Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place, and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.
The next item of business is a debate without a motion on Scotland’s approach to the 2021 coastal state negotiations. I invite members who wish to contribute to the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible, or if they are joining us online to put an R in the chat function.
This debate on fishing negotiations comes at a time when the world has gathered in Glasgow to take stock of efforts to preserve our planet for future generations. The theme of sustainability and preservation of biodiversity must run through all our policies, discussions and laws. The Scottish Government recognises the critical role that our oceans and seas play in our daily lives, as well as in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Last week’s ocean action day during the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—showed us why and how we need to challenge ourselves and the global community to act faster. We need to do more to ensure healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans for today and tomorrow.
The debate also comes at a time when the Scottish fishing industry continues to face significant challenges. Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have hit Scotland’s seafood industry hard. From Shetland to Eyemouth, and from the Western Isles to the Clyde, I have been listening to fishers and processors, and have been hearing at first hand how their businesses and livelihoods have been harmed.
We want a resilient, robust and sustainable fishing industry that delivers for Scotland. Realising that goal means striking a balance between environmental, social and economic considerations that protect our fishermen and our stunning and diverse marine environment. Getting that balance right is in everyone’s interests. As one Scottish skipper noted recently,
“You have to make sure you are guaranteeing a future in the job” and
“It’s in my interest to fish within sustainable levels.”
A healthy marine environment is crucial to supporting a sustainable fishing and seafood industry.
The year-end negotiations with our coastal state partners are a crucial part of getting the balance right. Under its sustainability objective, the Fisheries Act 2020 makes it clear that fisheries managers should find the middle ground between economic and ecological considerations. Our negotiating position is based on taking pragmatic and informed management decisions on appropriate levels of total allowable catches. We must follow the direction of the scientific advice towards maximum sustainable yield.
However, we also have a responsibility to manage the increases and decreases that are recommended by science, thereby avoiding large fluctuations in total allowable catch that could negatively impact on the industry and the markets. That sometimes requires that we take a more incremental approach to achieving maximum sustainable yield, in the interests of the broader sustainability of a given fishery. Our position in negotiations is therefore informed by the principle of TAC constraints. We believe that it is appropriate to limit TAC variances year on year by 20 per cent for individual stocks.
The TAC constraint, which is in line with international good practice, allows us to move in the direction of the scientific advice while avoiding peaks and troughs in TACs that would be economically damaging. That kind of active and pragmatic management is particularly important in the context of this year’s negotiations. Almost one year on from the signing of the trade and co-operation agreement, the shortcomings of the reckless Brexit deal are already plain for all to see. Scotland’s fishermen are particularly scunnered by what many of them now realise was a sell-out of their and our industry. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has labelled the deal as “desperately poor” and the “worst of both worlds” for the industry.
A report that was published in September this year, which was prepared by a former Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs negotiator, has confirmed our analysis at the time that, far from increasing prosperity, the trade and co-operation agreement will lead to a loss for the industry. The fact that much of the vaunted increase from the TCA is paper fish is something that we highlighted at the time, when the agreement was made. For various reasons, the fish will therefore not be caught and will add no value to Scotland’s economy or its coastal communities. It is no wonder that Scotland’s fishermen feel a sense of “Brexit betrayal”.
The biggest issues that I hear about when I speak to fishers and people in the seafood industry the length and breadth of Scotland are those that I am outlining at the moment. Among those issues, labour is a big issue.
The situation has been exacerbated by Covid-19, which has forced boats to remain tied up at quaysides and has driven volatility in the market. The results in a Marine Scotland survey that was carried out last year showed that 73 per cent of sea fisheries businesses relied solely or partly on Government support to continue operating. Those findings underline the importance of the Scottish Government’s actions in getting help to Scotland’s fishers, processors and small fish and seafood farmers as fast as we could last year. We were the first Government in the United Kingdom to act, and we helped to save many from much harsher financial harm.
Now, we are faced with some difficult scientific advice for 2022. Proposed cuts to key stocks are a real concern for communities up and down Scotland that rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The advice also highlights the precarious nature of some stocks, which must be protected and preserved for future generations. The context is, indeed, challenging.
However, I reassure Parliament that the Scottish Government is focused on getting the best possible deal for Scotland. Even as I speak, marine officials are working hard to promote our interests in the international negotiations with other coastal states. I am pleased to say that we have reached agreement with our coastal states neighbours, in line with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s advice, on total catch limits for 2022 for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring.
The first round of our trilateral negotiations with the EU and Norway was productive, and we look forward to hosting the second round here in Edinburgh next week. In addition, the first round of the UK-EU bilateral negotiation starts tomorrow. Although the timescales for negotiation are uncertain and depend on the willingness of our international partners to negotiate, we hope to conclude discussions by the middle of December, which will allow fishers to enter a new fishing year with more clarity, certainty and, I hope, optimism than they have had in recent years.
We are conscious of our obligation to balance the needs of the present with the interests of the future. That is clearly set out in “Scotland’s Fisheries Management Strategy 2020-2030”, which we published last December, and in the co-operation agreement that we have made with the Scottish Greens. The fisheries management strategy will drive an inclusive approach to fisheries management.
We will continue to have discussions. We will set out and consult on our future catching policy early next year, when all such matters will be discussed.
We want to bring people together to ensure that a range of voices are heard as we collaborate on finding solutions. The Government will continue to engage with stakeholders at every level to achieve that.
That approach is epitomised in the recent work of the nephrops working group, which published a report on 15 September this year. Today, we responded to the recommendations that are set out in that report. Fundamentally, we are all agreed that we need to strengthen the resilience of the seafood industry in Scotland. A key aspect of that is strengthening of links to local and global markets. Of course, that objective would be easier to deliver if there was a level playing field in trading and if the industry had access to the skilled labour that it requires.
The UK Government did not need to force us out of the EU’s free trade and freedom of movement arrangements, but it did and our seafood industry is paying the price. I want to reassure our coastal communities that we will continue to do all that we can, with the resources that are available to us, to continue to supply high-quality seafood to consumers here at home and abroad. We will, of course, continue to press the UK Government for measures to address labour shortages, and for it to help rather than to hinder efforts to export our high-quality products to our most lucrative market, which is the EU.
Although recent experience suggests that it will continue to be our industry that is put in harm’s way at every opportunity, as the Tories seek to manufacture a problem in order to disguise the sheer awfulness of the deal that they agreed to on leaving the EU, we must use our own powers to make our industry more resilient, onshore as well as offshore.
The Government has long been committed to applying an economic link licence condition to fishing opportunity. I can announce today that, following consultation in the previous parliamentary session, we will move to increase the amount of catch that is landed at Scottish ports by introducing new economic link arrangements for Scottish vessels in 2023.
A wide range of other commitments are in the 12-point action plan in our fisheries management strategy. Those include introducing a new catching policy, enhancing our knowledge and evidence base through the introduction of remote electronic monitoring to key parts of the fishing fleet, and working to mitigate the impact of climate change on our seas.
The co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens incorporates those commitments, but it goes further. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party believe that the marine environment should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and that it should be managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.
As part of that vision, we are determined to make a step change in marine protection and to deliver on our shared commitment to achieving and maintaining good environmental status for all Scotland’s seas—offshore and inshore. The measures that we have agreed for enhanced marine protection will make Scotland an international leader in that field.
We specifically commit to restoring marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters, with the aim of achieving good environmental status, recognising that those waters contain valuable blue carbon hotspots, nursery grounds for fish stocks and an array of rich marine wildlife and biodiversity.
Specific actions will include enhancement of marine protection through designation of marine protected areas and new highly protected marine areas, through taking specific measures to protect the inshore seabed, and through extending the requirement for vessel tracking and monitoring systems across the whole commercial fleet by the end of the current parliamentary session. Making progress on delivering those commitments will be our priority in the coming year.
The Government is wholly committed to addressing the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Increasingly, the world is realising that adapting to climate change while also seeking to slow global warming is a marine as well as a land challenge. Scotland is already playing its part; indeed, we are part of groundbreaking and world-leading activity on blue carbon. Tomorrow, I will open an international blue carbon conference here in Scotland—the first ever to be held at the same time as a UN climate conference. This is the first time that the oceans have had such prominence in the UN climate change programme, with hundreds of ocean and marine events taking place over the course of COP26. That is a welcome development and an important step to build understanding of the importance of protecting our oceans and of the role that they can play in climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and to drive action.
There is no doubt that facing up to and addressing the intertwined challenges is difficult. The past few years have been a time of constant upheaval for Scotland’s fishing and seafood sectors. In the words of one of my favourite authors, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, at times it has felt that
“Nothing … is true but change.”
The shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, added to a Brexit deal that has utterly failed and undermined our industry, has wrought unwelcome uncertainty among our fishing communities and partners for an endeavour that is always challenging and often dangerous. All that is taking place in the wider context of the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, which pose real and imminent dangers to our country and our planet.
However, this Government is not sitting on the sidelines. We have a vision and a strategy to make our fishing industry sustainable, both economically and ecologically. We are acting to resolve the issues and to give the fishing industry a renewed sense of certainty by fiercely defending Scotland’s interests in international quota negotiations, and by bringing the best available science to bear on the current and future management of our fisheries. We have a team of some of the most experienced and competent negotiators in Europe to support our industry objectives. We are working with others to protect our shared marine heritage and we are leading in international collaboration in areas such as blue carbon habitats and storage.
Although we might be facing challenges, I am resolved, as we continue to face uncertainty and change, to do what this Government does best—to stand up for, promote and protect Scotland’s interests at all times.
I thank and pay tribute to the fishing industry for its resilience, as well as all who work in the seafood supply chain. In my constituency, we were recently reminded of the perils of the sea when the town of Eyemouth marked the 140th anniversary of the Eyemouth disaster, when 189 fishermen were drowned on a stormy night in October 1881. Our fishermen risk their lives in all weathers so that we have food on our plates, and we must never forget that.
As a result of our exit from the EU, the United Kingdom and Scotland are now an independent coastal state, which has given us control over our own waters. We on the Conservative benches feel that it is a fantastic chapter of opportunity for our fishing communities. Because fisheries are a devolved matter, many of the powers that were exercised at the EU level before Brexit are now held by the Scottish ministers, and the devolution of fisheries is further consolidated by the Fisheries Act 2020, which conferred on the Scottish ministers a broad power to make regulations, within the scope of devolved competence, for “a conservation purpose” or “a fish industry purpose”.
In opening for the Scottish Conservatives, I would like to stand up for fishing communities by making a number of points on vital funding and sustainability. First, as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, the UK is now an independent coastal state, with control over our waters for the first time in decades. Not only have we managed to secure additional quota, worth around £146 million over the next five years, but it will be shared across the UK.
The trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, which was agreed in December 2020, gives British fishermen the right to catch more fish in UK waters. I know that Emma Harper is interested in separating our country and taking us right back into the common fisheries policy. That was hated by many fishermen across the country, which is why we should work together to make the most of the opportunities that we have in front of us.
I was talking about the additional quota that is shared across Britain. It will benefit parts of the UK where active fisheries have demonstrated that they need and can catch those stocks. I will talk about that later in my speech.
The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly stood up for fishing communities since the EU departure. When it comes to funding, Scotland’s other Government has stepped up to the mark by providing the industry with additional support.
Would the member care to elaborate on why, in the replacement for the European maritime and fisheries fund, Scotland received only £14 million, as opposed to the £62 million that it should have received?
The Scottish Government has received a number of tranches of funding, in particular the recent funding that will give access to developing technology and increase the number of skills opportunities. Further into my contribution, I will speak about the Scottish Government’s lack of help for young entrants to the industry.
Going back to the UK Government’s support, we opened a £23 million fund to support fishing communities through disruption related to the UK’s exit from the EU. It is important that the UK Government recognised that businesses needed support at that crucial time, which mitigated losses to businesses caused by delays related to the export of fresh or live fish and shellfish to the EU. That was an important bit of funding.
The UK Government also bolstered support with the £100 million UK seafood fund, which has been a vital lifeline to level up coastal communities across Scotland. The first part of that vital funding was announced in September 2021. As I said to the cabinet secretary, there is an important opportunity to invest in and develop technology, trial new ideas and support world-class research to improve the industry’s productivity and long-term sustainability, which has been really important in the conversations that we have had during COP26. The fund will enable the industry to process more fish that is landed in the UK, create the job opportunities that we need across that supply chain, and upskill the workforce and train new entrants in cutting-edge technology and new safe and sustainable methods.
I am concerned that a number of Scottish National Party members are dragging us back to constitutional arguments, which highlights the SNP Government’s attitudes towards our fantastic coastal communities. Let me take the example of my constituent—I am sorry, Presiding Officer, I am just looking for my notes on that. The issue is about banging the drum for getting young people into the industry. Recently, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy about a loan for a fishing licence for a young constituent of mine who has a fishing vessel and is looking for help with getting a licence. It concerns me greatly that he was told that, on the basis that the cost of licensing a vessel is an operational statutory cost to a business, it is considered to be
“a relatively poor return in terms of public investment for the limited funding which has been historically available to the industry”.
To put it simply, that confirms that the SNP is not standing up for young people who want to enter this thriving industry. That is a sad state of affairs for the next generation.
To add insult to injury, the minister also told my constituent that better value in terms of investment return is achieved from assisting industry with aid directed at non-statutory investments such as quality improvement, safety, infrastructure and market-related initiatives where added value is achieved. That shows a lack of understanding of how we want to address being an independent coastal state by getting communities across Scotland into the fishing industry and making the industry thrive again.
I want to touch on cod stocks. The Shetland Fishermen’s Association and the Scottish White Fish Producers Association have asked the Scottish Government and the UK Government to create an independent panel to assess and put into proper perspective the numbers from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Fishermen have warned Scottish ministers to think twice about cutting cod quotas for next year, after figures showed that there are 285 million fish in the North Sea. ICES is recommending a 10.3 per cent reduction in the total allowable catch for North Sea cod, even though it admits that doubling quota for the species would mean a 24 per cent increase in stock by 2023.
We know that North Sea cod is abundant and that the population in 2018 was 180 million. However, Green non-governmental organisations constantly describe the species as threatened, endangered or at risk of extinction. Perhaps the picture is very different. That is why, in an intervention, I asked the cabinet secretary whether there is a threat of the SNP-Green coalition cutting the quota, given that conservation is devolved.
The CFP is unavoidable if we have EU membership, which can come only if the SNP-Green nationalist coalition breaks up the United Kingdom. Our fishermen do not want to be dictated to by Brussels. It is time that both Scotland’s Governments worked together for the benefit of Scotland’s fishing communities.
I thank Scotland’s fishers, who have the most dangerous peacetime occupation and go to sea every day to put food on our tables. The sector provides thousands of jobs, often in Scotland’s most fragile rural communities, and generates more than £300 million a year in gross value added—and the processing sector contributes more than that.
Faced with the twin shocks of the collapse of markets during Covid lockdowns and a deal to leave the EU that—as no one was surprised to find—failed to deliver what Scotland’s fishing sector needed or had been promised, the industry has shown remarkable resilience. The impact of the Brexit deal was entirely predictable. There have been entirely predictable and devastating delays in getting products to market. There have been entirely predictable labour shortages, which were particularly crippling for fish processors. There have been entirely predictable trade disputes.
It is in the context of that deal and those challenges that the next round of coastal state negotiations will take place. The negotiations also take place in the context of a renewed focus on the importance of our precious green environment, the need to tackle the climate crisis and the need to prioritise sustainability, not just because that is the right thing to do for the environment but because it is the right thing to do if we are to secure the long-term economic viability of the industry.
The Scottish Government has opted to rely largely on the UK Fisheries Act 2020 in determining the framework for the negotiations, even in devolved areas, rather than deliver a Scottish fisheries act. However, decisions on fisheries management in Scotland rest with the Scottish ministers. Fishers themselves have a role to play in responsible management of the seas, but it is the Scottish ministers who decide how our seas are used.
Ahead of this year’s discussions and negotiations, I will set out Labour’s five tests for the Scottish Government on the establishment and distribution of sustainable fishing quotas for 2022. First, we believe that fishing catch quotas should not exceed the maximum sustainable yield in 2022, according to scientific advice. I appreciate that delivering against fixed MSY targets in mixed fisheries, where individual stocks are subject to fluctuating scientific advice, is challenging. It requires close co-operation across the UK and beyond.
However, overfishing depletes our public fish asset and reduces the amount that is available in subsequent years. Labour will assess the outcome of the forthcoming negotiations by the Scottish ministers on how total quota allowances compare with scientific advice, on whether overfishing is tackled and on whether the Scottish Government makes a genuine commitment not to exceed the maximum sustainable yield.
Secondly, we will assess the actions of ministers on whether negotiations deliver a fairer and more diverse distribution of quota allocation in Scotland. The cabinet secretary was silent on that in her opening comments. Fish quotas have become a tradable asset, being sold and leased for profit. Quotas have become highly consolidated. For example, four companies control 55 per cent of the North Sea mackerel quota. Benefits are no longer being shared among a fleet of smaller vessels; instead, they are concentrated among the few owners who operate large boats. The Scottish Government should instigate an immediate review of how quotas are allocated, in order to assess what more can be done, in relation to section 25 of the 2020 act, to deliver the best social, economic and environmental outcomes for Scotland.
Thirdly, Labour believes in the principle that Scottish seafood should be landed in Scotland. At present, far too much is landed abroad, which means that Scotland’s economy, food system and jobs are bypassed. For example, 55 per cent of mackerel that was caught by Scottish fishing vessels last year was landed directly in a foreign port. Beyond consultation, the Scottish Government has done little to date to prevent that from happening, so we will assess carefully the announcement that the cabinet secretary has just made. We need proper investment in building capacity and infrastructure in fishing quays and in the processing sector in order to secure more landings in Scottish ports, which will help to regenerate our all-too-often neglected coastal communities.
Fourthly, we believe that quotas should be used to incentivise a change towards forms of fishing that have lower impact and less bycatch. We know that some fishing methods cause serious environmental harm. Scotland’s marine assessment in 2020 found that fishing was the most significant and widespread pressure on Scotland’s seas. In particular, it noted that bottom trawling and other mobile bottom-contacting fishing methods have led to widespread changes to the marine ecosystem. The pressure that is associated with damaging methods can be reduced and the impacts can be mitigated through restrictions on such methods, backed by a just transition, to ensure that fishers are supported. That can also be done through proper incentives.
In addition, discarding is resulting in vast volumes of fish being killed and thrown back at sea. That is environmentally damaging and, to be frank, a shocking waste, given that throwing back lots of juvenile fish because they are too small to market ends up reducing the next year’s catch. That practice was supposedly made illegal in 2019, but we know that it continues.
Fifthly, Labour believes that a fairer share of catching opportunities should be secured for Scottish fishers. Scottish fishers have not been served well by the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK Government and the EU. The seas around Scotland contain some of the most productive, valuable and diverse fisheries that are to be found anywhere, but Scottish vessels currently account for a minority of the total tonnage in value taken from those fisheries. As well as reforming how quotas are allocated in Scotland to ensure that they are distributed more fairly on social, economic and environmental grounds, the Scottish ministers should focus, in the negotiations, on securing a greater share of the fishing in Scottish waters for Scotland’s fishers.
In the current round of coastal state negotiations and beyond, Labour will assess and hold to account ministers on our five tests. We will make an assessment of whether the negotiations deliver a better redistribution of fishing quotas to smaller boats, which are the backbone of the fishing fleet; whether they lead to more catch being landed in our Scottish ports, which will create the jobs that our coastal communities need; and whether they genuinely deliver a sustainable fishing industry for the benefit of our environment and of all our coastal communities.
I, too, pay tribute to all our fishermen and the dangerous job that they do, and all the work that the fishing industry does to put food on our tables.
I will not be the first to raise with the cabinet secretary the disparity between the scientific assessment of fish stocks, particularly cod, and the reality on the fishing grounds. I am told that the disparity has widened to the point where the credibility of the fisheries management system is under threat. Shetland fishermen are seeing abundant cod on the fishing grounds, but some vessels face bankruptcy if the quota is cut again. As it has been put to me,
“it is one thing to have fishing vessels going bankrupt if fish stocks disappear but quite another to engineer a situation where they go bankrupt amid the largest fish stock seen in the North Sea for the last two decades.”
I understand that an increasing number of fisheries scientists have grown uneasy over the ICES stock assessments. Although ICES says that it is willing to engage with the fishing industry to improve data collection and the way in which the data is interpreted, the trouble is that that will take years. That could mean vessels going bankrupt and, in turn, coastal and island communities facing crisis, all of which is avoidable.
Shetland may be small and perfectly formed, but we are a large ocean community in the heart of the North Sea and north Atlantic. We rely on the sea and those who work on and around it. To that end, I am frequently in touch with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association which, along with colleagues on the mainland, has called for the introduction of an expert panel to advise ministers on ICES advice every year. There is concern about the quality of scientific advice in relation to both the at-sea data gathering exercise that feeds into annual ICES assessments and the reference points that ICES uses to recommend total allowable catches—TACs.
The headline recommendation from ICES in relation to North Sea cod is a 10.3 per cent reduction in the 2022 TAC. That is where negotiators feel bound to start from. They need reasons to depart from that advice if there is going to be an agreement to an increase rather than a decrease of cod TACs.
I will make several points about the ICES advice and the increase of North Sea cod quotas next year. According to ICES, the North Sea cod quota could be increased substantially in 2022 without sacrificing increases in stock size. Modelling indicates that the spawning stock biomass—SSB—of that species would increase by 24 per cent between now and 2023 if the TAC was doubled. More modest increases in the TAC would lift the SSB by almost as much as the ICES-recommended 10.3 per cent cut.
Secondly, the ICES reference point for North Sea cod is the largest size that the stock has reached in the period from 1998 to 2021—almost 98 tonnes—which is the highest figure for the past 40 years. That means that the system is trying to raise the North Sea cod SSB to levels that, according to the advice, cannot be reached by 2023 even with no fishing at all.
Thirdly, North Sea demersal fisheries are mixed fisheries, with cod being caught at the same time as several other species during typical fishing operations. An acute shortage of cod quota in a situation of cod abundance restricts the fleet’s capacity to catch species for which it has quota.
The immediate priorities for Shetland’s fleets in this year’s talks are to agree an increase in the North Sea cod quota, avoid a cut in the ling quota, as the only evidence available to ICES shows the stock to be three times larger than it was 20 years ago, and keep up pressure on our neighbours to reverse the unilateral increases in mackerel quotas that were announced this year.
I have two final points. The cabinet secretary may be aware from her visit to Shetland of the view of local fishermen that they are unfairly targeted by fisheries protection vessels compared with fishermen from non-UK countries. I urge transparency and the publication of figures relating to that issue. Perhaps next year, consideration may be given to holding at least one round of the coastal states talks in Shetland, which is at the heart of Scotland’s richest fishing grounds.
The Scottish Government’s position has always been to deliver the best outcomes for Scotland’s fishing interests. A world-class fishing nation should deliver responsible and sustainable fisheries management and communities. To put it simply—fish, folk, future.
I was brought up in the east neuk of Fife. Fish was a constant through my childhood; my father’s accounting business supported fishers, my higher geography project was on the development and sustainability of the industry and a fish supper at Anster harbour was a top treat.
I studied in Aberdeen and came to face to face with the bigger industrial fishing industry there. As an accountant, I audited fishing businesses, reconciling catches with quotas. I now live in Argyll and Bute, where I represent a different, but extremely important, element of Scotland’s fishing industry—the west coast inshore fishers. I thank those who work so hard in that industry.
The matter of fisheries is—correctly—devolved. Significant differences exist in the industry in Scotland and across the UK, and differences should be recognised. The management of fish stocks needs to be tailored to individual circumstances.
I am pleased that, when it constructed its core team for the coastal state negotiations, the Scottish Government brought in voices and experiences from all elements of our fishing industry, including Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance, which is a community-based organisation whose main aim is to address the economic and physical needs of the Scottish inshore fisheries and their associated communities and businesses. The alliance provides local wisdom which, when it is combined with the science, can ensure the most sustainable results.
Coastal communities should not be cut off from opportunities—just because they have not done something for a while should not negate their chance to return to it. They can also comment from a practical perspective, for example on how quota swaps from west to east could impact negatively on the west coast nephrops fleet if discards are lost. By bringing everyone around the table, the Scottish Government is creating the space to ensure the protection of Scotland’s interests.
Leaving the EU has disproportionately impacted on Scotland—one of my fishers has lost 60 per cent of his market and is worried about the labour impact too, and our fishing fleets have access to fewer valuable fish stocks. Until Scotland regains its independence and EU membership, the Scottish Government will continue to be actively involved in the coastal state negotiations, in which it will play a key and active role in ensuring the protection of Scotland’s interests.
As the cabinet secretary has said, the Scottish Government will also be an active partner at international negotiations, especially in relation to fish stocks in Scottish waters and access to Scottish waters by foreign vessels. Fish do not recognise international boundaries, so it is vital that they be jointly managed to ensure long-term sustainability—fish, folk, future.
As I have said, I grew up in the east neuk of Fife—home to the award-winning Scottish fisheries museum, whose collection traces the development of commercial fishing through the ages, including Loch Fyne skiffs and Campbeltown ring nets from Argyll and Bute. The collection tells the story of a way of life that is so important to Scotland and which has adapted and changed through constant innovation. Fishing survives because of the dedication of folk who often work in harsh conditions. Sustainable fishing is crucial to its future.
Scotland’s fishing industry finds itself at an important point in its history. At the start of this year, the United Kingdom re-established itself as an independent coastal state outside of the European common fisheries policy. That event is the basis for the negotiations that have taken place this year and for the UK’s direct participation in international discussions around the industry.
However, we do not exist in isolation. We are aware of the need to work with our neighbours to provide positive results for those around the table. This week more than usual, we have been reminded that we have a responsibility to our natural environment. Although we are driven to maximise opportunity for our fishing fleet, we must do so sustainably, in a way that leaves a positive legacy for future generations, promotes biodiversity and secures habitats for marine life below our waters. I applaud the sector and fishermen across the country for the work that they have done to that end.
Around the chamber, we know that the process of transition has involved problems for the sector. In the past year, we saw a number of competing issues that have had costs for our fishing fleet. Border arrangements in particular have been challenging, as importers and exporters as well as border agencies adjusted to changed rules at our frontier.
It was important for Government to be able to respond. I welcomed in particular the positive step of the creation of the Scottish seafood exports task force, which brought together Government, sector representatives and other stakeholders to drive improvements. However, it was clear that direct support was also essential, and the £23 million package of support for exporters in the sector, which was built on the £100 million UK seafood fund, demonstrated a will and action to back British fish and to work through the issues that have arisen. That is a reminder that we should also be looking to the future by investing in the sector, building on existing trading links with our closest neighbours and seizing opportunities to make new links with partners around the world.
This year, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation praised the tireless work by team UK—in which we include Marine Scotland—on negotiations. The benefits of working effectively together cannot be overstated.
Quite properly, discussions of allowable catches and rules for 2022 began soon after arrangements with the EU for 2021 were concluded. It is in everyone’s interest that processes are prompt and that certainty is provided at an early stage. The same principle applies to our relations with Norway.
It is worth reminding ourselves that this year’s negotiations took place against the backdrop of not only a new relationship after leaving the EU but, as for virtually every employer in the country, a pandemic that had unpredictable effects on demand, logistics and supply. The recent dispute with the French Government about fishing licences has also raised questions. There is no denying that recent times have been testing for the sector, but I am confident that it can and will thrive.
My own region, the Highlands and Islands, has a long association with the fishing industry. There has been considerable change in recent decades, but the seafaring spirit of many of our communities is at the heart of their identities. We face additional challenges. Shetland is one of Scotland’s main ports for fish landings, as Beatrice Wishart said, but it depends on travel links with and from the islands to get its produce to market, even domestically. That is the extreme end of a scale that affects all remote and rural fishing communities.
We remember when, as part of the common fisheries policy, there was a wide agreement in the chamber that Scotland’s fishing fleet deserved better. Scotland has a long and close association with the sea. As with other products of our food and drink sector, Scotland’s fish exports are recognised as a quality product with a positive reputation.
We believe in growing opportunity for the sector and in investing to ensure a positive, sustainable future. I will welcome any work that the Scottish and UK Governments can do to build that future.
The majority of fish stocks that are of interest to Scottish fishermen are found across international boundaries. There are significant differences between the four UK nations and it is important to tailor fishing to our Scottish circumstances.
Brexit has seriously damaged the Scottish fishing sector. People in Scotland did not vote for the UK’s hard Brexit and chaotic fisheries policy. I welcome, in contrast, Scotland’s commitment to upholding its international reputation as a good global citizen. The Scottish Government has repeatedly demonstrated Scotland’s commitment to the European family of nations, which reflects the will of Scottish voters.
The UK Government’s isolationism in acting as a sovereign coastal state undermines those efforts, and Scotland continues to pay the price for Tory Brexit. The UK Government has sold out Scotland’s fishing sector. Industry experts predict that the UK fishing industry will make an eye-watering loss of £300 million by 2026 as a result of the UK Government’s disastrous Brexit deal. That is despite Boris Johnson’s promise of a sea of opportunity for Scotland’s fishermen.
The Prime Minister’s sea of opportunity was supposed to benefit us to the tune of £148 million by 2026 if we voted to leave the EU, but the former DEFRA official and fisheries negotiator Gary Taylor has estimated that fishing firms face losses of £64 million per year. Those grave predictions have prompted the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations to ask the UK Government to urgently publish an analysis of the cost of its disastrous Brexit. The NFFO’s chief executive officer, Barrie Deas, has said that
“there are ... few winners and ... many losers” in the fishing industry as a result of Brexit.
It is welcome that the Scottish Government is not taking such an approach for Scotland’s fishing sector; instead, the Scottish Government’s negotiation strategy and priorities are influenced by high-quality science and take into account wider policy objectives, including socioeconomic implications. The cabinet secretary highlighted the 12-point action plan in the future fisheries management strategy. The negotiating approach is underpinned by a set of guiding principles that will remain consistent each year and is in line with the need to progress towards good environmental status.
The Scottish Government will conduct negotiations on a principled, rather than positional, basis and will comply fully with a range of international conventions and obligations, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That will allow for sustainably managed stocks and the use of total allowable catches when appropriate, including consideration of the introduction of TACs for current non-quota species.
I want such an approach in Scotland, as opposed to the shambolic ideological stance that the UK Government has taken. The UK Government negotiated in principle just by leaving the EU and not by working for the industry. Brexit has already had a huge impact across my South Scotland region, and it has hit Dumfries and Galloway fishermen particularly hard. In December 2020, many boats—including ones that operate out of Kirkcudbright and Garlieston harbours in D and G—were tied to shore, as businesses became unviable and almost went out of business completely. That was all because, on 31 December 2020, new information technology systems, as well as regulatory, welfare and customs checks, came into force for Scottish seafood exporters going to Europe, despite calls for a six-month transition period to trial new systems and checks. The UK Government refused that, to the Scottish fishing sector’s utter disbelief.
In preparation for today’s debate, I obtained a direct quote from a local fish-processing business, which said:
“Although things have stabilised slightly, uncertainty still remains a huge concern because we don’t know where we’ll be in 12 months.”
I welcome the approach that the Scottish Government is taking to the negotiations and, in response to Ms Rachael Hamilton’s comments, I look forward to Scotland being a normal independent coastal state that can choose our own path and make our own decisions.
The negotiations are different this year, but they must be underpinned by sustainability and science to maximise the economic benefit to our communities while protecting stocks and the environment.
The debate takes place during COP26, and the goals that we expect world leaders to realise must be at the forefront of our deliberations. Brexit also looms large, which means that the negotiations are very different from those that have come before. In many ways, they will set the scene for the future. Regardless of how we feel about or voted on Brexit, our negotiators must have the best interests of our country, environment and industry as their primary focus. We must try to realise the vision of a sea of opportunity.
In the negotiations, it is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure the effective management of fisheries and to deliver the best possible outcome for the industry, our communities and our environment. Getting that balance right is key to a sustainable future and a sustainable industry.
We should strive to follow scientific advice on quotas, but we should also take steps to protect fisheries from the effort shift. We saw in the past that that almost caused the collapse of sustainable fisheries on the west coast, as Jenni Minto said. Having Marine Stewardship Council certification of our fisheries will be more important in the future, as we see people awakening to sustainability and protecting our planet.
We have issues regarding the distribution of quota. We have the opportunity to move to a different pattern of distribution and management. As Colin Smyth said, our smaller vessels currently lose out to those who own and operate larger boats, because quota distribution penalises smaller fleets. The Scottish Government must address that issue. It must look to our fleets and communities for good practice—for example, Shetland Islands Council owns quota that is leased to local boats on the understanding that they will land their catch locally. That needs investment in food processing, which has staffing shortages. The Scottish Government needs to consider how to make careers in the processing sector more attractive.
The problem of bycatch is still to be solved sustainably. I have long advanced a system where quota for bycatch can be bought at the point of landing. The price of such a quota would make it possible to land bycatch without detriment, but without profit. Stiffer penalties are also needed for those who dispose of bycatch at sea.
We have the opportunity to introduce conservation methods, by using science and fishing gear, in order to be more selective in our fishing, and to insist that those who access our waters do likewise. There is an opportunity this year to set in train solutions to the stubborn problems that have damaged the industry in the past.
We need to look at a transition that will keep a greater share of the fish in our waters for our industry, because doing so would create a buffer when there is a need to reduce our total allowable catch. We can farm our seas for the benefit of future generations, and we must maximise the opportunity that we now have, while recognising that it is also a transition for our neighbours.
Fisheries management is the responsibility of Scottish ministers. Fishers have a role to play in the responsible management of the seas, but Scottish ministers decide how our seas are used, because those who are concerned about their income today might not have the luxury of looking out for our future generations. The Scottish Government must listen to the industry’s advice on good practice so that it can manage our seas in a way that enables our fishing communities to thrive, while protecting our precious environment and ensuring the long-term sustainability and future of the industry.
My constituency is a coastal fishing community of integrity and values that are embedded in trust and honesty. We often see that in highly skilled and dangerous professions, because a person’s word and integrity can mean the difference between life and death or prosperity and hunger.
The fishing industry has gone through many changes over the past few hundred years. It has diversified from whaling ports through to today, when it catches, lands and processes first-class seafood that is exported all over the world. We are extremely lucky to have on our doorstep a major contributor to local jobs and our food supply chain, and a global standard that highlights to the world what Scotland has to offer.
The topic for debate is Scotland’s approach to the 2021 coastal state negotiations. In my speech, I wish to get it across that, in all the discussions and debate, we must remember those who are at the heart of it all. We must listen to those with lived experience in the communities, who have for too long felt that they are being played by politicians in order to leverage deals.
International relations is a reserved matter so, before the UK Government undertakes negotiations, it is essential for it to listen to Scottish ministers, officials and industry representatives and—not least—the very people who live and work in fishing communities. The Government also needs to act on the advice that is given, particularly when the rhetoric of having more fish to catch is thrown around, without the sense to acknowledge that it is the type of fish that matters. If members will excuse the pun, that rhetoric is a red herring.
At the beginning of this year, Fergus Ewing spoke in the chamber and painted a picture that illustrated how proud and historic fishing communities would be left reeling as they faced the great Tory betrayal of Scottish fishing interests—and how right he was, as was the fishing industry. An underlying truth is increasingly evident—that those at Westminster who claim to care about our fishing and coastal communities in Scotland do not, because their deeds do not match their words. They might enjoy the finest seafood in fancy restaurants, but I doubt that they care too much about the people in the industry—the processors, producers and those who risk their lives out on the sea—or the coastal communities in which such people have lived for hundreds of years.
As has been mentioned, the Tories promised Scotland’s fishermen a sea of opportunity and the benefits of an independent coastal state but, instead, they have been exposed. As Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, put it, the UK is
“now a coastal state with one hand tied behind our back.”
The broken promises leave our fishermen woefully short of their expectations, and their sense of betrayal is evident in their responses.
Our vision for Scotland is to be a world-class fishing nation that delivers responsible and sustainable fisheries management. My meetings with stakeholders throughout the summer made it clear that, to mitigate the shortfall in available quota and deliver the best possible management structures in our waters, we must include in discussions the very people whom our plans directly affect. For example, marine health, our path to net zero, our good food nation and our economy depend on including coastal communities and fishing workforces in plan making, as we are asking them to enact the plans. If we are to succeed in any of our aspirations, we need to build the trust of those people, who have suffered immense hardship and chaos because of political choices.
We know that we have challenges ahead and that our fishing industry is under immense pressure. I therefore ask that, above all else, we take the example of the people whom I represent by cultivating the fishing community spirit and being people of our word. Although difficult decisions lie ahead, we can have a prosperous and sustainable future and ensure that our fishing communities thrive for generations to come.
I thank everyone involved in our fishing industry for their hard work in catching fish in all sorts of weather to bring high-quality food to our plates while also playing a vital part in the north-east economy.
The UK Government has secured a deal that means that we are now an independent coastal state with control over our own waters for the first time in decades, which is something that our fishermen asked for. Our fishing community now has a Government that stands up for their livelihoods rather than faceless bureaucrats in Brussels deciding their fate.
As a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, we are now in a position to develop our own policies in relation to fishery matters. In doing so, as is indicated in its 2018 white paper “Sustainable fisheries for future generations”, the UK Government intends to be a champion of sustainable fisheries in every part of the UK. We can now directly improve the sustainability—
The member makes an interesting argument that we should be dependent on immigration as we go forward. Immigration involves taking people and resource away from other countries, and we have to think about whether that is a moral thing to do or whether we should look at modernising the fishing industry that we have and growing it in that way.
The focus of the UK Government on levelling up also extends to our fishing fleet in Scotland, with a new £100 million UK seafood fund. It will ensure that fish that are landed in the UK are processed in the UK, thereby creating job opportunities across the supply chain. It will upskill the workforce and train new entrants, as well as investing in technology to put the UK at the cutting edge of new safe and sustainable fishing methods.
What is certain is that the UK Government must secure the best deal for our fishing fleet as the negotiations move forward. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has commended DEFRA and Marine Scotland for working tirelessly on those arrangements.
The SNP Government is currently undermining our fishing industry with undue concern and insecurity about its future. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is rightly concerned about the coalition of chaos between the SNP and the Greens. The fishing industry has been fishing in a sustainable way for many years, and few industries can be more aware of the impact of environmental change or doing more to preserve our oceans and fish stocks. We have to support the industry’s efforts, not put more barriers in its way. I hope that ministers will join me in meeting leaders of the industry in order to understand their concerns and help them to flourish.
I have a plea for this SNP-Green Government: instead of always being negative, why not try to be positive and help to support the fishing industry? If this devolved Government plays its part in supporting the industry, I will even give it a few suggestions about how it can help. The Scottish Government should work with the UK Government to promote our fishing industry and support the £100 million UK seafood fund, and then it should look at the powers that it has, such as those over transport.
The transport links to Peterhead are a disgrace. There is no rail, so producers have to rely on a single-track road that goes past the notorious Toll of Birness. If the Scottish Government cared about the fishing industry, it would sort that out. Fish processors are reluctant to invest in improved buildings in Aberdeen because they would face a crippling business rates bill. If the Government cared about the fishing industry, it would sort that out. Let us also look at the lack of investment in new automation equipment. If the Government cared about the fishing industry, it would sort that out. The ministers have the power; they just need to use it.
The fishing industry has a bright future within the UK. I hope that the devolved SNP-Green Government will step up to the plate and support it as the UK Government is doing. However, it appears that this devolved Government wants to preside over failure. It seeks failure to sow division and promote its nationalist cause. We will not let that happen. We will defend the fishing industry from this coalition of chaos and we will ensure that it has a bright future.
I thank the fishers who risk their lives every day and everyone involved in the sector who provides food for us in Scotland and abroad.
As we have heard, this is an annual debate about negotiations on fishing quotas. Yes, we must talk about quotas, but, if we want to ensure that we can talk about quotas 10 or 100 years from now, we should look at the whole way in which we manage our seas.
With COP26 happening in Glasgow, all week we have been talking about taking action to ensure a future for young people. If we want to pass on to them a vibrant fisheries sector, we must design Scotland’s fisheries in a way that preserves fish stocks for future generations.
Right now, we have layers of sticking-plaster policies that do not tackle the problems of overfishing, the crisis in our inshore environments and the sheer unfairness of how quotas are currently distributed. [
.] The system needs to be completely redesigned as a coherent whole, to promote social, environmental and economic benefits for all, and to deliver fisheries for the future. [
The Scottish Greens look forward to working with and encouraging the Scottish Government to fulfil the commitments in the shared policy programme, including the commitment to consult on a cap to fishing activity in inshore waters, and to deliver a suite of highly protected marine areas that will enable habitats to recover, which will lead to far more productive seas.
However, we must go further.
From speaking to stakeholders, I have learned that, together, we must end overfishing.
The Scottish people need to truly have a voice, and Scotland needs a seat at any negotiation table, wherever that is.
We must ensure better enforcement of, and higher fines for infringements into, marine protected areas. Only days ago, the alarm was raised when a trawler was dredging in a protected area near Gairloch. The trawler moved off in the morning only to return later that day because of a lack of enforcement.
We say that 37 per cent of our sea area is protected, but I have heard stories of fishers who feel unable to speak out about illegal incursions into MPAs due to intimidation from other fishers. We need action on that.
We must redistribute quotas to benefit more fishers and local food systems, which would provide local jobs and food. Quotas are currently given in a highly centralised way to a few individuals. Allocating quotas based on previous track records, as we currently do, just means that those with the highest quotas now will end up with even more. A redistribution of quotas would unlock coastal communities and enable more people to make a living from the public good that is our seas.
We must establish a process that incentivises more selective and environmentally sensitive forms of fishing. Dredging and trawling release as much carbon into the water column as the entire aviation sector releases into the atmosphere. We must protect the blue carbon stored in our sea bed and increase its ability to act as a vital carbon sink. One way to do that could be to add environmental conditionality to quotas, like we do on agricultural support payments.
Finally, we must bring about a just transition—one that supports those in the sector to move to regenerative ways of working, prioritises economic opportunities in restoring the inshore environment, and puts long-term investment into skills development in regenerative fishing methods.
For a nation with so much coastline, we should be doing so much better for coastal communities. If we can do what I have outlined, we will be able to pass on to future generations healthy, thriving seas from which everyone can benefit.
The fisheries negotiations are, if not exactly a festive occasion, at least a predictable feature of the advent season. This year the UK has ensured for itself less influence over the negotiations than ever before.
The last few years could be described as having been challenging, at best, for Scotland’s fishing industry and for our coastal communities as a whole. The combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in huge losses of income and even the closure of some entire fishing enterprises. Therefore, it is important that Scotland’s voice is heard—in whatever indirect way that Scotland can ensure that that happens—in the on-going coastal state negotiations.
As the talks surrounding 2021’s catch agreements were concluded only in the summer, it is a cautiously hopeful sign that the negotiations for 2022 seem to be proceeding in a more timeous manner, with agreements for pelagic stocks having been signed at the end of October. However, despite the swifter progression of the next coastal state negotiations, Scotland’s fishermen still face myriad difficulties.
Although fishermen were promised that Brexit would bring welcome benefits to their businesses, the last-minute deal instead sacrificed the needs of the Scottish fishing industry all too quickly. Who can forget the gridlock at the Anglo-French border or the Northern Irish ports in January this year, with tonnes of good-quality Scottish produce going to waste due to the mountains of additional paperwork and costs that were brought about by Brexit? Labour shortages—which, I noticed, one Conservative member seemed to completely and casually dismiss as irrelevant and which were already a concern for both the catching and processing sectors, not least in my constituency—have been further exacerbated this year against the backdrop of a lack of seasonal workers across multiple industries.
As we have heard from the Government today, protecting our marine environment is one of the most important ways that Scotland can be a world leader in carbon capture and storage. Scotland’s seas are estimated to hold more carbon than the total that is stored in our land resources, such as our peatlands, forests and soils. However, I want to say that fishing deserves a future as part of all this—a future in which designations are managed at a genuinely local level and in which the concerns of some of our most fragile communities are listened to.
It is essential that those who work in the fishing industry can access the right Government information, support and initiatives. It seems that support schemes are in high demand, given that the marine fund Scotland was suddenly closed at the beginning of October due to the high level of applications for the funding. I am pleased that Marine Scotland, in its own words, has
“taken stock of the MFS commitments” and has decided to reopen the fund as of Monday this week.
Scotland’s fishing industry is a vital component of the economic, social and cultural life of communities around Scotland’s coastline. In my constituency, it represents overwhelmingly small businesses and small concerns. I hope that the coastal state negotiations provide a platform for reminding ourselves, as much as any other country, of that fact and of the importance of that fact in the months and years that lie ahead.
I am delighted to be speaking in this important debate. The fishing industry is of national importance to Scotland, but it is integral to constituents in my region, particularly those in and around Peterhead and Fraserburgh and across the many smaller fishing ports along the north-east coast.
The industry is often at the forefront of the rhetoric around the constitutional limbo into which two Governments have led us, but it is also often in the background of real considerations. It is often used as a symbol of national pride, culture and history while its contemporary needs are forgotten. Its importance is often heralded, but investment rarely follows those pronouncements.
The negotiations that we are discussing are incredibly important. The voices of the industry and the communities that form it must be the ones that drive our position. Of course, all this is in the context of Brexit. Those on the Conservative benches drove the industry to the front and centre of their analysis of the future of the UK, only to bring chaos to the industry following a deal with the EU that failed to deliver on the promises that they had made.
The scale of the industry remains significant. Too often, Scottish fishing is discussed as an industry of the past and a remnant of a Scotland that is gone, but that is simply not borne out by any real analysis. The latest figures show that nearly 400,000 tonnes of fish were landed by Scottish vessels in a year, with a value of around £600 million. That is invaluable economic activity.
As Colin Smyth said, much more can and should be done to capture economic activity on these shores in the communities where our fishing fleet is based and can be expanded. We should cherish the product and consume more of it. A national diet containing more fish would be a healthier diet, so we must consider how our food system can make the product more attractive and affordable.
I believe that great days remain ahead for Scottish fishing, which is why the negotiations are integral to the Scottish Government doing more to protect and enhance the industry. Colin Smyth clearly set out Scottish Labour’s approach to the talks. That includes a commitment to regeneration and investment in the communities that support and house the fishing industry. It is clear that investment is key to the industry’s future. Rhoda Grant set out a compelling case for the application of new technologies to ensure sustainability in our fishing industry for the long term. Our Government can do much more to support innovation in those areas.
For the industry to thrive, we need not only the physical infrastructure of quays, processing facilities and logistics; we need places and people as well. There can be no bright future for an industry that is based in locations where there has been a chronic lack of investment for generations, where young people often do not stay and where the skills pipeline is based on opportunity rather than a structure that has been put in place to plan for industry and expansion. It is the Government’s role to put that structure in place, and we need to hear more about that.
In the discussions, we must absolutely remember our environmental obligations and sustainable fishing commitments, which, frankly, are more important to the industry than to anyone else. We must work with the industry to ensure that those obligations are met.
I wish the Government well in the negotiations and hope that our constructive feedback can form part of its position in the talks.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank other members for their contributions.
As a child, I spent every Saturday morning being dragged to Aberdeen fish market, where my father, who was then an accountant in the fishing industry—there seems to be a theme here—stood staring at landing prices on a big chalk board. Then, as now, we took this wonderful food source for granted.
The 2021 coastal state negotiations are a crucial event for Scotland’s fish producers and processors and the wider supply chain, as well as being an important forum in which to discuss how coastal states can work together to ensure that the fishing industry is sustainable in the long term. The UK Government’s decision to impose a hard Brexit during a pandemic has, predictably, made the negotiations harder than they would otherwise have been.
Across Scotland, more than 12,000 people are employed in the fishing and processing industries and, in 2018, those industries were worth more than £2.2 billion. According to Peter Cook from Opportunity North East, the turnover of the local seafood processing sector is around £700 million per annum—it accounts for 32 per cent of total north-east food and drink sales. I am proud that my constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine is home to several local processing businesses.
Recently, I spent small business week meeting local businesses in the constituency, including two long-standing family-run processing businesses that produce speciality products using fish that is sourced from across Scotland. Both those businesses are key parts of the local economy. They employ skilled local workers, supply the local food and drink sector and export their products as far afield as China.
However, things have been rough for those businesses. Both found themselves navigating the Covid-19 pandemic when along came the disaster of Brexit and the resultant uncertainty over workforce availability, export cost increases and diminishing export markets. Despite that, the businesses have shown extraordinary resilience. In September, John Ross, master curer and smoker, celebrated its gold star award from the Guild of Fine Food for its whisky smoked salmon. J Charles, a third-generation family-run business, made the brave decision to expand its online business during the pandemic, remaining open and building up online deliveries. That is now a thriving part of its business.
At the most recent meeting of the north-east Scotland fisheries development partnership, Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association updated us on the challenges that quota constraints, loss of access to fishing grounds in Norway and fear were having on the industry. The importance of the coastal negotiations, therefore, cannot be underestimated if we are to continue to have a thriving processing sector. According to Andrew Charles, it is absolutely vital that robust, sustainable science supports the total allowable catch agreed and that the total accountability of the stock catch is properly managed and policed.
As an independent coastal state, it is therefore vital that we have a robust and independent fisheries management force. The failure of the UK Government to build good working relationships with our nearest and most important quota trading partners will, regrettably, require robust policing. In that regard, I ask the Scottish Government to provide clarity around what increases in fishery protection might have to be budgeted for now that we cannot rely on European co-operation.
Never has there been a time when these negotiations have been more important, and never has there been a time when the case for independence has been so evident. I look forward to working with the cabinet secretary to ensure that the negotiations are a success for all who are involved in the sector, and especially for businesses in Aberdeen South and North Kincardine.
For the most part, we have had a very good debate. There have been some very constructive comments, and there is clear agreement on the need to support our coastal communities and fishing industries, but to do so within the context of the climate and the nature emergency and the need to deliver sustainable fishing.
As my colleagues have said, Scottish Labour believes that we need to address five key areas in the coastal state negotiations. Colin Smyth outlined those areas at the start of the debate, and I will summarise them. The first is the need to prevent overfishing and enhance local food supply chains. Secondly, we need an immediate review of how new and existing fishing quotas are allocated. Thirdly, we need to end fish being landed abroad—I will come back to that. Fourthly, we need to invest in building capacity and infrastructure in fishing quays and the processing sector to regenerate our all-too-often neglected coastal communities and to get a fairer and greater share of the fishing in Scotland’s waters for Scotland’s fishers. Finally, we need to make sure that quotas are used to incentivise a change that moves us towards forms of fishing with a lower impact and less bycatch. Those are crucial issues.
From the COP26 events that I have attended, it is absolutely clear that there is widespread agreement that we have to act now. We need to halt global warming at 1.5°C. That also means addressing our nature emergency, be that the pollution of our waters by plastic or other waste, or as a result of overfishing. That is why we need to support our fishing industries in the future.
We need more political leadership from the Scottish Government. In a briefing that we got in June this year, the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust highlighted that Scotland’s marine areas play a central but often overlooked role in the nation’s carbon budget. The sea and many marine species and habitats, including kelp forests, sequester carbon dioxide. Of particular importance is the role that marine sediments play in storing carbon. Scotland’s sea loesses have some of the richest carbon stores on earth, containing many times more carbon per unit than our terrestrial peatlands. However, while we protect our peatlands and are considering restoring them, marine sediments continue to be disturbed and damaged by heavy mobile fishing gear, so we need to act.
We need to encourage and support sustainable local fisheries, such as the Clyde creel fisheries and other local organisations.
Scotland’s marine assessment 2020 found that fishing was the most significant and widespread pressure on Scotland’s seas. In particular, it noted that bottom trawling and other mobile bottom-contacting fishing methods had led to widespread changes in our ecosystem. We need to reduce the use of those methods and incentivise change. That is critical for the future of our industry.
In addition, discard practices are resulting in vast volumes of fish being killed and thrown back into the sea. As well as being environmentally damaging, that contributes to food waste. Given that many of the fish that are thrown back are juvenile fish, because they are too small to market, that reduces the following year’s fish catch. The practice was supposedly made illegal in 2019, but it is apparently an open secret within fisheries management that it continues today. Most egregiously, an additional uplift quota was created in an effort to help with the transition to no-discard fisheries, but rather than incentivising change, it has been used by some in the fishing sector to continue to discard fish, which is compounding overfishing and resulting in yet more environmental harm.
Now is the time to use the powers that are set out in the Fisheries Act 2020 and create marine protected areas. The Arran marine protected area is a perfect example of the benefits of such protection, which not only vastly improves the sea bed and biodiversity in the area, but provides a safe haven for fry and increases fishing yields in the surrounding areas. We also have good evidence of how the Gaelic language is helping to protect our fisheries through the passing down of local knowledge through the generations. That shows that the issue is a cultural as well as an industry one, and it shows how deeply intertwined our communities are with the seas that they work with and the need for us to support them at a local level.
We have had an interesting set of exchanges across the chamber. There have been disagreements but, at the end of the day, fisheries management is the responsibility of the Scottish ministers. Although fishing communities have a key role to play in responsible management of the seas, the Scottish ministers have a critical role to play in deciding how our seas are used. We may have fewer incomprehensible regulations, but that can result in a race to the bottom. The Scottish Parliament is a powerful one, and I hope that we use the agreement that we have across the chamber to support more decisive action.
Fishing makes a vital contribution to local economies. Some of the most powerful and emotional contributions that we have heard today have reflected the fact that colleagues know that. Fishing is an industry that lies at the heart of many communities, and one that has a history and a culture of its own. We need to protect that.
I found it really ironic that some of the speeches of Conservative members about Brexit did not accept the reality of its impact. We need only look at the impact on demersal fishers in Douglas Ross’s area. Fish are being landed abroad, which means that Scotland’s economy and food system are being bypassed, along with Scottish jobs. Many large fishing businesses have elected to land the fish that they catch abroad and to supply them directly to processing factories there. We need change, because jobs are flying out of the north-east fishing towns. Skippers have been on the brink of financial ruin, as others have said, yet the Conservatives are patting themselves on the back. Fifty-five per cent of the mackerel that was caught by Scottish fishing vessels last year was landed at a foreign port. That cannot be acceptable. We need action.
We urgently need the Scottish and UK Governments to work together. We know that they will not agree, but the Scottish Government must be respected. It must be at the top table with the UK Government. We need engagement and the sharing of expertise and knowledge. Crucially, as Michael Marra and other members across the chamber said, we need to make sure that funding reaches our coastal communities to support the sustainable fishing and the jobs that we have all said that we support. Let us have constructive collaboration. People do not need to agree on everything, but if we are to support our fishing communities, our environment and, crucially, jobs in our local communities, we need the Scottish and UK Governments to work together.
I apologise for arriving slightly late for the start of the debate; I missed the first minute of the cabinet secretary’s speech. I would like to make up for that by offering, as is traditional in these annual debates, best wishes to her in the upcoming negotiations, not least because it will be the first time that she has participated in those negotiations as cabinet secretary. Conservative members hope that she secures as beneficial a deal as possible for Scotland’s fisheries sector, working in tandem with the UK Government.
I also offer the thanks of these benches to all those who work in that sector, whether they be the some 4,700 fishers employed on Scottish-registered vessels, those who work in our processing firms or those who work to promote our fantastic fish and shellfish products.
Covid-19 has brought immense logistical challenges to all sectors of the economy, not least our fishing industry. We on these benches praise all the work that those in that industry have done to adapt to the rapidly changing environment produced by the pandemic. It has been a volatile time, indeed.
It is important to recognise the variety within the fishing sector. That point was made by both Rhoda Grant and Colin Smyth, who said that we must remember the smaller boats as well as the larger vessels, boats and businesses in the industry. Likewise, we must recognise that fishing on the western seaboard of Scotland involves more nephrops than pelagic fishing. It is important to acknowledge the diverse nature of the sector that we are debating.
It is disappointing that some in other parties used the debate to resurrect old arguments about the constitution and to fight old battles over Brexit. That does nothing for our fishing industry and those who work in it. Those who work in our fishing industry want to see politicians come up with solutions to problems—not merely regurgitate the same old grievances that have plagued our politics for so long.
The fact is that we are now an independent coastal state. With that comes an ability, in the long term, to use that status to our competitive advantage to benefit our fishing communities and wider economy.
Donald Cameron said a moment ago that the Scottish Government should work in conjunction with the UK Government. However, given that since the 1970s successive Tory Prime Ministers have consistently let the Scottish industry down, does he not think that the time is right for the Scottish Government to be the lead negotiator in future?
No. I do not think that and I do not accept the premise of that intervention. The fact is that we have delivered the independent coastal state that the United Kingdom now is, and that we have the ability to use that to benefit our fishing communities.
I accept that we face short-term challenges. We recognise that and we want to face them head on. I welcome initiatives from the UK Government to mitigate the short-term impacts of Britain’s exit from the EU. Others spoke about the establishment of the £23 million seafood disruption support scheme, which is open to those who export fish and shellfish to the EU. I also acknowledge that the UK Government has released an initial £24 million of funding from its £100 million UK seafood fund, which will help businesses to develop technology and trial new gear, and support world-class research to improve productivity and the long-term sustainability of the industry.
However, the response to those short-term challenges goes far beyond financial investment, as important as that is. The UK Government has met regularly with the industry and worked closely with Marine Scotland on the new 2021 arrangements. That work has been met with praise by the sector. The chief executive of the SFF, Elspeth Macdonald, said that
“we know the UK team has worked hard for several months to achieve the best outcome that was possible. We are very grateful to them for their efforts.”
It is clear that much progress has been made, but it is also evident that more must be done to secure a strong deal that benefits all parts of the fishing industry in the upcoming negotiations.
It was positive to learn that the total tonnage of pelagic landings increased by 13 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, and that the total value of that increased by 6 per cent. That was acknowledged by the executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, who noted that
“This bring a long-awaited end to past practice in which the EU used to hand substantial amounts of Scottish quota to Norway.”
I recognise the disappointing reports that there were falls in both demersal and shellfish tonnage and value. The Scottish Government’s recently published “Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics 2020” document suggests that that drop in tonnage was, in large part, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that were placed on industry, as well as the decline in demand from the hospitality sector during the period when restrictions were at their most severe. We cannot treat that as a one-off, and it is clear that we must ensure that both those specific parts of the sector recover and thrive in the coming years.
Unlike the SNP, which continues to put its faith in the common fisheries policy, members on these benches believe that the UK’s ability to deliver free trade deals with other states and trading blocs will provide opportunities for our sector to grow. A few years ago, I met the owner of a local shellfish processor in Alasdair Allan’s constituency and I asked him his opinion of Britain’s exit from the EU and how it might impact on his business. He was optimistic and told me that the future growth of his business was dependent not on our membership of the EU, but rather on the ability to access and benefit from the growing demand for Scottish shellfish in Asia. That is not to say that many businesses in the shellfish sector have not felt an impact from the new arrangements with the EU—it would be wrong to suggest that. Clearly, more must be done to help the sector in the immediate aftermath of exiting from the EU, but that example is an indication that many businesses seek greater opportunities beyond the confines of the EU. It is obvious that the UK and Scottish Governments should be working together to achieve those outcomes.
There have been many excellent contributions across the chamber. I agree with Michael Marra, who said that, behind what we are debating, there is a wider context of skills, housing and livelihoods in general. Rachael Hamilton concentrated on the importance of getting young people into the industry and Douglas Lumsden spoke about the benefits of being autonomous as an independent coastal state. Many Labour members and Ariane Burgess rightly drew attention to the importance of sustainability. In the week of COP26, it is correct to remind us that sustainability cannot be just a catchphrase; it has to mean something in practice.
We recognise that the negotiations are of immense importance. We want to see constructive talks that deliver growth across the sector. Now is the time to deliver for Scotland’s fishing communities, and for that reason alone we should all unite in seeking a positive outcome.
I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate for their speeches and interventions. There have been some constructive moments and a wide range of views and issues have been aired. These matters affect not just those of us who live in and represent rural, coastal and island communities, but all of us. The debate has covered a lot of areas and has shown the breadth and complexity of our marine economy.
We are approaching the annual negotiations in the spirit of co-operation and partnership with our coastal state neighbours and allies, building on the relationships that we have established over many years. We are fortunate that we have some of the most respected and experienced fisheries managers in Europe, and I am confident that they will come back with a good deal for Scotland and the Scottish industry. Our positions and principles are based on the best science and the most up-to-date evidence available, and we look forward to negotiating with our international friends and partners on that basis. I look forward to reporting back to Parliament on the conclusion of the negotiations.
A number of valuable points were raised in the debate and I want to try to address as many of them as I can in my closing remarks. If I miss any, I urge members to contact me and I will be more than happy to follow them up.
First, I will address some of the points that have been made on funding, which Rachael Hamilton and a number of other members talked about in their speeches. It is unfair to paint a picture by comparing and contrasting the approaches, when in Scotland we do not even have the funds that were promised to us after Brexit. As I said in response to Rachael Hamilton, we received only £14 million in the replacement to the European maritime and fisheries fund, when we should have received £62 million. That was and should have been our allocation. The UK Government has actively short changed our coastal communities, bypassing our devolved Government at every turn.
It would be useful for the cabinet secretary to set out how the £180 million transition fund for moving away from the EU has worked for the fisheries industry, as well as the extra help that was given on veterinary capacity and the centralised hub. We have not had any detail on that.
First, it is only right and fair that the UK Government covers the cost of its approach to Brexit. Brexit is why we are in this mess, and it is only right that the UK Government compensates us for it. I will come on to address other points that were made about funding.
A point was made about new entrants. We are using the marine fund Scotland, which is our replacement for the EMFF, to support young fishers to purchase their first vessels.
Another important matter that a number of members, in particular Beatrice Wishart, raised today was the ICES advice, particularly on cod. We recognise how challenging that advice is, as it stands. It is a priority area for us as we go into the negotiations, and officials are doing all they can to get as good an outcome as possible when it comes to cod stocks. We are submitting a technical service request to ICES, to get a further evaluation of the assumptions that have been made, using the most up-to-date information that is available. I add that the UK is a contracting party to the ICES convention and, on 1 January, signed a memorandum of understanding to enable the UK to receive advice directly. We will not hesitate to use our membership to challenge advice or findings that we do not think are robust.
Beatrice Wishart called for transparency on the boarding of UK vessels. We proactively publish that information and I would be happy to contact the member with further details in that regard.
We all want a positive future for our fisheries and seafood industry in Scotland. That is probably the one solid point of consensus across the chamber that has emerged in the debate.
Karen Adam touched on another important point when she mentioned the good food nation policy. Our fishers provide us with a sustainable and nutritious source of protein, which we want to ensure that everyone in Scotland and others further afield can enjoy.
We all want a successful industry in Scotland. However, we cannot be blind, as the Tories are, to the significant barriers in the way of that, which need urgent and critical intervention from the UK Government. Emma Harper, Alasdair Allan and others mentioned the critical shortage of labour in the processing industry because of the end to freedom of movement and the UK Government’s point-blank refusal to address the matter in a meaningful way. Although visas for poultry workers, butchers and heavy goods vehicle drivers have been introduced—although, given take-up so far, how successful those will be is anyone’s guess—nothing has been offered to help the processing sector. When we add in the continual cost increases that the sector faces and the non-tariff barriers that Alasdair Allan mentioned, we can see that the challenges are not going away. Some businesses are on a knife edge. [
.] I am sorry, I cannot take an intervention; I need to make progress.
We need immediate intervention. We also need to consider what we can do in the longer term to address those challenges. We can address the skills gaps and shortages, but only in the longer term.
The Tories talked about all the powers that have come back to the Scottish ministers. I reiterate that we should also get the funding to reflect that. Tory members said that £100 million of funding has been announced, but that completely bypasses devolved Governments, in areas of policy that are fully devolved.
Douglas Lumsden mentioned funding for transformation. It is important to highlight that we provide funding for that, through our food processing, marketing and co-operation grant scheme.
I want to mention a few other initiatives before I bring the debate to a close. This Government is wholly committed to the sustainable development of our fishing industry. We recognise that Scotland’s inshore fisheries are a most valuable asset and make a significant contribution to the economic and cultural fabric of our coastal and island communities. In early 2022, we will consult on inshore fisheries management elements of the agreement with the Scottish Green Party, as Ariane Burgess said, including on a cap on inshore fishing activity, which represents an important step in our inshore fisheries policy development.
I will address a point relating to marine protected areas and highly protected marine areas, which were mentioned by Ariane Burgess and by Sarah Boyack in her closing comments. Making space for nature is vital in addressing the twin biodiversity and climate crises. The shared marine space has become increasingly valuable and contested, especially as net zero industries emerge and as we strive to restore the rich biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Marine protected areas are a vital part of that restoration process. Our Scottish marine protected area network already covers 37 per cent of our waters, and we have committed to delivering fisheries management measures in existing marine protected areas by 2024.
We will now go even further by designating 10 per cent of our waters as highly protected marine areas by 2026. That will provide a higher level of protection and allow for additional recovery and enhancement of the marine environment. Such conservation measures will help to halt biodiversity loss and will provide a critical buffer in our fight to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. They will protect the resources and industries on which we all rely and will ensure that we can continue to benefit from our rich seas for many years and generations to come.
The economic link is another way in which we will benefit. That is an important point to highlight, as I did in my opening remarks. The Scottish Government is committed to amending the economic link arrangements for Scottish fishing vessels in order to increase the amount of fish that is landed in Scotland and to broaden the return to our nation from fishing, thereby extending the benefits to our coastal communities.
In drawing the debate to a close, I offer a couple of final reflections. The fishing industry faces many challenges. Like many industries in this country, it has struggled in the past two years because of the pandemic, but it has also suffered because of the botched Brexit deal that the Tories have inflicted on it.
In contrast, the Scottish Government has a vision for the Scottish fishing industry and has a clear plan in place under our future fisheries management strategy. We believe in an industry that is based on science and evidence and that has sustainability as its core principle. The outcomes that we seek at the annual fisheries negotiations are aligned to that vision. We are not looking for a deal that will benefit vested interests or that will betray a whole industry, as the Brexit deal has done. We are committed to delivering the right deal for Scotland—a deal that allows our fishers to work today, while preserving our shared marine heritage for tomorrow.