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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 November 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, International Year of Plant Health 2020, Fisheries Negotiations, Committee Announcement (Education and Skills Committee), Business Motion, Decision Time, Road Safety Week 2019


Fisheries Negotiations

The next item of business is a debate on S5M-19922, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.


I very much welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s approach to this year’s fisheries negotiations. I look forward to hearing the views of all members, particularly those who represent fishing communities. I hope that all members will recognise the importance to the fundamentals of our negotiating position of sending a strong message of united support from this debate.

I will highlight key developments in the past year. We all know the risks and challenges of fishing. I pay tribute to all our fishermen and their families for their resilience and their bravery. The number of accidents and lives lost at sea is simply unacceptable, so in May, I founded the Scottish fishing safety group. That forum involves Government officials and industry working together to explore all the issues and make fishing safer for everyone working in the industry. I have already agreed to invest £855,000 in fisheries safety and diversification.

I also want to highlight the activity to modernise inshore fisheries. Since 2014, we have invested £4.4 million in inshore research and development, diversification and vessel health and safety. We have also acted to enhance our compliance capacity in key inshore waters.

Through the European maritime and fisheries fund, we have supported harbour works, ice plants and marketing initiatives that benefit the inshore fleet. This year, we have committed a further £1.5 million to drive forward implementation of a two-year project on vessel tracking and monitoring technology. Contracts for that will be awarded before the end of the year.

It would be helpful to know whether that will include all vessels, which was an issue that was debated in Parliament earlier this year. Perhaps small vessels that collect lobster pots, or whatever, will have exemptions. Scottish Labour expressed concern about that matter at that time.

The aim is to extend the technology throughout the inshore fleet, starting with the scallop vessels. There are two framework contracts, which are expected to be signed by the end of this year. It is hoped that the installation of remote electronic monitoring technology in those scallop dredgers that are not currently fitted with the equipment—some already have it—can proceed in the spring. That will be a major step forward. I know that Claudia Beamish takes an interest in the issue, and I can give her further details of that in due course.

Statistics for 2018 show an industry that is in generally good health. Although the volume of landings decreased slightly, their value was up at £574 million, with the largest increase in both volume and value of landings coming from demersal species. There has been an increase in the number of vessels in the Scottish fleet—largely due to growth in the 10m-and-under fleet—as well as a welcome increase in the number of people who work on fishing vessels. That provides an important reminder that a lot of jobs and livelihoods depend on the outcome of these annual negotiations. Put simply, we have a lot to lose.

I will summarise where we are in this year’s negotiations. The scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has been published for all stocks, and there is no doubt that it is an extremely challenging picture for some of our key white-fish stocks. Reductions are advised for whiting, saithe and hake, and, on the west coast, zero-catch advice remains in place for cod and whiting. There is some good news in the form of advised increases for haddock and nephrops. The standout white-fish advice for North Sea cod recommends a 61 per cent reduction in catches in 2020, which poses an immediate and severe choke risk under the landing obligation. There has been more positive news for the pelagic stocks, with advised increases for mackerel, blue whiting and North Sea herring in 2020.

The cabinet secretary clearly has all the numbers at his fingertips, and vast expertise and experience. Would it be sensible for the Scottish minister to lead on behalf of the United Kingdom on this vital interest? Although I have said that before, in the present circumstances—where there is a lacuna at the UK Government level—it would be particularly timely, would it not?

I do not know whether Stewart Stevenson is perhaps being overly kind. However, I have been part of the annual negotiations for the past three years; this will be my fourth year. I have developed a workmanlike relationship with the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, as well as with UK officials, and I see at first hand the collaborative approach that is being taken with negotiations.

At this point, there is no certainty about who will form the next UK Government. We do not know—nor do the officials know—who the UK minister will be. George Eustice, whom I mentioned, is respected, but we simply do not know whether he will be around. There is uncertainty on that matter, and so it would make sense for Scotland to lead this year’s negotiations on behalf of the UK. I hope that the UK Government might agree on such a sensible and pragmatic approach, which would, I believe, benefit the whole of the UK. In that spirit, I will write to the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Theresa Villiers, offering to do so.

I was talking about the severe choke risk under the landing obligation resultant from the advice regarding a 61 per cent reduction in cod catches in 2020, and about how there has been more positive news for pelagic stocks, with advised increases for mackerel, blue whiting and North Sea herring in 2020. However, the final quotas that are agreed for next year may not directly translate from the advice. The negotiations themselves are where the final quotas will be set. Those negotiations are under way, and have resulted in a number of positive outcomes.

First, the coastal states pelagic negotiations took place in October, and agreement was reached on fishing levels in 2020 for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, or ASH, which directly followed scientific advice. That is welcome, particularly after last year’s drawn-out and difficult negotiations.

For mackerel, which is Scotland’s single most valuable stock, that equates to a 41 per cent increase on the agreed limits for last year, which could deliver a potential benefit to Scotland of around £175 million, particularly if we can increase the volume of landings.

However, parties were again unable to agree comprehensive sharing arrangements for those stocks, meaning that fishing is likely to go beyond the agreed limits again in 2020. That is neither sustainable nor acceptable.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the project developed by my constituents, Grant Fulton and Angus Campbell, which tracks Atlantic bluefin tuna off the coast of the Western Isles. What opportunities does the cabinet secretary see for developing the highly lucrative commercial fishing of this species, which could benefit my constituency in the future?

I discussed that with members of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association on Friday 8 November in Tarbert. I want to support the wellbeing, diversity and positive development of our coastal communities, including those in Dr Allan’s constituency.

A bluefin tuna tagging programme is under way and I am delighted that it has been awarded an EMFF grant through the Western Isles fisheries local action group. The Government intends not only to support a tagging programme but to seek a small quota that is primarily designed for sport and recreational fishing activities.

Going back to the negotiations, the annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission took place last week in London. There, agreement was reached on a number of proposals that aim to ensure conservation and optimum utilisation of fisheries resource in the international waters of the NEAFC regulatory area. This year, a significant achievement was the tabling of the European Union’s proposal to introduce a cap on all parties that fish mackerel in international waters. That was one of my key objectives, and it was a move led by Scotland because, in the absence of full-party agreements for pelagic stocks, uncontrolled fishing in international waters is the biggest risk of unsustainable fishing. Although it was not adopted this year, I regard the tabling of such a proposal as an extremely positive step, and one that I hope and intend for us to work with other parties to enact in future, in the interests of having sustainable fisheries.

This year’s EU-Norway negotiations are under way in London as I speak, and a second round is scheduled to take place in Norway at the beginning of December. On the setting of total allowable catches for jointly managed stocks, Scottish officials are working tirelessly with colleagues across the EU and Norway to establish the necessary multinational response to deal with the very difficult scientific advice that is involved. I am especially encouraged that both the industry and the non-governmental organisations have indicated their support for our negotiating strategy for our overall objectives for those negotiations. In particular, that applies to the two-stage approach to the challenging North Sea cod situation. Not that many years ago, such a united position between the industry and the NGOs could not have been achieved; much credit is due to all who have been involved and who have agreed to set aside their differences to put forward a common front.

We also have a number of quota exchanges with Norway. Again, our priority is to secure a fair and balanced exchange of fishing opportunities that does not disadvantage our own vessels while mitigating choke risks.

I turn to the EU-Faroe Islands consultations, which are scheduled to take place on 9 and 10 December. Agreement in that forum allows quota and access opportunities to Faroese waters for our white-fish fleet. My aim is to ensure a balanced outcome for Scotland, with all elements of the agreement truly on the negotiating table, and any arrangements for 2020 delivering a fair and proportionate outcome for all sectors.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD) rose—

I will certainly give way.

No—the cabinet secretary is in his last minute.

I can allow you a little extra time for the interventions that you have taken, cabinet secretary.

May I not intervene?

No, I am sorry—not this time.

I ask all members to bear in mind the fact that we are rather short of time.

Perhaps I could respond to Ms Wishart in my closing remarks.

The EU fisheries council meeting in December will bring negotiations to a conclusion. I will cut the detail on that, if I may, Presiding Officer, except to say that a tough job lies ahead of us. I am conscious that conducting those negotiations against the backdrop of the UK general election does not make things any easier than they already are.

I look forward to listening to the debate. I hope that it is a constructive, rational, positive, evidence-based, forward-looking, forensic, helpful and courteous debate—and I hope that my hopes are not too highly set.

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges the conclusion of coastal state negotiations, the ongoing bilateral negotiation with Norway on shared stocks in the North Sea, and the forthcoming annual fisheries negotiations in the Faroe Islands and Brussels; notes that 2019 saw the full implementation of the landing obligation for whitefish stocks and that the outcome of negotiations will be pivotal in helping Scotland’s fishing fleet to reduce the potential impacts of choke species in mixed fisheries; is concerned that failure to explore and adopt all available solutions in this regard, coupled with challenging scientific advice, could potentially tie the fleet up; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to respect stock sustainability in relation to next year’s quotas, and supports its efforts to achieve the best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishermen, the wider seafood sector and coastal communities.

Thank you for concluding so quickly, cabinet secretary. It might be useful for members to know that we are short of time in this debate. I hope that the cabinet secretary can address points in closing. Brevity would be appreciated.


I hope to be courteous throughout this debate.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to continue to work with the fishing industry this year, and I am pleased to speak on the industry’s behalf in this important debate and to open the debate for the Scottish Conservatives.

It is great to see Peterhead port going from strength to strength, following the opening of the new market. Fish landings topped £200 million for the first time ever last year, and Peterhead continues to consolidate its position as the largest whitefish market in Europe.

It is also hugely encouraging that landings by Scottish vessels increased in worth last year, with a gross value of £574 million, and it is good to see an increase of 24 vessels since last year, due to growth in the fleet of vessels of 10m and under.

The number of fishers who are working on vessels has also increased: it is up 1 per cent on the previous year. However, work must continue to be done to encourage newcomers to the profession.

There will undoubtedly be difficult negotiations on quota, especially cod quota, this year, but the quota for pelagic fish looks healthy and there is a big rise in the mackerel quota for next year. There is mixed news on that front.

The news that landings are up in the industry as a whole is welcome, but it cannot be said that there are such encouraging signs in the seafood processing industry. My region has the largest share of Scotland’s processing sector, providing more than 4,000 jobs, and it is worrying to note that the number of processing sites in the north-east decreased by almost 25 per cent between 2010 and 2018. As I have said in the chamber in the past couple of years, the north-east is losing business and jobs to Humberside, where fish processing is growing. I strongly encourage the Scottish Government to support the processors by reducing business rates and water and effluent charges.

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

If it is brief.

Is the member aware of the research from Seafish that shows that the rateable value per square metre in Peterhead and Fraserburgh is almost identical to that in Humberside?

I am indeed aware of that, but the situation in Aberdeen is completely different: business rates there are almost double. If fish processing businesses were relieved of such high rates, they could reverse the current decline and create more jobs around the country, especially in Aberdeen city.

As Jimmy Buchan, the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said, we have rich resources in our seas and a modern fleet of fishing vessels, with highly skilled skippers and crews; now we need to match that onshore in well-thought-through business initiatives that will encourage business and our youth to build this industry up for the long-term benefit of the communities in which it operates. Jimmy Buchan went on to say that high operational costs, squeezed margins, limited funding, access to raw material, political uncertainty in the current climate and uncertainty over a further Scottish independence referendum are all business risks that restrict investments and growth.

The seas around Scotland contain some of the most productive, valuable and diverse fisheries to be found anywhere in the world. The opportunity to claim the exclusive economic zone out to 200 nautical miles will allow Scotland to take back control of this rich resource and ensure that our fishermen can increase their catch and share of our fine fish.

Surely not even the Scottish National Party can argue that it is fair that 60 per cent of the fish in our waters are caught by foreign boats.

The route to securing a larger proportion of the fish that are found in Scotland’s waters is, of course, the UK becoming an independent coastal state when it leaves the EU. That would allow the UK to control access to its waters and to its fishing opportunities, enabling the UK to decide who catches what, where and when in UK waters.

The withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated by the current Prime Minister with the EU does nothing to take back control of our waters. If Mr Chapman disagrees, can he read the extract from the agreement where that is agreed to? Given that that does not exist, does he not agree that Boris Johnson has simply kicked the can down the road, and that any negotiation that has not been carried out now may never be carried out, and will be fiercely resisted by the EU under any circumstance?

It is absolutely astonishing to hear our SNP cabinet secretary come out with such nonsense. We are the party that will take the UK out of the EU and take fishermen out of the common fisheries policy, and his is the party that would take us straight back in. The SNP has nothing to say to our fishing communities in the north-east.

We should be in no doubt that the SNP’s stated objective is to stop Brexit, rejoin the EU as quickly as possible and take us straight back into the CFP. The message to our fishermen is clear. The SNP will do everything that it possibly can to keep them in the hated CFP, with no chance of taking control of our EEZ, no chance of redressing the balance when we catch only 40 per cent of the fish that are caught in our waters, no chance of coming up with solutions to the landing obligation and no chance of growing the prosperity in our rural communities.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not. I do not have time.

The Scottish Government’s own report, which was published in 2018, showed that leaving the CFP has the potential to double the raw material that is caught by the industry in Scotland and could result in an increase of £500 million to the economy and the creation of 5,000 jobs. On this side of the chamber, we fully realise that Brexit provides a great opportunity to the fishing industry through our leaving the CFP. Leaving it behind will improve sustainability by allowing us to move from a system that is based on historical fishing activity to zonal attachment—a modern, evidence-based method of allocating shares according to where the fish stocks are located now, and not a method that is based on the fishing practices of 30 or 40 years ago.

The critical path to securing those economic benefits is for the UK to become a sovereign coastal state and regain full control over its waters. We must do that by December 2020 to allow us to take our place at the table at next year’s talks on fishing opportunities for 2021. That will allow the UK and Scottish Governments to determine who gets to catch what, where and when in our waters.

Will you close, please?

I will. Access by the EU fleet to our waters will no longer be an automatic right, as it is under the CFP, but will be subject to annual negotiations, as is the case between the EU and countries that are not bound by the CFP, such as Norway.

Can I just finish, Presiding Officer—

I thought that you had, Mr Chapman.

Oh. You think that I have finished.

Yes, I think that you have. [Laughter.]

I had not quite finished, but I will bow to your greater knowledge and finish there. Thank you.

I move amendment S5M-19922.2, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the opportunities that leaving the EU and Common Fisheries Policy presents for the Scottish fishing industry.”

We are short of time and I am already at the point of having to curtail back-bench contributions.

I call Colin Smyth to speak to and move amendment S5M-19922.3. You have six minutes, Mr Smyth.


Brexit is not the focus of this debate but, as we have heard, the forthcoming annual fisheries negotiations will take place with that issue casting a shadow over them, so I will touch on it first. Whether we believe that the sector will be better served by our being in or out of the EU, no one could disagree that the way that the Brexit negotiations have been handled over the past three years has given little certainty to our fishing communities and the wider sector. If we leave the EU, we do not know on what terms we will do so, and the prospect of a devastating no-deal Brexit still hangs over us.

To be frank, the claims that we will “get Brexit done” by agreeing to the withdrawal agreement that is on the table from the Prime Minister are just not credible. This is simply the start of the process. We do not know what trade deals will be negotiated in the future or what compromises will be made.

It is also important to reflect on the fact that the impact of Brexit on the fishing sector does not relate only to quotas and catches; there are wider implications throughout the supply chain. Currently, more than 4,500 EU citizens work in the Scottish fishing industry, with EU citizens making up 58 per cent of the fish processing labour force. The end of freedom of movement will have a potentially devastating impact on the processing sector, which is already under pressure, as Peter Chapman highlighted.

Likewise, leaving the single market poses a threat to the sale of Scottish fish. In 2016, the UK exported £1.6 billion of fish and fish preparations, 71 per cent of which went to EU countries. Any new tariffs or delays that are caused by increased border checks will have a profound impact on trading, particularly that of perishable products such as seafood. We cannot ignore those wider implications when discussing the impact of Brexit on the sector and on the communities that rely on it.

The short-term challenge that we face and the topic for today’s debate is the current round of quota negotiations. Our starting point is the scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. The proposed uplifts that it recommends in total allowable catch for northern haddock, plaice and mackerel will be welcomed by the sector. However, as the cabinet secretary said, there are challenges in the advice, particularly in relation to the proposed reduction in the total allowable catch for North Sea cod.

The industry has raised concerns about the high risk of cod becoming a choke species, which will impact on the industry’s ability to catch other species, so the reference in the Scottish Government’s motion to work with the sector to try to find solutions to that issue is important. Interventions that are made to address the issue of choke species in mixed fisheries must be carefully targeted and well thought through. If any additional quotas are secured for that purpose, it is critical that they are used for that purpose.

In the negotiations in the weeks ahead, prioritising sustainability will not only be the right thing to do from an environmental perspective; it will be crucial to the long-term viability of the industry. The fishing sector provides thousands of jobs, often in some of Scotland’s most fragile rural communities, and it generates more than £300 million a year in gross value added, while the processing sector contributes more than that again. If fish stocks are not managed responsibly, those jobs and that income will be at risk.

Whether we are in or out of the common fisheries policy, we need to ensure that decisions on quotas deliver sustainability and are grounded in robust scientific evidence. There is no doubt that fish stocks and the industry would benefit from a more accurate and reliable scientific evidence base. For example, last year, it looked as though only 318,000 tonnes of mackerel would be allowed, based on the scientific advice, but that figure rose to 770,000 tonnes this summer and concluded at 920,000 tonnes. Had the cuts taken place, following the advice that was given at the time, that could well have damaged the industry—arguably, unnecessarily. It is critical that we are led by scientific evidence but, for that to work, there must be shared confidence in the science behind any recommendations. That will be key in determining a way forward when it comes to cod quotas this year. The Scottish Government’s proposed approach to cod, which has secured consensus from the sector and NGOs, is welcome.

However, when we come to quota distribution further down the line, the social importance of the sector must be taken into account, in ensuring that small boats and those rooted in their communities are supported. Quota consolidation remains a major challenge in the sector, and it is a barrier to delivering the full social and economic benefits that can be provided. In some island communities, local authorities have taken their quotas into public hands and have leased them to fishing communities to ensure that they cannot be traded away. Crucially, that also allows them to lease the quotas in a way that meets local needs and achieves the maximum benefits for their areas—for example, by prioritising local fishermen or new entrants.

Beyond catching, we need to consider how to grow the sector more broadly, by developing fish processing capacity and providing a more localised supply chain. There is also a great deal more to be done outwith quota negotiations to prevent overfishing. There has been a failure to invest fully in fisheries science and to develop comprehensive fisheries management plans, and many of the aims of the inshore fisheries strategy are still unfulfilled. Better vessel tracking and monitoring systems, which the Government promised and which were supported by the Parliament in last year’s debate, will be important in addressing illegal activities in Scottish waters. However, progress has been slow and there is a need for appropriate exemptions.

Fishing is a key sector of Scotland’s economy, but it is also at the heart of our coastal communities. In my home region of Dumfries and Galloway, the fishing sector is worth more than £9 million in GVA, while the wider marine sector is worth more than £100 million. The region has a thriving shellfish sector—indeed, it has the UK’s largest scallop port, in Kirkcudbright.

However, the region has also experienced tragic losses at sea, with the loss of crew members on boats such as the Solway Harvester and the Mhari-L. Those tragedies remind us of the incredibly dangerous conditions that our fishermen often face. I therefore place on record my admiration and respect for the bravery of the workers, and I pay tribute to those who have lost their lives at sea.

During and beyond the current quota negotiations, there is a need to strengthen Scotland’s fishing industry and the jobs and growth that it provides, whether we are in or out of the European Union. We must ensure that the sector is managed in a way that maximises its social and economic benefits while protecting its long-term future and preserving Scotland’s marine environment on the basis of sound scientific advice.

Securing the best possible sustainable quotas during those negotiations is essential, but it is only one part of the work that must be done to develop a strong and sustainable fishery sector for future generations.

I move amendment S5M-19922.3, to insert at end:

“recognises the value of the fishing sector and the jobs it provides, often in rural communities; believes that Scotland’s quota allocations must be distributed fairly, with a view to delivering the maximum social benefits; recognises the effect of climate change on the sector and emphasises the need to protect and enhance the sector’s long-term sustainability and Scotland's marine environment; notes the need to support and develop Scotland’s fish processing industry; commends those working in the sector, and recognises the resilience and bravery of Scotland’s fishermen.”


A segment of amendment S5M-19922.1 asks that the Parliament

“recognises Scotland’s commitments under EU legislation to ensure that the marine environment is in good ecological status and that fishing stocks reflect maximum sustainable yield by 2020”.

Article 2 of the common fisheries policy sets out the overarching objective of ensuring that fish stocks are rebuilt to a level that can produce maximum sustainable yield. For the avoidance of doubt, that means that they will be as productive as they can be without being unsustainable in the long term. That objective was to be achieved by 2015, or 2020 at the latest, for all stocks. The point of the objective is not to limit economic activity; it is to allow recovery of collapsed fish stocks, including inshore herring, and to create more productive seas. Ultimately, that is in the best interests of the environment, fishermen, and a country that generates revenues from its seas.

In 2019, and following last year’s debate, EU negotiations set the North Sea cod quota at 25.4 per cent above the level in scientific advice, and set the cod quota on the west coast at 1,735 tonnes, when the advice was for zero. The cabinet secretary said that he specifically negotiated that quota, as well as quota for many other stocks including whiting and herring in the Celtic Sea. That decision has led in part to the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification of the North Sea fishery being revoked, which is in no one’s long-term interests. The Government motion talks about “challenging scientific advice”: maybe the cabinet secretary can firm that up in his summing up.

We heard at the north-east Scotland fisheries development partnership that this year, of the four strands of research, three are not to be relied on. That is a one-off, but it indicates the real difficulties in understanding and responding to the science, which is broadly admitted to be deeply flawed this year.

I do not know that I would admit that any science is “flawed”. However, Stewart Stevenson knows that I am not a scientist, and that people often select information that best suits their needs. What I was trying to say about the overarching principle of article 2 of the CFP is that surely we can all sign up to responding positively when there is scientific evidence, so that fishing has a sustainable future.

The true level of overfishing is likely to be more severe, especially given that the Government has created a bonus uplift quota to account for the fish that fishermen now have to land that they would have discarded before the discard ban. However, the discard ban is not enforced, which means that the total amount of fish stock being killed each year is the original quota, the quota uplift amount, and the discarded fish. That is pushing our fish populations dangerously below sustainable levels.

The recent assessment of progress towards the EU marine framework directive found that the main problem is caused by physical disruption of the sea bed from fishing gear. There are many challenges. Our amendment expresses concern

“that the marine environment is not currently in good ecological status and that ongoing discarding and quota limits in excess of maximum sustainable yield for 2020 may result in continued over-fishing”.

We do not know exactly what the Scottish Government negotiating objectives are, but we understand that it will not accept advice to cut the North Sea cod quota.

I am citing many briefings: I am grateful to the various organisations that have provided them. They are all practitioners, and the role that they play in the deliberations is important.

I do not understand the bonanza. If the people in the fishing industry to whom I speak were wanting a spokesman, they certainly would not, because they want a sustainable future, turn to Peter Chapman, who is their self-appointed spokesperson. Regardless of the complex reasoning on sanctioning overfishing, the only benefits are to big fishing, which argues against science because it makes a big profit. Of course, profit is a factor in any area of business, but profit at the expense of our maritime resource is to be avoided.

Our amendment also asks that Parliament reaffirm

“its call for a robust maritime protection regime, including effective vessel tracking”.

The cabinet secretary has touched on the issue. Open Seas has had many reports of illegal dredging and trawling in marine protected areas since last year’s debate. Those that it feels confident to report on include dredging around the Garvellachs near Oban, in the Sound of Mull, near Ullapool, off Jura and off St Abbs. It is the view of Open Seas that the Government has failed to react properly to those incidents. The illegality near Oban was witnessed and reported three nights in a row without any patrol vessel or aircraft stopping it. Likewise, in the Sound of Mull, a dredger had its publicly viewable vessel tracker switched on.

There are a great number of challenges, and we want a sustainable future, not only for those who are directly involved in fisheries, but for the many jobs onshore that are supported by it.

I move amendment S5M-19922.1, to leave out from “and that the outcome” to “efforts” and insert:

“; recognises Scotland’s commitments under EU legislation to ensure that the marine environment is in good ecological status and that fishing stocks reflect maximum sustainable yield by 2020; is concerned that the marine environment is not currently in good ecological status and that ongoing discarding and quota limits in excess of maximum sustainable yield for 2020 may result in continued over-fishing; reaffirms its call for a robust maritime protection regime, including effective vessel tracking and monitoring technology on all Scottish fishing vessels, and calls on the Scottish Government to take a spatial approach to fisheries management, including extending and improving the Marine Protected Area network and reintroducing the three-mile limit”.


This important annual debate focuses, as it should, on the annual fisheries negotiations with our partners in the European Union to settle the fishing opportunities that will be available to all during 2020.

Of course, there is an added factor in the negotiations because, quite frankly, we do not know whether the people of our United Kingdom will endorse the aim of the current UK Government to leave the European Union, or whether they will reject it. Whatever happens, one thing is sure: the December negotiations will affect us whether we are in or out of the European Union, because even if we leave, we have the transition period that runs to the end of 2020.

As Peter Chapman pointed out, 60 per cent of the fish that are currently caught in the UK’s exclusive economic zone are not caught by the UK fleet, while, according to the briefing from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, more than 90 per cent of the fish that are caught in Norway’s exclusive economic zone are caught by its own fleet.

I note that some people imply that leaving the European Union will be all sweetness and light. We would gain control once again over our own exclusive economic zone, and surely—they say or, certainly, imply—just like Norway, the share of fish that are caught by our own fleet could jump from 60 per cent to 90 per cent overnight. I must gently point out to Peter Chapman in particular that that is a completely unrealistic expectation.

I have never, ever said that that would happen “overnight”, and I have never spoken to a fisherman in the north-east who expects it to happen overnight. Over time, however, it certainly will happen.

Well. There we have it. Peter Chapman says that “Over time” the share will raise to 90 per cent. I just do not believe that. It is not practical—

Why not?

When fishing rights are being addressed—here is why I do not believe what Peter Chapman said—historical fishing opportunities will need to be respected. Even if we wanted to do so—I did not know anyone who seriously believes that we could, although perhaps I do now—we could not ban all foreign vessels from our exclusive economic zone, although Peter Chapman wishes that that were the case.

If the UK actually leaves the European Union on 31 January, Brexit will not be “done”. The hard work of negotiating trade deals with the European Union will just be getting under way. I do not believe for one minute that, having taken more than three years to negotiate the exit terms, we could settle all our trade negotiations, including on fishing, by the end of next year. I include negotiations on fishing as part of our trade negotiations because if we leave, we will have to negotiate all our trade with the European Union. Anyone who says that fishing will somehow be magically excluded is being totally unrealistic.

On that point, does Mr Rumbles share my concern that, in the event of Brexit, the negotiations on fishing would get caught up in those that would concurrently be conducted on trade? Does he share my fear that the result might be that the UK sells out a proper deal on fish in order to get some kind of deal on trade?

I agree with the cabinet secretary, who has hit the nail on the head. I have always been sceptical of the claim that our fishing industry will be much better off as that of an independent state outside the European Union for those reasons. I suspect that—

Will the member give way?

I am sorry. I would certainly give way if I had the time, but I have only two minutes left.

It is clear to me that when we negotiate trade deals, we negotiate trade deals; we cannot say to the European Union, “We want to negotiate everything—oh, except fishing.” That is just not going to happen.

In the short time that I have left, I will focus on our inshore waters. Members will have received a briefing from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation. In contrast to the “sea of opportunity” that we have so often heard that Brexit will offer our fishing industry, the creel fishermen are worried about what Brexit might bring. Three quarters of Scotland’s 2,000 fishing boats are under 10m long. The fishermen have little to gain but much to lose from Brexit. If our trade talks fail and we face a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year, fishermen face the real possibility of their produce going bad in the lorry parks of Dover as the lorries wait for access to our European markets. To them, Brexit is far from being a “sea of opportunity”. I will quote Alistair Sinclair, who is the SCFF’s national co-ordinator. He has said that

“shellfish are now our main target species and we are witnessing signs that before long they too could decline dramatically as has already been witnessed in some areas. We do not need tariffs and lengthy customs barriers as well.”

I could not agree more. That is why we perhaps need an inshore fisheries bill sooner rather than later.

The Liberal Democrats support the Scottish Government’s motion and wish the cabinet secretary well in the annual December negotiations. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that in the run-up to those negotiations, the threat—that is what it is—of Brexit is hanging over them.

We support the Scottish Government’s commitment to respect stock sustainability in next year’s quotas, and we support its efforts to achieve the best possible outcomes for Scotland’s fishermen, the wider sector and all our coastal communities.

We move to the open debate. I will be very strict with timings—members have up to six minutes.


So, here we are again—one year down the line, we are having another debate on the end-year negotiations. However, this year’s debate is a bit different, as we face the UK’s departure from the EU, sort of, on 31 January. Although we could leave with a deal that includes a transitional period, we still face the possible nightmare situation of a no-deal exit.

We know that the European Commission has released its TAC proposals for 2020 for 72 stocks in the North Sea and the north-east Atlantic and, as always, there is good news and bad news. Cuts are proposed for 23 stocks that are important to Scotland’s fishermen, but we know that coastal states have agreed on a 41 per cent rise in the north-east Atlantic TAC for 2020. Agreement has been reached on management measures for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, for all three of which a TAC has been set in accordance with the recommended scientific advice. That is a positive outcome for Scotland—apart, perhaps, from the 11 per cent decrease for Atlanto-Scandian herring.

Unfortunately, however, as I understand it, the Marine Stewardship Council has so far refused to reinstate its eco label for mackerel, which was suspended earlier this year when the stock assessment was drastically reduced. It was then revised significantly upwards, but the MSC said that it would still not reinstate its sustainability eco label because of the absence of a long-term management plan. Despite the MSC’s strange stance on mackerel, the rise in the TAC is still good news for our fishermen.

Although there is good news on mackerel, the news on cod is not so good. There is no doubt that the scientific advice continues to be challenging. In particular, there is a risk of a choke in the North Sea fisheries because of the big cut of 70 per cent that is proposed in the TAC for cod, which is being discussed this week in London at the EU-Norway negotiations on shared stocks, as the cabinet secretary mentioned.

With regard to future fisheries management, we are heading into an unfamiliar situation, with the UK being classed as a third country when it comes to fisheries negotiations with the EU. Perhaps UK officials will find out how Scotland felt in previous years and decades when we were sometimes locked out of negotiations in Brussels and left to sit in anterooms and hang about in corridors while UK ministers with little direct knowledge of the needs of the Scottish industry led on the talks.

We know that, even if we leave with a deal on 31 January, we will continue to operate under EU rules during the implementation period, but only as a consultee. The problem with that is that we would not be able to negotiate anything independently until the implementation period ended. That is far from ideal, and I am sure that it is not what east coast or northern fishermen thought that they were voting for when they voted to leave the EU.

To save the day, it is clear that Scotland needs a seat at the top table for key fisheries negotiations. Allowing Scotland to lead the negotiations on behalf of the UK when the fisheries council begins on 16 December would mean that full preparations can be made away from the post-election turmoil in London. Given that Scotland is the primary fishing nation in the UK, accounting for around two thirds of UK landings, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy should be the obvious choice to lead the UK delegation.

I turn—regretfully—to Brexit and the likely impact on the west coast. The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, to which Mike Rumbles referred, has been consistently warning for years of the risks that a no-deal Brexit poses to small operators. I just hope that all fishermen will not be judged on the misguided decisions and actions of others.

When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee held a round-table meeting a couple of months ago, we heard from Alistair Sinclair of the SCFF. He warned that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, exports of seafood would be held up because of a lack of environmental health officers and vets to provide the paperwork required. He also claimed that live shellfish exports to Europe could be disrupted by demonstrations at the channel from French fishermen who had been denied access to British waters post our withdrawal from the EU.

Those risks still hover in the background, given that a no-deal Brexit is still a possibility. However, a real concern for fishermen, processors and exporters is the issuing of export health certificates. When the cabinet secretary appeared before the REC Committee on 6 November, he suggested that there had been talk of an additional 150,000 or 200,000 export health certificates being required, which would cost between £7 million and £15 million. He advised the committee that the UK Government had been approached to agree to “dynamic alignment”, which would avoid the need for export health certificates.

If the cabinet secretary has time, I would be keen to hear in his summing-up speech whether his counterpart in London, George Eustice, has made any effort to apply to the EU for dynamic alignment, or whether, as I suspect, the fishing industry and seafood exports are being kept as a bargaining chip. As recently as last Sunday, the Tory Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, admitted that EU vessels will keep access to Scottish waters in a Tory Brexit trade deal—so much for Boris Johnson’s long-promised “sea of opportunity” for the Scottish fishing industry.

I believe that the best solution for Scotland is, as I suggested, that our cabinet secretary should be permitted to lead the UK delegation, not just for the December talks but for as long as we remain in the common fisheries policy during the transition period.


I am pleased to speak in the debate at this important time in the fishing industry’s annual calendar. It is always a welcome opportunity for members on all sides of the chamber to put on record our thanks to our brave skippers and fishermen and our industry representatives, who work tirelessly to support the industry in what is a challenging meteorological and political climate.

Inshore vessels of less than 10m in length make up 74 per cent of the Scottish fishing fleet. I represent many coastal communities in my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, where the majority of our fishermen work in the inshore sector. As has been mentioned, Kirkcudbright, in the heart of my constituency, is home to the UK’s largest scallop port, so I am very conscious of the need to protect all our fishing interests.

In 2017, non-UK European fishing boats landed around 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish from the UK’s exclusive economic zone—about eight times more in weight than our own registered vessels landed from the EU EEZ. That equates to a staggering £2.5 billion, which represents a massive potential loss of income to our coastal communities.

With that in mind, it is incredible, when we look back at the SNP’s track record, to see that its members of the European Parliament backed a report calling for the continuation of the CFP, even after Brexit.

Fergus Ewing rose—

I am not taking any interventions.

The Scottish Government admitted that it wishes to hand back powers to Brussels, and SNP minister Maree Todd is quoted in The Shetland Times as saying that being a member of the EU meant

“going along with the CFP”.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I hope that it is a point of order. You know how I feel about specious points of order.

Is it appropriate to miscall the activities of another Parliament—

That is not a point of order. Please sit down. However, it is important for members to treat one another with respect. In this circumstance, please proceed cautiously, Mr Carson.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will go back to what I was saying.

Maree Todd has been quoted in The Shetland Times as saying that being a member of the EU meant

“going along with the CFP”.

Even the SNP’s independence white paper said that an independent Scotland in the EU would be in the common fisheries policy. Make no mistake: if the SNP Government gets its way, it will lock our fishermen into the already intolerable CFP.

All that is in direct contrast to the view of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which wants real change to the current common fisheries policy and sees Brexit as the opportunity to revisit the decision to allow all European vessels to fish between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK. Indeed, many people see leaving the CFP as a chance to redress the situation for the benefit of Scotland’s fishing communities.

I see a real opportunity for change in all our fishing communities, including our inshore fisheries communities, to improve management and work towards a fully transparent and sustainable industry while addressing the need to ensure a healthy and sustainable marine environment.

Only yesterday, I was fortunate enough to visit Shetland to see the commendable and impressive way in which the various stakeholders have worked together on their marine plan to ensure an economically and environmentally sustainable marine environment. There was also acknowledgement of the potential £1 billion increase in landings and the predicted positive impact, which has resulted in sufficient confidence to enable the local authority to fund a new fish market.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s mention of GPS on scallop boats. In the past, I have spoken about the need for new technology on our boats, which could play a part in addressing illegal fishing. Therefore, I am pleased that the UK Government has announced a fisheries technology fund, which should help to transform the industry using research and innovation.

In Shetland, I heard about new satellite and drone technologies that will assist in detecting areas with high nutrient levels, which will help to identify the best locations for mussel farms. That same technology can be used to better predict where the target fish shoals are, which will make a massive difference in relation to discard bans, as we are reaching the limits when it comes to net technology.

Those technologies might result in fewer fishermen on our boats, but that should not result in fewer jobs in our fishing and rural communities. We need to ensure that science and technology jobs are located in rural areas. We have a real opportunity to revitalise our coastal communities while setting the highest standards of marine conservation, which will allow for additional jobs in the industry and an environmental and sustainable future for Scotland.

I wish the cabinet secretary well for next week’s meeting, because it can play a vital role, and not just in ensuring fit-for-purpose quotas; it should also be an opportunity to step up the engagement to deliver the industry’s aspirations for the future.

As deputy convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I believe that it is vital that the Parliament plays its part in delivering for our fishing industry and the communities and businesses that are involved in it. We need a successful outcome for jobs, economic activity and sustainable production in order to enhance our natural environment and deliver for our fishermen and the future of our coastal communities.


My throat might mean that I will sit down early, which I am sure that you will welcome, Presiding Officer.

Just to pick up on the points that Finlay Carson made, I think that his comments are an abuse of parliamentary privilege and I will explain why. We are granted privilege to protect us from the legal consequences of what we say for very particular purposes. The vote that Mr Carson referred to never took place in the form that he set out. The reason why is that the clerks at the European Parliament recorded the SNP votes incorrectly: that was corrected within hours of its being drawn to their attention. Therefore, anyone who asserts otherwise is abusing the privileges of this Parliament.

Having said that, let me congratulate Finlay Carson. I join with him on this, and I shake hands with him across the chamber, having said what I have said: when he refers to our “brave” fishermen, there will be no one in the chamber who disagrees with that. We see that in the Government’s motion, and we have heard that from Colin Smyth. We unite in that.

My very first constituency activity after being elected in 2001 was to attend the Fishermen’s Mission in Peterhead for the presentation of a Royal Humane Society medal to a fisherman. He had been on a vessel off the coast of Greenland in January or February, when there was ice on the superstructure of the fishing vessel, and one of the crew members got swept overboard. This gentleman leapt into the sea, where the survival time was a matter of a few minutes, rescued the other fisherman and brought him back to safety. As my very first activity in my constituency, that reinforced my previous understanding of the risks to which fishermen expose themselves and of the bravery that they are prepared to show. Incidentally, the fisherman who won the award said that he was much more concerned about speaking to the audience who were there to see him receive his medal. I sort of understand that.

Now to the matter in hand and the end-of-year negotiations. Unusually, there are some particular and acknowledged difficulties with the scientific information this year. There is also a long-run problem with some of the baselines for the scientific information, which I think that it is time for the scientists to do something about. They acknowledge the difficulties. The science is not an exact one—let us not pretend that it is—but, this year, we are hearing of particular problems.

It is a great delight that Fergus Ewing has such a high regard for George Eustice, his opposite number in the UK Government, but I hope that in the aftermath of the election we will see Fergus Ewing taking the lead if George Eustice is not available—or, more to the point, if he cannot get any guidance from the new UK Government.

Where are we in the whole thing? Conservative colleagues are focusing on but one aspect of the industry—that of the catchers. I led a members’ business debate on the sea of opportunity campaign, and I welcome the sea of opportunity for our catchers. However, that cannot be disconnected from the seafood sector and the need for wider coastal communities to benefit, should it be the case that more fish can be caught by our fishermen—and, fundamentally, landed in Scotland to be processed.

Leaving the customs union and the single market presents immense challenges for the processing sector, however. That sector does not just involve the big processors in my constituency; there are also the wee smokehouses on the west coast, which are a vital part of very small communities there. Like my constituents, people there might employ one or two EU workers, who are vital to making that local enterprise work. We are already seeing that workers are not so willing to come to the north-east and elsewhere in Scotland as they once were, partly because of the devaluation of the pound but also because of the hostile immigration environment that is promulgated and operated by the UK Tory Government.

The notion of thousands of new jobs in processing is utterly fictional, at a time when we have record vacancies in the industry in the north-east. If the industry cannot process, we have to have the same rights and privileges that our friends and colleagues across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland are being given: they are allowed to stay in the single market and the customs union—so our competitors and our rivals are potentially undermining our industry.

I end with a word about how well prepared the Tory Government is for this sea of opportunity and everything that goes with it. Two days before the end of October, the UK Government still could not tell fish processors what labels to print to put on the side of fish exports. That tells us something about the shambles of this Tory Government’s approach to fishing.


In this year’s negotiations, I encourage the Scottish Government to seek the best arrangement for our coastal communities with respect to the pillars of science and sustainability.

The coming year is a significant one for our seas, as we celebrate the year of coasts and waters and a decade since the passing of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. It will also be a testing year, with deadlines for sustainability and environmental status levels, and it may be the year that we exit the EU—although I will be campaigning, along with Scottish Labour colleagues, to remain, and I hope that that will be in relation to a referendum that will be held under a Labour Government. The philosophy of protection and enhancement of our natural marine environment should be at the forefront of this Government’s approach more than ever, as the ally of a strong and resilient fishing industry.

In the context of the “State of Nature 2019” report, threats to biodiversity and the climate emergency, I am pleased to speak in this debate and to approach it from the perspective of my brief. I firmly believe that sustainable fishing makes for a sustainable industry, which makes for sustainable communities.

I commend those who work in the fishing industry for their resilience in these turbulent times, and pay respect to them for the dangers that they face every time they set sail. Coastal communities can be fragile economies that depend very much on these negotiations and Scottish Government direction, and they must be given the certainty of science and the tools to fish in a way that is appropriate to their local marine environments. In that context, I have concerns about Alasdair Allan’s request involving the possible fishing of tuna, a species that is here due to climate change, as I understand it from the science.

The marine environment is precious and a public good, and the intention of the 2010 act was for our stocks to be managed in the public interest and in such a way as to enhance the marine environment as well as to protect it. Our fish stocks are only a renewable source if they are properly managed. The way to sustain communities is to manage ecosystems for productivity. That is the sensible option. Everyone wins with clean, healthy seas. Can the cabinet secretary, in his closing remarks, give us an update on progress towards managing stocks in line with maximum sustainable yield?

Sadly, as we have heard from John Finnie, the issue of illegality has not been resolved. I was disheartened to learn of reports of illegal scallop dredging in St Abbs recently. I thank Open Seas for stating that, in spite of excellent practice by many fishing boats

“it is without doubt that overfishing, ongoing illegal discarding and illegal damage to MPAs only benefits a few for a short period of time and is to the long term detriment of our coastal communities and fisheries. We need Parliament to take this long view and respond to the challenge in our seas.”

Can the cabinet secretary give any reason why Marine Scotland was not able to take action for a full week after the reports at St Abbs were made? Will he also explain why £1.5 million of EU money that was committed in October 2018 to resolving the issue has not been fully spent?

We should, of course, be using any EU funds while they are still available to us—which I hope that they will be in the long term, whatever the result of Brexit. The European maritime and fisheries fund is one such valuable resource. It has offered support for the just transition of the industry and for fragile communities. It has made an impact across our country and has been significant in relation to diversifying coastal economies, improving the quality of life in coastal communities and shifting to more sustainable approaches. In its most recent round, the fund enabled businesses to make improvements to processing and storage, to take on research projects, maximise global and UK-wide market opportunities, tackle seafood waste and more. Reinforcing the community-led approach to the sustainable development of fishing areas is hugely important. The EMFF can open up the industry to the sidelined, empower young people by aiding start-ups or training for the unemployed, progress family businesses by training partners and advise smaller fleets on diversification. Can the cabinet secretary offer any further assurance that that fund will be replicated in its funding and purpose, whatever the Brexit outcome?

I will briefly deal with inshore fisheries, as I have been privately approached by people with serious concerns about the future of that industry, and this annual debate is one of the few opportunities to discuss fishing issues in Parliament.

The Scottish fishing industry must be considered holistically. It would be an immense loss if Scottish low-impact fishermen and communities were to pay the price for any Government focus on the industrialisation of our inshore waters. I urge the cabinet secretary to appraise the possible impacts of Brexit on creel fishermen in inshore waters, to take very seriously the “3 Mile Limit” document that the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation published this week and to consider consulting on that proposals or on other, less broad alternatives. I also ask the cabinet secretary to give an update on the commitment to an inshore fisheries bill, as promised in 2016.

Finally, I wish the cabinet secretary luck with the negotiations.


Although it might sometimes seem that there is a predictable element of pre-Christmas ritual in Europe’s annual December fisheries talks, their consequences for livelihoods around Scotland’s coastline could not be more serious. That is true not least in my constituency.

Some 300 people in the Western Isles are directly employed in fishing, and many others are employed in processing, haulage, markets, boat repairs, restaurants and many other areas of the local economy. The shellfish sector represents a significant slice of the fishing industry on the west coast. It has major markets in France, Spain and Portugal.

Whatever happens between now and the current Brexit deadline of 31 January, access to markets and the ability to transport live shellfish without delays at borders remain uppermost in the minds of most island fishermen.

Andrew Charles, who is co-chair of the Scottish Seafood Association, has warned that Brexit could have a “catastrophic” impact on Scots fishermen, with the sector facing an estimated £34 million a year bill to sell its catch to Europe after Brexit. Likewise, it has been estimated that additional paperwork and charges alone could cost exporters £160 per sale. Exports of fresh seafood would require additional export health certificates, at an estimated cost of at least £15 million a year.

That is before we consider the impact of the loss of the European fisheries fund on Scotland. In addition, there is, of course, no guarantee—indeed, there is not even a clue out there—about what, if any, free trade agreement would be reached with the European Union. The loss of our existing rights to free trade certainly presents the imminent risk of new barriers for key Scottish food exports, such as salmon, langoustines and scallops. That wider context around the annual fisheries talks takes on a new and urgent importance this year, and we cannot ignore that today.

Scotland must get a fair deal in the talks that are under way, and it is clear that the Scottish Government has every interest in reaching a fair deal, in as far as its limited role in some of the negotiations can take it. There is much already to indicate that that is being done, not least in this year’s coastal states and EU-Norway negotiations, which have provided encouraging results in respect of fishing opportunities for pelagic and North Sea white-fish stocks. October’s mackerel consultations resulted in a 41 per cent increase in total allowable catch, in line with scientific evidence.

However, it is impossible to divorce the fishing negotiations from the politics around them, and it is painfully obvious now that the UK Government seems to be unable to bring itself to restate in any specific detail many of the promises of a “sea of opportunity” for Scotland’s fishermen that were made at the time of the Brexit referendum.

With that in mind, I must respectfully differ with Mr Chapman on his assessment, which was that leaving the common fisheries policy, as part of the kind of Brexit that he envisages, would provide a £500 million increase in the economic value of fishing and 5,000 new jobs. I should say that some of those claims have been made not by Mr Chapman but by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.

Those figures are from the Scottish Government—they are the minister’s figures.

My point is that I differ, respectfully, with the SFF’s assessment of the statements by Marine Scotland on that issue, and with the scenario that the SFF anticipates.

In fact, even if an EU-Norway, European Economic Area-type agreement were reached—which the UK Government has consistently refused to countenance—total fisheries output would decrease by up to 7 per cent, with export values lower by 0.9 to 6.6 per cent, depending on the species, due to the effect of tariff and non-tariff barriers, which I mentioned earlier.

It is clear that there is a balance to be struck between increasing total allowable catch shares, or fishing quota, and getting tariff-free trade with the EU. Unlike the UK Government, Scotland has consistently offered a compromise option that would achieve that; however, Scotland’s voice on that and most other matters continues to be ignored by the UK Government.

Meanwhile, the UK Government’s internal operation yellowhammer document on Brexit preparation accepts that, following a no-deal Brexit, European fishing vessels will likely continue to fish—legally or illegally—in Scotland’s waters, anticipating that 100 such vessels might continue to be active. It is clear that both access to waters and access to markets will be the subject of very uncertain negotiation for months, indeed probably years, ahead, with Scotland’s fishing communities, as ever, a bargaining chip, just as they have always been for successive UK Governments.

Our fishing policy should be determined by conservation, science and the needs of the industry. I regret to say, however, that I see little evidence that Westminster has changed its view of Scottish fishermen, which it clearly views as being just as expendable—to use the Tories’ own word from 1970—on the way out of Europe as they were on the way in.

I call Edward Mountain, to be followed by Richard Lyle and then Lewis Macdonald. All of you have agreed to cut your speeches to five minutes, and I thank you for that.


Bearing that in mind, I will cut from my speech my comments about quotas and the way things look for next year.

It is a real pity for our fishing industry that yet another year of negotiations has gone by with the UK unable to negotiate as an independent coastal state. It is clear that Scottish fishermen want nothing more than for the UK to leave the hated common fisheries policy and take its place at the negotiating table. Scottish fishermen know that there is a better deal to be had outside the EU. We should not forget that 60 per cent of fish currently caught in the UK exclusive economic zone are not caught by UK fishing vessels. How can that be fair? It is not.

I take a moment to remind this Government how unfair the common fisheries policy is. On average, EU vessels landed £540 million-worth of fish from UK waters between 2012 and 2016. By comparison, UK vessels landed £110 million-worth of fish from EU waters in the same period. That is not equitable, and we should not allow our fishermen to be short changed. Quotas and access rights will still be a central part of UK fisheries, but the UK will have a duty to get the best deal for our fishermen, and hopefully we will see our fishing industry expand.

John Finnie rose—

Fergus Ewing rose—

I do not know who stood up first, Presiding Officer. I will let you choose.

I am only the arbiter.

We had the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation in recently. Does Mr Mountain feel that the views that he attributes to fishermen include the inshore fishermen, given all the damage that will be done to exports of their quality product if we leave the EU?

I think that inshore fishermen are a special case, and it is deeply disappointing that the Government has scrapped its promise made in 2016 to introduce an inshore fisheries bill in this session.

We have done masses of things to promote inshore fisheries. If a better deal on fishing is to be done, why has it not been done as part of the Brexit negotiations? Does the member not agree that the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister negotiated contains no agreement on fishing whatsoever?

My comment to the cabinet secretary is simple: if he sits back and says that it will all be doom and gloom and that it is never going to happen, it never will happen. Let us make it happen; let us get on with it. That is what we want to do, and that is what my party will push for.

Scottish fishermen look at Norway and see that 90 per cent of the fish caught in the Norwegian exclusive economic zone is caught by the Norwegian fleet. That is what life looks like for an independent coastal state outside the hated common fisheries policy.

When the UK has the power to negotiate its own fishing quotas, we will have the potential to stop the bad deals that are often presented to us by the EU. When the UK sits at the table, it will be able to strike a bilateral deal with Norway on the northern North Sea and a tripartite deal with the EU and Norway on the southern North Sea. I believe that those deals would better serve the interests of Scottish fishermen, and I believe that the Scottish Government knows that, too.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s report and believe the figures in it, which found that leaving the common fisheries policy has the potential to double the amount of fish caught by the industry in Scotland and could result in an increase of £500 million to and an extra 5,000 extra jobs for our fisheries sector .

We also have a duty to ensure that our quotas and access rights reflect sustainable goals, so that the UK fishing industry as a whole can have a secure future for generations to come. We do not need scientists to tell us that fish are not fixated on borders. They are not Scottish, English, Northern Irish or, indeed, Welsh. Therefore, we have to manage across our borders.

It does not make any sense to force Scottish fishing vessels to land all their catch in Scotland. It is better to encourage them to do so by reducing rates and encouraging processing. That is the way that free trade works.

A “sea of opportunity” awaits our fishing industry, and the UK Government is determined—[Interruption.] Mike Rumbles might moan, but that is what fishermen said. If he wants to moan, he can get up and make an intervention.

Mike Rumbles rose—

The member is in his last 30 seconds.

What a shame.

Do not moan then, Mr Rumbles.

Any more attempts to frustrate our exit from the common fisheries policy would be more than an insult to our coastal communities across Scotland. Let us get Brexit done, ditch the common fisheries policy and rebuild our fishing industry.


Scotland needs a seat at the top table for these key fisheries negotiations now more than ever. In fact, allowing our cabinet secretary to lead the negotiations on behalf of the UK would mean that full preparations could be made away from the post-election turmoil in London.

That said, I wish to reflect on some of the salient issues in the debate: namely, that we should follow the best available scientific advice, support a progressive move towards sustainable fishing levels for all stocks, maintain stocks above safe biological limits and in good reproductive health, and protect the socioeconomic wellbeing of our industry and the communities that depend on it.

Scottish sea fisheries are now more sustainable than they were in 2007. That is thanks to the approach of the Scottish National Party Scottish Government and the leadership of our excellent cabinet secretary.

I believe that Boris Johnson’s bad Brexit deal would trade away the long-promised “sea of opportunity” for the Scottish fishing industry. The Brexit deal’s commitment to a separate fisheries agreement as part of the economic partnership would mean that the UK cedes access to UK waters for EU vessels, or accepts tariffs and custom barriers on trade in fish, seafood and farmed salmon with the EU. Once again, the UK will be selling out our fishermen and fisherwomen.

The political declaration is clear. It states:

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

That concession from the UK Government indicates that access and quota shares will, to some degree, be traded away before the annual coastal state negotiations take place. It is clear that the fisheries agreement that is reached in advance of the UK operating as an independent coastal state will include core determined agreements on access and quota shares.

As has been said, Tory Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, admitted that EU vessels will keep access to Scottish waters in a Tory Brexit trade deal. As well as tariffs, which will inevitably increase the cost of exports, seafood businesses will face a range of new non-tariff barriers, such as significantly increased certification requirements and delays at customs due to inspections, which will be devastating to the fish industry.

As a responsible Government, this SNP Scottish Government will do what it can to mitigate the significant risks that will be posed by those potential new trade barriers after Brexit—or, as some would say, breakfast. However, the onus is clearly on the UK Government to finally start to listen to the legitimate concerns of Scottish business, and to take the steps that are necessary to prevent profound economic damage.

In my 43 years of politics, I have known some hypocrites. Whatever they say today, the Tories have been selling out the Scottish fish industry for nearly half a century. Under Ted Heath in the 1970s, the Tories considered fisheries expendable. Under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the UK Government signed us up to the original doomed common fisheries policy, which consigned our fishermen to decades of mismanagement. Then we had John Major’s Tories sign us up to a revised common fisheries policy in the 1990s, which, at its very heart, scrapped vessels and livelihoods.

Will the member take an intervention?

Do not lecture me. No, I will not take an intervention—you did not take some of ours.

In the 21st century, the Tories were attempting to enshrine the common fisheries policy in the European treaties, while the SNP was attempting to return controls to the fishing industry.

To be fair to the Tories, it was not always them. Successive Westminster Governments—under the Tories, Labour, and the Tories and Lib Dems in coalition—have constantly seen Scottish fishing as expendable. When they had the chance to fight Scotland’s corner in Brussels, they actively decided not to bother. For the past 25 years, they did not attend the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, or PECH. Labour and the Lib Dems have not had an MEP on it for more than a decade, and the Scottish Tories have had no representation since 2014, with their sole Scottish MEP only recently gaining a place on the committee. That tells you all that you need to know about who cares about the Scottish fishing sector.

The SNP will continue to demand the scrapping or the fundamental reform of the CFP. Much is at stake, and we will continue to champion the important issues and fight for Scottish fishermen.


As members have said, another year is ending and another fisheries council is approaching. The pattern has not changed much since the first session of this Parliament 20 years ago, when I, and others who are here, were members of the first Rural Affairs Committee in 1999. It has certainly not changed as much as members around the chamber predicted that it would this time last year, or even the year before that. We are, again, approaching what might be the last meeting of the fisheries council that the United Kingdom attends as a member state of the European Union; then again, it might not be. We were allegedly there for the last time on that basis last year.

I am struck by the fact that the Government’s motion does not mention the European Union or the common fisheries policy by name, talking instead of

“annual fisheries negotiations in the Faroe Islands and Brussels”,

as if our bilateral discussions with the Faroese were on a par with our membership of the EU and the CFP. The negotiations with the Faroes, Norway and, indeed, the wider group of coastal states in the north-east Atlantic are important, but our participation through the UK delegation to the European Union fisheries council makes us an insider, not an outsider, in Brussels, at least for one more year. Our talks with other coastal states this year are on a quite different basis from what might apply in the future.

I noted in particular Mr Ewing’s reference to proposals for caps on effort in international waters that were initiated by the Scottish Government and taken forward by the UK before being proposed by the EU. Having that kind of clout in international fisheries negotiations cannot be guaranteed in the future.

The fog of uncertainty has not yet shifted. For catchers, processors and seafood exporters, that uncertainty remains unchanged.

However, there have been other changes in the past year. I record my personal thanks to Bertie Armstrong, who stepped down earlier this year after providing clear and honest leadership for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation since 2004, and I welcome the appointment of Elspeth Macdonald as his successor. I look forward to working with her, as members of all parties seek to do, on behalf of fishing communities across North East Scotland and beyond.

The largest change highlighted today is global warming, and what that means for fisheries in the North Sea and north Atlantic, now and into the future. One of the outstanding issues in recent years has been conflict among coastal states over mackerel. Although, as we have heard, the quota for mackerel this year is going up, not down, the potential for future conflict remains. Indeed, we heard this week from the SFF that not only Iceland but Greenland and Russia have been identified as countries whose mackerel catches in international waters may be a cause for concern.

Of course, one country’s overfishing is another’s increased access. In recent years, issues have been raised about increased catches within territorial waters as well as outwith them. As a number of members have said, the truth is that the rise in ocean temperatures means that questions of who catches what and where are not—and cannot be—static. Cold-water species are migrating to colder waters and those favouring warmer waters, such as Atlantic bluefin tuna, are taking their place.

No doubt the Scottish pelagic fleet will follow the mackerel into ever more northerly waters. That means that priorities for interstate negotiations are bound to change: countries with which we have previously had fewer issues in fishing might become more important, while others’ traditional or historical interests in Scottish waters might become less so.

Climate change also has wider impacts on fish stocks, not just in north Atlantic waters but worldwide. Although some in the sector may still be sceptical about scientific advice, the fact is that Scotland is now well placed to give a lead on how to deliver long-term sustainability in a world in which that is ever more in demand—not least in promoting partnerships between catching and conservation interests.

Achieving maximum sustainable yield is not a one-year wonder in a mixed fishery; it is something to work towards across a number of years. Having that as a goal for fishing in Scottish waters is worth while in itself, but in the future it will also make our experience even more valuable to sustainable fisheries worldwide, at a time when sustainable management of fish stocks is truly becoming a global challenge.

We should not just look forward, Presiding Officer; we should continue to look outwards as well.


I think that it was my colleague Angus MacDonald who said, “Here we are again”. I hope that we will be here again next year.

As other speakers have done, I pay tribute to those in the fishing industry—both onshore and offshore—for providing us with what we hope will be a sustainable food source for the longer term. I also acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s remark in his opening speech about the Scottish Government’s investment in safety and diversity. That is very welcome, and I hope that there will be more of it.

If I noted his remarks correctly, the cabinet secretary said that we have a lot to lose. In her speech, my friend and colleague Claudia Beamish spoke about the pillars of science, sustainability and public interest. It is for those reasons that, on many occasions, I have raised with the cabinet secretary and his colleagues the issue of maritime protection—most recently at meetings of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. As the cabinet secretary quite rightly said, the police cannot be everywhere, and neither can the marine protection people. I pay tribute to both those organisations, which do sterling work.

A fisherman on the west coast once very helpfully tried to explain such matters to me in simple terms. He said: “You know, John, it’s like when the traffic department in Dingwall used to go to the west coast to catch drunk drivers. By the time that they got there, everyone knew that they were on the road.” It is also pretty much like the television detector van stories of the past. It is the same for the fishing industry: everyone knows where everyone else is, and there are very few secrets.

If we are really going to manage fisheries in a way that protects the ecosystem and moves damaging fisheries away from fragile habitats, areas that are used for spawning and nursery grounds, we will have to get our act together.

Such support for protection does not come simply from environmental interests. The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Scallop Divers Association both support a ban on trawling and dredging within 3 miles of the west coast. Many members have mentioned the document from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, “The 3 Mile Limit”, which I commend. It is also significant that Open Seas said in its briefing for the debate:

“Scottish Government’s own research has found that establishing such a ban would create more profitable landings and greater employment in these fisheries, offsetting any harm done to the trawl and dredge sector and allowing crashed fish stocks such as cod and whiting to recover.”

If we are talking about the long term, not least in the context of the climate emergency, we will have to ensure that fisheries are sustainable.

Mr Stevenson talked about the importance of single smokehouses on the west coast. We know that there is considerable employment in the inshore fishing fleet. The fleet does not rely on imported labour to maintain its profit margins; it employs locally and, as the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said in its briefing,

“our ‘Live products’ achieve up to five times more value to Scotland PLC than trawled.”

Given the nature of the resource, the arena is very competitive. I certainly go along with the people in the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Trust who talk about integrating fisheries with other marine activities. As I said, it is not just people at sea who are involved in the matter.

On the thorny question of the on-going negotiations, it is self-evident that the people who have the most interest should be involved. I am a long-time supporter of the Scottish Government having direct involvement in the negotiations. Whether someone is present in an anteroom or in the room itself seems to vary, depending on personalities. Fish know no boundaries, and the reality is that it is good relationships at Government and official level that will bring about the benefits that we all seek. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary talk about his good relationship with his opposite number.

I say, frankly, that I cannot better Mr Rumbles’s demolition job on Mr Chapman’s speech. It is very important that we deal with facts.

Colin Smyth talked about certainty: all industries want certainty, but the fisheries sector, on which many factors impact, has been given uncertainty. It is disgusting to think that food will potentially be wasted as valuable produce rots in a car park in Kent, particularly given the industry that will have gone into delivering that produce.

In my final minute, I want to strike a consensual note and talk about a fishery that has grown in importance. Scotland’s marine aquaculture industry currently purchases 1 million live wrasse each year for use as cleaner fish for the removal of sea lice infestations on farmed salmon. The important point to make is that the capture of wrasse is being undertaken under only voluntary measures. In the short time that I have, I do not have the opportunity to go into the science of that and the challenges of the environment in which capture takes place. However, on a consensual note, I refer to recommendation 28 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report on salmon farming in Scotland, which said:

“The Committee strongly recommends that the Scottish Government consider the need for regulation of cleaner fish fishing to preserve wild stocks and avoid negative knock on impact in local ecosystems.”

That is the philosophy that should be adopted right across the fisheries sector.


Like Colin Smyth and other members, I pay tribute to the fishing community and remember the many people who have lost their lives in a dangerous line of work. I welcome the funding for safety measures that the cabinet secretary described in his opening speech.

Given what is in play in relation to the general election, it is impossible to say whether or when Brexit will happen. We do not know whether there will be a deal that benefits the fishing industry, a deal that trades away our fishing rights, or no deal at all, so that we crash out of the EU. It is completely unpredictable. As Lewis Macdonald said, we cannot even say that this will be the last year in which we take part in the fisheries negotiations as an EU member state. Who knows?

Whatever the outcome, any new quota must be allocated for maximum economic benefit to rural communities and we need to safeguard it from being traded away, as has happened in the past. Some island communities already lead the way by keeping their quota in public hands and releasing it to the fishing community. That means that their quota cannot be traded away; nor can it gain an inflated value that puts it out of the reach of new entrants to the industry. To provide maximum economic impact in remote rural areas, priority should be given to smaller boats that are rooted in their communities.

As many members have said, there are numerous downsides to Brexit for the fishing community. For example, Mike Rumbles and Alasdair Allan spoke about access to markets. Fish is fresh produce and any delays or bureaucracy can mean that it can lose some of or all its value, so we need to be very careful about how we trade it going forward.

Colin Smyth made the point that 58 per cent of our processing workers come from the EU, and so do some of our workers at sea. If they are not allowed to remain, it will create an issue for the community. We also need to attract new workers into the community.

Although I am winding up in this debate, I want to flag up to the cabinet secretary an issue that did not come up during it. He might wish to look at gill netters, who use long lines of nets that take up a huge area of sea and lock out other vessels. Gill netting is causing major problems in Shetland as the fleet is locked out of such areas. The time limit for the nets to be in the water is 72 hours. Nobody is suggesting that they should not be used at all, but a reduction in the time for which they can be left in the sea—say to 24 hours—would free up areas and enable other members of the fishing fleet to get access to them. It would also end some of the disquiet that surrounds gill netting.

We all agree with the discard ban, but it is disappointing that, as yet, there is no solution to choke species. Colin Smyth also spoke about that. We have a mixed fishery, and where there is no quota for bycatch, the fishing industry cannot catch the species that it has quota for and can legally pursue. We must look at solutions to that, maybe looking abroad to countries such as Norway to see how they handle that without having their fleet tied up.

The cabinet secretary suggested that, for the cod fishery, there might be a cut to quota of as much as 61 per cent this year. If that happens, cod will become a choke species, as Colin Smyth pointed out. Rather than just cut the quota, will the cabinet secretary pursue other measures that could be put in place to reduce the need for a cut of that size, such as avoiding spawning areas and areas with high numbers of juveniles?

Lewis Macdonald made a point about global warming. It seems that it could be affecting cod, which is plentiful in the northern North Sea but not in the southern North Sea. Could cod be moving north to find colder waters, just as Atlantic bluefin tuna are coming into our waters as they warm up? We need to be switched on to how global warming affects fisheries.

We also need to be much more switched on to the science that surrounds fisheries. We have discussed the Norway negotiations on mackerel and how the catch and the science have changed in that regard, leading to a 41 per cent increase this year. We need the science to be accurate, and we need to invest in it to make it so. We need to ensure that the fishing community has confidence in the science, because it will look to avoid keeping to the quotas if it believes that they are not correctly based in science. I appeal to the cabinet secretary to work with the industry to ensure that the science is right.

There have been years when the debate on fishing negotiations has been all about cutting effort. Tough decisions were taken, and there are still tough decisions to be made, but we need to recognise that difficult decisions in the past have led to the recovery of stocks. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have the most robust science to back up any cuts. I wish the Scottish Government well in making that case at the negotiations.


I am delighted to close the debate for the Scottish Conservatives. In fact, this is my third year of closing the debate, and nostalgia is already creeping in. I have fond memories of Tavish Scott, Stewart Stevenson and even the cabinet secretary jousting over the finer details of various quotas and species. Long may that continue. I listened to Richard Lyle’s historical diatribe, which was, of course, nonsense from start to finish, but it was hugely enjoyable nonsense.

Fishing is a crucial industry for Scotland as a whole, and for the Highlands and Islands. I have said this previously, but it is important to acknowledge that the industry extends beyond the north-east and takes in our inshore fisheries, including the shellfish sector, as many members have mentioned. Many fishermen and fisherwomen operate on the west coast of Scotland, but they are often ignored in the wider political debate.

Today, we address specifically sea fisheries and the end-of-year negotiations. It is a poignant debate because—I truly believe—it will be our last debate on end-of-year negotiations before the UK leaves the EU and we take back control of our waters. That is one of the many reasons why Scottish Conservatives support the deal that the UK Government negotiated to exit the EU, which was finalised last month.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not. I am sorry, but I have a lot of ground to cover.

The deal will ensure continuity during the transition period, and it will also ensure a smooth and orderly move to a new arrangement. The cabinet secretary said many times that the withdrawal agreement does not mention fisheries. I was surprised by that. Is it seriously his contention that exiting the EU does not also mean exiting the common fisheries policy?

Will the member give way?

I will carry on for a second.

Article 130 of the withdrawal agreement deals with arrangements specifically relating to fisheries. As we know, the withdrawal agreement must be read in tandem with the political declaration, which notes, at paragraph 71, that

“the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state.”

That is the interpretation of both the UK and the EU. It is there in black and white.

Paragraph 73!

Mr Stevenson, please desist from shouting.

The Tories say that a better deal will inevitably happen, so why has that not already been negotiated? They have had three years. Is not it the case that there is no deal on fishing at all in the withdrawal agreement because the Tories know fine well that they will be completely unable to deliver on the expectations that they have engendered among the fishing community?

That was a good try, but the SNP did not back the deal earlier this year and still refuses to back a deal that will mean that we leave the hated common fisheries policy, which has devastated Scottish fishing and the many communities that rely on the industry across Scotland. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has noted that

“leaving the CFP will provide the change in governance to redress this situation for the benefit of Scotland’s fishing communities”.

As Finlay Carson said, the SNP said that rejoining the EU would mean rejoining the CFP. In its 2014 white paper, the SNP said:

“the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy provides any member state’s vessels with access to all member states’ waters.”

There is no ambiguity.

I turn to some of the more positive news of the year. I concur with some of the remarks that have been made by members across the chamber. It is welcome news that the most recent fisheries statistics show that, in 2018, the number of vessels of 10m and under increased by 36 to 1,539 vessels. It is also welcome that there was a rise in the number of fishers employed in the industry in 2018 from the number in 2017, with the overall figure having gone up by 1 per cent. Of course, it is also positive news that the value of sea fish and shellfish that landed in 2018 increased by 1 per cent in real terms.

However, as the cabinet secretary and other members have noted, it is clear that deep challenges remain for other parts of the industry, and that there must be cross-party efforts to support our offshore fleets.

I listened with interest to the contributions by Alasdair Allan and John Finnie—as John Finnie does, I represent the Highlands and Islands—and they were full of doom and gloom. I visited a shellfish processing plant in Alasdair Allan’s constituency a month ago, and had a frank discussion about Brexit with the staff. They do not see Brexit as a major barrier. Although it might produce short-term challenges, they view it as a long-term opportunity to have greater autonomy in the waters that they fish, and greater chances to export their product to new markets.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not. I am afraid that I do not have time.

Straight after the Brexit referendum, the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association’s secretary said that

“Withdrawal from the EU offers the local fishing industry a unique opportunity to develop a sustainable long-term industry.”

The Shetland Fishermen Association’s executive officer said in September:

“Give us Brexit as cleanly and as quickly as possible.”

All the doom and gloom that we have heard today is in sharp contrast to what the industry says. It is optimistic and positive, and so are we.

I will quickly deal with a few of members’ remarks. Finlay Carson spoke about measures that have been taken to prevent illegal fishing, and about GPS on scallop boats. Claudia Beamish also mentioned that.

I also note the contribution of Lewis Macdonald, who made a good speech about longer-term issues, including global warming and the rise in ocean temperatures. He talked about how, when we talk about maximum sustainable yield, that is not just for one year but for many years. He made some very valid points.

It is clear that leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy presents significant opportunities for the industry and the communities that support it. I take the opportunity to wish the cabinet secretary well in the end-year negotiations.

I support the amendment in Peter Chapman’s name.


I begin by thanking Mr Cameron for his closing remarks, and all members for what has been a largely constructive debate. I appreciate the support of Mr Smyth, Mr Rumbles and other members in respect of the hard work in the negotiations. We are fortunate to have in Scotland some of the most respected negotiation officials in the fishing world. We will do our best to get the best result for our fishing community and the future sustainability of stocks.

I do not have time to respond to all the wide range of points that have been made. I mean no disrespect; if a member wishes to pursue a particular point, please press me on it and we will have a discussion.

I welcome the support that Mr Smyth expressed in his speech. There is not a great deal that separates our stances. Equally, in his analysis, Mr Rumbles displayed a shrewd sense of the difficulties that lie in wait in the—unfortunate, in my view—event that Brexit proceeds.

Angus MacDonald asked me about the impact of having up to 200,000 export health certificates and whether the UK Government had responded to my request for that to be avoided through derogation and by agreeing to dynamic alignment. I have had no further information from the UK Government. At a meeting some weeks ago, I asked George Eustice whether the UK Government would press for that and he said that if they did, they would be turned down. I said, “How do you know if you don’t ask?” That is where matters stand. That could cost the industry between £7 million and £15 million.

Mr Finnie, Dr Allan, Mr Stevenson, Angus MacDonald and many other members said that if there are delays, particularly for shellfish from small operators and businesses on the west coast in places such as Loch Fyne, where I was yesterday—Elaine Whyte of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association made this point—the goods will become valueless and the businesses will face bankruptcy. That will be disastrous.

In the past nine days, I have visited Harris, Campbeltown and Portree, so I can say—I think that Mr Finnie will agree—that many people in the fishing communities on the west coast are not ardent Brexiteers, but quite the opposite. The point needs to be made that fishing around the coast is diverse; it is not homogeneous and there are many aspects to it. It is therefore wrong to present opinion as if it is a monolith, because it is not.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I am very sorry, but I want to cover more points.

Both John Finnie and Claudia Beamish made a great number of points about—broadly speaking—sustainability and conservation. I have three points to make. First, the principles that we adopt in our approach to negotiations include sustainability of stocks. Nobody loses more than fishermen if fish stocks are fished out: nobody is a greater loser than the fishermen of future generations. That is one of the four guiding principles that govern our negotiations.

Secondly, I mentioned that the non-governmental organisations support the position that we adopted in our negotiation stance at the fisheries management and conservation group meeting on 11 November. That was a first, and it is a good thing, which shows that the approach that we are taking is sustainable.

Finally, I am happy to have a further discussion, if John Finnie wishes, about wrasse. I do not have time now, but I am aware of the RECC Committee report, and we take the concerns very seriously. That conversation is not for today, but I am happy to meet him about that if he wishes.

I think that it was Angus MacDonald who referred to Bertie Armstrong. I, too, respected Bertie’s service and leadership over a long period. We disagreed, but we did so without rancour. I am working very closely with his successor, Elspeth Macdonald, who is an excellent ambassadress for, and leader of, the SFF. It is right and proper that we work closely with that organisation.

My main task is to secure the best deal in the negotiations. The point that I made about leading the British delegation was serious; it was not meant to be provocative or frivolous. It might well be that in the immediate aftermath of the general election—I think that the meeting is two business days afterwards—the British Government will not have been formed. However, we are here: we are continuity. I have been there and done it, and we stand ready to take on the responsibility. It is a matter for agreement by the UK Government, but the offer will be made.

In an act of kindness, I suggest to the Conservatives that there is a fundamental flaw in their message to the fishing community. It is really very simple: they are promising the earth, the moon and the stars to fishermen in Scotland—that is how it is perceived—and they have been doing it for three years now, every day, every week, in every speech and in every debate. However, what has the Prime Minister negotiated? He has negotiated a withdrawal agreement, but what does it say about fishing? Where is the deal? All it is is an agreement to try to agree something in the future.

I am a lawyer, so I can say without fear of contradiction that an agreement to try to agree something is not a contract and is not a legally binding agreement. There ain’t one, but today the Tories have presented the withdrawal agreement as delivering enormous benefits, as a done deal, and as a contract that is binding on both the UK and the EU. [Interruption.] The Tories do not like this, but there is a lot more, so they should listen.

In the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister negotiated, there is no deal; there is only an intention to seek a deal. Not only is the deal not done, it ain’t yet begun. Where in the withdrawal agreement does it say that the EU will yield one tonne of quota? Where in the withdrawal agreement does it say that any EU countries will cease to argue determinedly for access? Nowhere in the deal does it say those things.

The reason is very simple: the UK Government knew fine well that it would be utterly impossible for it to negotiate the deal that is has promised fishing communities in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. The negotiations on a fishing deal have been caught up in the trade deal, and once that happens and the two become concurrent, there will be tremendous pressure on the UK Government to do a deal on trade by yielding on fish. Fish will be snagged and enmeshed in a post-Brexit net of the UK Government’s own making.

To assert that the deed is done and that the promises will be delivered is an exaggeration of Trumpian proportions. It is propaganda that will come back to haunt the Conservatives. At a time when Britain needed, in negotiating terms, a Metternich, it has instead ended up with someone who is like Inspector Clouseau. Believe you me—the Conservatives will repent at leisure in the months to come.