- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
I let the statement run on for a few minutes to allow all the constituency and regional members with an interest to ask a question. That means, however, that this debate is extremely tight for time. The Presiding Officers will keep members’ speeches very tight, and we may have to cut members’ time at the end.
I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, to speak on the reform of the common fisheries policy. He has 13 minutes.
- The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead):
In a matter of days, and after months of discussion and decades of campaigning by many fishing communities against the damaging common fisheries policy, ministers will gather in Luxembourg with the opportunity to agree the most radical and fundamental shift in European fishing policy in more than 30 years.
Europe has a chance to inject some long-awaited and long overdue common sense into what has until now been a disastrous policy for Scotland. It has left much pain and economic dislocation in its wake, destroyed proud communities and undermined fisheries conservation in Scottish and European waters.
Last December, I stood before members as we prepared to engage in an intense series of negotiations, which would lead to a new CFP regulation—a regulation that our industry might have to live with for the next decade and will certainly live with for as long as we find ourselves within the common fisheries policy. During that debate, I highlighted our key priorities and warned of the consequences of failure to achieve them. I reaffirm my commitment to straining every sinew to achieve the best outcomes for Scotland.
I need hardly remind the Parliament of the vital importance of commercial fisheries, aquaculture and the fish processing sector to Scotland. Scottish vessels landed some £0.5 billion-worth of fish last year, and during the past five years alone the value of our farm-gate aquaculture sales doubled, to more than £560 million in 2010. Let me be clear: those industries matter for Scotland, and we care passionately about ensuring that they continue to do so.
That is why, behind the scenes, in the offices and meeting rooms of Edinburgh, London and Brussels, the Scottish Government has been working with the utmost vigour on this most crucial of European Union policies. We have reached a critical milestone in the debate on the reform of the CFP. Next week I will travel to a Council of Ministers fisheries council in Luxembourg, to negotiate the council agreement on the reformed CFP that will be presented to the European Parliament.
We should be in no doubt: the CFP has failed. Even the European Commission has admitted as much, and I give the Commission its due by acknowledging that it opened its door to radical reform at the start of the process. Scotland was the first through the door. Now is the time to review what we have achieved and identify what more we must strive to secure in the crucial weeks and months ahead.
- Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD):
Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that during the past five years the European Commission’s regional management has meant nothing to fishermen, in practical terms? Therefore, in the reforms that he is striving to achieve, which I endorse, does he agree that regional management must mean that local fisheries are involved in negotiations and in the detail, so that the whole lot is not determined—as usual—by Brussels in a top-down command structure?
- Richard Lochhead:
Tavish Scott makes a fine point. I will come on to that theme.
The common fisheries policy comprises a multitude of strands, which range from conservation measures such as fishing at maximum sustainable yield to the extension of the CFP into the aquaculture sector. Each issue is of great significance to Scotland and merits a separate discussion. I am sure that the debate will touch on many issues, but I will focus on three core challenges on which Scotland has taken a leading role: regionalisation and decentralisation of the CFP; the elimination of discards; and the future of our fishing rights.
We have striven to promote decentralisation of the CFP to regional and member-state level. We want to return decision making to the people who are the most knowledgeable about particular fisheries, as Tavish Scott said, thereby allowing people to develop tailored management measures on a fishery-by-fishery basis and avoiding the wider political interference and race to the lowest common denominator that have blighted European-level decision making in the past. It really is a no-brainer, and the Scottish Government, working with fishermen—Bertie Armstrong, from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, is in the gallery—and environmental stakeholders, is winning that argument in Europe.
Here in Scotland we have squeezed every opportunity out of the little flexibility that we have in an overcentralised and micromanaged regime. I am proud that our internationally acclaimed conservation credits scheme has shown what regionalisation, operated through co-management with the industry and others, can look like in practice. Rather than concoct detailed restrictions in the dead of a Brussels night, we have agreed common objectives with fishermen and other stakeholders. We have allowed the people who have the expertise and the experience to lead on developing solutions. We have been able to use the limited incentives that are available to us to design innovative measures that are beginning to achieve significant recovery of cod stocks in the waters around Scotland. We developed the approach through our fisheries management and conservation group, at which we sit down with all stakeholders to agree how our fisheries should be managed.
The approach has sparked positive innovation and groundbreaking accords to bring about sustainable fishing, stability and growth for the industry.
- Hanzala Malik (Glasgow) (Lab):
Iceland is currently fishing stocks that we in Scotland helped to build up. I hope that there will be compensation for our fishermen and women, who preserved the stocks and must see someone else reaping the benefit of their efforts—unjustly, I may add. What penalties, if any, are being imposed on Iceland?
- Richard Lochhead:
As the member and the Parliament are aware, this Government and other Governments in Europe—and indeed the Norwegians, outwith the EU—have been making a Herculean effort to persuade the Faroe Islands and Iceland to come back to the negotiating table, so that we can get a fair regime in place for Scotland’s important pelagic sector.
Here in Scotland we are making great progress and because of what we have been doing in this country we have a pioneering agreement in place for 2012: more than 130 prawn vessels and a mixed fishery have moved to fish exclusively with new highly selective gears developed by fishermen here in Scotland. That will reduce unwanted cod catches, for instance, by a staggering 60 per cent at least—drastically reducing the level of discarding in our waters. That advance is made in Scotland and shows what we can do with the powers that we have.
Our message to Brussels is frank. Give us the powers and let us get on with the job. Nowhere are the gains of decentralised decision making more desperately needed than when it comes to discards. The CFP’s one-size-fits-all approach may be a farce, but the issue of discards is an absolute tragedy. If things stay the same for the North Sea stocks of haddock and whiting—and indeed cod, to an extent—discards of those stocks alone could amount to £350 million-worth of fishing being wasted over the next decade. That would mean more anguish for our fishermen and for our processing sector.
To be clear, I want an end to discarding as soon as possible. However, it is not a straightforward matter. It takes different forms and has different causes. We must have tailored regional solutions that are appropriate to each fishery. I want to forge workable solutions that make sense to us here in Scotland. Well-meant but ill-fitting, top-down policies simply exacerbate discarding. Overquota discards from a lack of quota to land catches is one big problem. In Scotland, our poor quota share of some stocks means that our fishermen have no alternative but to throw dead fish overboard back into the sea. However, believe it or not, in 2011 around 17,000 quota tonnes of our main white-fish stocks remained unfished while at the same time our fishermen were being forced to discard over the side of the boat.
It is hard to believe that despite the Scottish fleet catching virtually all of our cod quota, more than 6,000 tonnes of the North Sea cod quota was uncaught last year—another demonstration of how the CFP does not work. We need a more effective quota swap system put in place as soon as possible.
There are many other causes of discards, but our route has four broad stages: first, take a fishery-by-fishery approach; secondly, minimise the unwanted catches that are removed from the sea by avoiding them in the first place; thirdly, optimise quota management to match the actual catches; and finally, devise a sensible arrangement to deal with the unavoidable residual amount of overquota, undersized fish that will have to be landed.
My third priority is to protect Scotland’s historic fishing rights and to prevent the imposition of transferable fishing concessions. Member states distribute fishing opportunities according to their own national priorities. Some members may want to promote the pure economic efficiency of their industries. Others want to focus also on the wider socioeconomic factors.
The European Commission’s original proposal to establish a mandatory system of transferable fishing rights right across Europe represented a significant extension of its competence into fisheries management. We in Scotland were among the first to stand against that. That whole theme runs counter to our key priority of making decisions closer to home that are right for our industries. We do not want a scheme to be put in place that allows the transfer of quota from small-scale fishermen to big-profit organisations and those with the deepest pockets. That would be a real danger to our fishing communities—perhaps our fishermen would be unable to catch their own stocks in their own waters. That would be unacceptable. We have fought against that since day one. I am pleased that the Commission appears to be listening—as do other ministers in Brussels. The current version of the draft CFP regulation only proposes a voluntary scheme, so at least we have moved forward on that issue.
We have taken the lead in promoting regionalisation and discard reduction and we are in the vanguard of protecting our historic fishing rights. Our innovation and our determination are recognised by the Commission—and, I believe, by Governments right across Europe. We have worked hard to ensure that the United Kingdom position protects Scotland’s interests. I welcome the fact that the UK Government has moved its ground on many of the key issues over recent months and has seen the merit of some of the arguments that we have put forward and the validity of our strong cause. However, there is still some way to go. We have pushed these issues to the top of the list and we must continue to push them to keep them there in the weeks and months ahead.
I look forward to an animated debate and I hope that the Scottish Parliament will agree that Scotland has made a significant difference to the debate on the reform of the common fisheries policy. We have made ground on a whole lot of issues of crucial importance to this country. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring decision making on the future of our fishing communities and the marine environment back to the member state level, the Scottish level and the regional level and to ensure that there is better decision making on behalf of Scotland.
I hope that the Parliament supports the Scottish Government in seeking outcomes that deliver a secure future for our fishing industry in Scotland, and, of course, the sustainable management of fisheries across Europe and the globe.
That the Parliament calls for the current European negotiations to deliver radical reform of the failed Common Fisheries Policy to provide genuine decentralisation of decision making that empowers fishing nations and stakeholders to work together, including on a regional basis, to promote fisheries conservation, tackle discards and safeguard Scotland’s historic fishing rights for the benefit of its fishing communities, seafood sectors and wider marine environment.
- Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
Scotland has a long history and tradition with the sea. As a country with miles of coastline, it has used the sea for trade, for leisure, for invasions and emigrations, for industry and for food. The sea has been a source of bounty and a source of sorrow. It has shaped the history of Scotland and of the United Kingdom, an island nation. In these modern times, we face and embrace new uses of our coastline as we look towards advancements in renewables and explore ways in which we can harness the power of the sea and the tides. Our sea is a resource that is increasingly valuable, yet it is one that existed long before Scotland. It is a natural resource that we exploit. We must take seriously our responsibility to ensure a healthy marine environment, one that can provide a food and energy source for generations to come.
Our fishing sector is at the heart of our relationship with the sea—perhaps our most historic engagement. The sector is diverse, ranging from small coastal communities that grew up around fishing to fish processors and producers, a growing aquaculture sector and large fishing fleets concentrated in the north-east. Scottish produce is recognised and exported around the world. The sector provides employment ranging from the hard and dangerous life of a trawlerman to top-class chefs presenting Michelin-quality food. Although the often byzantine rules of the common fisheries policy do not directly apply to everyone in the sector, they impact on their ability to do business. Today’s debate is an opportunity for us to recognise the importance of CFP reform, to strongly support the reform agenda and to be clear and unequivocal about what reform needs to deliver.
As the cabinet secretary said, the fisheries council will meet this month to start finalising the proposals. When the reform agenda was launched in 2009, there were bold words from the European Commission, which were widely welcomed. The green paper states:
“The ... vision for the future is a far cry from the current reality of overfishing, fleet overcapacity, heavy subsidies, low economic resilience and decline in the volume of fish caught by European fishermen. The current CFP has not worked well enough to prevent these problems.
However, the Commission believes that a whole-scale and fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy … and remobilisation of the fisheries sector can bring about the dramatic change that is needed to reverse the current situation. This must not be yet another piecemeal, incremental reform but a sea change cutting to the core reasons behind the vicious circle in which Europe’s fisheries have been trapped in recent decades.”
The failures of the common fisheries policy are evident. Overfishing across the EU remains a problem. Available figures for 2009 show that, of the 93 stocks for which sufficient scientific advice exists, only 21.5 per cent are exploited at levels delivering maximum sustainable yield, while 35 per cent are overexploited and 43 per cent are outside safe biological limits. The Commission estimates that nearly 79 per cent of European Community stocks for which there is scientific advice are fished unsustainably. However, it is easier to diagnose the problem than it is to cure it. The reasons for failure are complex. For example, although it is true that there may be fewer fleets, there are more sophisticated and accurate fishing measures. However, there is concern that, at the EU level, there is a drift towards a position of little change and the maintenance of the status quo. That must be resisted.
Limited reform would be damaging to not only the fishing sector, which is looking to the reforms to address the problems of the CFP, but the long-term sustainability of our seas and oceans. At a European level, overfishing and the exploitation of the seas, driven by short-term political solutions, must end. The yearly negotiations of quotas, which routinely put aside scientific advice, are not satisfactory. I acknowledge that there are concerns about incomplete science, but that means that Scotland and countries across the EU need to invest in science and ensure that partners work together to follow best advice.
The Labour Party will support Jamie McGrigor’s amendment. I recognise what has been achieved in Scotland in terms of promoting responsibility and co-operation between the fishing industry, the scientists and the non-governmental organisations that are concerned about sustainability. There is broad recognition here that healthy seas and productive fish stocks are crucial for a profitable fishing sector and thriving fishing communities. I recognise the frustrations with the system of allocated quotas, which some feel do not recognise the steps that have been taken but, through the cod recovery plan and incentive-based conservation measures, we have a model that rewards responsibility and fosters sustainability. However, it is important that other member states take action. The concerns about control and enforcement under the control regulation in 2010 illustrate the persistent problems with the sector. It is unacceptable that bad practice continues, which is why the principle of sustainability must be enshrined in the CFP’s basic regulation.
The key goal for Scottish and EU fishing is the proposal for regionalisation, which is a fundamental principle of the reform agenda. The proposal is the answer to the worst of the CFP, but would maintain EU co-operation and high-level strategic decision making. Let us be clear that regionalisation is not nationalisation, as that approach lacks credibility. We need only look at the current mackerel disputes with Iceland and the Faroe Islands to see where that would lead us. Proper regionalisation would respond to the varying needs throughout the EU; make it easier to respond to the challenges of mixed fisheries; and enable member states and stakeholders to design multi-annual plans that set out the measures that are best adapted to their fisheries and those of their partners. I am encouraged that many member states support the concept, but there must be confidence that the plans will be legal, deliverable and competent.
Last year’s report by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee identified the importance of devolved decision making. Encouragingly, the United Kingdom Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has called for
“greater regional ecosystem-based management”.
It is now over to the cabinet secretary and UK ministers to push for its delivery. That is clearly the commissioner’s desire, but legal questions have been raised. Political will must push through the concerns. We must work closely with allies to deliver regionalisation. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has lobbied members of the European, Scottish and UK Parliaments. It is important that the message reaches the right people, and building coalitions is crucial to that.
That leads me on to the debate about maximum sustainable yield, which is defined as the highest catch that can be taken year after year while maintaining the fish population at maximum productivity. The proposal to include the aim of achieving MSY by 2015 in the basic regulation follows on from the EU’s commitment at the world summit on sustainable development in 2002 to achieve MSY
“on an urgent basis and where possible not later than 2015.”
Just last week, we had a members’ business debate on Rio+20 in which we emphasised and committed to the importance of international agreement on the issues. In advance of this debate, WWF Scotland and RSPB Scotland have called on the UK and Scottish Governments to support those timeframes. We should continue to support the 2015 goal. I am pleased that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation states that it fully supports the target, although I hear its concerns about definition and the importance of not setting up for failure. It is recognised that the inclusion of the phrase “where possible” is important, particularly when we face the challenges of mixed fisheries.
Discards, which my colleagues will speak about in more detail, are a blight on the industry and a clear example of a policy going wrong. The Commission proposes a ban on discards by 2016. That is a tricky issue. As the cabinet secretary has said,
“we can’t have a ban without a plan.”
There are well-made arguments that a complete ban implemented on a short timescale is not the answer and that the focus must be on selective fishing to avoid unwanted catches of commercial and non-commercial fishing. Discards are an emotive issue and it is right that there is a public campaign to express anger about the practice. However, a solution must be found that does not create additional problems or simply divert the problem elsewhere.
The cabinet secretary outlined concerns about transferable fishing concessions. I welcome the concerted effort from member states to reject that proposal.
The reform of the CFP is extremely complex. This is a relatively short debate, so the clear message from the Parliament must be about the importance of regional decision making. If the Commission gets that issue right, the approach will lie at the heart of moves to address many of the broader challenges by equipping the sector to deal with discards, overfishing and eco-management at the appropriate level and with the appropriate partners.
It has been difficult, if not impossible, for the CFP to be sufficiently flexible and responsive and sensitive to the needs of fishing communities throughout the EU. In December, we saw what difficulties there were in securing the cod recovery plan. It was only because of the influence and size that Scotland’s relationship with the UK gives us that we stated and won our case on the interpretation of article 13 of the cod recovery plan. Regional flexibility will provide an opportunity to support a sustainable, productive and responsible Scottish fishing sector, which is an aim that we can all support.
I move amendment S4M-03163.2, to insert at end:
“and, in recognising the role that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment has as part of the UK delegation to the Council of Ministers, urges the Scottish Government to work closely with the UK Government to ensure that the long-term interests of the Scottish fishing and aquaculture industries and Scotland’s marine environment are at the centre of the discussions at the council.”
- Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
The Scottish Conservatives always welcome the opportunity to debate fishing policy and how it can be reformed to help secure the jobs of fishermen and all the associated jobs that boost the sustainability of Scotland’s fishing communities and the people who live in them. I thank organisations such as the SFF, the Fishermen’s Association Ltd, WWF Scotland and RSPB Scotland for the useful briefings that they have provided for today’s debate.
There is clear consensus that the CFP is not entirely fit for purpose and, indeed, has in many ways been immensely damaging to fish stocks and fishing communities. Although we all want genuine and substantial reforms, we need to achieve a new policy that is workable and coherent and helps our fishermen instead of working against them. None of us should underestimate the size of that challenge.
We welcome the recently announced concordat between the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, as a result of which each nation will be allocated annually agreed shares of UK quotas for distribution to their fleets. As the UK fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, has made clear, this is “a significant step forward” for our fishing industry and I commend the UK Government for working so constructively with the devolved Administrations to secure the agreement. As the head of the SFF, Bertie Armstrong, said recently:
“Within the EU the UK has somewhere approaching 30 votes. ... we are very much less concerned about who sits in the seats. We are absolutely concerned in every detail about what is said and what is on the speaking note for the minister or his representative to speak on matters of fisheries.”
The UK has a lot of clout, but the UK line must be worked out beforehand through inclusive talks involving all the devolved parts of the UK and fisheries management must be co-ordinated. The UK fishing line must have decent bait at the end of it.
The new concordat is entirely in keeping with our consistent general position on CFP reform. The policy needs to be fundamentally reformed to ensure that centralised, top-down, bureaucratic micromanagement at EU level, which has, in many cases, been disastrous, is replaced by flexible regional and local management. We also want a reduction in discards, and the conservation industries and the industry itself to work in co-operation; indeed, both those aims are supported by the Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee and the UK Government.
Although some elements of the EU’s July 2011 CFP reform proposals are steps in the right direction, we share the concerns expressed by the SFF and others about significant parts of the proposals that will not properly deliver the decentralisation that we all want. The concept of an MSY target is correct, but the aim of achieving it by 2015 is probably unrealistic. Any MSY targets must be set after long-term management plans are agreed for all fisheries and must be based on scientific evidence or the precautionary principle.
With regard to discards, we have supported the Scottish Government’s catch quotas trials. We all want a reduction in discards, but we must seek to tackle the issue in a flexible way that recognises the diverse nature of mixed demersal fisheries. Indeed, in some fisheries such as nephrops, a one-size-fits-all outright ban could lead to greater mortality because fishermen will be forced to land the undersized prawns that they used to throw back into the sea alive. Indeed, I can assure the chamber that I have witnessed that very thing being done on a prawn vessel belonging to my late lamented friend Charles McLeod, who was so famous in the Skye and Lochalsh fishing community and who on two occasions was kind enough to take me as supercargo on his vessel.
Others have voiced the fear that if fishermen are obliged to return their entire catch, a market for undersized fish—something we would not want—could be created. As the SFF has made clear, a total discards ban is akin to banning the symptom rather than attacking the disease itself, given that discards are caused by the fact that the volume and proportion of fishing opportunities set under the current CFP process fail to match the ecosystems’ realities. Never has a truer word been spoken.
I hope to touch on a number of other issues in my closing remarks but, in the meantime, I must put on record my praise for the conservation efforts of Scottish fishermen over the past few years. They have led the way in the EU, most notably in their adherence to the cod recovery plan. Because they deserve credit for such moves, which have been widely recognised, including by environmental organisations, I have lodged the amendment in my name.
I move amendment S4M-03163.1, after “conservation,” to insert:
“while recognising the enormous efforts that the Scottish fishing fleet has already made in complying with conservation measures, to”.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
We now move to the open debate. We are extremely tight for time.
- Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):
The decisions that are made in the new round of common fisheries policy discussions will have a vital impact on Scotland’s food production and its fisheries industry, which stretches around our coasts. It is the first time that the European Parliament has had co-decision powers along with the Council, so we should look at the way in which the European Parliament will approach some of the issues that we have raised with it and with others.
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee is glad that some of those issues have been recognised, but we are concerned about the fact that two committees of the European Parliament are considering the reform of the CFP—the Fisheries Committee’s rapporteur, the German socialist Ulrike Rodust, has put forward her proposals and the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee has published its opinion, which has been drafted by the English Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies—and that they do not agree on many points. It looks as though many amendments will be submitted to those committees before the European Parliament takes a final position, which it will discuss with the Council. It is up to us to ensure that we influence that process, and the Scottish National Party MEPs will take part in many of the discussions.
The first issue that I want to cover is that of decentralisation. I thank WWF for agreeing with the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s recommendation that
“all of those involved in the negotiations”
“apply maximum pressure to try and ensure the proposals for regionalisation are realised.”
The European Parliament’s legal services have stated that, under article 2.1 of the European Union treaty, exclusive competences can be conferred on individual member states, which can be encouraged to co-operate on a regional basis. That must be tested. It is important that we get a clear ruling in Europe about the possibility of our member state taking those actions on our behalf. Although it was useful of Jamie McGrigor—who is no longer in the chamber—to have pointed out that the UK has devolved some of the relevant powers to the devolved Administrations, it is important that the member state has the powers to act on our behalf and to co-operate on a regional basis. If that can be tested, decentralisation could work. That might move things further forward than would the proposals of the European Parliament and the Commission.
The need to tackle discards has been a massive issue, which, as we know, must be addressed extremely carefully in Scotland. Much of the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall approach goes against the knowledge that we have of the mixed fishery that Scotland is involved in. We need a fishery-by-fishery approach to discards. If we have any say in such matters, that is the approach that we will take because, as WWF notes,
“This is where regionalisation will help—with stakeholders devising measures and regulations better tailored to the fisheries concerned. Scotland is progressing on this path as more selective gear is becoming mandatory for the langoustine fleet to protect cod and other whitefish.”
That approach is being led by Scotland.
Historic rights are an issue on which my committee made strong remarks, to which the Labour Party ought to listen. It said:
“The Committee notes the difference in view between the UK and Scottish Governments regarding the principle of transferable fishing concessions. The Committee supports the position of the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary that the inclusion of any form of transferable fishing concessions poses a threat to the principle of relative stability and therefore should not form part of the final reforms.
The Committee welcomes the Cabinet Secretary’s statement, and the comment of the UK Government, that the decision to implement TFCs, if they do unfortunately form part of the final CFP reforms, be devolved to the Scottish Government.”
However, we will have to fight for that. It is up to us to ensure that it happens.
- Claire Baker:
The member might be interested to know that the UK back-bench debate in April made exactly the same statement on transferable concessions.
- Rob Gibson:
That was a back-bench debate. Whether the UK Government takes that position is another matter.
Fish stock recovery has been mentioned. As a matter of course in its deliberations, the committee is dealing with inshore fishing effort and no-take zones, which will play a big part in the future of fish stocks more widely than only those controlled by EU policies.
I want to mention control regulations that we apply ourselves, for example sampling plans and weighing at sea, to keep up the quality and consistency of measurement, and, indeed, the issue of dealing with other member states. This is an international industry, and we need to set regulations that do not penalise particular boats or ports. I am looking for means to ensure that that happens.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation—alongside WWF Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Parliament—takes the view that decentralisation and regionalisation are central to the debate. We are speaking as one at present. Let us keep it that way.
- Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab):
The common fisheries policy was discussed at length in the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, although those discussions took place before I was on the committee, so I have been playing catch-up so as not to let the fish off the hook.
As most people will know, the process started in July 2011, when the European Commission released its proposal for the revised CFP to replace the 2002 policy, which was widely regarded as broken and in desperate need of replacement, as noted in evidence given to the committee and stated in the chamber today.
It has become increasingly clear that the CFP is effectively a one-size-fits-nobody policy that has damaged our fisheries and fishermen’s livelihoods by failing to work in EU markets. It has also damaged our environment by failing to create sustainable fisheries, leading to a high level of overfishing.
In a written submission, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation noted that there were two critical failures with the 2002 reform:
“overly detailed ‘one size fits all’ management from the centre”;
“the lack of reliable data to assess ... many stocks and fisheries”,
making them difficult to manage. That said, the Scottish pelagic sector urged the committee to ensure that the reforms retain the positives of the old policy from which the sector benefited.
Since July, there have been on-going discussions about the reform among numerous member states, the industry, non-governmental organisations and civil society in an attempt to influence the policy before it is implemented in 2013.
I will focus on maximum sustainable yield, the introduction of a discard ban and regionalisation. WWF estimates that about 75 per cent of fish stock in Europe is overfished and that if the practice continues nine out of 10 stocks will be at unsustainable levels by 2022. The practice was allowed to continue under the previous policy, so the introduction of maximum sustainable yield should go some way towards reversing that position.
The main problem with the introduction of MSY, however, is that the data that we have for some stocks may be unreliable, and reliance on out of date or inaccurate data means that stocks could still be over or underfished. In 2009, the Scottish Government noted that the achievement of MSY for mixed fish stocks would not be possible and could lead to discards. While I support the principle of MSY, we need to be careful about how it is implemented; if we are not, it could cause more harm than good.
The introduction of a discard ban by 2016 is a tough task but we should strive to achieve it because discards are wasteful and uneconomic. We cannot achieve a long-term, sustainable future for the marine environment, the species within it and the people who depend on those species if the practice of discards continues.
That leads me to regionalisation. The problem will not be solved with a one-size-fits-all policy due to the great variations within the EU. The committee noted that regionalisation is the main proposal that the reform needs to deliver—developing a policy that suits each member state underpins the success of the reform. Decentralised decision making needs to be made to work, and made to work effectively. If the policy is devolved, that would allow coastal states to develop their own solutions to issues while allowing key stakeholders and those with local expertise to come to the forefront to manage their own fishing industry effectively and sustainably.
As noted by the committee from its evidence-taking sessions, that approach would also allow member states to have a certain level of flexibility to employ their own methods of fisheries management. In response to a letter sent on behalf of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Maria Damanaki stated that the aim of regionalisation was to
“move away from micromanagement at Union level and to ensure that rules are adapted to the specificities of a sea basin.”
Keeping in mind the fact that fish do not recognise borders, l fully support decentralised decision making and the process of regionalisation.
I leave members with the final thought that we need to work with the UK Government in Scotland’s interest. We need to develop a united front on the issue for the sake of our fishing industry. We punch above our weight on fishing issues because we are part of the United Kingdom and our influence would be severely curtailed if Scotland were to separate from the UK.
- Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
I suspect that I am going to put the opposite case from that put by Margaret McDougall. As a member for a region with a real dependency on the fishing industry, I am pleased to support the motion. With fish accounting for 59 per cent of all food exported from Scotland and £500 million-worth of fish landed by Scottish vessels in 2011, the value of the industry to Scotland’s economy cannot be overstated.
The common fisheries policy has failed to work for Scotland and for Scotland’s fishing industry. The reforms, as currently proposed, will continue that unfortunate trend to the detriment of many of the communities in my region.
One of the most important principles of the European Union is that of subsidiarity: namely, that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate and most local level possible. However, that has never been the case with fisheries. The blanket approach of the European Commission to fisheries suffocates the ability of regions and nations to adapt to their own particular circumstances and needs, and endangers the very conservation that the common fisheries policy is intended to promote.
The difficulties posed by the imposition of centrally decided targets and quotas have only been exacerbated by the lack of a distinct Scottish voice at the decision table, and that has resulted in our interests being traded away by successive UK Governments. The inability of the Scottish Government, on behalf of Scotland as an independent nation, to directly influence the policy within the Council of Ministers puts us at a unique disadvantage. It is an absolute scandal that, while we remain gagged, ministers from landlocked nations such as Slovakia and Hungary are able to directly influence policies that have a negligible impact on their economies, but a potentially devastating impact on ours.
The proposal to introduce a compulsory quota trading system, nebulously called “transferable fishing concessions”, is just one of the many proposals that should give us cause for concern. The opportunity for wealthy companies to use their financial means to purchase fishing rights from hard-pressed fishermen is one that we should all be wary of, particularly as it appears that no safeguards have been put in place to prevent that practice from devastating the principle of relative stability, which has, so far, held firm.
Although there is a commitment to retain the 6 and 12-mile limits for coastal fisheries, the lack of any explicit reference in the proposals to retain, for example, the Shetland box—a protected coastal fisheries area of great importance to the Shetland Islands and Scotland as a whole—is of grave concern. I urge the Scottish Government to clarify the future of the Shetland box and, if the Shetland box is threatened, to do its best to protect those waters from being opened up, as the Irish did some years ago when their waters were under threat.
It must be remembered that, in rural areas in particular, each industry or sector helps to support many others. A set of reforms that hurts Scottish fishing also hurts our processing industries, our food and drink sector and our tourism sector—all major employers in the Highlands and Islands and nationwide.
Regardless of our constitutional views, it is in the interests of us all to push for our voice to be heard at the negotiating table, and not just with Westminster’s permission. The decision to send an unelected member of the House of Lords rather than a Scottish representative to an informal fisheries council meeting in April 2010 is just one example of party politics stepping on the toes of national interests. Surely all of us would decry that decision.
For the first time, thanks to the treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament will have a say in reforming the common fisheries policy. As a Parliament, we must work in conjunction with Scotland’s six MEPs to ensure that a strong cross-party and national voice is heard. Surely we can all unite on that for the fishing industry in Scotland, with its obvious history and heritage.
I once more affirm my support for the motion and urge all MSPs to back the Government’s efforts to promote our interests in Westminster and Europe.
- Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab):
I first spoke in a fisheries debate in the Scottish Parliament in 1999, as did Richard Lochhead and Jamie McGrigor. Then, the common fisheries policy provided the framework for Scotland’s fisheries policy, as it does now, and the Scottish ministers sought to influence the CFP both directly in European Union institutions and indirectly by working with the United Kingdom as the member state, as they do now. The CFP was then, of course, under scrutiny with a view to reform of the way that it worked, as it is now.
Perhaps it is a measure of the relative maturing of our devolved institutions that we are moving towards the third iteration of the CFP since the Parliament was established. The current reform process will produce the fifth version of the CFP in 40 years. As the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said this week,
“The Scottish fishing industry is ... entering one of its most important periods in recent memory”.
However, the attempt to improve the common fisheries policy is not the first, and I suspect that it will not be the last.
The CFP is, of course, only one of the ways in which the European Union seeks to influence economic activity in member states. The European Union has also recently proposed the introduction of its own regulatory regime for health and safety in the offshore energy industry, and the problems with that proposal put the issues with the common fisheries policy in context. The EU’s offshore safety proposal has been condemned by both employers and trade unions in the oil industry not because the European Commission’s objectives are wrong, but because it is wrong in seeking to take over an area of policy that member states are successfully managing. We are world leaders in managing offshore oil and gas extraction in a safe and sensible manner in the North Sea in general and the UK continental shelf in particular, and the EU’s good intentions can only undermine what has been achieved at great cost since Piper Alpha.
The parallel with fisheries is clear. Every time that the common fisheries policy has been reformed—in the 1980s, the 1990s and 2002—one of the key drivers has been to limit fishing activity in order to protect fish stocks for the benefit of future generations. That objective will be a key driver of the next reform of the policy, too. It has to be, because overfishing remains a real risk to the future of our fishing communities, and it can be addressed only by adjusting fishing effort to protect the sustainability of fish stocks.
The problem with the CFP is not the objective of matching activity to resource; it is the prescriptive approach to the regulations by which that objective is pursued. It is right to seek to manage fish stocks sustainably and to regard that as desirable on a European and, indeed, global basis rather than as a matter only for individual countries, but it is not right simply to lay down the law in Brussels and expect reality to change in order to comply with regulation. The right approach is to engage with member states and devolved jurisdictions on fisheries management and to recruit the fishing industry itself to contribute to securing its own future.
That is not always easy. As those of us who represent fishing communities well understand, there are still people in the industry who are instinctively hostile to any limits being imposed on what they can catch. However, more and more fishermen recognise that planning future sustainability is the right thing to do and that catchers as well as the Government and scientists have responsibility for that.
That is why it is essential for the European Union to listen to those catchers, to design conservation and sustainability regulations in consultation with the sector, and to devolve responsibility for fisheries management to as local a level as is compatible with wider conservation objectives. That means regional management of fisheries within EU waters, giving member states and devolved Governments within member states the opportunity to develop measures in partnership with the industry to achieve sustainable levels of exploitation and meet wider European objectives in a way that is truly sustainable in economic, social and biological terms.
Like the fishing industry itself, Europe is changing. The election of François Hollande has created space within the European Union for genuine debate, not only about the handling of current economic challenges, but about the nature and purpose of the European project itself. That is good news from a Scottish and British point of view. The idea that ever closer integration and sharing of common resources was the only possible direction of travel for the European Union no longer dominates political debate in Brussels or anywhere else.
I am also glad that the Scottish Government has moved on from decrying the common fisheries policy to seeking to reform it. The opportunity for a new balance between agreeing objectives centrally and delivering them regionally should not be missed. When the Scottish Parliament debates reform of the common fisheries policy in the 2020s, as it surely will, that is likely to happen in a very different and wider European context from the one that exists today.
The challenge for the next few months is to ensure that the reform of the fisheries policy leads wider European reform and delivers a shift away from prescriptive regulation and a one-size-fits-all approach to an appropriate and effective policy. There can be no guarantee that that will happen, but there will never be a better time to try.
- Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP):
The fragmented coastline of the west coast of Scotland is home to communities that are dependent on fishing. In my constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, fishing is—and has been for decades, if not centuries—the lifeblood of many of those west coast communities, and of places such as Avoch, which is on the east coast and also in my constituency.
The fisheries council meeting that will take place in Luxembourg later this month and today’s debate in the warmth of the chamber are a far cry from the gales and rain of the Minches or the North Sea. Having been to sea a few times myself in the Moray Firth and the Minch, I know the difference, and I stand here today to support the Scottish Government’s motion because I know that there are few things as harmful to Scottish fishermen as the current common fisheries policy.
The nation of Scotland, with a population of five million, was responsible for almost 70 per cent of the volume of stock and 67 per cent of the value of sales of fish in the UK in 2011. Those statistics summarise my argument neatly. Fishing is vital to small communities and to our country. The value of fish that was landed by Scottish vessels from Shetland to Stranraer and from Stornoway to Eyemouth in 2011 was a grand £500 million.
Despite the importance of the industry to our economy and communities, Scottish fisheries are disadvantaged because they are subordinate to a failing common fisheries policy that is decided in Brussels, and because they are dependent on the Government in London to negotiate on their behalf. I am firmly convinced that the common fisheries policy as it stands is flawed and can only continue to harm the Scottish fishing industry. I give the example of the problem of quotas, which is to blame for the incredible amount of fish that are discarded each year. The 2010 report “The Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland” estimated that discards of cod, haddock and whiting by Scottish vessels fishing in the North Sea and the west of Scotland in 2009 would have been worth in the region of £38 million at first point of sale—to say nothing of the damage to the fish stock and the ecosystem.
As the European Parliament considers reforming the common fisheries policy, which is to be welcomed, I support the Scottish Government’s position on amending the policy. In particular, decentralising the specific details of the policy first to Scotland and then to the fishing communities is the only way to begin to reverse the damage that has been done and to prevent further damage from being done.
- Jamie McGrigor:
Does the member agree that although decentralisation was the key recommendation arising from the extensive debate in the European Parliament on the green paper on CFP reform, there is very little reference to it in Mrs Damanaki’s new package?
- Dave Thompson:
I agree with Jamie McGrigor that we must get decentralisation. In his speech, he mentioned that there is micromanagement from Brussels. We must move away from that or we will never solve the problem of discards and the other problems that the common fisheries policy has caused for our fishermen over recent years.
Scotland deserves a louder voice on the subject of fisheries. Despite 70 per cent of the UK’s fishing catch being landed by Scottish fishing vessels, Scotland does not have an automatic right to attend the Council of Ministers and, therefore, is dependent on Westminster ministers negotiating on our behalf. That is unlike the situation in Belgium, where the Flemish ministers always lead the fishing debates on Belgium’s behalf. Relying on Westminster ministers has not worked in the past, and I am doubtful that it will ever work.
Although I fully support the European Union setting the basic principles, overall targets, performance indicators and timeframes, I believe that Scotland should decide how to achieve them—not Brussels and not London. There are particular concerns in Scotland that need to be voiced on the European stage, one of which involves sustainability. As the Scottish Government suggests, we need to ensure that the fish population is maintained at maximum productivity while, at the same time, fishermen catch the maximum amount of fish. I am pleased to see that maximum sustainable yield is one of the Scottish Government’s priorities. Waste, which is a contributor to low stocks, must be phased out. Fishermen should not be forced or encouraged to throw dead fish over the side of a vessel because their quota for one species has been used up. I am also glad to see that that is a Scottish Government priority, which could begin in 2014 with a species-by-species approach.
As MSP for Avoch, in the Black Isle, and Skye and Lochaber, which have substantial fishing interests, I believe that local communities also deserve a louder voice on fisheries policy. It is the fishermen who know best the hardships and struggles of fishing in Scottish waters and how to manage the fish. We cannot analyse and legislate on fishing purely at an economic level; there are social considerations, too. As a Lossie loon, I am all too aware of the detrimental effect of the CFP, as Lossie harbour now holds only yachts where once there were dozens of productive fishing boats. The continuing viability of the fishing industry goes hand in hand with the vibrancy of fishing-dependent communities, and because of that we need to take a big-picture view.
Prior to the election in 2011, the SNP mentioned several key areas within the fishing industry, two of which are particularly important to my constituency. The first is the restoration of the identity and status of fishing as an occupation of choice in order to help to map out the most profitable future for the industry.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
You must close, please.
- Dave Thompson:
Yes, Presiding Officer.
The second is the development of a national strategy for fisheries-dependent areas in order to support economic development and encourage local authorities to strengthen local fishing-related economies. The first step to both of those is to establish—
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
You must close now, please. Thank you very much.
- Jim Hume (South Scotland) (LD):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. The debate is timely as it takes place in advance of the adoption by the European council of a common position on fisheries reform, which it will look to do on Tuesday. Although that will be a general approach and not legally binding, it will still act as a message to the European Parliament and will give us a good idea of where we are headed prior to the conclusion of this complex co-decision process.
There is near-unanimous agreement in the industry and across Government that the common fisheries policy in its current guise is unfit for purpose. Indeed, even the European Commission’s 2009 green paper on reform proposals acknowledged the problems and called for a “whole-scale ... reform” of the policy. It is evident to us all that the Commission’s previous approach of top-down, centralised management of our continent’s fisheries has not been in the best interests of our industry or our communities.
In an ideal world, we would be viewing the reforms as an opportunity to mend the common fisheries policy. Time will tell whether that proves to be the case.
Time constraints prevent me from adequately covering all six points of the reforms, so I will focus on the more contentious ones, which involve transferable fishing concessions and regionalisation.
I share many members’ reservations about the introduction of TFCs to the common fisheries policy framework. In one of the so-called non-papers, the Commission states that the reason for introducing TFCs is that the CFP has failed to resolve the problem of overcapacity. However, as Jamie McGrigor said, we in Scotland have taken great strides in reducing the size of our fleet over the past few years, which has cemented our reputation as an exemplar of responsible and sustainable fishing. Since 2001, the number of our active fishing vessels has reduced by 15 per cent, or some 398 vessels.
Although the intention is that transfers of TFCs will be between vessels of the same flag, we know that many in Europe would dearly love to see transfers between member states. What particularly concerns me—I know that the cabinet secretary shares my concern—is that that could trigger an excessive concentration of the ownership of fishing rights. To some extent, we are already seeing that. Ian Gatt of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association told the RACCE committee:
“The biggest demersal quota holder in England is probably a Dutch and Icelandic company, which bought up several companies”.—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 2 November 2011; c 308.]
None of us wants a situation in which the skippers of Scottish vessels are enticed by the perhaps deep pockets of their continental colleagues, because that would put relative stability under threat. Furthermore, we must consider the damaging impact that it would have on our processing sector. The spectre of Spanish vessels using Scottish quotas and landing in Europe is a troubling one for our processors and fishing communities and is something that they would struggle to fight.
Much of the debate surrounding the reforms has centred on the prospect of long-overdue regionalised decision making. It makes perfect sense for the nations that surround a particular sea basin to manage that area’s fisheries, instead of Europe having an ineffective one-size-fits-all approach. What works in the North Sea will not necessarily work in the Mediterranean. The Commission appears to agree with that in principle.
A system whereby the EU devises the overarching objectives, with the measures to achieve them set by member states—almost certainly with an enhanced role for fishermen, stakeholders and regional advisory councils—is an attractive one, and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is right to say that the argument for that approach must continue to be pressed in Brussels. I therefore welcome the comments of the UK fisheries minister, when he said to the committee last year:
“Regionalisation is an absolutely determined goal that we have set ourselves.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 9 November 2011; c 346.]
I know that the cabinet secretary will welcome that, too.
In such situations, it is important to gather allies, and I hope that April’s joint declaration, which featured seven countries, including the UK, France and Ireland, will help to impress on the Commission how important it is that the details of fisheries management are decided at an appropriate level.
We are at a critical juncture. The decisions that are taken in the next few weeks will shape our fishing industry in Scotland for the next decade and beyond. It is vital that sustainability is at the heart of those decisions in order to ensure the continued survival of our vessels and communities across Scotland—communities such as those in Argyll, the northern isles, Aberdeenshire, Eyemouth and the Western Isles, where the labour force that is employed in fishing is significantly above the national average and where fishing has been woven into the fabric of life for hundreds of years.
The Liberal Democrats will support the Government’s motion and both amendments.
- Mark McDonald (North East Scotland) (SNP):
This debate focuses on a vital issue for many of the communities in North East Scotland, which I represent. If members travel up the north-east coast, which I greatly encourage them to do, they will pass through many of the traditional fishing communities of the north-east, from the larger ports such as Aberdeen, which retains much of the processing sector but few of the landings, Peterhead and Fraserburgh, to the smaller villages that had vibrant fishing ports, such as Johnshaven in the Mearns. Many of those communities bear the all-too-visible scars of previous CFP negotiations and their outcomes, most of which resulted in Scotland emerging as the loser. At least when we lose in Europe in football, the failure is usually glorious.
Nevertheless, it need not be that way. It is clear that Scotland, via the cabinet secretary, is leading the charge for CFP reform. It is clear to all that he must be listened to on this, not just by the UK Government, who will likely negotiate on Scotland’s behalf, but by the other nations that play a pivotal role in the annual bartering at CFP negotiations.
Jamie McGrigor mentioned that there are 30 votes for Scotland that come from the UK delegation. That may be the case, but the votes are of use only if they are marshalled in the interests of Scotland and its fishing communities. For too long, that has not been the case. Those votes have not been marshalled in the best interests of Scotland’s fishing communities. Indeed, Scotland’s fishing communities have very much been an afterthought in that regard.
- Claire Baker:
Will the member reflect on the fact that member states’ votes are allocated not by the size of their fishing fleet but by the size of their population? Can he explain how reduced influence and fewer votes at the Council of Ministers would be to Scottish fishermen’s advantage?
- Mark McDonald:
Claire Baker talks about reduced influence, but at the moment we are talking about having virtually no influence, particularly at the negotiating table. It is a credit to the cabinet secretary that he is there, pushing Scotland’s agenda. However, Scotland is not represented at the negotiating table by the cabinet secretary—we place our fate in the hands of UK ministers. Far too often, UK ministers have sat at that table, with Scotland’s fate in their hands, and demonstrated that they have butter fingers and have dropped the ball.
I listened to Claire Baker say in her speech that the CFP’s failures are evident for all to see. Would that her predecessors and Westminster colleagues who have gone to Europe to negotiate on Scotland’s behalf had had such foresight, vision and clarity of focus on the CFP.
- Claire Baker:
Will the member gave way?
- Mark McDonald:
No, I have given way once already.
We might then not have found ourselves in this position, in terms of what we have put forward from Scotland on the CFP and the needs of Scotland’s fishing communities.
This is a moment of opportunity. It is an opportunity to radically reform fisheries management in Europe that must not be squandered. There is a great opportunity to act on discards and decentralisation, which most of us in the chamber will welcome. However, the key message is that things such as the move towards decentralisation can and should go further. I know that Scottish National Party MEPs will push for that in the European Parliament and I hope that they will be able to rely on support from colleagues in other parties in this chamber and support from other member states across Europe. Those moves must be advanced to make fisheries management tangible and beneficial to fishing communities. For too long, the top-down, centralised structure of the CFP has strangled our fishing communities. Unfortunately, many of them have failed to recover. There is still hope, however, that a radical reform in that direction can inject a bit of life back into those areas.
As well as opportunities, there are threats, two of which come from attempts to introduce mandatory elements through amendments to the CFP. Mandatory TFCs are a threat to Scotland’s historic rights and they entirely misunderstand and undermine the concept of regionalising fisheries management. The notion of centralising mandatory requirements at the same time as regionalising fisheries management is counterintuitive.
Similarly, the proposed fish stock recovery areas also seem ill thought out and tacked on, and they must be resisted at every opportunity. That is not to say that stock recovery is not important, or that efforts should not be made to conserve fish stock. Opposing that measure does not send out that message—rather, it clearly says that to arbitrarily set aside anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent of waters for mandatory fish stock recovery totally misunderstands and undermines the ability of nations to best manage their waters and regionally manage their fisheries. That has to be opposed. I know that the SNP will strongly oppose it in the European Parliament and I hope that SNP members can rely on support from the other parties represented in this chamber and from other parties across Europe.
This is a moment of opportunity. It is a chance for Europe to right some of the wrongs that have been done to our fishing communities over time. I look forward to the cabinet secretary taking forward these arguments and, I hope, being listened to by his UK counterpart. I hope that, in future, we will be able to mandate the cabinet secretary to go to Brussels and negotiate on behalf of Scotland.
- Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the common fisheries policy. The last time we debated the CFP, I talked about a range of issues that the cabinet secretary has covered in his speech today. Although I am happy to support his motion and I agree with many of the sentiments in his speech, I refer him back to the overarching theme in Labour’s amendment: the need for effective co-operation in the UK and Europe to achieve a more effective and efficient fisheries policy.
At the heart of the CFP is an acknowledgement that common waters require a shared management system if they are to be both sustainable and profitable, not only for those who depend on the fishing industry for their income but for all of us who have a stake in preserving a healthy ecosystem in our seas. If we do not embrace the need for collective action as a fair and necessary way of managing Europe’s fishing grounds, we risk doing a great deal of damage to the sustainability of our fishing industry and the biodiversity of our waters.
I strongly believe that only by accepting the same obligations as all other partners in Europe can we move the CFP forward. In Scotland, we can be proud of the part that we have played in contributing to a more effective common management system for Europe’s shared fishing grounds. We have piloted innovative and creative mechanisms, such as real-time closures and the use of closed-circuit television in our fleet, which have been lauded and replicated throughout Europe.
Along with our successful conservation credits scheme, Scotland has been at the forefront of implementing policies that have helped to remedy some of the challenges presented in fisheries management throughout Europe. It is crucial that we continue to innovate policies, improve our scientific advice and share our ideas throughout the EU to achieve our commonly agreed aims, which are reflected in the latest round of CFP reform.
On the key principles of regionalisation, conservation and ending discards, which the minister mentioned, there is broad agreement in the UK and Europe that changes must be made. I believe that that presents us with an obligation to work together in partnership in the UK and Europe to find the best plan to achieve those aims.
As I said the last time we debated the issue, the principle of regionalisation presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to get fisheries management right for Scotland. A good example of how greater co-operation through regionalisation would work is the area of scientific advice.
A recent study that was conducted by the marine centre of the University of the Highlands and Islands found that more than half of the main species landed by Scottish white-fish vessels came from stocks that are data deficient. That means that the data needed to carry out scientific assessment of the stocks was not available or was not sufficient. That finding typifies the significant lack of understanding about our waters and the stock within them, which is a serious concern in relation to the sustainability of our fishing industry and fishing grounds.
Under a regionalised model, we would have the opportunity to increase our capacity to carry out more targeted research of common fishing areas to help to develop a fisheries management system that is based on sound scientific evidence. Both policy makers and industry have been calling for that for years and it is something else that can be achieved only through co-operation in the UK and with our partners in the European Union. Better and more targeted scientific advice would help to enhance our policies on conservation, as it would allow us to identify stocks that require protection or areas that are being overfished. It would also allow us to assess the full impact of any such ban or plan as the cabinet secretary calls for to end the appalling practice of discarding. Those matters concern all of us and a mutual approach to tackling them is necessary to change them.
I agree with the cabinet secretary on many of the concerns that he outlined, and nobody is in any doubt that the common fisheries policy needs major reform. However, the Labour amendment makes the vital point that the common fisheries policy is exactly that—a policy in which all stakeholders in Europe share the rights and responsibilities of a common, shared fishing ground. Only by working together on shared concerns through commonly agreed principles such as regionalisation can we contribute fully to a better fisheries management system for Scotland.
- Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP):
When the Parliament previously debated the shaping of the new CFP back in September, I highlighted the EU’s lumbering processes and the fact that bickering over the allocation of reports had knocked back the timetable that was set for reaching a conclusion. It would be nice to say today that things are now moving apace but, sadly, that is not the case. As Rob Gibson said, eight months on, we have progressed only to consideration being given to the draft report of the rapporteur, Ulrike Rodust, which contains a staggering 227 suggested amendments to the Commission’s initial proposals.
If history is anything to go by, that is a long way from being the end of the story. When the CFP was last reformed, 10 years ago, I understand that when MEPs had their crack at the proposals post the rapporteur stage, more than 800 amendments were placed in front of a committee for the haggling to commence. At that time, the EU had only 15 member states, not the 27 of today.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that more than 1,000 amendments will have been lodged by the 18 June deadline this time around; the speculation in some quarters is that the figure will be nearer 2,000. The amendments will be translated and formatted ahead of a series of informal meetings among Committee on Fisheries members to determine duplication that might exist and the scope for whittling down the numbers. The committee will then have a formal meeting to vote on the amendments ahead of a full plenary session of the European Parliament—oh, and there will be an opportunity to submit further amendments, followed by a further debate and vote later in the year.
Under the co-decision process this time around, that is only half the story, as the Council of Ministers will have its processes to go through. We are making progress, but it is painfully slow. However, that might be a price worth paying if we ultimately emerge with a CFP that is appropriate to Scotland’s needs, not least because where we are currently is not where we need to finish.
Scotland’s needs include securing a healthy future for the onshore sector as well as for fishermen, so I am pleased that the Government’s motion refers to safeguarding our fishing rights
“for the benefit of ... seafood sectors”.
It is important to bear it in mind that the CFP does not just influence the number of boats and fishermen who go to sea but has a massive impact on onshore employment and on the onshore sector’s capacity to cope with any upturn in the volume of fish that it is asked to handle. There are warnings of serious consequences for the onshore sector if we do not get the CFP right.
In the past 10 years, the number of boats and the time that is spent at sea have declined, which has been matched by a steady erosion in the processing infrastructure. Since 2002, the number of processing companies in the north-east alone has fallen from 200 to 62 and the number of people employed in the sector has reduced from 15,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000.
It is therefore little wonder that Will Clark, who is the Scottish Seafood Association’s chairman, describes the situation as critical. Among other things, he warns that if transferable fishing concessions are introduced—they are causing huge concern for processors—a means will have to be found to ensure that they cannot be traded outwith a member state. Otherwise, the consequences for Scotland could be devastating. Time will tell where we will end up on the CFP but, like our fishermen, the processing sector desperately needs stability, so that people can plan with at least a degree of certainty, if not optimism. I suggest that that desire is not unreasonable.
As Mark McDonald highlighted, one of the rapporteur’s most concerning proposals is that member states should be required to close 10 to 20 per cent of their territorial waters to fishing within three years, to aid stock recovery. That goes completely against the decentralisation agenda that we are supposed to be pursuing and could adversely affect Scotland, despite the downsizing of our fleet that has taken place and the fact that we lead the way on conservation measures.
It is encouraging to note the opposition to that proposal that has been voiced not only by the SNP MEPs but by Struan Stevenson of the Conservatives. I hope that the Parliament will unite today to make absolutely clear its demand for a CFP that tackles the broader issues that require to be tackled but treats Scotland’s fishermen and our important processing sector fairly.
- Annabelle Ewing (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP):
I am pleased to speak in this important debate on reform of the CFP. As the cabinet secretary said, we are now coming to the crunch negotiations on the CFP review. We could send an important signal from our Parliament today to support the Scottish Government as it strives to stand up for our fishermen, our fishing communities and our fishing industry.
As we have heard, there are many issues of significance for the Scottish fleet and, as Graeme Dey outlined, for the processing industry. One of the key issues is how we get from what has been a totally discredited management policy to a policy that has a chance of delivering the conservation objectives that we all—including our fishermen—wish to see, and which can operate without further decimating our fishing industry and fishing communities.
My colleague Dave Thompson mentioned Lossie. I remember, as a young teenager, being able to walk from one side of the harbour to the other on fishing boats; now, as he said, it is simply a marina. That is what has happened under the CFP and under successive London Governments that have misrepresented us in Brussels.
The solution that is proposed for the central core of the CFP involves a move towards regionalisation of its management. That would allow member states to work together in respect of specific sea basin areas to take decisions that are fit for purpose and make sense for the area, while complying with the overarching objectives that are set by the EU. Any failure to proceed with meaningful regionalisation would, as many members have said, be a huge missed opportunity. It is clear to all that the micromanagement that has taken place so far has simply not worked.
One of the several difficulties that have been cited in moving towards meaningful regionalisation concerns issues to do with the legal basis under EU law. I understand that work has gone on in the background with regard to that issue and, as a former EU law practitioner, I cannot see that it is beyond the wit of the legal services of the various EU institutions to find a way around that while complying with EU law. However, in the labyrinthine and byzantine world of the EU, it might be thought—by some at least—that the Commission is protesting a wee bit too much and overemphasising the legal difficulties on the basis that it fundamentally does not want to relinquish too much control. Of course, I could not possibly comment on that. Be that as it may, I believe that the political impetus for meaningful regionalisation appears to be in place, and that must be delivered.
Another key area that has been mentioned is the issue of discards, which are as abhorrent to fishermen as they are to everybody else, for they represent an inexcusable waste of a precious food resource when we know that people in the world are starving. The discards issue also shows clearly that the current management system is simply not working.
We should be proud of our fleet in Scotland, because we have led the way on finding solutions and our discard reduction initiatives have led to the greatest reductions in cod discards by any country in the EU. We therefore need a realistic programme at the EU level that recognises actions that have already been taken, such as pioneering the use of new and selective types of fishing gear, real-time area closures and the successful but sadly limited catch quota scheme that we are able to promote at this point.
In the time that I have left I will focus on one red-line issue, which is the principle of relative stability. We have heard that there is a potential threat to relative stability in the transferable fishing concessions provision. Relative stability is the bulwark against a free-for-all in Scottish waters, and the recognition of that principle was fought for very hard indeed down through the years by people such as my mother, Winnie Ewing, when she was the member of the European Parliament for the Highlands and Islands for some 24 years. The threat this time round comes from the TFCs—or, in plain language, transferable quotas.
I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary say that there had been positive movement in that regard, and I hope that he will provide further detail when he winds up the debate because, although it might be said that the approach will be voluntary, it is crucial that we are able to ensure that that is the case.
It is clear that our fleet in Scotland would not be in the difficult situation that it faces if Scotland were already independent, because we would have always fought for our fleet, in the way that the Spanish have always fought for theirs. The Spanish put fishing at the top of their agenda; fishing was nowhere near the top of the UK Government’s agenda. From the start, as Edward Heath said, our fishing industry has been regarded as expendable. It has been sold down the river by countless Westminster Governments, whatever their political hue. We need to ensure that we can speak up for our fishing industry, in accordance with our industry’s priorities, and that we can put our vital fishing interests at the top of the agenda. The only way that we can ensure that that happens is by reclaiming the powers of a normal independent country.
- Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green):
Fishing our seas sustainably means maintaining a healthy ecosystem that supports more fish and more fishing jobs. It is worth saying that at the start, because it is the common ground for, and of common benefit to, all parties that are involved in the debate on fisheries policy. We face the challenge of moving to a truly sustainable model. A difficult transition period is ahead of us but, in the medium term, we will reap many benefits.
People who care about the sustainability of our communities and ecosystems must make science the basis of our decisions on fisheries management and resist a race to the bottom that risks leading to silent seas and harbours.
Top-down decision making from the EU has failed. Fishermen think that the regulations have opposed rather than supported their interests. The decentralisation proposals have merit, because they can promote co-management, whereby fishermen, scientists and conservation interests are involved at regional and, I hope, local level. Fishermen often pass their skills, ships and tackle down to the next generation, and decentralisation offers a chance for users to become stewards of the sea for the next generation. Scotland has the experience to develop good co-management, and the catch credits scheme is a successful example that should be more widely applied.
Sustainability will not happen magically or automatically on regionalisation. The fishing industry does not have a history of stewardship or compliance. There has been in-fighting between sectors, there have been incredible levels of black fish landings, and controls have too often been called for only when livelihoods were threatened by other fishermen’s practices.
Good co-management must have science as its basis. We know for sure that many stocks are overfished. In 2010, the Government’s independent report, “The Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland”, said that of the 12 Scottish fish stocks that had been assessed,
“only four are without immediate concern.”
On a longer timescale, we know that the seas used to be full of fish, but the current level of large predatory fish biomass is only about 10 per cent of the pre-industrial level. British trawlers now need 17 times more effort to catch the same volume of fish than they needed at the start of the 19th century. Between 2003 and 2011, total allowable catches were set by the Council at a rate that was, on average, 47 per cent higher than the rate that scientists advocated.
The Government’s motion talks about promoting conservation, but that is not enough to safeguard fishing jobs in future. A decentralised approach can work only if there is a clear decision-making structure that puts scientific advice at its heart. What can we gain from putting in place such a structure? We can build a resilient fishery ecosystem, which is able to deal with climate change and increased ocean acidity, and which will support more jobs. The New Economics Foundation, as we heard, calculated that if we achieved maximum sustainable yield, we would create 3,000 extra jobs for fishermen and 7,700 extra processing jobs across the UK, as a result of having healthier stocks.
Another important question is who should have the right to fish the seas. The privilege to exploit fish stocks should be conditional on fishing in an environmentally and socially responsible, as well as legal, manner.
“Fishermen should be required to demonstrate that their fishing operations do not damage the marine environment”,
and that they
“make significant contributions to coastal fishing communities.”
Member states should use such criteria when they allocate the right to fish. That might sound miles away from the motion’s language of safeguarding “Scotland’s historic fishing rights”, but that is the principle behind the conservation credit scheme and I was quoting from a policy document adopted by the Green and European free alliance in the EU—of which the SNP is a member.
Many of our fishing communities are long gone. There is hardly a fishing boat to be seen in Hopeman, Burghead or Lossiemouth. Modern technology means that what fish there are can be traced electronically. Modern machinery on super-trawlers is such that one ship can land as many fish in a year as the whole Dutch fleet could land in the 1700s.
There is a view that Scottish fishermen are in crisis as a result of regulation. There is no argument but that there is a crisis, but it is a crisis born of overcapacity, overfishing, poor policy and the near destruction of an ecosystem.
It is true that the pelagic fleet has been reduced. In 1991, there were 54 boats whose main fishing method was pelagic—today there are 24. However, from 1991 to 2011, the fleet’s total engine power rose by 40 per cent. Over the same 20 years, the fleet’s total tonnage more than doubled. Although the number of boats has fallen, the total tonnage and engine power of the fleet have risen significantly. The pelagic boats are now massive industrial-scale concerns with a greater capacity to catch fish. Industrial-scale fishing does the most damage and contributes the least to employment and communities. It is the large-scale fishing that has large-scale lobbying power too. We must make sure that we do not listen only to the loudest voice in the industry, because there are many others.
Tradeable rights should be resisted, as those with the deepest pockets will buy the rights to fish, instead of those rights being allocated to fishermen with sustainable and selective catch methods.
I am heartened by the Government’s commitment to tackle discards and to reduce by-catch. We have the conservation credits scheme and the Government is right to try to widen participation to other vessels. However, a ban on discards—including seabirds, marine mammals, juveniles and non-commercial species—must be the end goal in order to promote the best selectivity possible.
- Jamie McGrigor:
All members have accepted the failure of the current common fisheries policy. The challenge will be to deliver regionalisation in practice without simply creating an extra layer of bureaucracy. The SFF is correct to suggest that excessively prescriptive regulation in that area could be harmful.
I want to speak for the Scottish pelagic sector—mentioned by Hanzala Malik and Alison Johnstone—which has seen some benefits from the CFP. Its interests must be protected in the reform, as it is an important part of Scotland’s fishing industry; in some cases, it also provides much-needed employment in processing fish in other faraway parts of the world. It is also a sector that does not generally have such a large by-catch problem. Protecting its interests is part of the difficult balancing act that we need to achieve.
Many members talked about reducing discards, and we all support that. However, to repeat my earlier comments, we need to be careful about how we achieve that in our mixed fishery. Although we can be ambitious in our aims, we must ensure that we deliver something that works in practice.
The direction of travel and the success of the final result are more important than meeting any arbitrary deadline that is set by the EU or anybody else. Flexibility is the key word to produce sustainability of stocks in different areas of our seas. We need to continue to support our fishermen to allow them to buy new selective gears to minimise discards.
Why should Scotland’s fishing fleet bear so much pain when its record on conservation is the best in Europe? I mentioned that in a speech that I made in 2001. I take the liberty of quoting myself:
“It is especially galling that Scotland’s fishing fleet, the only one in Europe to have adopted conservation measures—such as square-mesh panels aimed at protecting the 1999 class of fish—should pay the biggest penalty for the failure of other Governments to persuade their fishing fleets to do the same.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2001; c 328.]
Other member states have now come on board, but Scotland’s fishermen led the way. They should be commended and rewarded for doing so, and helped in their promotion of sustainable stocks.
We have heard a lot of support today for the concept of maximum sustainable yield. Again, we need to be realistic with regard to how that can be achieved in practice. Although the aim is correct, we need to recognise the difficulty of achieving that aim for all species in a mixed fishery. No one in the industry believes that it will be possible to achieve that by 2015. The goal of multiannual, multispecies plans is supported by all, but they will take time to achieve, and getting that right is crucial.
Some of my fishing constituents wish me to ask a number of questions of the minister, and I hope that he will be able to address some of the issues in his summing-up speech.
How will ministers ensure the retention of the relative stability principle—which was mentioned by Annabelle Ewing—in the forthcoming period of the CFP, bearing in mind that that is what has given Scotland a large percentage of the haddock catch in the North Sea? Given the ordinary procedure or co-decision between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and the 600 or so amendments that were tabled to the initial Commission proposal, how confident is the minister that the UK and Scottish requirements will find their way into the final legislation?
On the two key issues of maximum sustainable yield and discards, will the minister ensure that the radicalism that is being talked about does not lead to regulations that are, in practice, unworkable and unachievable? Also, will he ensure that the needs of the artisanal smaller shellfish fisheries of the west coast are fully taken into account? May I make the same request for the white-fish boats that fish off Scotland’s north-west coast, many of which are being forced to fish outside Rockall in dangerous waters because they do not have enough quota inside?
- Dave Thompson:
How many of those questions has the member put to his colleagues in the Conservative Government in London?
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
You are in your last minute, Mr McGrigor.
- Jamie McGrigor:
We are in touch with the minister the whole time. The point is that the UK line is what is important.
Today’s debate might seem to be about fish, but it is about deciding the future of people who are reliant on the fishing industry. Fishermen, fish processors and their families are the ones who will suffer if Governments do not get the right solutions.
The Scottish Conservatives stand ready to support the Scottish Government’s approach of securing regionalisation in the CFP, so that regions have a genuine and significant role in fisheries management, without having continually to refer back to the Commission.
We wish the minister well in his forthcoming talks and encourage him to work closely with the UK fisheries minister, as well as with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland; surprisingly, they were not mentioned by Mark McDonald in his rant about the value of having three to four votes rather than 29 to 30 UK votes supporting our line. I know what makes sense to me.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Before we move on, I am afraid that once again I must remind the chamber that members who participate in debates ought to be in the chamber for closing speeches. I note that Jenny Marra left the chamber, and I would appreciate an explanation.
- Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
I am glad to speak again on fishing issues and to hear the views of members on the importance of fishing to our communities across Scotland and to the Scottish economy.
Scottish Labour supports the cabinet secretary’s motion and Jamie McGrigor’s amendment, which recognises the contribution that the fleet makes to conservation.
Although I will not quote myself, as Jamie McGrigor did, I spoke in the debate last September on the importance of the small-scale fishing communities such as those in my region; more than 700 people there are employed on vessels, many of which are involved in small-scale fishing. I hope that there will be a debate in the future on the importance of that vital part of the industry.
Dave Thompson stressed the social considerations for coastal communities. I want to recognise the importance of the processing industry, which was touched on by Jim Hume and explored by Graeme Dey in relation to the transferable fishing concessions.
Scottish Labour strongly supports the principle of regionalisation and it appears that there is cross-party consensus on the issue; I hope that that is encouraging to the cabinet secretary when he goes to the council. Decentralised control over fishing brings a number of benefits, many of which have been described by members today. They include faster decision making, tailor-made management that suits the characteristics of individual fleets and water basins and, crucially, the ability to change course if a decision is not working, which is in sharp contrast to the current unresponsive model of the centralised CFP.
Jean Urquhart talked about subsidiarity, which is not a common term these days but is still important. The cabinet secretary highlighted the need for an injection of common sense. However, obstacles remain, not least of which is the need to hammer out the detail of what regionalisation will mean in practice and to ensure that the European Commission and Parliament truly devolve responsibility to the new regional bodies.
Rob Gibson highlighted that this is the first time that the European Parliament has had co-decision-making responsibilities and he raised concerns about possible conflict between European Parliament committees. Labour MEPs will take a careful interest in that and will work with other MEPs.
My understanding is that the powers will be devolved directly to member states, which will then be able to enter into regional agreements. If that is the case, I hope that the cabinet secretary and his Government will work constructively alongside the UK Government, as the representative of the member state, to ensure that a strong framework is put in place that encourages co-operation and joint solutions with our neighbours.
On sustainability, Alison Johnstone highlighted the fact that the industry can be the stewards of the sea for the next generation. As Lewis Macdonald said, the problem with the CFP is not the objective of matching activity to resource, but the prescriptive approach to regulations by which that objective is pursued.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s conversion to reform of the common fisheries policy, rather than withdrawal from it. I hope that that about-turn is the result of the Government’s realising that regionalisation is not about quasi nationalisation of fishing stocks, but about a real attempt to devolve decision making to a sensible level.
Everyone—north, south, east and west—agrees about regionalisation. However, fishermen’s organisations have told us that it is essential that regionalisation results in more cross-country working and not less. Stakeholders, Government scientists and local people in ports up and down the UK and throughout the EU need to work in the common interest to deal with the issues of discards, sustainability and increased traceability.
- Jean Urquhart:
The member says that people must have input into how fishing is organised in their area. Does she agree that the area where most of the fishermen are and where most of the fishing is done should have a voice at the table when the discussions happen? Does she agree that that has not been the case to date?
- Claudia Beamish:
I am glad that the cabinet secretary is going to the negotiations this time round. As I said, I wish him well with that. The strong vote that we have as part of the UK is a valid part of the argument on that issue.
Discards are indeed a tragedy, as the cabinet secretary said. The four points that the cabinet secretary outlined are a positive way forward. As Margaret McDougall stressed, we must find a sustainable way forward. She emphasised data collection, as did Jenny Marra, who highlighted our good record on ecosystem management. She talked about the need for
“Better and more targeted scientific advice”,
which is essential.
It was recently put to me, and it now seems obvious, that fish do not know national borders and do not swim around with national flags tattooed on them, so we should not become protective of our stocks to the exclusion of co-operation.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has called this period a crucial one for the Scottish fishing industry. Scottish Labour agrees with the Scottish Government on the need to reform the process and we welcome the Government’s change of heart on the issue of remaining part of a collective arrangement. In the main, we also agree on what form the reform should take. We call on the Government to work with the UK Government in all possible ways to ensure that the possibility of real and lasting reform becomes a reality. We wish the cabinet secretary well at the council in the near future.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I call Richard Lochhead to wind up the debate. Cabinet secretary, you have until 11.40.
- Richard Lochhead:
Scotland and this Parliament must speak with one voice on an issue of such importance to our nation. Alan Coghill, the SFF president, and Bertie Armstrong, the federation’s chief executive, are sitting in the gallery this morning and I hope that they and their members have been impressed by many of the speeches that have been made. Our common cause is to protect the future of fishing communities, an industry that is very important to Scotland and, of course, our precious marine environment.
This issue is of importance not only to Scotland and Europe, but globally. For many centuries, fisheries have provided a vital source of protein and income to people from every part of the world and they now contribute an annual $274 billion to the global economy; in fact, the figure is even higher if we factor in boat building, fish processing and so on.
Nevertheless, we face major challenges. For a start, the world’s increasing population is making even greater demands on seafood consumption. In 2008, more than 3 billion people across the world consumed 115 million tonnes of fish, an all-time high that equates to nearly 17kg per person. However, we are also struggling with what is in many parts of the world a declining and somewhat endangered resource. Indeed, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around a third of global fisheries are suffering the ill effects of overfishing or bad management. If we add to that climate change, ocean acidification, marine pollution and that ever-increasing population, the size of some of these enormous challenges appears quite daunting.
As a result, there is a huge obligation on Parliaments in Scotland and throughout Europe to get their own house in order and the current attempt to reform the CFP offers a major opportunity in that regard. As I have said, we are talking about a variety of factors that are of importance to Scotland, from the seafood sector, which contributes so much to our economy, to our marine environment. I agree with Claire Baker, who I think was the first to point this out, that we must not allow the lawyers in Europe or anyone else to bamboozle ministers and Governments with legal speak and potential obstacles to achieving real change. What will matter over the important weeks and months ahead will be political will and what is right for Europe’s fishing communities.
Of course, next Tuesday will not be the end of the story by any means—indeed, it will barely be the beginning of it—but Europe’s ministers will have the opportunity to sit round the table and outline a general approach to the important issues that we have been discussing this morning. For the first time, we will have to go through the co-decision process, a major policy move in its own right, and we are heavily engaged with Scottish MEPs and others in the European Parliament who will now have a major role in reaching the endpoint that we all want. I have met the chairs of the two European committees to which Rob Gibson referred and which are playing a major role in the negotiations. A lot of water has still to flow under the bridge, but Tuesday is a very important staging point and I hope that Europe’s ministers will sign up to the outline approach.
The debate has been dominated by the issue of regionalisation and bringing more decision making closer to home to regional bodies—and, I would argue, member states. I was slightly disappointed by comments attacking the concept of nationalising the CFP and should point out that the European Commission, the European presidency and other member states have a degree of sympathy with the idea of passing powers back to member states, not just regional bodies. For a long time now, this Government and Scotland’s fishing industry have argued for such an approach, and I think that we have to grasp the opportunity. Decision making should come back to regional bodies but we also want member states to have real and genuine powers in that respect to ensure not only that Scotland can enjoy them when it becomes a member state but that, in the current devolved set-up, this Government and Parliament have more decision-making powers and can work in partnership with our fishing communities.
- Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD):
I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for taking my intervention and for acknowledging the presence in the gallery of my constituent Alan Coghill, who was looking a bit left out at being omitted from the cabinet secretary’s earlier namecheck.
With regard to the regionalisation model, there has been much talk of working hand in glove with fishermen. Instead of simply gathering fishermen together and informing them of how things are going to be, is the cabinet secretary content with the extent to which he and his officials are genuinely consulting them on measures that are being taken forward?
- Richard Lochhead:
I am content that many people in Europe, including in our fishing industry in Scotland, welcome the fact that the partnership between our fishing communities and the Scottish Government has never been closer. Perhaps if the member’s Administration and previous Administrations in Scotland had followed that example we might be in a better place today.
I think that there is general agreement in the Parliament that if the CFP is limited to Europe’s ministers setting the high-level objectives, all the detail should be brought back to regional and member state level. The Parliament is sending out an important message to the rest of Europe and the European Commission ahead of Tuesday.
A number of specific subjects have been raised, one of which is the concern that exists about our ability to achieve maximum sustainable yield for many of the stocks in Scottish waters. We must persuade Europe not to repeat past mistakes and not to dictate from the top what should be achieved by certain dates when that is unachievable.
Alison Johnstone mentioned that we need to ensure that all our decisions are based on good science. I certainly agree with her on that, and I assure her that that will be the case as we move forward. However, I am unaware of any science that says that the 30-odd stocks that we manage in Scotland and which form part of the mixed North Sea fishery can all reach maximum sustainable yield at the same time in 2015, given the interrelationship that exists between those stocks. I do not want to see past mistakes repeated, whereby Europe puts into law regulations that simply do not make sense and which cannot be achieved but, of course, I agree that a timetable should be in place for achieving MSY for Scotland’s key stocks.
- Jamie McGrigor:
Will the cabinet secretary address the point that I made earlier, which was that although decentralisation was the key recommendation that arose from the debate in the European Parliament on the green paper, there is hardly any reference to it in Ms Damanaki’s new package? It seems that member states will now be allowed to decide on mesh sizes and discards policy, rather than on the wider, day-to-day management policies, which have been so bad for the sector in the past.
- Richard Lochhead:
I am confident that if the ministers take the right decisions next Tuesday and beyond, we will achieve what the member wants us to achieve. One reason why we need to bring back responsibility for some of the decisions to a more local and regional level is so that we can tackle the scandal of discards, to which many members have referred. That issue is of crucial importance to consumers and the public, as well as the scientists and the fishing industry.
There is huge public concern about discards, which we should recognise. However, it is an extremely complex issue, on which we are already being proactive. I pay tribute to the 130 prawn vessels that, in the coming weeks, will adopt highly selective gear for the first time, which could reduce discards in Scottish waters by up to 60 per cent. That is a huge and brave step forward by that sector, and I commend it for taking such responsible action.
Given that we have a complex mixed fishery, we must adopt a stage-by-stage, fishery-by-fishery approach to discards. I agree with those members who said that we cannot simply transfer the problem onshore. That would lead to fish mountains onshore, which would be just as much of a waste as the discarding of fish overboard into the sea. As well as being a complete waste, it would be the wrong way to go and it would be completely impracticable. The best solution is not to remove the fish from the sea in the first place, which is why good progress has been made in Scotland with measures such as the conservation credit scheme and catch quota trials. They represent the way forward. We have shown by example what can be achieved when such decisions are taken closer to home.
Jamie McGrigor quoted something that he said in the past, which led to a few murmurs from other members; I guess that someone has to quote him. Earlier today, he said that it does not matter who sits at the table in Europe. I think that it does matter—it is much more important for a Scottish minister who treats fishing as a priority to sit at the top table in Europe than it is for Tory ministers to do so, given that the Tory party once said that fishing in Scotland was expendable in the interests of wider European negotiations.
I turn to the Labour Party’s record. It is important for Scottish ministers to represent Scotland at important fisheries meetings elsewhere in Europe. I cast my mind back to just before the UK general election in 2010, when the Scottish Government offered to send a minister to attend a key meeting of fisheries ministers in Vigo in Spain, because the UK fisheries minister could not make it. The Labour Party said no and decided to send an unelected peer who was responsible for bees in the UK Government instead of the Scottish minister. I think that Scotland’s fishing communities would have much preferred it if Scotland’s minister had attended that meeting.
Claudia Beamish rose—
- Richard Lochhead:
I was given 13 minutes, but I see that the Deputy Presiding Officer is now hinting that I should draw to a close. We are paying close attention to many other issues such as aquaculture, the common market organisation and the European maritime and fisheries fund, on which we will represent Scotland’s interests.
Lewis Macdonald mentioned that we have been debating the damaging impact on Scotland and Scotland’s fishing communities of disastrous fishing policies from Brussels since 1999. Here in 2012, we are on the cusp of achieving radical reform that will bring back decision-making power to Scotland and the member states and will allow them to work together on regional fisheries. That will be much better for Scotland’s fishing communities and for the future of our proud industry in this country. I hope that we all support the motion and the amendments.
- Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP):
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Earlier in the debate, members were told to be here for the closing speeches. That is, quite rightly, the rule of the Presiding Officer. I seek your guidance. Does the same rule apply to Liam McArthur, who came in only 25 minutes ago and intervened in the summing up? Does the rule pertain to Tavish Scott, who came in at the very beginning, asked a question and did not return? [Interruption.]
- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
The member has raised a point of order. Let me respond. The same rules apply to all members.