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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 12 March 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Fisheries, Fair Work, Decision Time, Land Ownership Information, Correction



The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Fergus Ewing on managing Scotland’s fisheries in the future. The cabinet secretary will take questions after his statement.


The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out to Parliament the Scottish Government’s proposals for the future management of fisheries in Scotland. Crucially, I want to invite members from across the parties to get involved in the national discussion on the proposals, which I launched on Monday 4 March at the convention of the Highlands and Islands in Orkney.

At a time when very little is certain in the wider policy landscape for fisheries and our coastal communities, the Government is determined to provide as much clarity as we can about what the future holds for key sectors that are affected by the prospect of disruptive change. Put simply, we want to make the most of our waters and encourage long-term sustainable economic growth for Scotland’s rural economy. To achieve that, we will ensure that our management approach is underpinned by our commitment to meeting international obligations.

Scotland’s relationship with the sea is a long and productive one. From the largest port to the smallest quayside, our fishers and fishing communities take pride in delivering high-quality produce in a sustainable way. We must work together to build on that sustainably for the future. I want a truly nationwide discussion on the proposals, so that everyone involved in fishing has their say and we can agree on the way forward.

The uncertainty around Brexit makes for challenging times for our fishing communities and for the families whose livelihoods depend on fishing activity, either far out at sea or in inshore waters, or onshore, in processing or other supply chain industries. Of course, I will continue to fight to get the best deal for our fishing interests from Brexit but, whatever form Brexit eventually takes, I remain committed to continuing to fight to champion Scotland’s fishing interests at home and internationally. I am determined that, whatever the future holds, Scotland’s role as a world-leading fisheries nation and as a responsible and sustainable fisheries manager will continue.

The Scottish Government has set out eight key principles that will underpin our future approach and inform our priorities.

First, we will ensure that access to Scottish waters and fishing opportunities is not traded away by the United Kingdom Government. Let me be absolutely clear: Scotland’s rich fishing grounds should not be used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations. We will seek to maximise the economic and social benefits of this valuable natural resource for our coastal communities, so we will hold the UK Government to account on its promise to negotiate future access arrangements and fishing opportunities annually.

Secondly, we will expect our industry to continue to fish sustainably, in line with scientific advice, to secure the long-term future of our stocks. As part of that, we will continue to use total allowable catch limits to manage most fish stocks in the future, and might consider introducing quotas for non-TAC species such as shellfish.

Thirdly, we will seek to ensure that quota is distributed and used effectively. Our discussion paper outlines our continued support for the fixed quota allocation system, but also sets out our commitment to ending quota speculation. In the future, where we have additional quota to allocate, our priority will be to incentivise new entrants so as to increase the number of people involved in fishing and develop additional inshore activity that supports the economic growth of coastal communities.

Fourthly, we want to maximise the use of technology and to encourage innovation. That will include work to modernise monitoring and data collection for the inshore fleet, and proportionate and appropriate use of remote electronic monitoring for both compliance and scientific purposes.

Fifthly, our approach will treat fish and our fishing waters as national assets that Governments must steward and enhance for everyone’s benefit. Therefore, we will seek to create and sustain jobs and income for the wider fisheries sector and to strengthen economic links between fishing vessels and local communities. We want to see the fair work first principle applied in the fisheries sector and for more of the catching sector to sign up to the Scottish living wage. The aim is to enable more young people to see fishing as a career of choice. However, we also know that the sector depends significantly on skilled labour from the European Union and beyond, so we will press the UK Government to introduce a new work permit system, and will ensure that cases of exploitation in the fishing workforce are investigated and prosecuted.

Sixthly, our future approach will combine continuity where that makes sense, and change where a more workable approach is necessary. That means that we will take a sensible and proportionate approach to minimising discards, so that fishers can live within the rules and fish sustainably. Therefore, we will develop a workable future catching policy that takes account of the different parts of our fleet and avoids imposing a one-size-fits-all approach.

Seventhly, we will play our part in managing fish stocks sustainably by continuing to contribute to the gathering of data on and analysis of such stocks.

Finally, I believe that the future of Scottish fisheries management lies in increased delegation of local fisheries management functions, and I want to explore how we can give greater responsibility and power to local groups to improve community outcomes. As part of that, I want to consider expanding the role of regional inshore fisheries groups to help deliver more effective inshore fisheries management.

The Scottish Government’s discussion paper sets out our proposals for the future management of Scotland’s fisheries within current devolved responsibilities. I expect the UK Government to respect that and, as it develops its own future management plans, to do nothing to undermine it. Moreover, I expect the UK Government to deliver on its promises that our competence will only increase over time, along with our enhanced responsibilities. I will continue to fight for that to happen and, given the importance of Scotland’s fisheries to the UK as a whole, for Scotland to play its rightful role at the forefront of UK fisheries policy and dealings. I hope that the Scottish Parliament will support our endeavours in that regard.

However, with power comes responsibility. I am clear that although much might change, how we conduct ourselves in the future—particularly in relation to our friends and colleagues from other seafaring nations—will remain constant. We will continue to behave responsibly, we will continue to manage our natural resources sustainably, we will continue to support and work closely with local communities and we will seek to secure the future of our fishing industry and assets for future generations.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, cabinet secretary. We turn to questions. I call Peter Chapman.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the discussion paper. It is, I think, the first time that the Scottish National Party Government has had anything positive to say about leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy. I absolutely endorse the statement that we will not trade away access to our waters for access to the EU market.

Many important questions are raised in the paper. I will highlight two, which I ask the cabinet secretary to comment on. First, there is a stated aim to end speculation in quota. That may or may not be a useful aim, but I wonder how he proposes to achieve it. Secondly, one of the biggest threats to our fishermen’s future is the discard ban, with choke species tying the fleet up. What new initiatives and management structures does he plan to put in place to make the discard ban both effective and workable?

Alongside those important questions, there is much to welcome in the paper, as I said, but the proposals can come into effect only if we leave the EU in a managed manner. Unless we leave, none of the initiatives in the paper will be able to take place, and we will remain in the hated CFP. Therefore, does the cabinet secretary now support the only deal on the table, and will he encourage his SNP MPs to vote for Theresa May’s deal tonight?

Fergus Ewing

I thought that Mr Chapman started off extremely well. [Laughter.] I welcome the support that he has given the measures.

I will take Mr Chapman’s last question first. We still believe that the proposals that are on offer from the Prime Minister raise very serious questions for fishing communities. For example, page 38 of the discussion paper, which Mr Chapman has praised, details the value to Scotland of the European maritime and fisheries fund, which could be £150 million between 2014 and 2020, with £10 million for ports, £14 million or £15 million for the processing sector and £20 million for the collection of fish stock data—I have not mentioned everything because I do not have time. There have been so many benefits from the EMFF for fishing communities in Scotland that it is difficult to enumerate them, but there is no clarity on what, if anything, would replace it, other than that it is to be called a “shared prosperity fund”. Beyond those three words, we do not have much clarity.

I turn to Mr Chapman’s question about having fishing quotas held by active skippers. The incidence has reduced pretty substantially of so-called slipper skippers—that is, skippers who possess quota but no longer fish and, through producer organisations, lease their quota to others. As Mr Chapman identified, we say in the paper that we believe that measures can be taken to tackle that through the use of licensing powers, with licences requiring the quota to be actively fished and managed. In addition, there would be provision for new entrants in the event of additional quota becoming available. As far as I can see, that has been welcomed across the spectrum.

I want to answer all three of the questions that Mr Chapman asked. We think that the discard ban, as it is applied by the EU and the CFP, is inflexible because it takes a one-size-fits-all approach. We believe that it is important not to throw away dead fish into the sea. That is an incredible waste, and the public are rightly concerned about it. There are better approaches, such as using more discretion and flexibility. Indeed, we have the technological wisdom of skippers such as Jimmy Buchan, who has explained to me a particular device that he has developed—a type of fishing net that catches those fish that he wishes to catch and lets others escape. I believe that, using all those measures, with more flexibility and less of a top-down approach, we can develop a better discard policy.

However, I welcome the overall approach that Mr Chapman has taken this afternoon.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement. He is aware that quota speculation is a barrier to entry to fishing, with quotas changing hands at incredible prices that are way out of the reach of new entrants. What action does he propose to take to end quota speculation? Will he consider looking at community ownership of existing and new quotas, which would ensure that they remain rooted in the communities that fishing supports? That would not only stop speculation, but make quotas available to the local fishing industry and new entrants to the industry.

Fergus Ewing

Those are very reasonable questions. In respect of steps that we are taking to reduce speculation, it should be clear that, currently, the holders of fishing licences—the right to fish—have invested substantially in new vessels. They have a legitimate expectation—I think that that is the legal expression—that their investment is secure and will continue to be recognised. We are on record as stating that any change to that system—if there was a wish to introduce such a change—would take at least seven years; advice has been received to that effect. We are dealing with property assets that have been built up over time by the efforts of individuals in a risky, dangerous venture.

That said, as I set out to Mr Chapman a minute ago, we believe that, by using the powers in respect of licences and future quotas, we are able to do several things. The first is to facilitate new entrants to the industry; the second is to consider the possibility of having quotas that attach to local communities rather than to individuals; and the third is to deal further with the issue of requiring quotas to be held and used by people who are actively fishing. I hope that, in all three respects, Rhoda Grant and her colleagues will support those measures.

I hope that I have answered all Rhoda Grant’s questions, but I will check later.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of the document, which I welcome, and, in particular, for his references to having a career in fishing and the role that that could play in stewardship of the sea.

Will the cabinet secretary clarify one point? Following a debate that took place in the chamber on 11 December, the Parliament supported an amendment from my colleague Mark Ruskell with regard to alleged illegal fishing and agreed to call for

“robust vessel tracking and monitoring technology on all Scottish fishing vessels.”—[Official Report, 11 December 2018; c 74.]

However, in his statement, the cabinet secretary stressed the phrase

“proportionate and appropriate use of”

remote electronic monitoring. Will he confirm that he is not reining back on the monitoring of all fishing vessels, as was agreed by the Parliament fairly recently?

Fergus Ewing

There is no reining back. On the contrary, many vessels already have the equipment fitted and it is in use. Without going too much into the technicalities, there are different types of equipment that do various things, but the general idea is to have a record of where a vessel is fishing at any point and to pinpoint the location of the vessel so that, if there is a dispute about the whereabouts of a vessel, for example, because it has impinged on a particular feature in a marine protected area, and the skipper says that he was not there, he can prove that by reference to the digital equipment. That is a benefit for everybody—for compliance and for individual fishermen.

I met representatives of the scallop sector in January and there was resounding support for our proposals to deploy enhanced monitoring and tracking technology throughout the entire scallop dredge fleet. That will put Scotland at the forefront of enabling such technologies to do their job. We will consult on the details of the scheme shortly and we intend to help to pay the costs that are associated with it, using, I believe, our funds from Europe.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

On page 11, the cabinet secretary’s discussion paper says:

“Scottish Ministers want the power to raise a Scottish seafood levy”.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that that would be instead of the existing UK seafish levy and not an additional levy?

Fergus Ewing

We need to discuss the detail of the quantum of any levy in the sector, but what matters is that there is a fair contribution from the fishing sector. Why? Because the levy is then used to market the fishing sector, and I have detected a sense that a lot more could be done to market high-quality Scottish seafood in certain foreign markets, such as in Japan.

We are talking about a discussion document; it is not a formal consultation paper in which we put forward specific Government proposals. We need a wide discussion about how much the levy should be, by whom it should be paid and what purposes it should achieve. I have tried to answer the member’s question in principle, and I am sure that we will discuss the issue further.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

The Government has often suggested that we want to remain a good global citizen. In his statement, the cabinet secretary mentioned relationships with friends and colleagues from other seafaring nations. Will he expand on that?

Fergus Ewing

The way in which fishing operates in the pelagic and demersal sectors in the North Sea and the west of Scotland is that TACs become quotas. Producer organisations deal with the administration of that system. However, there are also quota swaps between countries, so that practical, business-like arrangements can be made. Such arrangements depend on good will between fishing leaders in those various countries and between the Governments of those countries.

No Scottish fisherman would wish to see his Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch or Norwegian counterparts become bankrupt because all their quotas are taken away in the event of Brexit. One must recognise that any arrangements need to be practicable. That is why, in my statement, I emphasised that we should continue to carry ourselves in a certain way and to recognise that we must work with other countries, while focusing on the paramount need to get the best possible deal for our fishermen and fishing communities.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Like Peter Chapman, I commend the constructive and positive tone of the statement. Chapter 6 of the discussion paper gives justifiable focus to inshore fisheries, which is a principal sector on the west coast and in the Highlands and Islands. The paper rightly identifies the competing priorities within the sector. How does the cabinet secretary foresee the tensions between mobile and static interests being resolved? Can he reassure the chamber that the possibility of suspending or removing licences in cases of conflict will be given careful consideration, given the potential for such a power to operate disproportionately and in a draconian manner?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Cameron raises a very relevant point. I am aware that, from time to time, there are tensions and conflicts between certain inshore fisheries’ interests—for example, between the scallop and creel sectors. There can also be conflicts about gear damage and other matters.

First, I believe—I certainly hope—that, in most instances, there is local agreement about such matters, and that conflicts or difficulties arise only in a minority of cases. Secondly, when such cases arise, remote electronic monitoring equipment, which I have mentioned, can be used to provide an evidential basis on who was right and who was where and when. As Mr Cameron is well aware, at the moment, if there is conflict in relation to specific episodes, it is very hard to provide clear, ascertainable evidence that would stand up in a court of law about what happened and who was where, when. Remote electronic monitoring equipment will deal with that issue.

We are looking at a more localised approach to fisheries management and at whether a greater use of spatial management could yield greater benefits. Those measures, along with research on the optimal allocation of nephrops fishing grounds, will help to inform us on how to make the most of our inshore waters.

There are many things that we can do, some of which are set out in chapter 6 of the paper. I welcome Mr Cameron’s positive approach to the matter.

The Presiding Officer

We have seven questioners, and five minutes left.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

The discussion paper sets out starkly the importance and value of the European maritime fisheries fund to Scottish fishing, but also shows how Scotland has been short-changed by the Westminster Government. Through Westminster’s inept negotiation, Scotland has received less than 2 per cent of available EU funding, despite having the fourth-largest EU sea area to manage. What guarantees has the Scottish Government received that the funding will continue, and how will it ensure that Scottish fishing interests do not lose out in the allocation of future funding in the UK?

Fergus Ewing

Maureen Watt is factually correct. The statistic on page 38 of the paper is that the assistance from the EMFF to Scotland is

“less than 2% of the funding available across the EU, despite Scotland having 9% of the EU’s sea fisheries landings and the 4th largest EU sea area to manage.”

She raises a point that is incontrovertibly true. Although the funding of £150 million between 2014 and 2020 has been valuable, it is only about a quarter of the pro-rata share to which we would have been entitled, had we negotiated it ourselves on our own account. That illustrates how high the stakes are.

My job is to get the best deal for Scotland. I do so by working constructively with my UK counterparts. I have a high regard for George Eustice, who has resigned. This morning, I had a pleasant introductory discussion with his replacement Robert Goodwill, and I will deploy the same approach. I can tell the chamber, however, that it is very hard to get a fair deal out of the London Treasury.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary and others have already touched on the European maritime fisheries fund—and the proposed shared prosperity fund—which has been instrumental in delivering targeted funding for coastal communities. If the UK Government fails to match the current levels of funding in the longer term, how will the Scottish Government replace that support and enable smaller fleets to innovate and fragile communities to adapt to a sustainable, climate-friendly fishing industry—

The Presiding Officer

Could we have a question, please?

Claudia Beamish

—and, equally importantly, support the processing sector?

Fergus Ewing

We need clarity. As the discussion paper notes at page 39,

“No decisions have been made on any successor arrangements”

to the EMFF and we need more clarity on the period post 2020. I emphasise the positive role that our fishermen take in fishing in a sustainable fashion. It is important that we have a “son of EMFF” in order to deal with the safety issues. It is imperative that we look carefully at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s recommendations on marine safety, especially of smaller vessels. That can only really be done if there is some financial assistance to enable us to deal with the task.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, with much benefit deriving to the catching sector from leaving the CFP, the processing sector is where the real benefits are delivered for communities? In the north-east, 70 per cent of people employed in the industry are non-UK nationals. How can he help to ensure that people from across Europe and elsewhere continue to be able to come and work in our industry and make the immense contributions that they make to our communities and economy?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Stevenson makes an extremely valid point. We can achieve that by having a new work permit system or, at the very least, restoring the previous visa extension system. We wish to enable the legal employment of non-European Economic Area nationals, such as people from the Philippines, in the fishing fleet and to ensure that they have the same employment rights and legal protections as onshore workers. That would be a significant advantage in combating the alleged maltreatment of workers.

The fishing fleet must continue to access the labour that it needs. This very sad and bureaucratic morass of a chapter in our fishing history must be solved. I note that Mr Eustice—who, as I said, left his post this morning—has criticised the UK’s immigration policy for the rural economy as a whole. I hope that his successor, Mr Goodwill, with whom I spoke this morning, will take that as an early piece of work in his in-tray, because it is absolutely essential.

This morning, I spoke with leaders in the food and drink sector about preparing for a no-deal Brexit. One of them was Ryan Scatterty who, as Mr Stevenson knows, runs a major processing plant. He is on record as saying that

“We could have all the fish in the world”,

but that if we don’t have the workers to process them, it will be of little avail.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I, too, welcome the discussion document and the cabinet secretary’s statement this afternoon. I understand that the Scottish Government’s proposal is to pass all fisheries legislation together, including legislation concerning inshore fisheries. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that he wishes to lay all the proposed legislation before the Parliament during this session?

Fergus Ewing

I do not want to be picky, but we have to be careful about the definition of “all”. It is certainly our desire to legislate in this session for a number of purposes. The paper includes the need to update the inshore fisheries strategy of 2015, for example. However, there are other uncertainties in relation to Brexit, because the UK Fisheries Bill, with which we have some issues that have not been resolved, is unlikely to become law prior to 29 March. It is still the subject of discussion between the UK Government and ourselves, and that issue needs to be resolved before we can start to be definitive about the future. It is safe to say that any legislation that we require to deal with simply to enable the mechanics of fishing to continue we will certainly legislate on here, using our devolved powers, should that be necessary.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. My apologies to Emma Harper, Lewis Macdonald and Richard Lyle that we were not able to reach their questions.