I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am sure that there is total agreement across the chamber that few things are as important as tackling the climate, ecological and biodiversity emergencies and finding ways of mitigating their disastrous consequences.
Having read the ECCLR Committee’s report, I am surprised at its silence on the marine environment and shocked at the lack of ambition on marine issues from the Scottish Government. The UK is a proud maritime nation and, having just left the European Union and the common fisheries policy, we now have the opportunity and responsibility to design a management regime for our fishing industry with ambitious, practical and measurable targets and with sustainability at its heart.
Not everyone realises that farmed salmon is Scotland’s biggest food export. Its quality is world renowned, so I would have thought that that industry would have been another priority for the Scottish Government’s green agenda.
To omit the marine environment from the green recovery is ignorant at best and downright dangerous at worst. The importance of having a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem cannot be overstated, and the Scottish Government must do more to establish a risk-based approach to fisheries management.
As Scotland has left the restrictive CFP, the Scottish Government has an opportunity to set maximum sustainable yields for all important species, which would ensure the long-term future for our fishermen and the health of the marine environment. However, the Scottish Government has been completely silent on the issue, which is not good enough.
Hand in hand with setting sustainable catch limits goes tackling discards in a workable manner. We can learn much from the Norwegian system. Discarding is wasteful and undermines efforts to fish at sustainable levels. There is a pressing need for the Scottish Government to do the work and come up with a plan.
The recovery plan needs to address our declining marine biodiversity. Rising sea temperatures have driven organisms such as zooplankton and sand eels northwards. Sand eels are a key prey species for fish and seabirds. Recent figures show that, in 2020, Danish fishermen caught more than 240,000 tonnes of sand eels, which all went straight to fishmeal. It is no wonder that there is now good evidence that declines in the abundance of sand eels have reduced the breeding success of seabirds around our coast. Our seabird population’s health is a good bellwether for assessing the biodiversity and health of the marine environment, which does not look good by any measure.
The SNP keeps making grand promises to tackle the climate crisis but, time and again, it misses targets and fails to deliver. The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which I sit on, has taken evidence at recent meetings on climate change. It has become apparent that, although the SNP is good at setting targets, it is severely lacking in the detail on how to achieve them.
However, at least there are targets. In a proud maritime nation, it is a disgrace that there are not even targets for marine issues. A renewed focus on our seas must be included in the green recovery, with sustainability at the heart of any approach. That is the only way in which we can address the environmental and ecological challenges and ensure the future of marine species, our fishermen and our coastal communities.