I am pleased to close the debate for Labour. Scotland is a coastal nation. We have more than 6,000 miles of coastline, and the majority of MSPs represent coastal areas. I remember learning at school that Fife is a peninsula in the shape of a terrier’s head that traces a coastline that is rich in history.
With more than 100 miles of coastline, Fife’s history as a leisure, industrial, maritime, trading and fishing region has been shaped by its coastline. King James IV of Scotland described Fife as a
“a beggar’s mantle fringed wi gould”.
The gold fringe is the coast and its chain of little ports with their thriving fishing fleets and rich trading links.
With industrialisation, the focus of Fife’s economy turned increasingly away from the coast and towards coal mining. However, the coast is again a vital part of the economy, and the expansion of leisure opportunities, offshore renewables and the developments at Rosyth port are all examples of how we see competing interests and opportunities along our coastline.
The motion talks about the cultural contribution. Fife is lucky to have the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, and Roderick Campbell gave a fair analysis of the challenges that the inshore sector of the east neuk faces. Other more remote communities have inshore fisheries that play a much bigger part in their economies. Much of Scotland’s inshore fleet of smaller boats exclusively employs local residents, which should build in a great incentive not to overexploit the resource. The income that they generate is retained locally to the benefit of many fragile rural communities. Those fisheries, particularly the creeling and diving fisheries, can be entirely compatible with other income streams including marine tourism, which brings positive diversity to the area’s economic opportunities.
Inshore fishing’s importance to our coastal communities, particularly in the context of employment, is evident. I was pleased to hear members talk about successes in Eyemouth and Arbroath. Some of Scotland’s most vulnerable towns and villages are on the coast; we must work together to deliver a strong and sustainable future for them. Inshore fishing and its benefits are vital for many areas. Members talked about the importance of the onshore sector—the processing sector—and the employment that it provides in many communities.
The inshore sector brings in upwards of £80 million to the Scottish economy—much of it in exports. How can we ensure that our coastal communities see more benefits from the revenue that has been generated on their doorstep?
Inshore fishing can be a volatile industry. Jayne Baxter talked about the challenges that face the industry in our region, in particular around the east neuk, and noted the fluctuation in the value of landings. The overall quayside value of sea fish and shellfish decreased by 8 per cent in 2013. Bertie Armstrong has talked about the difficulties that that has presented for the fishing sector. The Scottish Government has announced a hardship fund and a fund that aims to support the creel industry, which I very much welcome.
As the cabinet secretary said, we need to consider how we provide a legacy for the sector and opportunities for young skippers who come into the sector. We should ensure that the industry can be sustainable, by implementing a strategy that looks to the industry’s longer-term future, in not just financial but environmental terms. Elaine Murray’s description of cockle fishing in the Solway Firth showed how challenging that can be. She talked about the difficulty of enforcement, which Scottish Environment LINK mentioned in its briefing for this debate. How can licensing and service restrictions be enforced?
We need a long-term vision and plan. Our inshore marine environment is complex and remains poorly understood. The notes from the 2013 conference demonstrate that data collection is a big issue. How can we ensure that we have robust data and scientific evidence on which to base our decisions?
In the short term, what we must deliver is clear; we need a marine plan and an ecologically coherent network of well-managed marine protected areas by 2016. We then need responsive, collaborative management, which balances the needs of different sectors. Progress in that regard will help to address tensions. I remember the members’ business debate on the proposed special area of conservation designation for the Sound of Barra, which took place when the minister was fairly new in his post. In that case, the community was fearful of the risk to their fishing opportunities that the designation might present.
There is also increasing interest from the offshore sector in using our harbours. We need to ensure that we have a robust management system that facilitates constructive work with all interests.
Rhoda Grant talked about the need for strengthened local management in the interests of conservation. We should ensure that inshore fisheries groups that represent the fishing communities are empowered and given the tools that they need if they are to manage and conserve fishing for the good of their local economies.
Scotland takes the lead on many environmental issues. We fish in challenging mixed fisheries, and we have taken measures to improve the health of our seas and to deliver a more sustainable fishery. It can be argued that we have taken the lead in Europe on such issues.
However, Scottish Environment LINK expressed concern about unsustainable practices in inshore fishing, such as non-target bycatch, sea-bed habitat damage and overfishing. LINK acknowledged the measures that fishermen have taken to start to address such issues, but expressed concern about the IFGs’ high-level management plans, which it says
“focus largely on conserving the stock levels of target species”,
rather than on meeting a more high-level environmental objective. LINK says that the plans
“therefore fail to address wider ecosystem concerns.”
We must strike the right balance between profitability and sustainability. Long-term profits might look inviting to many fishermen, some of whom struggle from season to season, and to coastal communities, but long-term sustainability and, especially, healthy fishing stocks can provide for sustained revenues that would ensure that in the future communities not just survive but thrive.
Scotland has an excellent international reputation for our seafood, which is exported all over the world. Last week, I visited Macrae Edinburgh Ltd in Livingston, which produces fish and seafood exclusively for the domestic market, with a focus on smoked salmon. In Scotland, we produce high-quality sustainable and traceable produce with a focus on consumer confidence. However, in that meeting, I was struck by the focus on occasion or party food; seafood and shellfish are not an everyday meal for us, which is very different from how people eat on the continent. We need to do all that we can to promote seafood.
Last year, I took part in Sainsbury’s switch the fish campaign, which encouraged people to eat Scottish mussels rather than prawns, and I follow @fishisthedish Twitter recipes, which encourage consumption and try to change consumer behaviour. We need more marketing initiatives. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s confirmation of the increased support for Seafood Scotland.
So, opportunity exists; we can see the demand from around the world for Scottish produce. It is only right that we take advantage of that, but we need to ensure that we sustain a domestic market. We are increasingly seeing imported tropical prawns and Canadian lobsters. We have quality produce here, and we need to do more to promote locally sourced seafood. Rob Gibson made good points on that subject.
I could see no report yet from this year’s seafood conference, but from last year’s report it appears that there was a big debate about certification. Certification was recognised as an indication of good management and sustainability, but it was not considered to have shown increased financial returns for fishermen and was viewed as being costly and overonerous. Can the cabinet secretary give an update on discussions with the Marine Stewardship Council on that issue ?
In its briefing for the debate, SIFT raised important concerns about the contrast between Scotland and England. In October, it said:
“There is little doubt that the management and compliance monitoring of Scotland’s inshore waters is being starved of resources and falls far behind the situation in England. In essence Scotland is trying to manage inshore fisheries that cover almost twice the length of England’s coast with less than 25% of the budget.”
England, of course, does not have the same deep-sea fishing sector that Scotland has, and its focus may lie elsewhere. We can also perhaps see that it has a different emphasis in the UK fisheries minister’s decision to redistribute some fishing quota away from the major operators in favour of the smaller-scale fishermen. SIFT described that move as signifying
“a shift towards recognising the importance of the small boat inshore fleet”
“that the fishery is a public resource that should be managed for the benefit of the many, rather than”
There is a legitimate call to have that principle demonstrated more clearly in Scotland in the management of inshore waters. We need to be clearer about how we will demonstrate that.
I support Alison Johnstone’s comments about the strategy; I, too, had difficulty in finding a strategy beyond the press release, which gave high-level objectives. There needs to be more detail for Parliament.
The debate has been interesting, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will respond to the comments that have been made by many members.