Fisheries Debate - Elaine Murray (Lab)

| November 28, 2008

Dr Murray’s speech in yesterdays debate follows in full as it addressed many issues of direct concern to sea anglers.

I will deal now with species that are less familiar to most of the population, but which are affected by fishing practice, although they are not the main focus of the forthcoming negotiations. Sharks do not generally inspire the same level of affection as other well-known endangered species but, as the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network and the save our sharks campaign have demonstrated, many of our native shark species are now endangered.

Recreational sea anglers release their catches alive back into the sea. They recycle fish but like commercial fishermen, they also make a valuable contribution to remote and rural communities. Those fishermen have monitored dramatic reductions in the populations of sharks, skate and ray in Scottish waters. Many of the species that were once plentiful in the Solway Firth, for example, are now rarely to be found.

The removal of one species from the marine environment can have unexpected consequences on other species that inhabit the same waters. Spurdog, which John Scott referred to, were targeted by commercial fisheries in the late 1980s—for the purposes of their sale as an edible fish, they were known as rock salmon. The population was decimated within five years, but as a result of the removal of that predator, whiting stocks in Luce Bay thrived. The whiting, in turn, predated on the flatfish population, which has still not recovered from that period.

Tope is in the frame as a commercial species, partly because of the market for shark fins for shark fin soup. This year, the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly have regulated to prohibit commercial fishing of tope. It is disappointing that Scottish ministers have refused to give the same protection to the species in Scottish waters but instead intend to wait until ICES states that the species is at risk.

The European Commission proposes to set zero TAC limits for spurdog and porbeagle and to prohibit retention of angel sharks, common sharks, ungulate rays and white skates. It is also proposed that existing skate and ray quotas be reduced by 25 per cent and that new TACs be introduced for those species in currently unregulated areas. I would like to hear Scottish ministers’ views on that. Ministers have stated in answers to written questions that there should be no fisheries that are directed to commercial fishing of elasmobranchs— as rays and sharks are collectively known—but that small, unavoidable by-catches should be landed. I disagree with John Scott’s view, but the issue needs to be discussed. We need to think about how “small” and “unavoidable” are to be defined, and what will happen to those by-catches. Will they be sold commercially? If so, how do we prevent the creation of a commercial market for those species and stop them being targeted, albeit that the number in Scottish waters is low? I am sure that such topics will be on the agenda of the cabinet secretary’s meeting with the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network on 11 December.

Category: Scottish Government News

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