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Fisheries Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th November 2019.

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Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I think that it was my colleague Angus MacDonald who said, “Here we are again”. I hope that we will be here again next year.

As other speakers have done, I pay tribute to those in the fishing industry—both onshore and offshore—for providing us with what we hope will be a sustainable food source for the longer term. I also acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s remark in his opening speech about the Scottish Government’s investment in safety and diversity. That is very welcome, and I hope that there will be more of it.

If I noted his remarks correctly, the cabinet secretary said that we have a lot to lose. In her speech, my friend and colleague Claudia Beamish spoke about the pillars of science, sustainability and public interest. It is for those reasons that, on many occasions, I have raised with the cabinet secretary and his colleagues the issue of maritime protection—most recently at meetings of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. As the cabinet secretary quite rightly said, the police cannot be everywhere, and neither can the marine protection people. I pay tribute to both those organisations, which do sterling work.

A fisherman on the west coast once very helpfully tried to explain such matters to me in simple terms. He said: “You know, John, it’s like when the traffic department in Dingwall used to go to the west coast to catch drunk drivers. By the time that they got there, everyone knew that they were on the road.” It is also pretty much like the television detector van stories of the past. It is the same for the fishing industry: everyone knows where everyone else is, and there are very few secrets.

If we are really going to manage fisheries in a way that protects the ecosystem and moves damaging fisheries away from fragile habitats, areas that are used for spawning and nursery grounds, we will have to get our act together.

Such support for protection does not come simply from environmental interests. The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Scallop Divers Association both support a ban on trawling and dredging within 3 miles of the west coast. Many members have mentioned the document from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, “The 3 Mile Limit”, which I commend. It is also significant that Open Seas said in its briefing for the debate:

“Scottish Government’s own research has found that establishing such a ban would create more profitable landings and greater employment in these fisheries, offsetting any harm done to the trawl and dredge sector and allowing crashed fish stocks such as cod and whiting to recover.”

If we are talking about the long term, not least in the context of the climate emergency, we will have to ensure that fisheries are sustainable.

Mr Stevenson talked about the importance of single smokehouses on the west coast. We know that there is considerable employment in the inshore fishing fleet. The fleet does not rely on imported labour to maintain its profit margins; it employs locally and, as the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said in its briefing,

“our ‘Live products’ achieve up to five times more value to Scotland PLC than trawled.”

Given the nature of the resource, the arena is very competitive. I certainly go along with the people in the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Trust who talk about integrating fisheries with other marine activities. As I said, it is not just people at sea who are involved in the matter.

On the thorny question of the on-going negotiations, it is self-evident that the people who have the most interest should be involved. I am a long-time supporter of the Scottish Government having direct involvement in the negotiations. Whether someone is present in an anteroom or in the room itself seems to vary, depending on personalities. Fish know no boundaries, and the reality is that it is good relationships at Government and official level that will bring about the benefits that we all seek. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary talk about his good relationship with his opposite number.

I say, frankly, that I cannot better Mr Rumbles’s demolition job on Mr Chapman’s speech. It is very important that we deal with facts.

Colin Smyth talked about certainty: all industries want certainty, but the fisheries sector, on which many factors impact, has been given uncertainty. It is disgusting to think that food will potentially be wasted as valuable produce rots in a car park in Kent, particularly given the industry that will have gone into delivering that produce.

In my final minute, I want to strike a consensual note and talk about a fishery that has grown in importance. Scotland’s marine aquaculture industry currently purchases 1 million live wrasse each year for use as cleaner fish for the removal of sea lice infestations on farmed salmon. The important point to make is that the capture of wrasse is being undertaken under only voluntary measures. In the short time that I have, I do not have the opportunity to go into the science of that and the challenges of the environment in which capture takes place. However, on a consensual note, I refer to recommendation 28 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report on salmon farming in Scotland, which said:

The Committee strongly recommends that the Scottish Government consider the need for regulation of cleaner fish fishing to preserve wild stocks and avoid negative knock on impact in local ecosystems.”

That is the philosophy that should be adopted right across the fisheries sector.