Inshore Fisheries

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Good afternoon—[

Interruption

.]. I was pressing the mute button. I will not get anywhere by doing that; I now know to press “speaker”.

The first item of business is a statement by Fergus Ewing on modernising and empowering Scotland’s inshore fisheries. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As always, I am unmuted.

Scotland’s inshore fisheries are one of our most valuable community assets, and fishers and their businesses contribute significantly to the economic and cultural fabric of our coastal communities. Those benefits have cemented the centuries-old bond between the coast, the communities and the families.

Currently, there are just more than 2,000 Scottish-registered fishing vessels, 80 per cent of which operate in our inshore waters. Those 1,600 vessels, most of which are classified as microbusinesses, are made up of a mix of nephrops trawlers, scallop dredgers, and creelers and divers—all fishing for high-quality shellfish. Much of the catch is destined for export markets in France, Spain and Italy. Seafood is our second largest export; for example, in 2018, £100 million of langoustines alone were exported from the United Kingdom. Two thirds of the world’s langoustines are sourced in Scotland; the main markets are France, Spain and Italy.

To help that diverse sector to co-exist and co-operate more effectively, we published our “Scottish Inshore Fisheries Strategy 2015”. Its key objectives are: to improve the evidence base for inshore fisheries, improve governance and participation of fishers in policy making, and improve integration with marine planning. Through the modernisation of the inshore fleet programme, we are progressing those objectives; the key commitment is to more effectively monitor fishing in inshore waters. That will provide vital data for Government to manage fishing resources, reassurance to local communities about fishing activity, and information for fishers to guide how, when and what they fish.

Following a procurement process that was undertaken last autumn, I announce today that Woodsons of Aberdeen Ltd is the Scottish Government’s preferred supplier to deliver the remote electronic monitoring programme. The scallop dredge fleet will be among the first to be equipped with remote electronic monitoring systems.

Modernising our approach to vessel monitoring and tracking will help improve our insight into the inshore fleet’s profile: how it operates, how it adapts and what matters most to its sustainable development. However, we also need to blend technological innovation with other policy activity. Competition for space in our inshore waters can be intense, and no more so than in some fishing grounds.

The “Report of the Gear Conflict Task Force” in 2015 laid the foundations for the modernisation programme. Since then, we have worked with inshore fisheries groups and communities to address issues and encourage co-operative working. Moreover, we have all become increasingly aware of the risks that plastics in our seas pose to fish and other marine wildlife, and that marine litter is an increasing problem. In Scotland, we are not immune to that and we must all do more to clean up our waters and coastlines.

Therefore, this spring, I intend to lay a Scottish statutory instrument to regulate the marking of creels. That will enhance visibility, improve navigational safety and identity of ownership, while ensuring that buoys are of a consistent material and design. The use of footballs and milk cartons to mark creels will be a thing of the past.

Government officials continue to engage with local fishing communities and groups to encourage behaviour change. Empowering our inshore fishers to contribute to and manage their own activity is key to sustainable fishing in the future.

We are continuing to develop a multi-agency approach to managing conflicts between fishers, including building the relationship between Marine Scotland and Police Scotland. That will enable Government, working in partnership with the industry and communities, to facilitate more effective sharing of sea space between the various users, and will help determine where and how Government intervention is most needed.

Given the increased intensity of marine planning activities, an improved evidence base is key. We must protect Scotland’s unique and valuable marine environment while enabling appropriate offshore wind and renewables initiatives, as well as allowing fishing to continue. It can often feel to Scotland’s historic and still hugely relevant inshore fisheries fleet that their needs and interests are less important than other considerations. I assure them that that is not the case. They matter, and the Government wants them to continue to fish sustainably into the future. That is why gathering verifiable data on inshore activity is so important. It will give everyone confidence that the right decisions are being made for the right reasons, and it will allow open dialogue to continue to ensure that compromise on activity in our inshore waters can be achieved.

I welcome and appreciate the willingness of the inshore fishing industry to engage in that dialogue, and help to inform future management. The dialogue has been evident in the inshore fisheries pilot programme. The Mull spatial separation trial has seen conflict successfully mitigated. Now in its second year, the lessons learned from the Mull trial will be applied to the Outer Hebrides pilot, where we will also be continuing to develop the prototype low-cost vessel tracking solution.

That has been developed through the world-leading Scottish inshore fisheries integrated data system project led by the University of St Andrews and funded through the European maritime and fisheries fund. It is due to commence soon and will trial a range of behavioural changes, including gear capacity limitation measures.

It is fair to say that less progress has been made with the inner sound inshore fisheries pilot. Following a further consultation last year, it was still difficult to see where different users agreed on the way forward. However, there were important points of agreement that can be built on. That is why I am establishing an inner sound local fisheries management advisory group to design cross-sector participation in the modernisation programme, and to open up dialogue between the range of interests in this area. Further details on the way ahead are set out in the consultation outcome report, which I have published today.

Communication is key to empowering our inshore fisheries fleet so that they can get more involved in managing activity in inshore waters. That has been a key aim of the regional inshore fisheries groups. The network has been evolving for over a decade and it now contains five groups. The role of the chairs of those groups is key, so I am pleased to advise Parliament of the appointment of Jennifer Mouat to chair the north and east group, and Simon Macdonald to chair the west coast group.

Enabling more inshore fishers to engage and contribute to their local group is key to their sustainability, so I can also announce that we are creating a new online platform at rifg.scot.

This is Scotland’s year of coasts and waters. It is entirely appropriate that we pay tribute to the role played by our inshore fishers, who still often work in hazardous and sometimes, sadly, life-threatening conditions to bring economic, social and cultural benefit to our coasts and waters.

Our fleets must be encouraged and enabled to modernise, not just to survive but to thrive in a way that contributes to the sustainable management of these vital and valuable waters. They must also be empowered to make that contribution. That means providing them with tools and opportunities to engage and collaborate. Above all, it means valuing them and the economic, social and cultural benefits that they bring to our coastal communities. The Government remains committed to doing just that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues in his statement. I have about 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement. Our inshore fisheries are, indeed, a very valuable resource for Scotland, and there is much in the statement that I welcome, including the many positive proposals that will help to take away some of the tensions between static fishermen and those using mobile gear. I welcome the announcement that the remote electronic monitoring programme is going ahead, and I agree that the scallop dredge fleet should be among the first to be equipped with remote electronic monitoring.

I agree that local management is the way ahead. It is right to empower our inshore fishermen to manage their own activity and to work together to manage gear conflict. However, the industry was promised an inshore fisheries bill. Is that yet another broken promise? The statement was long on expectations but short on detail and silent on funding. Can the cabinet secretary outline what funding will be provided to support those initiatives, so that they can be completed successfully?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

On funding, we are already taking steps to improve vessel monitoring via the £1.5 million commitment to modernisation of the inshore fleet, as my statement laid out. That funding was in place prior to the tender process. We have committed to further subordinate legislation—I alluded to that in relation to the identification of creel markings—which will be brought forward fairly soon. Last year, we issued a discussion paper and, when the responses to that have been analysed, we will bring forward a consultation paper in the first half of this year. We have no plans to proceed with legislation prior to the outcome of that consultation.

It is right not to proceed with legislation until one has the best possible way forward and until we have reached a consensus. I am heartened by the support that Mr Chapman has expressed for the main components of my speech, which shows that there is recognition across the chamber of the value of the excellent work of our inshore fishers. I am happy to work with Mr Chapman to build on that consensus going forward.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement, and I welcome a number of the measures in it. The cabinet secretary stated that competition for space in our inshore waters and, in particular, our fishing grounds can be intense. He also stated that the modernisation programme will help to guide fishers on

“how, when and what they fish”.

However, the statement did not really address the question of who can fish and where, although resolving that conflict is clearly key to protecting and enhancing our inshore marine environment.

For the avoidance of any doubt, what is the cabinet secretary’s view on the issue of the re-implementation of a three-mile limit or any other form of comprehensive spatial management measure? If he does not support such measures, can he say what type of Government intervention he has in mind if local management does not resolve the gear conflict that we see so often in our communities?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As I said in my statement—I think that I made this explicit—we think that local fisheries management on a regional basis is the best way to deal with those matters, because who is better placed to reach agreement about those often complex matters than the people who are involved?

The work of the regional inshore fisheries groups is excellent. I met the leaders of those groups in the past few weeks, and some of the groups are exemplars of how to work together to resolve issues by agreement. Although there are areas of conflict, I understand that gear conflict is relatively rare. There are areas, such as the inner sound, where it was not possible to reach agreement. However, we hope to complete the installation of REM equipment on 114 scallop dredgers, on which we aim to install it first—20 of them already have the equipment—by around the end of this year. I am trying to word that somewhat carefully to give myself a little wriggle room. Weather, training and other things permitting, we hope that the scallopers will be fitted with that equipment by the end of the year.

Once that has happened, it will substantially change, if not transform, the dynamic, because we will know where the vessels are and what they are doing. That means that there will be clarity and objectively verifiable facts. It is the absence of those that has led to controversy, difficulty and unnecessary conflicts that are difficult to resolve. REM is a pathway to solving those problems.

I apologise for the length of that answer, Presiding Officer, but it was an important question.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I realise that the issues are technical, but I would appreciate shorter questions and answers, to allow all members to get in.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary mentioned gear conflict as an issue that continues to create tension and real economic problems for many skippers through the loss of valuable equipment. We know that it is hard, if not impossible, to prove that there have been intentional actions that amount to potentially criminal offences. What more can be done to protect the interests of the microbusinesses that make up the fishing fleet in many inshore waters?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Maureen Watt is right to point to that issue, although I believe that there is conflict in a minority of cases. Where there is conflict, it can be difficult and intense, and it can cause economic loss and hardship to many small businesses. I am pleased that a representative of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association has presented on harmonised co-operation of fishing effort in the north-east and that there has been a series of four meetings in the past six months, at which Marine Scotland has been present as a neutral observer. We are seeing progress in the member’s part of Scotland, and REM will enable us to make substantial further progress in resolving some of the conflicts or preventing them from arising in the first place.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I apologise for having to leave directly after this question, and I thank the Presiding Officer for allowing me to do so.

I, too, broadly welcome the actions that have been announced and, equally important, the recognition that Scotland’s hugely important inshore fisheries fleet feels that its needs and interests are less important than other considerations. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give hard-working fishermen in Galloway that their interests will be his Government’s top priority when it comes to planning activities such as offshore wind and that he will not allow the lights to go off in our rural coastal communities?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr Carson raises a fair point. Around the coast, there is concern about offshore wind among some fishing communities, particularly among fishers. We have taken steps to ensure that there is co-operation and discussion with offshore wind developers so that their plans are developed in a way that takes account of the needs of fishing. After all, fishers were there first.

It is important that, in places such as Galloway, the consultation should be seen as being meaningful or, in other words, as leading to a modus operandi that allows fishing to coexist with offshore wind. There is enough space, but there are difficulties. I will not go into the details, as that would take too long, but we are well aware of the issue. I am grateful for the opportunity to reaffirm our determination to ensure that, in relation to offshore wind development, the interests of fishers are properly and fully considered.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I welcome the modernisation and empowerment of Scotland’s inshore fisheries. What will the impact be on the coastal fishing communities of the Clyde?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Around the coast, the impact of the measures will be positive. I was delighted that representatives of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association welcomed the proposals on REM, as did the whole inshore fishing sector. That is a positive step.

Mr Gibson is absolutely right to raise that important issue, because the Clyde has some of the most congested waters, as it is a busy shipping lane, with ferries as well as recreational activity. The Clyde fishing grounds raise some of the most thorny issues. I again reaffirm my admiration for the work of those involved with the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, including Elaine Whyte and Kenny MacNab. We work closely with the association to ensure that its members’ interests are respected and fostered.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

What assessment has the cabinet secretary made of the cost to creelers of the new regulatory plans requiring standard Government-approved marker buoys? What, if anything, does he propose to do to mitigate the cost?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr Macdonald raises an important issue. It will be dealt with more fully in the statutory instrument, on which I expect that the relevant committee will want to take evidence, although that is a matter for the committee.

The memorandum that is attached to the SI will set out fully the estimated financial cost. Suffice it to say, we are talking about markers and not complicated or expensive equipment, so I would expect the costs to be relatively modest. I cannot give Mr Macdonald the costs today, but I assure him that we have no desire to foist disproportionate or excessive costs on the creel sector.

We will of course work closely with the sector in the development of the regulations. Prior to their introduction, I will seek to meet representatives of the sector, if they wish to discuss those matters. I am grateful for the opportunity to provide that confirmation.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway is Scotland’s second busiest inshore fishery, producing world-renowned west coast produce such as scallops. Will the cabinet secretary outline what support is available to our inshore fishermen and women, including those in the south-west of Scotland, to allow them to adopt measures to play their part in tackling the climate emergency?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We obviously want to ensure that we continue to provide financial assistance to fishing communities and the fishing sector as a whole. It has been a consensual session so far and I do not want to interrupt the mojo, but it is only fair for me to point out that fishing communities around Scotland had a good financial friend in the European maritime and fisheries fund. That is now gone and has been replaced by a much lower level and less reliable form of finance. I wrote to George Eustice about that a couple of days ago. Members should rest assured that we will ensure that the United Kingdom Government replaces, as it promises to do, the funding from the European Union on which we used to be able to rely.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

I welcome the commitment to remote monitoring of vessels, which was a Green proposal that achieved support in the chamber in 2018. However, the statement is light on detail regarding the roll-out of monitoring. Given the impact of illegal dredging on marine protected areas, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the roll-out will include gear monitoring for all vessels over and under 12 metres, and that the technology will be tamper-proof and sufficient to enforce the regulations and prosecute offenders

?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We developed the policy long before 2018, but I welcome that the Greens now support it.

As far as the roll-out is concerned, there is an awful lot of detail and I do not have the time to go into it. In March, the first equipment will be delivered to Aberdeen, and in April, the first fitting will take place, to scallopers in Shetland. Training slots will be provided for the fitting of the equipment. There are two basic systems: the tracking device and the television equipment to film what happens.

The approach will be proportionate. Rhoda Grant is not in the chamber, but she previously asked about the very smallest vessels. They will have a tracking device, but they probably will not have a camera device, because it is not required. That is a matter of further consideration and discussion, but we have to be proportionate. We should not just assume that all fishers are guilty. When we talk about reefs being damaged, the implication is that fishermen are intent on doing such damage. We take very seriously any incidents in which that occurs, but, as the implication has been made, I stress that the vast majority of fishers fully respect the marine environment. After all, it is the source of their livelihood and that of their successors for decades and centuries to come.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary said that he wants

“to ensure that compromise on activity in our inshore waters can be achieved.”

How does he envisage that happening, especially if local management groups cannot agree?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mike Rumbles has picked up on a fair point. I meant to change “ensure” to “help to ensure”, but I omitted to do that prior to giving the statement. I have been found out by Mr Rumbles’ sharp and forensic analysis—that is a rare confession, Presiding Officer.

On a more serious note, we will do everything that we can to find a way through. I should say that Marine Scotland officials do not just sit in their offices; they get out and about a lot and listen carefully to the concerns of all those involved. Kate Forbes, who is the member for the local area, remarked to me how much it was appreciated that Marine Scotland representatives came along as—if you like—impartial observers but enthusiastic supporters of finding a solution.

The second point is that the new development will be the implementation of remote electronic monitoring equipment. Until now, because evidence could not be provided, it has been almost impossible to resolve disagreements that arose because of disputed facts—claims and counterclaims about matters such as where vessels were or whether they were fishing in the wrong places or where other vessels’ creels were located. REM provides an opportunity to change that, which is why—to answer Mike Rumbles’s question—it is so important.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The progress on the remote electronic monitoring programme is welcome. Will the cabinet secretary say a bit more about the timescale for the programme becoming operational and how the equipment on vessels will work?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will not repeat what I said earlier, but I stress that the aim is to apply the equipment first to scallopers, of which there are, I think, around 114, of which around 20 already have it. The contractors will work around the coast, starting from Shetland and going round to the Hebrides and then the west coast. The aim is to complete that section of the work by the end of the year if at all possible, and then to work on the other vessels that will be subject to the scheme.

I could give a lot more information. For example, the components of the contractors’ work include fitting the equipment, testing it and ensuring that it works, licensing it, checking that the data is being transmitted correctly from vessels to Marine Scotland and can be monitored properly, and providing training on use.

Like anything new, the process will not necessarily be straightforward, and it will take time to complete. However, I am confident that next year, we will be able to say that we have introduced a world-leading initiative for inshore fisheries, which would be a great thing.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I, too, welcome much of what the cabinet secretary has said. The scheme does not involve the introduction of a bill on inshore fisheries, but it does represent some good steps forward.

Inshore fishermen and the aquaculture industry need to be good neighbours. Will the cabinet secretary inform members of his proposals on that aspect of the matter?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We are straying somewhat into the subject of aquaculture, but I will be happy to answer that. I inform Mr Mountain—although I think that he might already know—that the fisheries framework that we set up included several workstreams. One of those involved establishing a group to consider the interactions between farmed salmon and wild fish—in particular, wild salmon. In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity of receiving a quick update from John Goodlad, the group’s chair, which I think might be the reason for Mr Mountain’s having raised the matter now. I hope that the group’s work will come to a conclusion reasonably soon.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Well, I did not understand that—but there we are. I am not too clued up on fish, except that I know that I like to eat them.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary has highlighted the valuable export trade in shellfish. Will he say more about that? Does he share my concern that the UK Government’s approach to Brexit, which has been reckless and foolhardy throughout, still threatens to destroy not only that trade but a way of life that is integral to our coastal communities and, indeed, our Scottish identity?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not think that that is an overstatement. We are already seeing serious threats to the trade, with businesses getting into major difficulty because of the loss of the Chinese crab market.

The problem with shellfish is that it is extremely perishable. If there is any delay in reaching export markets, whole consignments very quickly become valueless. Such markets include France, Spain and Italy, where the just-in-time delivery mechanism that is used works to an accuracy of within a few hours, so any delay is critical.

As I understand it, the UK refused dynamic alignment, leading to the requirement of export health certificates and additional costs and also possible delay. In addition to that, the workforce implications of the measures that were announced by the Home Secretary are devastatingly bad for the shellfish sector, as they are for the farming, tourism and care sectors.

I am afraid that the industry faces a perfect storm at the moment and, therefore, I take this opportunity to renew our calls for the UK Government to think again about its Brexit proposals.