFP, because we will be taking rules rather than making rules.
We have to see the whole of Europe’s fisheries fleet move forward in sustainable practice.
REM is not prohibitively costly technology. As the WWF study last year reported, it costs less than £3,500 to fit out a vessel with REM. Currently, while we are in the European Union, 90 per cent of the costs are fundable from the European maritime and fisheries fund.
I appreciate the point raised by Rhoda Grant about sectors for which there is a less pressing need for the installation of monitoring technology. The technology can be phased in over time and we can look at appropriate solutions for those sectors. In a recent letter to my colleague John Finnie, the cabinet secretary emphasised the important work that the University of St Andrews is doing on appropriate monitoring techniques and innovation.
Fully equipping the entire UK fleet with onshore monitoring technology would cost £5 million, a quarter of the cost of our current monitoring scheme, which relies on on-board observers and dockside monitoring. The data provided by a full-fleet REM scheme would greatly surpass our current system, in which less than 1 per cent of fishing activity at sea is monitored. The data would be more consistent and could be gathered over a longer period, allowing for better quality scientific monitoring of our fish stocks.
I argue that REM is the only way that we can meaningfully look at solutions to the problem of choke species while respecting the scientific advice, as the Government motion commits us to do. I welcome the recent announcement of additional funding from the Scottish Government for the monitoring and tracking of inshore fisheries. Piecemeal programmes across different sectors, however, do not go far enough. We need a commitment to installing remote electronic monitoring across our full fishing fleet, if we are to reap the benefits that the technology will bring.
There is a precedent. Next month, New Zealand will complete a roll-out of a digital monitoring scheme that will see all licensed fishing vessels fitted with electronic catch and positioning reporting and CCTV. A cost benefit analysis conducted prior to introduction concluded that the system would have a net benefit of more than 75 million New Zealand dollars in the first 15 years. The New Zealand Government has recognised that monitoring is not solely a policing issue; it is also a way to demonstrate the sustainability of the native fisheries to consumers and to identify and address any threats as early as possible. Numerous studies and reports have shown that the fishing industry in the UK is largely supportive of REM, as it is the best way to demonstrate that the majority of our fleet are fishing legally and sustainably.
REM can tackle illegal fishing in our inshore waters and monitor and address the landing obligation and issues of choke species, while providing better scientific data than ever before on which to base future fisheries management. It is cost effective, will deliver long-term savings on monitoring regimes, is largely supported by the industry, can rebuild confidence in the sustainability of our fishing fleet and has a positive role to play in nearly all the issues that we will be discussing in the chamber this afternoon. I hope that the Government will today commit to a full-fleet roll-out as early as practicable.
I move amendment S5M-15096.3, to insert at end:
“; is concerned by recent reports of alleged illegal fishing activities, and calls for the use of robust vessel tracking and monitoring technology on all Scottish fishing vessels.”
With a week to go before the December EU fisheries council negotiations and with the EU-Faroes bilateral negotiations taking place as we speak, today’s debate in the Scottish Parliament should be about following the fish, not following the Prime Minister around Europe. I am not sure what the point of following the Prime Minister around Europe is at the moment. Indeed, the only Tories who seem to be following the Prime Minister are the Scottish Tories, and that is beyond me, particularly after what happened last night.
To reassure Mr Chapman, I say that spent the whole of Monday with fishermen in Shetland. The fishing industry in the islands has had a strong 2018. Fish landings are at the highest level since 1972, and are 10 per cent up on 2017’s figure. Two new fish markets in Lerwick and Scalloway will open in 2020, doubling the capacity. New fleet tonnage is being ordered—4 new white-fish vessels should arrive in 2020, or thereabouts. And the youngest crew in the Scottish fleet—all aged under 30, on LK 470 Courageous—have had an outstanding year. Twelve young Shetlanders have taken the “Introduction to Fishing” courses at the marine centre in Scalloway, and all are now working in the industry. There is a degree of financial confidence—something that cannot be said in every one of these debates that we have in this place.
As seafood exports from Shetland exceed £300 million every year, what must the Government do to ensure that those numbers continue to improve, to the benefit of both the islands economy and the Scottish economy? My one local ask of the cabinet secretary is not so much for him as for his colleague, the transport minister. Shetland does not have enough freight capacity from Lerwick to Aberdeen on the nightly ships, so can the Government ensure that when the new specification is set for the shipping contract beginning in October 2019, the future needs of the seafood industry will be accommodated? Those growth figures have been provided to the Government; the industry needs to know that the greater tonnage of fish landed can be shipped south. We may come on to where it gets shipped thereafter, but that is for another debate.
The outlook for 2019, as a number of colleagues have mentioned, is challenging for both white-fish and pelagic catching and processing sectors. On white fish, we know that the EU-Norway talks have concluded with a 33 per cent cut in the cod quota for the North Sea. I recognise, as does the industry, that the Scottish Government, in conjunction with Norway and others, fought the initial ICES recommendation of a 47 per cent cut. However, cod will become a choke species—it is not a question of when or if. It will become a choke species, particularly in the northern North Sea, so it will be a major issue for the Shetland and north-east fleets around our coast.
The cabinet secretary needs to look at any measures that can mitigate against the cod quota tying boats up at the quay. Swaps with other EU states can help—the cabinet secretary may have hinted at that in his opening speech. The industry has also proposed technical measures, including real-time closed areas, but such measures must apply to all boats. Otherwise, as we know from experience, vessels from other EU states and indeed Norway prosecute those areas when our boats are held outwith them. There must be a new policy that covers all vessels fishing in the areas. However, it is a policy that works and has much to commend it, and I hope that the Government will take it forward in conjunction with other EU states and Norway.
A 31 per cent cut in the haddock quota is worrying, too, but in the Shetland fleet context, the vessels have not managed to take up their full quota allocation in 2018, so that cut may be balanced by changes elsewhere.
I want to reflect on a wider point about fisheries science. First, I propose to the cabinet secretary that he sets up an independent scientific peer review system of the ICES advice. That would allow the Government to review fisheries data with specialist expert advice and construct long-term management plans, just as Norway does. I know that the cabinet secretary’s officials work closely with Norwegian colleagues on those points. The marine centre on Scalloway and the Scottish Association for Marine Science at Dunstaffnage both have scientific fisheries expertise, so why should our industry not benefit from that expertise, which would enhance the industry’s scientific understanding? This new approach to science also needs to tackle the changes in the northern North Sea compared with the southern North Sea, which the entire industry knows about all too well. Water temperature has had an impact on where stocks are thriving and indeed staying. Fisheries management needs to understand that.
Secondly, I would beef up the Marine Scotland observer programme on boats. Thirdly, I would suggest that the funding from the European maritime and fisheries fund, which has paid for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation observer work, is maintained through the chaos of Brexit and whatever happens in the future.
We know that ICES science is not foolproof—no science can ever be, and to suggest that it is foolproof is not to understand the nature of the science of fish. Take the 2 December 2016 EU-Norway agreement from Bergen. It was found that an ICES error resulted in a 45 per cent cut in the haddock quota at that time. That is what went through. My proposal would help to guard against such massive fluctuations by ensuring some peer review of the advice. It would allow fisheries management to verify the science and avoid those vast disruptions in the marketplace. What happened the year after that haddock quota cut? As the agreement shows, the quota was increased by 27 per cent. Such huge swings in tonnage landed do nothing for the processing sector or for the markets that we are seeking to supply. Avoiding such an approach would be in the long-term interests of science and in the long-term interests of stock management, and therefore of the industry, so it must make sense.
On pelagic, as the cabinet secretary rightly mentioned, the EU and Norway have gone through five negotiating rounds this year, finally agreeing on a 36 per cent cut to the herring quota—again, another huge variation. The mackerel quota is set to be cut by 20 per cent, which is down from the 68 per cent cut that the scientists recommended. Again, peer review would help with the process, because—as the cabinet secretary well knows—the scientific fish-tagging programme has not worked as expected. It has not been able to prove the science as we would all wish. I recognise that the Scottish Government was effective in those quota negotiations and I thank it for that. A 20 per cent cut is precautionary and is a better outcome, albeit that it has consequences for both the catching fleet and the processing industry that deals with the stock that is of the most value to Scottish fishing.
The EU-Faroes bilateral negotiations are happening as we debate this afternoon. They are about not just quota share, but access to UK waters. For mackerel, that means the northern North Sea. The current arrangement is unacceptable to the industry, and I agree with Peter Chapman’s assessment of the process and with the cabinet secretary’s remarks. Thirty per cent of the Faroese mackerel quota can be caught in our waters—their boats catch more by volume in Shetland’s coastal area than the whole Shetland fleet combined. I am sure that Parliament will recognise that such a deal can hardly be construed as equitable. It has to change, and I ask the cabinet secretary to make that argument and to use that negotiating position in Brussels next week. Scotland gains some demersal access in Faroese waters—access for some vessels from the north-east and one vessel from Shetland—but the value of that access is but one tenth of the Faroese pelagic gain. As the cabinet secretary knows, that needs to change.
This December’s fisheries council meeting is hugely important. The Scottish fishing industry needs to have successful outcomes, to both mitigate the proposals that are not based on solid science—there are a few of those—and take a long-term perspective on stock management. The cabinet secretary and his team have my support in seeking to achieve those important objectives next week.
I move amendment S5M-15096.2, to insert after “next year’s quotas,”:
“but recognises the importance of real time science data and accurate, current stock assessments as part of this approach,”
I did a quick sum before the debate: I think that this is my 11th or 12th speech on fisheries negotiations since becoming a member. Each year’s negotiations have their own individual tempo and issues. The enduring feature is that the fishermen’s representatives, whether the SFF, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association or others, do not support any political party. In fact, they want all of us to be their allies in the fisheries negotiations and throughout the year. I am certainly up for that.
I first attended a fisheries council as a backbencher with our shadow fisheries minister, Richard Lochhead, in 2002. The commissioner at the time was Franz Fischler, who is from Austria, which is—and this perfectly illustrates the issue—a country that has no coast whatsoever and no interest in the common fisheries policy. We met his assistant and adviser, Maja Kirchner, who was a lawyer, not a fishing scientist or a fishing person. That, too, neatly captures the problems with the way that the EU deals with fishing.
I remind members that I brought the first and, so far, only debate that we have had in the Parliament on the SFF’s sea of opportunity, which received support from across the chamber. We do not need to argue about whether we agree about the sea of opportunity: we clearly do, and we should not create false barriers to suggest otherwise.
Fishermen are certainly hunters, but they are also conservationists, because they know that, if they do not leave fish in the sea this year, there will be none to hunt next year, and none for their sons, their grandsons and their communities to hunt in future. We should listen to our fishermen.
In the form in which it has come from Europe, the landing obligation has presented a substantial problem that has been referred to already. In the briefing that it sent me, the SFF refers to choke species, which is a big issue that rightly comes up at every single meeting of the north-east fisheries development partnership, whose meetings I attend almost all of—I have missed one or two in the past 10 years.
I make a wee passing comment in response to what Peter Chapman said about business rates. Seafish’s briefing shows that the rateable value per square foot in Peterhead is virtually the same as that is in Grimsby; it is actually lower in Fraserburgh. It is as well to remember that there are complex reasons for the structure of the processing industry being as it is.
Peter Chapman quoted at length from the Scottish White Fish Producers Association’s briefing. The key point is that it now seems that other member states and third countries have exhausted their own stocks and are encroaching north. As the SWFPA highlights, that is precisely the challenge that we have with the common fisheries policy—we give away access and get very little in return.
The SWFPA also highlights the issue of non-European Economic Area crew. It is as well to footnote that, once we leave the EU, that will potentially be an issue for EU crew as well.
We have heard mention of the new fish market at Peterhead. I know of no one who has not supported it, and I was delighted to help the board there with one or two issues that it had during the market’s construction. We were delighted that the Duke of Rothesay came up, not only to open the fish market but to see fish gutting and eat some of the wonderful fish that are landed at Peterhead and elsewhere.
In 2017, I talked about the need to get
“100 per cent control over our waters out to 200 miles.”—[
, 7 December 2017; c 71.]
I continue to support that to this day.
In 2016, I quoted myself—always a good source—when I, in turn, quoted evidence to our European Committee in 2001 that we should
“speak with one voice ... There are tensions that should be buried for the common good.”—[
Official Report, European Committee
, 30 January 2001; c 946.]
I hope that we will continue to tak tent of that advice, all that time ago, to our own parliamentary committee.
In 2015, Jamie McGrigor was still a member—he was always an excellent contributor to our debates. We talked about cod; my favourite thing out of the sea is cod roe, so I hope that we come on to that.
The Faroes were talked about in 2014. The difficulty with the Faroes is that they can kind of just wait because, with the change in temperature, the fish move north into their waters. Negotiations with the Faroes will always be difficult but need to be prosecuted with considerable vigour.
In 2006, I said that we need
“a successful sustainable industry. We may differ about the route to that and about some of the difficulties that we face in delivering that”.—[
13 December 2006; c 30421.]
That could be said today, and it could be said every year.
In 2004, I talked about ICES. It is as well to remember that ICES has been around for more than 100 years. It is an important source of information about stocks, and one that we should depend on. Tavish Scott suggested that ICES advice should be peer reviewed. I think that it probably is, but we can never over peer review, so I have some sympathy with his suggestion.
Fishing is an important industry. Nearly 5,000 people are employed on Scotland-based vessels, but many more onshore depend on the industry. We have to learn from the Scottish Government’s experience over the years of sitting outside the council chamber that we can still influence what happens inside it. I hope that, next year, the UK Government will not go there too pessimistic about being outside the core decision making, but will work with the Scottish Government—as it always has done, to reasonable if not perfect effect—and learn how to get what we need when not sitting in the council chamber.
Presiding Officer, you are so generous. Thank you.
Another year end and another annual debate on next year’s European fishing quotas. This year’s EU-Norway talks on proposed fishing quotas will worry Scottish fishermen—there are proposed reductions in the total allowable catch for mackerel, North Sea cod and haddock. While most of the reductions are mainly the result of scientific evidence, the effect on some fish catches seems to fall particularly hard on Scottish fishermen. Those are the key commercial stocks, and, coupled with the landing obligations, the proposals promise to make next year a tough one for our fishing industry. Once again, we could see our fishermen who reach their quota limit having to hang up their nets and see millions of fish either landed by foreign vessels or go uncaught.
Given all that is going on, as the cabinet secretary has hinted, it is perhaps unreasonable for us to expect the EU to give particular respect to our fishermen. I, for one, am not surprised that the EU27 will negotiate for the EU27. However, we know that that will change in future years. It is clear that Scottish fishermen want nothing more than for the UK to leave the hated common fisheries policy and for the UK to take its place as an independent coastal state. The cabinet secretary knows and has acknowledged that. When the UK has the power to negotiate its own fishing quotas, we will have the potential to stop bad deals that are presented to us by the EU. When the UK 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 sea. I believe that those deals will better serve the interests of Scottish fishermen. That is why I welcome the UK Fisheries Bill, which even the cabinet secretary has begrudgingly described as having “broadly positive outcomes”.
There is every reason for the SNP Government to welcome the bill. The Parliament will receive more powers to regulate sea fisheries resources and protect the marine environment, which Mark Ruskell has said is so important. In that regard, I am disappointed that his amendment limited the tracking to Scottish vessels; if it had gone wider than that, there would have been support for it from Conservative members. In addition, the Scottish Government will be able to issue licences to boats that fish in waters that are controlled by Scotland.
I take a moment to remind the Scottish Government how unfair the common fisheries policy is. On average, EU vessels landed £540 million-worth of fish from UK waters between 2012 and 2016. By comparison, UK vessels landed £110 million-worth of fish from EU waters in the same period. That does not seem right or equitable, and we should not allow our fishermen to be short changed. Quotas and access rights will still be a central part of UK fisheries, but the UK will have a duty to get the best deal for our fishermen.
We have a duty to ensure that our quotas and access rights reflect sustainable goals, so that the UK fishing industry as a whole can have a secure future for generations to come. We do not need scientists to tell us that fish are not fixated on borders. They are not Scottish, English, Northern Irish or, indeed, Welsh. That is why the UK is best placed to ensure that we co-operate within the UK and with others to ensure that sustainable stocks are kept for the future. However, co-operation should not come at the cost of not securing the best deal for the UK—we need to strive for that in the future.
I welcome the UK Government’s announcement—as mentioned by Mr Chapman—of an additional £37.2 million of extra funding to strengthen the UK fishing industry. That comes on top of the commitment to match the European maritime and fisheries fund. A sea of opportunity awaits our fishing industry and the UK Government is determined to help fishermen to seize it. The rural coastal communities in the Highlands and Islands, in areas that the cabinet secretary and I represent, know that the opportunity is coming, and any attempts to frustrate our exit from the common fisheries policy would be more than an insult to those communities.
Every year when we have this debate, I am struck by how the UK fishing fleet is held back by the EU. If we stay in the EU, nothing will change. Our fishermen do not want that and the country does not want it. It is time to respect the fact that now is the time to ditch the common fisheries policy.
As other members have mentioned, this year’s European fisheries talks have been somewhat overshadowed by European negotiations of a different kind and by the toxic fall-out from the vote—or rather, the lack of a vote—in another place tonight. That does not make the fisheries talks any less important to fishing communities. That said, it is simply impossible to talk about the talks without mentioning Brexit, so I will not go through the motions of trying not to speak about it.
Amid all the on-going absurdities—some of which Stewart Stevenson referred to—such as Austria and Luxembourg having votes on the EU fisheries council, but Scotland not having any, or the fact that Scotland and its elected Parliament are being given no direct say over the direction of fishing post-Brexit, what should unite this Parliament, as other members have said, is our determination to get the best possible deal from the talks for the Scottish fishing industry and for the environment.
As far as anyone can now really tell, the Prime Minister is still determined to present fishermen with a choice between her deal and no deal. In the case of the former scenario, we now know that the UK is volunteering to give up its current voting rights to influence the process when it comes to fishing. Meanwhile, our fishing industry will benefit from zero tariffs only if a fisheries agreement between the UK and the EU has been reached that includes arrangements on access to waters and fishing opportunities.
As for the no-deal option, Lewis MacMillan, who catches prawns in Loch Fyne, says:
“If there’s a line-up of lorries at the border because of Brexit, we’ll be in trouble. The prawns need to make it to Europe alive.”
If there is no agreement on fishing access and shares, trade in such products will remain outwith the customs territory and will be subject to World Trade Organization tariffs. The national co-ordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, Alistair Sinclair, said that
“tariffs would hurt our margins and profitability. It would ... dismantle 20 years of perfecting the current system—overnight.”
There is the additional worry of what Brexit might mean for the supply of the fish-processing workforce. I visited MacDuff Shellfish in Stornoway earlier in the year, and that point was made very clear to me.
As a related aside, the UK Government’s hostility to a concessionary visa scheme for non-European Economic Area workers could also have labour implications for fishing boat crewing, which is a point that Barratlantic Ltd on the isle of Barra in my constituency has made forcefully.
All those problems, and many others, make the case for listening to what the European court said yesterday. We need to accept that no deal and the Prime Minister’s deal are not the only two options available. As things stand, the UK Government’s deal and statement do not provide any hard terms or agreements for future fishing rights.
The agreement states that the UK and EU intend to reach a fisheries deal by July 2020.
The European judgment said that we would need to rejoin the EU under the same terms and conditions. Does that not mean that we would need to go back under the common fisheries policy? That is a current term and condition.
If we choose not to leave the European Union, the court’s ruling makes it clear that we would stay in on our current terms. I have never expressed any affection for the European common fisheries policy—on that one point, Edward Mountain and I can agree. The court’s ruling was unambiguous that we would stay in the EU on our current terms.
The agreement states that the UK and EU intend to reach a fisheries deal by July 2020, in anticipation of the transition deal’s expiry—I am assuming for the moment that the UK Government still thinks that there will be a transition period. However, many fishermen worry that those vague provisions mean that the UK Government intends to forfeit access to British fishing territory to EU nations in exchange for an EU trade deal, and it is understandable why they might have those fears.
Does the member not accept that we have made it abundantly clear at every opportunity and on every occasion that we will not link access to our waters to the market for fish in Europe? We have said that again and again.
There is certainly room for more than some ambiguity about that. The wording of the political declaration makes it abundantly clear that a link is being made.
As far as I can see, the UK Government has already agreed that any future agreement will cover access to UK and Scottish waters and shares. There are many unanswered questions about that. It is a significant concession on the UK Government’s part to indicate that access and shares will to some degree be traded away before the annual coastal state negotiations take place.
There is a great deal that is wrong with the EU common fisheries policy. I do not think that many of us would dispute that. However, the worst thing that is wrong with it is that Scotland has had no hand in shaping it because we have left that matter to the UK, whose Governments have consistently mishandled its development to the point where the present UK Government now seems willing to trade away even its own limited influence over it. We should make no mistake—Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement prepares the ground for a betrayal of our fishing communities and interests, and the Tories look likely to sell out our fishing communities.
If I may for a moment direct some of my fire away from the Conservatives, I add that it is of equally little use for anyone to tell fishermen that it will all be sorted out by a future UK Government at an unspecified date in an unspecified way. The Scottish Government has been clear about what we want. For fishing communities as much as for anyone else, other parties now need to start telling us what their policies are for future European relations. All parties must come off the fence about what the options are and which options they are prepared to pursue. As we have seen, empty gestures on that are not enough.
I have now lost count of the number of times that the Secretary of State for Scotland has threatened to resign from his sinecure if the UK does not leave the common fisheries policy by December 2020—something that is not guaranteed by the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration. He also threatened to resign if any agreement introduced different arrangements for Northern Ireland, which the agreement does.
Despite the Tories’ bluster, we can see where fishing features in the UK Government’s priorities. The remarks that leaked from the Tories on 22 November described fishing as a “low priority” for the UK Government in leaving the EU, just as, in 1970, they described it as “expendable” on the way into the EU. Scotland’s fishermen can be assured that the Scottish Government will fight their corner in Europe while the UK Government fights nobody but itself.
T he turmoil around Brexit will be deeply concerning to the many people who live and work around our coasts and are involved not only in the fishing industry but in processing, transport, wholesale and retail. That makes the Scottish Government’s role in this year’s council all the more important. We hope that it will provide a clear steer for a future industry that is sustainable regardless of the EU exit outcome.
I am pleased to speak in the debate and to approach it in the main from the perspective of my brief as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for environment and climate change. My thanks go to the Open Seas Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust for their helpful input to my preparation for the debate.
Like many members throughout the chamber, I firmly believe that sustainable fishing makes for a sustainable industry and sustainable communities. Coastal communities can be and often are fragile communities with fragile economies, and they depend very much on the negotiations and on Scottish Government direction. They must be given certainty of science and the tools to fish appropriately in their local marine environments and more widely.
The marine environment is indeed precious, but its vulnerability can be misunderstood or even forgotten by the public—and even sometimes by us policy makers—because it is difficult for people to see it with their own eyes. The way to sustain communities is to manage ecosystems, which enables productivity now and in the future. That is the sensible option because everyone wins with clean, healthy seas.
This time last year, the cabinet secretary assured the Parliament:
“One of the Scottish Government’s key negotiating principles is to follow the best scientific advice.”—[
, 7 December 2017; c 59.]
Given that welcome commitment from the cabinet secretary, will he comment on the lack of stock assessment for species for which the Scottish Government has sole responsibility? What plans does it have to gather that data for species such as scallops, so that it can truly say that it acts on sound science? Scallops have been in the news recently, with reports of alleged illegal dredging in Wester Ross and elsewhere. It takes only one boat dredging through an important habitat to cause decades-worth of damage in just a few hours.
I welcome the Government’s condemnation of what has been reported, but the solution has been offered a number of times, including in these yearly debates—I might not have taken part in 12, like Stewart Stevenson, but I have taken part in six. The industry and environmentalists are demanding vessel monitoring systems in marine protected areas and inshore fisheries. I thank the cabinet secretary for the answer that he gave in the Parliament last week, when he mentioned investment of £1.5 million in tracking and monitoring technology. Monitoring will not only help to prevent unwelcome transgressions but allow for Scottish leadership in verifying the quality and sustainability of our produce. Having said that, Scottish Labour will need more details about wider funding arrangements for vessels before we can support the Green amendment.
Given that licences will be reissued in January, now is the time to make changes, so that in next year’s debate we do not have to make the same points as we have made in previous years. Members are well aware that Scotland has a vast coastline and is naturally suited to having a thriving fishing industry. It therefore receives the majority of the UK’s quota allocation. However, a third of that quota is allocated to just five operators, and I understand that some of the fish is landed at foreign ports. That does not appear to be the fairest management of what is a public resource. There should be ways of directing fishing licences to smaller boats and fleets that have a direct local connection, as Rhoda Grant said.
Although consolidation has provided jobs, directly and indirectly, smaller fleets and harbours have struggled to compete. What consideration has the cabinet secretary given to marine resource inequity, which the Scottish Labour amendment highlights, and to Rhoda Grant’s points about public and local authority ownership as a leasing model? Our amendment also highlights the importance of new entrants to the range of fisheries.
Choke species remain a difficult issue, which requires an inventive solution. The landing obligation is a positive step towards reducing waste, improving catch selectivity and ensuring a degree of accountability. Fishermen have made excellent progress with fishing strategies and technological advancements and are playing their part, but there are unresolved issues with certain choke species. In smaller ports, there is no market for some species that are caught by accident, and in those circumstances fishermen need proper advice and guidance from the Scottish Government.
We welcomed the Government’s guarantee, in 2016, of funding for projects under the European maritime and fisheries fund. However, 29 March is drawing near. The fund is immensely important in supporting fishermen in the transition to sustainable fishing, in diversifying coastal economies, and in improving the quality of life in coastal communities, while protecting our marine environment. The fund’s loss would be immense, not least because of the support that it can offer in training the processing workforce and in preparing new vessels and the younger generation to fish sustainably in future. Can the cabinet secretary assure the Parliament that the fund will be replicated? I note what members have said about that today.
On behalf of Scottish Labour, I wish the cabinet secretary well in the council deliberations, which will be important in underpinning the future, whatever the future brings.
The first time that I took part in this end-of-term December debate on the fisheries negotiations was in 2006, which is the year that I came into the Parliament. At the time, Ross Finnie was the Minister for Environment and Rural Development and Rhona Brankin was his deputy. In those days, negotiations could and would go right up to the wire on Christmas eve. I said that I hoped that Ross Finnie had done his Christmas shopping; if not, I asked whether he intended to get some time to do it in Brussels.
Rhona Brankin mouthed across the chamber that she would probably be doing his Christmas shopping. I thought that that was above and beyond the duties of the junior minister. I see Mairi Gougeon turning round to me. She might want to check her job description. [
Over the 12 years since then, we have seen the nature of the talks change, from being about maximum catches possible to being about sustainability, and there is now a much wider focus on the wide variety of species. The sustainability of fish stocks is key to the long-term viability of the industry. Because international negotiations seem to be stretched out over more months, we do not seem to be in the same position of going up to the wire, as was the norm previously. Throughout those 12 years, we have also seen an increasing focus on discards and the issue of choke species.
I am pleased that, in the industry, there is now a better understanding of the work of ICES and that there is an overall monitoring of fish stocks, and I welcome the much better collaboration on information on the state of the fish stocks rather than reliance on anecdotal evidence. However, the Tories might want to reflect on the fact that the total allowable catch applies to all EU members; it is the divvying up of it that there are arguments about.
It is inevitable that this year’s debate will be dominated by Brexit and the shambles that Brexit is. Westminster’s fisheries power grab from the Scottish Parliament is a complete affront to democracy and yet another sign of the Westminster Government’s contempt towards the devolution of power to the Administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and the consequences thereof. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary has written to the UK Government about our fishing fleet’s asks of the negotiations and the amendments to the Westminster Fisheries Bill that the Scottish Government would wish to see. It is wrong to say that the sale of fish is not linked. Why on earth then did the UK Government put aquaculture into the Fisheries Bill?
Despite the so-called red lines on the CFP of the ardent Brexiteers, we all know that the fishing industry is always the least important industry to Westminster when deals must be done. We know that fishing is less important to Westminster than the financial sector, the car industry and virtually every other industry.
Very little is said about our fish processing industry and its needs. Although the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is very vocal about the big boys in the fish-catching sector, little is heard about vessels under 10m that fish nearer to our coastlines and the shellfish industry, which is very valuable. Both are vital to many of our coastal communities.
There are a number of fish processors in my constituency. The number of landings in Scotland is really important as well as the catch—I am pleased that Claudia Beamish mentioned that. Some fish processors in my constituency have benefited from EU grants to expand, and all of them rely on eastern European labour. Even before the Brexit leaving date, the UK has become a deeply hostile environment rather than the welcoming country that Scottish National Party members want it to be. That has been very sad to watch. It also threatens the whole viability of the processing industry. I am deeply worried about its vital markets on the continent and, most important, how those customers will be accessed. It looks as though lorries will be backed up at the channel ports. That is why I support Angus MacDonald, Douglas Chapman and others who want to get the ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge up and running again as soon as possible.
Our seafood products are really valued in Europe—anyone who has been at the huge seafood exhibition on the continent can bear testament to that. The Scottish seafood stand is a must-see, go-to destination.
I was pleased to hear that the cabinet secretary has requested amendments to the sea fish and seafood levies in the Fisheries Bill—that definitely needs to be amended.
I will take no lessons from the Tories on fishing. I have been active in politics since the 1970s, so I am old enough to remember that the SNP vehemently fought against the sell-out of the industry. [
.] The member might want to listen to this. I recall taking part in a blockade—[
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The SNP’s view that the common fisheries policy has been damaging to Scotland’s fishing industry is long standing and well known. We have continually argued that the CFP is not fit for purpose and should be scrapped, or substantially reformed. Our 2007 manifesto pledged to continue working for Scottish withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. In 2011, our manifesto stated:
“The CFP is well past its sell-by date.”
It was very telling that David Mundell was in Peterhead yesterday, to try to shore up the last remaining pockets of support in the north-east. Elsewhere, folk see the Brexit shambles for what it is. They, along with the people in the north-east, will never forgive the Tories for this shambolic and very sorry episode of Brexit.
I am pleased to speak in this debate at such a crucial time for the Scottish fishing fleet. Although fishing might represent only a small percentage of our overall gross domestic product, around 4,800 fishers are employed on Scottish vessels and thousands of businesses rely on fishing in many communities across Scotland and our United Kingdom.
Fishing is vital for rural communities and economy. Fishing is, indeed, greatly responsible for keeping the lights on in many of our coastal communities around Scotland. When I closed for the Scottish Conservatives in the fisheries debate in 2016, there were 2,033 active fishing vessels in Scotland; a year later, that figure had gone up to 2,065, which clearly shows that the industry is thriving.
Representing Galloway and West Dumfries, I am acutely aware of the challenges that the fishing sector faces and how we must protect its interests as we leave the European Union. Indeed, my constituency is home to the UK’s largest scallop port at Kirkcudbright, and I pay tribute to our fishermen who work tirelessly, often putting their lives at risk all year round, sometimes in the most horrendous conditions.
Indeed, as I said in the 2016 debate, often it is only when tragedy hits that we highlight the importance of the fishing industry. Sadly, many of my constituents have experienced such tragedy—when individuals have been lost or boats have failed to return to port, such as the Solway Harvester or the Mhari-L from Kirkcudbright.
The scallop sector generates £40 million a year for the fishing sector. The sector is, I am sad to say, coming under increasing pressure and criticism from organisations, such as green non-governmental organisations, because of illegal fishing inside areas that are currently closed to fishing. As has been mentioned, the most recent of those incidents has been in Gairloch.
The industry must not be allowed to be tainted by the actions of the few. The Scottish White Fish Producers Association has 30 scallop vessels in its membership. It wrote to the minister asking that he control the rogue vessels by introducing vessel position monitoring systems on board all vessels, irrespective of length. Two other members have already raised the issue.
The culprits are less than 10m long and land relatively few scallops, yet they are having a significant negative impact on the sector and are giving anti-scallop-dredging organisations the opportunity to attack the sector at large, especially on social media.
Currently, only larger vessels are committed to vessel position monitoring as a condition of their licence. The cabinet secretary has committed to such equipment being introduced on all scallop vessels but has set a timeframe of 2020, which is not good enough—we need that to be made a condition of licences at the earliest opportunity.
Unfortunately, we cannot support Mark Ruskell’s amendment, because it refers only to Scottish boats, and we would like all vessels to be fitted with the devices. Through its licensing system, Marine Scotland possesses the force to achieve that.
Given that the SWFPA has written to the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and to Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, to request immediate action on the introduction of robust position monitoring equipment on all scallop vessels—irrespective of size—perhaps Fergus Ewing will say in summing up what action he intends to take and when.
The industry needs the Scottish Government’s support. This time last year, I was hugely concerned by the Scottish Government’s lack of urgency about supporting our Scottish scallop industry in relation to new proposals from the Isle of Man Government. Although I highlighted the early concerns of Kirkcudbright fishermen in August 2017 that boats could face daily catch limits and having to report to an Isle of Man port daily, the cabinet secretary initially appeared not to take the concerns seriously. I raised the issue with ministers and urged them to stand up to the Manx Government and defend the interests of fishermen in the south-west, but it was not until the issue was raised some time in December last year that the position was sorted out.
To ensure sustainability, we need to protect fishermen who fish within the regulations. We have 482,000km2 in our EEZ. At this morning’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee meeting, Calum Duncan—I think that he is still in the public gallery—told us that Scotland is five sixths sea and has 20 per cent of Europe’s total coastline. However, we have only two marine protection vessels. I suggest that that needs to be addressed.
Hugely significant to the Scottish scallop fleet is barrier-free trade, as a large volume of shellfish—85 per cent of it—is exported to the EU market. West Coast Sea Products, which is based in Kirkcudbright, is a fine example of that—it exports to France, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Germany.
I welcome the UK Government’s announcement this week that, when new fishing arrangements are put in place, increased funding for the fishing industry of about £16 million will be available.
Since the vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, the debate has certainly taken place in a different context for our fishing industry. Throughout negotiations, it is us in the Conservatives who have stood up for our interests and made the commitment to leave the common fisheries policy, which our fishermen have hated for so long.
I was pleased to sign the pledge from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which makes a commitment to leaving the CFP by December 2020 and enabling UK and Scottish fishermen to have complete control over our waters. I might have voted to remain in 2016’s referendum but, when it comes to fishermen and our fisheries, I recognise the sea of opportunity that leaving the European Union can bring.
Not only will we give powers back to our coastal communities but we will be able to practise the highest standards of marine conservation. As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, as well as my party’s spokesman on the natural environment, I am fully committed to ensuring that the highest standards—led by science—are achieved.
At possibly the most important time ever for our fishermen, I am proud to stand up for them at every opportunity. We must get the best deal next week from what will be the last negotiations under the current arrangements, and we must deliver for our fishermen in the future outside the common fisheries policy. Failure to do so would be a complete betrayal of our fishermen.
I am pleased to speak in the annual debate on sea fisheries and end-of-year negotiations. I join Claudia Beamish in contributing to the debate for the sixth year running.
Scotland is blessed with enormous quantities of natural resources, of which our seas form a part. They play a vital role in providing our coastal communities, among others, with employment and an economy that supports their livelihoods. It is therefore important that we have the opportunity to influence and participate in any process that could affect the operation of our fishing industry, in order that we can protect it and the jobs that it supports and sustainably develop other industries that rely on sea fisheries.
As we have heard today, it would be impossible to contribute to the debate without facing the calamity that is Brexit. Thanks to it, this year’s December council will probably be the last one in which the Scottish Government will participate—then again, perhaps not. Clearly, we will all have to wait and see what develops in the madness of Brexit land. However, among all the upheaval and turmoil, there has been one constant: the Scottish Government has been clear that it will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the interests of our marine industries and coastal communities.
Scotland’s interests must be protected, which means that the UK Government has to make arrangements that will do just that. As we have heard, the best way to achieve that would be to retain our membership of the single market and the customs union while, ideally, coming out of the common fisheries policy. Of course, there is the risk that the UK Government would be willing to enter into negotiations in which it would simply look to bargain away the livelihoods of such communities. Such a move would render redundant all trust and credibility in its own arguments—not that there is much, if any, of that left after yesterday’s fiasco.
I will move on from Brexit, although I cannot promise that I will not refer to it later. It is crucial that sustainability is built into Scotland’s fisheries as we move forward, irrespective of the shape that Scotland’s future relationship with the EU takes.
I was shocked, recently, to see footage of scallop dredging that allegedly took place in a protected area near Oban a couple of weeks ago. Those actions of a few chancers are simply unacceptable, not to mention illegal. I hope that, if it has not done so already, Marine Scotland will identify the perpetrators and throw the book at them if they are found guilty. Such incidents are also examples of the need to modernise the fishing industry through the fitting of vessel-monitoring systems, including remote electronic monitoring, on all boats; full documentation being required; and Marine Scotland compliance being sufficiently resourced to enforce effectively. I have called for all those measures in previous debates.
Such measures are key to sustaining our fisheries and clamping down on rogue and illegal activities in inshore protected areas. I therefore look forward to supporting Mark Ruskell’s amendment, which calls for the use of robust vessel tracking and monitoring technology on all Scottish fishing vessels. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for Edward Mountain’s suggestion—which does not happen often—that Mr Ruskell’s amendment could have gone a bit further and applied such measures not just to Scottish vessels.
It is encouraging, to say the least, that the Scottish Government takes seriously the enforcement of fisheries management and protection of the marine environment. I welcome its £1.5 million investment in fishing vessel tracking and monitoring technology, which was announced in October, as well as the fact that enhanced electronic monitoring of higher-risk vessels that operate near sensitive areas will come in next year, with tracking of vessels under 12m to be introduced from 2020. I understand the concerns about the cost of doing that, which Mark Ruskell said would be around £3,500 per vessel, I think—the figure should be available from the EMFF or its successor, if there is one—but we still do not know what that cost will be.
As we move forward into what is, in effect, the unknown, it is crucial that we protect Scotland’s interests in all areas, including in our marine industries. That includes finding practical and workable solutions to issues such as choke species. With west of Scotland cod and whiting among the most significant challenges when it comes to choke species under the landing obligation, it is imperative that solutions to control fish mortality are in place in order to give stocks a chance to recover. Further, such solutions must be simple and manageable, and they must allow our fishing fleets to fish other species while encouraging adjustment in their practices.
Our seafood industry is remarked upon across the globe. Fish are landed on our shores and, within a matter of hours, are transported to the far reaches of Europe and beyond, building on the reputation of Scotland’s produce as being of the very highest quality. One of the largest markets for our seafood is southern Europe, and undoubtedly the biggest challenge to that market is Brexit and the concern that our fishermen and processors will be unable to get their produce to the markets on mainland Europe in time. Those issues are still up in the air at the moment, for the sake of trading agreements; it really is an uncertain time across the country, not only for the fishing industry but for the marine sector as a whole. The UK Government cannot be allowed to sacrifice our fishing industry as it appears to be prepared to do.
Given the clear betrayal of our fishing communities that is contained in the Prime Minister’s widely panned withdrawal agreement and the potential for access rights to our waters to be further gambled away under a transition that will keep us in the CFP for the foreseeable future, we must consider every option that is available to us, including the ability to choose a different path and to negotiate on our own behalf to protect our industries and the communities that are reliant on them. I am pleased that the Scottish Government is focused on securing the best possible deal for next year’s fishing opportunities while continuing to make the voices of fishing communities heard by the UK Government when it comes to sensible solutions to issues such as choke species.
Although my constituency has little in the way of fishing communities—in fact, it has none—it has restaurants and food-processing businesses that rely on the fishing industry for employment, and I am confident that the Scottish Government has their best interests at heart as it heads into negotiations that will have wide-reaching impacts. I wish the Scottish Government success in Brussels.
Annual rituals have their place even in a Parliament, and one thing that we know for sure is that the annual fisheries debate will be with us, in one way or another, for a long time to come. Stewart Stevenson reminded us not only of how often he has taken part in such debates but of what he has had to say, and a number of other members have done something similar.
In the same way, we cannot wish away the reality of our geography: we are a large island that sits in the midst of many smaller islands, which are surrounded, in turn, by the rich fishing waters of the north-east Atlantic and the North Sea. Fishing vessels from these islands and from neighbouring continental coasts have fished in one another’s waters for half a millennium, and we know that that will continue for as long as there are fish in the sea.
As the cabinet secretary reminded us, our nearest northern neighbours, the Faroe Islands, are in the midst of their annual round of fisheries negotiations even as we speak. This year’s talks between the European Union and Norway staggered to an inconclusive close towards the end of last week. As Fergus Ewing said, there are the same challenges and frustrations in the negotiations with independent coastal states as there are in the discussions among the EU member states in Brussels.
What the fishing industry in Scotland and the fishing industry in the other countries of the United Kingdom want to know is the basis on which future negotiations will be conducted between the representatives of these islands and those who represent neighbouring countries. At the moment, the Scottish ministers and industry representatives sit on the EU’s side of the table in the discussions. The question is whether that will change; if so, when it will change; and, at that point, what difference it will make.
In October, I had the opportunity—which many other members have undoubtedly had—to visit the fantastic new fish market in Peterhead. I was introduced to many fishermen, fish merchants and processors by Jimmy Buchan in his role as the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Scotland and Mr Chapman will have heard much the same mix of views as I did when they visited Peterhead yesterday and met Mr Buchan. I have no doubt, either, that the cabinet secretary and all those members who engage with the fishing industry will recognise those views.
Fishermen in the north-east believe that there might be a sea of opportunity ahead, but the outlook is currently shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. Any skipper will tell you that the responsible behaviour in fog is to proceed towards your destination but to do so with caution and an awareness of the risks that a false turn or a loss of concentration might bring. Fish buyers and processors are much more aware of the risks than many catchers are, because they know how much their sector has to lose. They do not blame the catching sector for opposing the explicit linkage between fishing opportunities and export opportunities—far from it. However, processors feel just as strongly that their sector’s interest in unfettered access to EU markets should be protected as well.
As both Fergus Ewing and Tavish Scott said, this year’s negotiations pose some difficult challenges, particularly because of the extension of the landing obligation and the impact of that on choke species. Those challenges will not disappear if we leave the EU. Our obligation to protect fish stocks for future generations will continue to apply, no matter which part of which table ministers sit at.
Much of the uncertainty for the period that the current talks cover is about the proposed transition period, because that is scheduled to run from 29 March 2019 until the end of 2020. Beyond that, there is further uncertainty around the proposed Northern Ireland backstop agreement and around the political declaration that the EU27 have accepted as the basis for future UK-EU relations. Two years from now, if no long-term agreement has been reached, either the transitional arrangements will be extended or the backstop arrangements will come into force. Either way, there will be implications for Scottish fisheries.
Britain will leave the European fisheries council table if and when we leave the EU, but, in the transition period, British fishing effort and quotas will continue to be subject to European rules. The longer a transition period continues, the longer it will be until Scottish and UK ministers can negotiate on their own behalf with third parties and with the EU. In the meantime, we will have to follow EU rules and allow the European Union—which we will have just left—to negotiate with other neighbouring states on our behalf.
The alternative to an extended transition period may be the Northern Ireland backstop, which envisages the UK remaining inside the customs area of the European Union until a permanent solution to the Irish border question is found. For the avoidance of doubt, the protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland explicitly excludes trade in both wild and farmed fish from the rules governing the single customs territory unless or until the UK, as an independent coastal state, reaches a comprehensive fisheries agreement with the European Union, including agreements on access to each other’s waters and fishing opportunities.
The fog of uncertainty will not clear any time soon. We do not know what the Prime Minister hopes to bring back from her European tour. However, we know that, after the fog has cleared, we will still be obliged to sit down with Norway, Iceland and the Faroes, as well as with the member states of the European Union, to secure a sustainable future for fisheries in the seas around us.
As Tavish Scott said, we must have confidence in the science and then apply it. Whether we are in or out of the European Union, and whether we are in or out of the common fisheries policy, our fishing effort and economic benefits will still depend on the health of the seas and on catches that must be based on scientific assessments of future sustainability. Those assessments must be as reliable as possible.
Those are the realities for the whole sector—inshore and deep sea, catching and processing—and we lose sight of those realities at our peril.
I thank my colleagues who serve on committees that have an interest in the fishing industry for giving me this opportunity to speak on the fishing industry.
As a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, I understand that the Scottish fishing industry is a significantly valuable sector of our economy. At the end of 2017, the number of active fishing vessels that were registered in Scotland was 2,065, which represented an increase of 32 vessels or 2 per cent of the fleet. Their catch consisted of 102,000 tonnes of demersal species including haddock and cod; 301,000 tonnes of pelagic species including herring and mackerel; and 62,000 tonnes of shellfish. In 2017, the value of Scottish landings was over £560 million.
The strength that the Scottish fishing industry now enjoys is down to the determined efforts of people in the industry, but the support from the Scottish Government over the years has been crucial in building and sustaining its success, and it will continue to be so. As this year’s council could be the last that Scotland ever participates in, we want our fishermen, processors and fishing communities to be in no doubt that Scotland’s Government and Parliament will do everything that we can to champion their interests and fight their corner in these vital coming weeks.
The cabinet secretary has indicated that the end-of-year negotiations are complex. Therefore, given my depth of knowledge of the subject, I will highlight the concerns of Scottish fishermen and processors.
Unfortunately, the fishermen of Scotland believe that they are being sold down the river by the UK Government. Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement prepares the ground for a betrayal of our fishing interests, and the Tories look likely to sell out our fishing communities once again.
No, thank you.
Recent newspaper reports stated that, at Peterhead fish market, there was widespread confusion and fear among skippers and buyers about what the future holds. One fish trader from Aberdeen was buying up boxes of cod, coley and hake destined for Boulogne and dinner plates across France. Speaking about skippers and buyers, he said:
“They’re saying, ‘Here we go again, sold down the river’. People are just so fed up, sick of it, they don’t know which way to turn. We’re getting empty promises from Theresa May, who isn’t strong enough.”
“I’m devastated. We’d a situation where we were told it would be ‘sorted’ in two years. We accepted that and now we don’t know what’s going to happen. We just want clarity.”
Fishing leaders fear that the UK Government is on the brink of signing a Brexit deal linking access to fishing waters to trade, which would mean UK fishermen regaining control of their waters but seeing huge tariffs slapped on fish sold through Europe. The co-ordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation blasted:
“I really wouldn’t trust the Tories as far as I could throw them. Whenever it comes to fishing, it’s always been a sacrificial lamb.”
“We rely on the smooth transportation of live shellfish into Europe. Until such time as we get clarification that it’s going to continue, we still have a huge uncertainty out there. We have huge worries. We’re small, individual fishermen working from creeks on the east and west coast. I haven’t been encouraged with the negotiations I’ve been made aware of so far.”
Seafood Ecosse said that seafood processors need to be able to employ EU labour and ship fish quickly to vital markets in France and Spain. A spokesman said:
“We are having fish here today which is in France tomorrow, but from the French side I’m hearing there could be delays of 48 hours going through customs control. That would be devastating for this industry.”
That uncertainty continued yesterday morning, when David Mundell was in Peterhead. The Secretary of State for Scotland spoke with the fishermen and told them about the vote that was going take place this week, only for the fishermen to discover, in what must have been a mortifyingly short number of moments later, that there would be no vote this week.
The Scottish fishermen have absolutely no reason to trust the UK Government when, at every turn, it has sold them down the river. They were told that fishing quotas would be a red line for the UK Government, but that red line disappeared quicker than a Brexit secretary at a Cabinet meeting. David Mundell vowed to resign if the UK stayed tied to EU fishing policies and quotas, yet he remains in post despite a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit leaving fishermen worse off.
Fishing is important to our economy, and we cannot trust the UK Government on the issue. Therefore, the Scottish Government should represent the industry in Europe in future talks.
Oh. You are not on my list, Mr Johnston—there has obviously been a change—but I am terribly glad that you are here. I have wasted quite a bit of time there, but I can let you know that there is still quite a bit of time in hand.
I am not used to being missed, so I will take that as a compliment.
I come to today’s debate having reflected on the future of an industry that has a long history in my region, the Highlands and Islands. We remain, after hundreds of years, a centre for fishing. There are more fish landed in Shetland than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. The isles, with Scalloway and Lerwick, are the second largest fish-landing area in the United Kingdom after Peterhead.
On the mainland, we see the communities along the Moray coast—places such as Lossiemouth, Burghead and, albeit across the electoral boundary in North East Scotland, Buckie. Those towns and villages are shaped by their historical attachment to the fishing industry. The ties there remain and those places retain the coastal character that initially caused them to build and grow.
The Scottish fishing industry is healthy and continues to grow—last year saw a small increase in the number of vessels heading out from Scottish ports—and it is looking ahead to opportunities for the future. However, it is not without challenges. The industry has faced several blows over the last century, not least the direction of the common fisheries policy and, as colleagues have already mentioned, the cuts to key quotas that are planned for next year. The industry must also face the commercial pressures of fluctuating prices at market. Last year, for example, we saw a drop in mackerel prices, the Scottish fleet’s most valuable stock. Yet fishing remains an important industry in regions such as my own and in North East Scotland, and it is viable and has a sustainable future.
Just yesterday, I met the Lerwick Port Authority, which leads an impressive, modern port in the islands that continues to expand. The authority has recently constructed a new pier and quay area, increasing capacity. The port authority is also developing a major new white-fish market, due to open in 2020. I met representatives of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation. There is real optimism for the future of the industry, a future outside the CFP. Those organisations are working together, bringing forward the infrastructure that they need and planning for the future. Yet the decisions that affect their industry and their sectors must often seem distant from them.
This year’s end-year negotiations will be against the backdrop of a number of changes. The extension of the landing obligation in 2019 is one. However, I have no doubt that the UK’s departure from the European Union will overshadow much of the discussion and comment this year. We will be leaving the common fisheries policy, which has been the target of decades of derision from our fishermen. We will become an independent coastal state again. The fishing industry recognises the potential benefits of that, not just in the immediate term, but in the potential for future decisions to be made domestically.
There is, of course, no question but that we must exercise responsibly those new powers that will come back to the UK. There will be increasing scope for us to look at the environmental impact and sustainability of our fishing industry here in the UK. This is an area where Government and industry will have to work closely together to build a system in which there is mutual confidence. The UK has a positive record of implementing sustainable practices and effective husbandry of our seas.
Looking forward, the UK Government has set out how it sees a sustainable future for the fishing industry as part of its 25-year environmental plan. There are positive early indications that change can come, change that is sensible and provides benefits not only to the industry, but to our natural environment and our wider economy, too. The prize is clear. At present, UK vessels catch just a third of the fish stocks taken from UK waters. If that proportion were to increase to levels seen in countries such as Norway, we could see an extra £1 billion of catch filter through the industry. This is a time for us to consider the challenges that the industry faces and that we can address now.
I will give an example. As Tavish Scott mentioned, Shetland has raised concerns with the Scottish Government about freight capacity on ferries from the islands to the mainland. The sad reality of the problem is that last year the industry reported that over two million pounds’ worth of seafood was left behind at the harbour in Lerwick, due to a lack of freight capacity. With the new northern isles ferry tenders coming up, the Scottish Government has an opportunity to be bold and plan for the future in relation to freight. I hope that it will seize that opportunity.
This year’s negotiations are at a time when the Scottish fishing industry stands on the brink of a real opportunity, an opportunity unlike any that we have seen in decades. Ensuring that we have the infrastructure in place for expansion will be an important domestic priority, one that will touch on this Parliament, as well as the local authorities in areas such as Shetland.
I recently signed up to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s new sea of opportunity pledge, demonstrating my support for being out of the CFP in two years from now. I look forward with optimism to better years ahead for Scotland’s fishing industry, and for the sector across the Highlands and Islands.
We move to the closing speeches. There is a bit of time in hand. It would be nice if the closing speakers could wax somewhat lyrical. You have up to eight minutes, Mr Scott.
To help you, Presiding Officer, I could read out at some length the agreed record of a fisheries consultation between Norway and the EU. It is from back in 2016, but if it helps, it goes through a number of interesting issues across a number of species, including of course cod and haddock, but also some that we have not mentioned so far, such as saith, whiting, plaice, and herring—oh, we have mentioned herring—angler fish, or monks to those of us who live this world, horse mackerel, Norway pout and capelin.
There are many more minutes that one could add to a speech on fishing simply by reading an English translation of the Norwegian text, including the mention of redfish in the Norwegian economic zone. Little has been said about that so far, but there is an interesting Latin pronunciation here, which I can perhaps leave Donald Cameron to deal with in his closing speech.
He has got that wrong, actually—[
.]—wrong species. Some colleagues spent some time in their opening remarks talking about how many times they have spoken in this annual debate over the years. I tend to forget how many times I have spoken in such debates.
I thought that the best introduction was from Maureen Watt, who cited the Finnie-Brankin Christmas present concordat, which is going back some years. I do not know whether the cabinet secretary is going to reveal his Christmas present strategy this year, but I rather reckon that he will be the one buying the presents for Mairi Gougeon next week in Brussels, not least because he will be finished rather earlier than in that particular year when I remember the negotiations finishing on Christmas eve and everyone being worried about getting the last plane out of Brussels, which is certainly a moral of the story.
The important aspects to this debate have been about the day-to-day impact of the December council decisions. The less important parts of the debate have involved the ritualistic running through of yet another discussion about Brexit.
I want to deal briefly with the amendments. I understand the argument that Mark Ruskell makes for the Green amendment, but I believe, like others, that that amendment would be appropriate were it to mention all the other vessels that fish in the coastal waters around Scotland and the UK. That would be the appropriate way to word the amendment. In fairness to Mark Ruskell, his speech seemed to concentrate on scallop dredging and measures on the west coast of Scotland, more than on deep sea fishing. Nevertheless, for that amendment to be supported, it needed to mention all vessels, rather than just the Scottish fleet.
I accept up to a point Rhoda Grant’s arguments in support of the Labour amendment about ownership models and what Governments should and should not do. I am not a great believer in the idea that the Government must do everything on fishing policy or indeed fishing ownership. The other aspect that I suggest needs some further thought is that producer organisations play a heavy role—certainly in my part of the world—in exactly what she has described: the allocation of quotas and ensuring that moneys are reinvested. In Shetland, the quota leasing policy allows money to be reinvested in new tonnage and in new entrants. I entirely accept her point about new entrants—she is absolutely right about that—but what we are after in that sense is ensuring the right model and that may differ according to the different fishing arrangements in different parts of Scotland. We have a shared ownership model in Shetland; I appreciate that that is entirely different from the model in the north-east, where there a different, more vertically integrated structure to the ownership of the industry in the catching sector. Nevertheless, I think that that needs some further thought to become a practical policy.
I cannot support the Conservative amendment. It is just about Brexit, rather than the fisheries council, which is what this debate should be about. I entirely accept that there is a wider debate happening right now; we cannot get away from it. My concern about what we thought that the UK Government had negotiated and what we thought was going to be put to a vote at 7pm tonight, which is obviously not happening now, is that fishing is not in the withdrawal agreement. There is no legally binding text to do with fishing. When I asked David Lidington—who is, to all intents and purposes, the Deputy Prime Minister—at a committee meeting in Parliament a week or so ago why fishing had not been included in the withdrawal agreement and therefore was in the political declaration, he said that that was down to the negotiations. Indeed, it is a matter that is down to the negotiations—that is the point. The UK Government did not get what it said it was going to get. We can all use the language of this, that and the next thing about this but when it comes down to it, the fishermen at home ask me why fishing is not in there. If it was so important to the UK Government, why did it not successfully get fishing in the agreement?
That is not a question for the Scottish Conservatives to answer—it is a question for the UK Government. However, at the very least, the Scottish Tories should not defend an outcome that did not deliver something that the fishing industry asked for. For that reason, I will not support Mr Chapman’s amendment, although I agree with his point on blue whiting. The cabinet secretary will know better than I, but my understanding is that there is a fairly complex business model for the blue whiting quota and how it is traded, which involves Dutch business expertise, and to all intents and purposes, we end up losing blue whiting quota. The cabinet secretary acknowledged that in his opening remarks. A number of parts of the Scottish catching fleet then have to lease back in saith, which then comes back in to Scotland through a circuitous route. I know that the cabinet secretary understands that argument and the more that he can do to assist the Scottish fleet—both pelagic and white-fish—the better. Peter Chapman also alluded to that point and it is certainly important.
Rhoda Grant made an important point, which Lewis Macdonald went on to develop, about what is happening next year and the year after. After March 2019, depending on what happens, no Scottish minister, whether that is Mr Ewing or someone else, and no UK minister will be involved in the negotiations. The industry has been given assurances that officials will keep in touch with their opposite numbers and with the European Commission, but the most damning assessment of the future is that there will be no minister at the council next year, in the way that Mr Ewing will be there this year, to represent Scottish fishing interests. If that is a great triumph for the UK Government and for UK negotiation, do not tell me what a disaster is: it will be without precedent. Whatever one’s opinion of the common fisheries policy, it is better to have ministers at the council, representing our industries, than not to have ministers there. Yet, that is the practical impact of what is currently being negotiated and, for the love of me, I cannot imagine that anyone would want to defend that approach.
My final point for the cabinet secretary is that very serious preparations for a no-deal must be made, not least because of Alasdair Allan’s point about the prawn catches that are made by those in his constituency and in the west coast, and the logistics chain that moves the catch across the Channel. Around two thirds of the catch from this country ends up in Europe and if we have no deal, which there is now a risk of, there will be delays in the catch crossing the Channel—Gordon MacDonald is quite right about that—and the Government of the day will have to find ways to assist the industry with that.
Lewis Macdonald’s phrase “the fog of uncertainty” is apt. Although we have as much certainty as we ever have when the cabinet secretary goes to the annual negotiations, and although we know what he seeks to achieve—most of us broadly agree with his negotiating strategy and wish him well—there is none the less a fair degree of uncertainty, a fog of uncertainty, about next year. For the industry, above all—both the catching and the processing industry—that must be the biggest cause of concern.
Today’s debate has been interesting. The tone has been more thoughtful than I had expected, although there have been moments of heated discussion. Perhaps Parliament has expended its quota of Brexit emotional energy already.
The question is this: will this be the last of our December debates ahead of the annual horse trading among the ministers in Brussels? As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, it has become an annual ritual, alongside a spot of Christmas shopping with Rhona Brankin. What will happen next year? Will we have the debate ahead of the bilateral discussions with Norway or ahead of the tripartite discussions that the cabinet secretary spoke about in his opening comments? The dynamics would be very different through having the UK and Scotland at the table in the EU, ahead of the talks. We have to find a way to exert more soft power on the periphery of the debates around reform of the common fisheries policy, which is difficult when ministers will not be at the table.
Perhaps the most appropriate time to have the debate in future years will be when the science comes out. Mr Chapman does not like the science—or, rather, he likes it when it proposes quota increases for saith, hake and megrim but not when it recommends reductions for cod, haddock and whiting.
I disagree. I like the science—the science is very important. We have to look after the science, because we need a sustainable industry, going forward. I said that, given the landing obligations that are coming in, cuts to some of our most important species could be very difficult for the industry, but I never said anything against the science.
Mr Chapman likes the principle of the science; he just does not like what the science sometimes tells him in relation to quotas that need to be reduced.
Tavish Scott talked about the ICES science. He said that some of it is on quite a shoogly peg because it has not been peer reviewed. I accept that errors sometimes creep into science, but I direct him to the ICES website, which talks about how ICES produces scientific advice. It says:
“The reports of all expert groups preparing the basis for ICES advice are peer-reviewed by a group of independent experts.”
We have the science and we have the scientific institutions. As Stewart Stevenson pointed out, we have had ICES for 100 years. I am sure that Mr Stevenson will secure a members’ business debate on the topic very soon, when we can look at that glorious 100 years of history.
We have the science, but perhaps we do not always have the ability to listen to the science. The reality is that the science is tested to destruction. It goes through the regional advisory councils, where fishers and other stakeholders have the opportunity to debate it. Our having the debate in Parliament, when we know the state of the stocks and the state of the science, is an important thing to do every year.
One thing that would improve our knowledge of stock assessments is more monitoring, which is the point of my amendment. Monitoring would underpin our ability to understand the maximum sustainable yield for our various fish and shellfish stocks. We have a commitment to ensure that MSY underpins exploitation of all our fish stocks by 2020. It is important that we support MSY. We can do that through monitoring.
I was pleased to get some—let us say—qualified support from around the chamber for my amendment. The Tories suggest that the amendment does not go far enough and that we should include foreign fleets in monitoring. I take the point, but I ask the Tories how they intend to influence the CFP on such reforms. I would be happy to send a joint letter, on behalf of myself and Edward Mountain, to the European Commission to see whether we can influence and soft-power it on the direction of the CFP from the outside, by acting like a lobby group. It will be harder to exert influence when we are outside the CFP.
As I understand the matter, after the common fisheries policy, boats that come into water that is controlled by Scotland will have to be issued with licences by the Scottish Government. One of the conditions of the licence could be that the boats must have monitoring gear. I do not think that we need the EU to do that. Perhaps it needs the cabinet secretary to do it, and perhaps he will acknowledge that.
That is a good point, but we need regulatory alignment across the EU, which would mean Scottish boats having vessel monitoring, because they fish in other waters, as well. The common fisheries policy exists because fish swim between borders and we need alignment among coastal states. Mr Mountain is arguing for more policy integration across the European Union—which, of course, I support.
The Labour Party says that the amendment on vessel monitoring might be going a little bit too fast, but I hope that Rhoda Grant will acknowledge the urgency of adopting vessel monitoring—certainly, for scallop dredging, for example. Her colleague Claudia Beamish acknowledged the tragedy that happened at Loch Carron and said that “decades’ worth of damage” was caused in just a few hours. It is important that such sectors adopt vessel monitoring, as well as the larger fleets, such as the pelagic boats and the white-fish sector doing so. A number of members—including Angus MacDonald, who has been a constant champion for vessel monitoring in many debates—pointed out that there will be benefits for the industry if we do that.
Of course, we have discussed access to markets and to waters. It has been mentioned by many members including Maureen Watt and Angus MacDonald. It would have been unthinkable for the EU to have agreed to any deal that would have excluded EU27 boats from UK waters while allowing 80 per cent of UK sea-fish products to travel to the EU tariff free. We cannot separate markets from access to waters. Members have said that for years, but some parties here have been under a delusion that we suddenly have “a sea of opportunity” and can choose the rules for market access as well as for access to waters. That is simply not possible. I repeat the comment that was made by Alasdair Allan’s constituent:
“prawns need to make it to Europe alive”
That is absolutely the case. If it does not happen, there is no market. If there are trade barriers and delays, there is no market, which will mean that communities around Scotland will suffer.
Presiding Officer, I am approaching almost eight minutes. I will briefly reflect on the Labour Party amendment, which we will support in the spirit of co-operation. It includes important and thoughtful ideas around community leasing and how inshore communities can get economic benefits from quota. Rhoda was right to say that tough decisions have been made and that communities have felt the pain in previous years. It is therefore important now that communities, in the broadest sense, see the rewards from quotas and from the industry.
The most important thing is to keep EU membership alive. That is why we will not back the Tory amendment, and why yesterday’s judgment on article 50 is so tantalising. It keeps alive the option of continued EU membership and the sustainability and health of our fishing industry.
I would like to say two things before we move on. Please could members always refer to fellow members by their full names. It is nice to be friendly, but it is for inclusion in the
Official Report and for people who may be watching. Also, members should always be aware when closing speeches are beginning. If members have taken part in the debate, they should endeavour to be in the chamber for the start.
We move on to Rhoda Grant—for around nine minutes, please.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have spoken in this end-of-year negotiations debate, so I cannot join the bidding war that has been going on this afternoon. However, it is an important debate that we have every year; the fishing industry might be a small part of the UK’s GDP, but it is a huge part of our rural economy and we need to protect it very much. It sustains many communities, and damage to the industry is damage to fragile economies. Shetland, for instance, gains more from fishing than it does from oil and gas, which shows the importance of fishing in our part of the world.
We must also bear in mind the dangers of fishing, and so make it as safe as possible. When we have debates on the subject, we sometimes forget that fishermen put their lives at risk. That point that was made by Finlay Carson; it is one that we need to emphasise. Too often we hear of tragedies at sea; we must invest in research into and development of the safety of our fishing folk to ensure that they can catch fish and return home to their families safe and sound.
I turn to the Labour amendment, which was questioned by Tavish Scott. I need to clarify that allocation of quotas and models of working in Shetland and the Western Isles are what the amendment is about. Such ownership allows fairer distribution of quota and, when more quota is available, it allows new entrants. It prevents quota from being sold off to the highest bidder and makes sure that it is retained in the communities for their economic development, rather than enriching the few. We have seen how that works very well in Shetland, which has retained much of its fishing and is capitalising on the industry. We have heard how it is seeing increased landings, for which we need to be better prepared. I hope that I will have a chance to come back to infrastructure later.
I turn to the Green amendment. Mark Ruskell talked about it costing £3,500 to fit a vessel with monitoring equipment. That can be a huge amount of money for a small vessel, and I do not see the point of extending the requirement to static-gear boats, given that there could be little or no gain to having that equipment fitted to such boats. That would just create hotspots by making information on their catches publicly available.
The European maritime and fisheries fund provides 90 per cent of the funds for installations of monitoring gear at the moment. The data that would be gathered by vessel monitoring would be useful for the shellfish sector, because it could be used in modelling to establish MSY of stocks in order to ensure their long-term sustainable health. Does Rhoda Grant acknowledge that?
The sector is sustainable—in fact, its fishers have led the way in sustainability through V-notching of lobsters and so on. Those fishermen know where their catches come from—they guard those secrets carefully because they are where their living comes from. They are willing to look at sustainability options, but monitoring is perhaps a step too far for them. Our concern with the Green amendment is not that it applies only to Scottish vessels—larger vessels can already be tracked and monitored—but that the amendment would apply to smaller vessels, which already engage in good practice. The amendment is possibly a bit over the top for such vessels.
However, I have sympathy with the amendment, in that the Greens are concerned about illegal dredging, which Claudia Beamish mentioned. Therefore, I would have no difficulty with mobile gear vessels of whatever size being fitted with monitoring equipment in order to help us to deal with damage such as we have seen. A small minority of the community is creating the damage, but unfortunately that leads to the whole community being tarred with the same brush. We need to stop that damage happening, but we also need to recognise the value to the community of our small boats of less than 10m, as Maureen Watt mentioned. Those boats sustain their communities.
A number of members talked about Brexit. I tried to avoid doing so, but I do not think that we can go through the debate without talking about what has been said today. The deal that is on the table is the wrong deal for the fishing industry. I have said that, and nothing that has been said today has changed my mind on that point.
In his speech, Lewis Macdonald was clear that it is the EU that rules; we have no say in what happens. If we do not negotiate a comprehensive fishing agreement that builds on the CFP with Europe, we will be subject to levies on all fish that are exported to Europe from the UK. That would tie our access to waters with access to markets, which is unacceptable. Having spoken about creel fishermen, I point out that the fishermen who sell predominantly in the EU have the most to lose from access to waters being tied to access to markets.
The big issue in the debate is choke species. We need to find a solution. We have talked about the issue in our fishing debates year after year, but we seem to be no closer to finding a solution. We have to do the swaps that Tavish Scott talked about, but we need to ensure that the quota that we gain for choke species remains in public hands, so that all have access to them and we can continue to fish and catch the quotas that we have.
As I said in my opening speech, I support the Liberal Democrats’ amendment on science. People have argued that we know about the waters and that the science is good, but we know very little about the seas that surround our country. We need to develop that understanding, so it is important that we build on our knowledge using our institutions. It is also important that the information on which we base our understanding of catches is peer reviewed. We need to take the information that we have seriously in order to ensure that we protect stocks, not just for now but for future generations. It would be absolutely wrong if we did not do that.
I turn quickly to infrastructure. Tavish Scott talked about shipping from Shetland, which is a big issue for Shetland. As Jamie Halcro Johnston said, fish have been left behind on the harbour. I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity about that and I had an assurance that the new tender will allow expansion of the fishing industry in Shetland and, which is important, will allow getting catches off-island.
However, we also have to build on processing: we need the processing infrastructure to make sure that the catch that we land gets value added, and that we encourage people to take up careers in the industry. We also need to provide the infrastructure for people to live in those areas. As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, our processors are extremely worried about Brexit because they will have to deal with the trade tariffs and levies if it happens and we go into a backstop arrangement.
I make a quick final plea on the European maritime and fisheries fund, which Claudia talked about. I should have said “Claudia Beamish”. I am getting the evil eye from the Presiding Officer for using her first name only. [
.] I apologise. That is an important fund and it will be good if the cabinet secretary, in summing up, can talk about what he sees taking over from it, because that will help our fishing communities.
We all wish the cabinet secretary well in the negotiations. Indeed, we hope that they will be finished in good time to allow him to go home and do his own Christmas shopping and save Mairi Gougeon that pleasure. We believe that at the heart of the talks should be sustainability and work to ensure that fishing is available to future generations.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is always nice to have more time rather than less time indicated by the Presiding Officer.
I welcome the opportunity to close for the Scottish Conservatives in this important debate. I also closed for my party in last year’s debate on the fisheries negotiations. Back then, I mentioned the Brexit talks and said:
“It will undoubtedly be a long process to get the right deal that works for the sector and the country ... We must not allow our fishing industry to remain shackled to the common fisheries policy, which has ... scarred coastal communities.”—[
, 7 December 2017; c 96.]
I firmly believe that, through the negotiation process, the UK Government has ensured that taking back control of our waters has been at the heart of the negotiations. I believe that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that accompanies it deliver on a promise that was made to fishing communities right across Scotland, as do the guarantees that the Prime Minister has made in person.
We will be leaving the common fisheries policy, and that is more than symbolic. It is a reality not only that we will become an independent coastal state by December 2020 but, fundamentally, that it will be for us to decide who fishes in our waters and on what terms. That is hugely empowering for our fishing communities. As the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has said,
“The declaration gives the UK the power to assert its position as an independent Coastal State with full, unfettered sovereignty over our waters and natural resources.”
I reiterate what others have said about yesterday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, because I think that it is worth repeating. The UK Government has tabled amendments to the Fisheries Bill that will ensure that there is a legal obligation on the secretary of state, when negotiating a fisheries agreement with the EU, to pursue a fairer share of fishing opportunities than the UK currently receives under the CFP. The UK Government will also invest extra funding of an additional £37.2 million to boost the UK fishing industry during the implementation period, on top of existing EMFF funding. That, too, has been welcomed by the SFF.
Is it not the case that fishermen were promised 100 per cent control? We recognise that having 100 per cent control gives one the opportunity to trade and negotiate with others. That is quite different from the phrase “a fairer share”, which the member used. It could be argued that a fairer share is 1 per cent more than we currently have. The fishermen were promised 100 per cent.
Let me quote the Prime Minister herself. She said:
“We would become an independent coastal ?state, with control over our waters so that our fishermen get a fairer share of the fish in our waters. We have firmly rejected a link between access to our waters and access to markets. The fisheries agreement is not something that we will be trading off against any other priorities.”—[
, 22 November 2018; Vol 649, c 1096-7.]
The UK Government will create four new schemes, which will be comparable to the EMFF, to deliver funding for each nation in the UK.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment that he sees broadly positive outcomes from the Fisheries Bill. I detect a welcome constructive attitude on the part of the Scottish Government to that bill, which is not the case in relation to the Agriculture Bill. The Fisheries Bill will empower the Scottish Parliament to lead on our own scheme. We are devolving more powers to this Parliament. As Edward Mountain said, we will be able to regulate resources to ensure that we conserve the marine environment, the Scottish Government will have power over licences, and the devolved Administrations will be able to transpose regulations.
I hope that the cabinet secretary acknowledges that in his closing speech for the Government, because there remains a striking contradiction at the heart of the SNP’s position on fishing. Mike Russell told the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee last year:
“The Common Fisheries Policy has not worked and we need to get alternatives to it. But let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s have an arrangement with Europe that works for us.”
On the one hand, he wants to leave the common fisheries policy; on the other he wants to remain a member of the EU, which includes CFP membership.
In December 2016, Fergus Ewing said:
“The common fisheries policy has not been a success for Scottish fisheries, and I recognise that there are opportunities for our industry outside the EU.”—[
, 7 December 2016; c 19.]
I agree, as I think that other members do. Indeed, members have been explicit about the flaws in the common fisheries policy. There are flaws, and the possibilities that exist for Scottish fishing when we leave the EU are endless. However, the Scottish Government and the SNP seem hell bent on trying to keep us in the EU and in the CFP.
Let me turn to issues beyond Brexit, which have perhaps been slightly lost during this debate, the purpose of which is to consider the annual fisheries negotiation. My party wishes the cabinet secretary the best of luck in his role at the meeting. We hope that he can achieve positive outcomes for the fishing industry and our coastal communities. Like him, we agree that there is concern in the industry about the quota reductions for major stocks. We note the position of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, in particular, which says that the reductions are unhelpful, at least, and severely problematic, at worst. The reductions come at a time when the landing obligation comes fully into force.
At the same time, we recognise that we should be able to promote a sustainable fishing industry that works for fishermen and for the environment. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I know all too well the importance of that. During the passage of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, we had a great debate about kelp harvesting and I was inundated with emails from concerned constituents, some of whom were from fishing communities. There are strong feelings about the conservation of our marine environment.
I make a plea to members that, when we speak about the fishing industry, we acknowledge the areas beyond the North Sea and consider the industry holistically, as some members, including Alasdair Allan, did. I know that my colleagues from the north-east will not mind my saying that the interests of the area that I represent are slightly different from those of the north-east. Inshore fisheries, which concentrate on shellfish, are often forgotten in this debate, although they are critical to the local economy.
I hope that Tavish Scott will forgive me for venturing out of the deep sea, and I accept that I have come slightly off the issue of the December negotiations when I say that there are almost 1,800 shellfish vessels in the Scottish fishing fleet, which is almost 88 per cent of the total fleet. The main player in that regard is the prawn and scallop fleet, which is the mainstay of many remote communities, from the Mull of Kintyre northwards, up the western seaboard. Shellfish landings account for some 90 per cent of total landings in the Western Isles, with white fish accounting for the remaining 10 per cent. Creel fishing and static scallop fishing are also prominent in Argyll and Bute and, likewise, are contributors to the local economy.
It is therefore important that we engage with the totality of the shellfish sector in looking at any new legislation on sustainability, as it, as well as the wider fishing sector, will have a vital role to play. I recall that there was a commitment in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto to an inshore fisheries bill. Will the cabinet secretary update members on that at some point?
Ultimately, we need a thriving and healthy fishing sector, and we need to ensure that stocks remain at sustainable levels and that our waters are protected as much as possible. After all, in 2017, Scottish vessels landed 466,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish, with a value of more than £560 million.
I move on to summarise what colleagues have said.
Peter Chapman spoke with great authority about the immediate issues. I am sure that the cabinet secretary is aware that choke species are a continuing problem. I remember speaking and listening to contributions about choke species this time last year. Obviously, there is still real concern about them. I hope that that can be addressed.
I was very struck by something that Rhoda Grant said in her speech. We should remember the health and wellbeing of those in our fishing fleet. We are almost a year on from the tragedy that beset the Nancy Glen in Loch Fyne in January, which I asked the First Minister about during First Minister’s question time on 1 February. For the families affected by those deaths, who belong to a small community in Tarbert, that is still a tragedy. It is important that we remember those who work on our boats in sometimes very dangerous conditions, far from the security of the chamber.
We will support the Government’s motion and the Liberal Democrats’ amendment. I regret that we will not support Labour’s amendment. Our view is that we have to wait before committing to how quota is divided up and that it would be premature at this stage—I am concentrating in particular on the last part of Labour’s amendment—to make any commitments on that. However, we are very mindful of the need to promote new entrants to the industry and smaller community-based vessels.
Likewise, we are very sympathetic to the Green amendment. The Conservatives condemn any kind of illegal fishing and of course we would advocate the increased use of technology if that could assist the battle. However, as colleagues have mentioned, we think that that should apply to all vessels, not just Scottish ones. To deal with the point that Mr Ruskell made, we believe that, if international agreements, especially on crime and policing, can be operated without EU membership being a requirement—there are such agreements—that can also occur with illegal fishing, for example.
I am slightly over time so I will conclude. The Scottish Conservatives wish the cabinet secretary well in his role at the negotiations. We strongly believe that there are benefits for our fishermen from leaving the European Union rather than keeping them in the CFP. We must take advantage of the benefits that will result. The fact that we will become an independent coastal state and that we will decide who fishes in our waters and on what terms is the prize that we hope everyone can get behind.
Unless my arithmetic is flawed, I believe that this is the 20th fisheries debate that we have had. I have thoroughly enjoyed the contributions from members across the chamber, particularly those from members who have been around since 1999, as the Deputy Presiding Officer and I have been. I hesitate to use the phrase “old hands”, but we have certainly benefited from the experience of several members who have participated in these debates over many years and who have built up knowledge and an understanding of the issues involved.
I am very grateful for the good wishes from across the chamber to be successful in the negotiations.
This debate is, first and foremost, about that work; that is its main theme. However—inevitably, understandably and quite properly—members also use the opportunity to raise all sorts of issues in relation to fishing. That is absolutely fine, and I will try to turn to as many of those as I can—I will certainly address the key points. However, before doing so, I will touch on some of the other issues that are involved in the negotiations.
As a responsible Government, we have to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the interests of our marine industries and coastal communities. It cannot always be assumed that the UK Government, in the negotiations in December or throughout the year, will necessarily pursue Scotland’s interests. Sometimes, it may not do so; sometimes, it may be reluctant to do so; and, on other occasions, it may be reluctant to do so with—from our perspective—sufficient vigour.
For example, at this year’s EU-Norway talks, the UK Government has been all too willing to use Scottish blue whiting in exchange for Arctic cod from Norway. That is despite the UK Government’s assurances that its focus would be on restricting the use of blue whiting in favour of other currency stocks and on prioritising inward transfers of North Sea stocks at this critical time. As we have heard on many occasions, not one single kilogram of that Arctic cod comes to Scotland; rather, 100 per cent of the benefit goes to a single UK-based, non-UK-owned company. To rub salt in the wound, rather than fishing it all, the company swaps it with other countries for fish that it then sells back to Scotland. Fellow old hand Tavish Scott spelled that out in his speech.
It is worth making the point—I do so without malice towards my colleagues in the UK Government; I have enjoyed a workmanlike relationship with George Eustice, who has attended the past two end-year negotiations, so we approach this year’s negotiations in a constructive fashion—that it would be very naive to assume that, just because we are in the UK, that means that the UK delegation always sees eye to eye with our perspective. It does not, quite frankly, and it is important that members recognise that.
Since having the privilege of being Scotland’s fisheries minister, I have committed to getting the job done. In 2016, which was my first year in the role, we met the challenges of the landing obligation—Donald Cameron was the most recent member to mention that—and I ensured that we received all eligible top-ups to help our fleet to succeed. We also ensured that the science industry survey work on west of Scotland herring could continue by securing a roll-over of the survey total allowable catch having faced zero catch advice.
Other achievements include the introduction of new flexibility provisions for haddock and ling, which allowed the transfer of quota between the west of Scotland and the North Sea. Inter-area transfers are an important tool that can be used to address the problems arising from the landing obligation, namely choke species.
Domestically, I challenged George Eustice to bring to an end the decade of top slicing of North Sea whiting that our industry has endured, and I expect that that practice will end this year. I have drawn Mr Eustice’s attention to the importance of doing that in a letter that I sent off to him just this week.
Last year, we had welcome increases in the five main North Sea stocks of cod, haddock, whiting, saith and nephrops. This year, those same stocks, with the exception of saith, are facing reductions, but there is welcome news on the west coast. After a large cut in the nephrops quota last year, which I know caused great concern on the west coast, we now look forward to an increase in that same TAC. That highlights the unpredictable nature of wild fish stocks and our need to be able to respond as necessary.
We have overcome a few such hurdles in the talks that have already concluded. For example, we have found solutions for North Sea hake, which are linked to an increase in next year’s quota and utilising quota flexibility between the North Sea and north-western waters. Part of that work related to a meeting that I had with Commissioner Vella in Brussels—I think that it was in June—in which we made the point that there was a very serious choke issue in relation to North Sea hake in respect of which we felt that the Commission’s assessment of the science had not followed the stocks, which had migrated north in very large numbers.
Therefore, we have made progress on some issues, but it remains the case, as members across the chamber have said, that we face a difficult year with challenging scientific advice, which—as usual—we must respect when negotiating outcomes.
I turn to issues that have been raised in the debate. Perhaps the main concern has been about the landing obligation and choke species, so I will say a few words that I hope will clarify the approach that we take. First, it is important to say that we are committed to sustainable fishing. Stewart Stevenson made the point clearly that today’s fishermen are the stewards of fish for future generations, and he was right. Every fisherman knows that overfishing now would take away their children’s inheritance; fishermen understand the importance of sustainability.
The principles behind the landing obligation, which are to reduce waste, improve accountability and safeguard sustainability—Mr Ruskell mentioned that—are correct. That means that we must respect the science but, as Tavish Scott said, we must be ready to question, challenge, scrutinise and carefully examine the science. I was interested in his suggestions about improving that.
Quite a lot of good work goes on. ICES advice is quality assured by its own processes, and Marine Scotland scientists are at the heart of the international science effort and are well respected. Marine Scotland also supports an ICES interbenchmark protocol in 2019 to take a fresh look at the mackerel science and data. However, Tavish Scott’s remarks were positive and thought provoking.
To tackle choke species, we need to devise practical solutions, which I believe exist. The solutions must not be so complex that fishermen cannot understand them. The issue is serious, and we share the industry’s concern about the need for solutions to be in place. There is a variety of solutions, which include using swaps, bycatch, technical measures and interarea flexibility. Officials met stakeholders on 6 September to work through options, and Marine Scotland officials and others attended a meeting of the fisheries management and conservation group on 13 November.
All such measures are taken extremely seriously. We in the Scottish Government are resolutely focused on the day job, because it is extremely important that we perform it. I am acutely aware that, as members have said, the choke species issues form perhaps the greatest practical challenge that we face, and so I wanted to spend a little time on assuring members not only that that is our top priority for next week’s talks in Brussels but that we have laid the groundwork and achieved some success throughout the year on matters that looked even worse several months ago.
Rhoda Grant made two thoughtful speeches. We have questions about the technical detail of Labour’s amendment, but it is important to show that we support new entrants, and it is time to recognise that, in principle, we should do that, so we will be happy to support the amendment.
There are infelicities of draftsmanship in Mr Ruskell’s amendment but, as I made clear in comments to Claudia Beamish last week and in my announcement in October, tracking and monitoring are a good thing for conservation and for fishermen. Tracking is about where a vessel is; monitoring concerns what a vessel is doing. As many members said, the vast majority of fishermen are law abiding and carry out vital work for their communities, so they will have nothing to fear and everything to gain from such measures.
I suppose that I have to mention Brexit, although it spoils the pre-Christmas spirit to introduce the Brexit blues. The Conservatives have overpromised and are now underdelivering—that is the nub of the issue. On the spectacle down south—what is happening at Westminster—the disarray that is on display there is now so acute and evident that, quite frankly, it is almost painful and embarrassing to watch. However, we must set that aside. Here in Scotland we are getting on with the job and I was very pleased that members of all parties wished us well for next week’s negotiations; I thank them for their good wishes.
My officials and I will do everything that we can to get the best possible deal for Scotland, our fishermen and our fishing communities around the coast.