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Fisheries Negotiations

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

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Like Colin Smyth and other members, I pay tribute to the fishing community and remember the many people who have lost their lives in a dangerous line of work. I welcome the funding for safety measures that the cabinet secretary described in his opening speech.

Given what is in play in relation to the general election, it is impossible to say whether or when Brexit will happen. We do not know whether there will be a deal that benefits the fishing industry, a deal that trades away our fishing rights, or no deal at all, so that we crash out of the EU. It is completely unpredictable. As Lewis Macdonald said, we cannot even say that this will be the last year in which we take part in the fisheries negotiations as an EU member state. Who knows?

Whatever the outcome, any new quota must be allocated for maximum economic benefit to rural communities and we need to safeguard it from being traded away, as has happened in the past. Some island communities already lead the way by keeping their quota in public hands and releasing it to the fishing community. That means that their quota cannot be traded away; nor can it gain an inflated value that puts it out of the reach of new entrants to the industry. To provide maximum economic impact in remote rural areas, priority should be given to smaller boats that are rooted in their communities.

As many members have said, there are numerous downsides to Brexit for the fishing community. For example, Mike Rumbles and Alasdair Allan spoke about access to markets. Fish is fresh produce and any delays or bureaucracy can mean that it can lose some of or all its value, so we need to be very careful about how we trade it going forward.

Colin Smyth made the point that 58 per cent of our processing workers come from the EU, and so do some of our workers at sea. If they are not allowed to remain, it will create an issue for the community. We also need to attract new workers into the community.

Although I am winding up in this debate, I want to flag up to the cabinet secretary an issue that did not come up during it. He might wish to look at gill netters, who use long lines of nets that take up a huge area of sea and lock out other vessels. Gill netting is causing major problems in Shetland as the fleet is locked out of such areas. The time limit for the nets to be in the water is 72 hours. Nobody is suggesting that they should not be used at all, but a reduction in the time for which they can be left in the sea—say to 24 hours—would free up areas and enable other members of the fishing fleet to get access to them. It would also end some of the disquiet that surrounds gill netting.

We all agree with the discard ban, but it is disappointing that, as yet, there is no solution to choke species. Colin Smyth also spoke about that. We have a mixed fishery, and where there is no quota for bycatch, the fishing industry cannot catch the species that it has quota for and can legally pursue. We must look at solutions to that, maybe looking abroad to countries such as Norway to see how they handle that without having their fleet tied up.

The cabinet secretary suggested that, for the cod fishery, there might be a cut to quota of as much as 61 per cent this year. If that happens, cod will become a choke species, as Colin Smyth pointed out. Rather than just cut the quota, will the cabinet secretary pursue other measures that could be put in place to reduce the need for a cut of that size, such as avoiding spawning areas and areas with high numbers of juveniles?

Lewis Macdonald made a point about global warming. It seems that it could be affecting cod, which is plentiful in the northern North Sea but not in the southern North Sea. Could cod be moving north to find colder waters, just as Atlantic bluefin tuna are coming into our waters as they warm up? We need to be switched on to how global warming affects fisheries.

We also need to be much more switched on to the science that surrounds fisheries. We have discussed the Norway negotiations on mackerel and how the catch and the science have changed in that regard, leading to a 41 per cent increase this year. We need the science to be accurate, and we need to invest in it to make it so. We need to ensure that the fishing community has confidence in the science, because it will look to avoid keeping to the quotas if it believes that they are not correctly based in science. I appeal to the cabinet secretary to work with the industry to ensure that the science is right.

There have been years when the debate on fishing negotiations has been all about cutting effort. Tough decisions were taken, and there are still tough decisions to be made, but we need to recognise that difficult decisions in the past have led to the recovery of stocks. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have the most robust science to back up any cuts. I wish the Scottish Government well in making that case at the negotiations.