The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network

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Conservative amendment in Sea Fisheries Negotiations debate

Presiding Officer, for the first time in a long time I do not believe I have to declare an interest in this debate today on fishing, other than being an enthusiastic consumer!

The Scottish Conservative Party welcome this debate today as it gives Parliament its first opportunity to explore this subject since the election in May, and try to take the matter forward with positive suggestions in the run up to the Fisheries Council meeting next month.

We do so against a backdrop of slow and steady decline in Scotland’s once proud fishing industry, with almost 3,000 fishermen having left the industry in the past 10 years and well over 1,000 vessels being de-registered in the same period. And whilst it would be churlish to deny that some sectors are now doing reasonably well, this has of course come at the expense of brutal reductions in the size of the fleet.

The sad truth is that Scotland’s fishermen have become used to getting a very raw deal from Brussels. No one knows this better than the Cabinet Secretary himself who, when in opposition, left us in no doubt that under an SNP Government, things would be better. So I would remind the Minister, that he himself has set the bar extremely high in terms of both what we and our fishermen expect him to deliver in Brussels.

Turning to the motion and the Conservative amendment, we do of course support the Cabinet Secretary in fighting our corner next month, however the Government’s motion contains what I understand to be a factual inaccuracy in that it is UK Government which ultimately negotiates the deal, working alongside Scottish ministers and I therefore hope that all members will feel able to support what is essentially a technical amendment at decision time.

So what do the Scottish Conservatives expect of the Government, in conjunction with their UK colleagues, at these negotiations?

Firstly, in relation to cod, it is essential that the Commission be made to fully understand the sterling measures that Scotland’s fishermen have already taken to further the conservation effort, namely the recently expanded voluntary closure scheme and the observation initiative.

These measures are welcome and stand in marked contrast to what Bertie Armstrong termed the “very blunt instruments” of quotas and days at sea on which the discredited EU Cod Recovery Plan relies.

The ongoing review of the Plan is therefore welcome and I offer the Cabinet Secretary the strongest possible support in terms of pursuing his own blueprint for this species.

On the wider issue of cod stocks and other species, it is evident that fishermen and scientists agree that recovery is essential, but that they differ in the rate of recovery needed. It is heartening that the North Sea cod stocks are recovering despite being fished when the scientists said the fisheries should be closed. It is therefore vital to strike a sensible balance between recovery of stock and preserving the livelihood of our fishermen, bearing in mind that if we get it wrong the consequences could be dire for fishermen and fish alike.

This brings me on to what I believe must be the second – and indeed the overriding priority – for Scottish and UK ministers in December, namely tackling the disgraceful scandal that is discards.

This, from a lay persons point of view, has to be one of the most wasteful practices on the planet and defies all reason and talk of sustainability, and I am both amazed and appalled that a new approach to resolving this issue has not be created before now.

Indeed the blasé attitude taken by UK Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw and Commissioner Borg when asked about this utterly repugnant practice yesterday was thoroughly depressing.

Presiding Officer, the fact that between 40 and 60% of North Sea cod caught are being thrown back into the sea dead or dying is simply no longer acceptable and surely now is the time to muster the political will to tackle this problem head on.

One option that should be explored further is the Norwegian approach which makes it an offence to catch rather than land undersized fish and has therefore resulted in a huge improvement in gear selectivity thereby reducing the capture of juvenile fish.

A modest by-catch of juvenile fish is permitted for which the fishermen receive 20% of their value and which are not included in their quota.

Another option would be permitting fishermen to land everything they catch with over quota species being sold for a nominal amount, or alternatively, allowing fishermen to keep their full catch, policed by reduced days at sea and temporary closures of zones with large numbers of young fish.

By pursuing serious anti-discard measures such as these, combined with the voluntary conservation measures already being pioneered in Scotland, we have the tools for a workable way forward.

I would also like to touch briefly on the concerns of our recreational sea anglers whose interests are far too often overlooked and who share our concerns about preserving the fragile marine environment close to our shores.

To this end a further additional measure which the Cabinet Secretary may want to explore is the idea of a “golden mile” in which only recreational anglers could fish, which would also aid the improvement of stocks for the benefit of everyone.

Ultimately, Presiding Officer, I trust the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that both the environment and our fishermen have been catastrophically let down by the current arrangements which have staggeringly failed in their objectives.

For this reason we must continue to fight for more local and regional control over our own fisheries so that we can put in place the measures required to rebuild our stocks and breathe life back into our hard pressed fishing communities.

I have pleasure in moving the amendment in my name.

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