Highlights - Sea Fisheries Debate 27/10/08

| November 28, 2008

Selected highlights of interest to sea angling conservation

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2966, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on sea fisheries.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead):

Today, we will debate not only total allowable catches and quotas, but a way of life and a valuable part of Scotland’s heritage.

During this year .. I hosted a discards summit to discuss the problem and to generate new ideas. There was consensus among skippers, industry representatives, environmentalists and policy makers that such a wasteful practice cannot go on and must be tackled now.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab):

When we debated fisheries this time last year, the Labour amendment was passed…. At that time, our amendment highlighted the need for the Scottish Government to draw on the full range of expertise in Scotland, including industry, our environmental non-governmental organisations and, crucially, our scientific community.

We all want to achieve the virtuous triangle that Bertie Armstrong mentioned to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee earlier this month. The virtuous triangle is one that sees the fisheries scientists, civil servants in the Scottish Government and the fishing industry working closely together. That joint work is crucial if we are to be successful in the future.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con):

It has been calculated that, between 1992 and 2001, 50,000 to 80,000 tonnes of fish were discarded annually into the North Sea. Taking the upper limit of 80,000 tonnes—and bearing in mind that, regrettably, practices have not changed that much—we might conclude that in the past 12 years we have caught, killed and wasted almost 1 million tonnes of fish.

Richard Lochhead: I should clarify that, unlike the situation in the North Sea, Scotland has a predominant interest in the west coast and very few other nations fish there. As far as sharing scientific responsibility is concerned, we are basically on our own.

John Scott: I do, of course, accept the cabinet secretary’s explanation. However, the fact that a suggested closure of this size and scale has crept up unexpectedly on fishermen and Government alike is shocking, and the threatened loss of livelihoods as a result is worse. 10:11

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD):

Although the prospects for a number of stocks are fairly promising, there are still serious concerns in some areas. Of particular concern is the situation on the west coast, as John Scott rightly said. The Rural Affairs and Environment Committee took evidence on that recently.

Roseanna Cunningham (Perth) (SNP):

The cost of discards is enormous. In the North Sea, whitefish vessels discard between 500,000 and 880,000 tonnes of fish every year—that is €75 million-worth and about 42 per cent of total landings in a year. Scottish fishermen alone dump about 100,000 tonnes a year, which is £14 million-worth of fish. That is a lot of fish and a lot of money. It is not just a waste of food; it is also having damaging environmental and ecological effects.

Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab):

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.

(on tope)..It is disappointing that Scottish ministers have refused to give the same protection in Scottish waters but instead intend to wait until ICES states that the species is at risk.

(on bycatch) 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.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):

The market situation is dire, because the credit crunch is affecting consumers on the continent. Our cold stores are full of prawns, the crab market has collapsed and lobster is at £10.50 a kilogram, compared with £16 a kilogram last year.

Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):

The sad truth is that, despite the encouraging signs in some areas and in some fishery sectors, the overall state of stocks is not good. People are generally optimistic that things are on the turn in cod stocks and that we can make further progress, but WWF Scotland reminds us in its briefing for today’s debate that, despite the signs of recovery in the North Sea following a strong year group in 2005, 84 per cent of the international landings in 2007 consisted of juvenile cod between the ages of one and three. That means that only 12 per cent of the two-year-old cod of the 2005 year class will survive to maturity. WWF also reminds us that, despite the focus on reducing discards and the welcome measures to do that, the level of discards in 2008 was even higher than that in previous years.

Scientific knowledge about what is happening in the west coast fishery is in a poor state. The lack of such knowledge could hamper future negotiations. I note what the cabinet secretary said and I would be grateful if he could say what more we can do to improve that scientific knowledge and therefore the capacity to secure deals in the future.

Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green):

…it is important to undertake a suite of measures to prevent discards, such as encouraging greater use of selective fishing gear, banning of the most destructive fishing technologies, greater coverage of onboard observers and the temporary closure of fishing grounds to prevent the capture of juvenile or spawning fish, especially to support cod recovery, no-take zones and days in port.

Many of those things are being done, although on-board observers and no-take zones have not been mentioned and days in port have been mentioned just once.

As everybody knows, catching capacity is measured by the total power of the engines in the Scottish fleet. Indeed, that is the most sensible way in which to measure it. Members need to be careful not to cite the total number of boats when speaking about the impact of the fleet; they should instead cite total power. In answer to a recent parliamentary question, I was informed that total power has decreased by roughly 1 per cent per annum since 1996 and yet, subsequent to the registering of a boat, no monitoring is done of current engine power.

Nigel Don (North East Scotland) (SNP):

Surely by now, Government and its scientific advisers should be able to say, “If we sort it out on the way, perhaps in 10 years’ time, these are the kinds of stock levels that we could have.” I do not know whether the timescale will be five, 10 or 20 years—the people who know about fisheries will know that. 

I see no evidence that anyone has the numbers.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation must be one of the first fishermen’s organisations to produce its own environmental statement. As Sarah Boyack said, its stance is endorsed by RSPB Scotland, which is a high accolade indeed. 

Sarah Boyack and Liam McArthur referred to the virtuous triangle of scientists, Government and the industry. Jamie McGrigor built on that idea when he said that, although the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is involved in the talks, we need to talk to other fishermen’s associations and involve them as well.

There is agreement that discards are wasteful and that we need to look at ways of getting round them. However, as John Scott and Elaine Murray said, that is not straightforward. We cannot make it financially viable to take overquota fish back to port, but at the same time we must make the system attractive enough that people will adhere to it.

Richard Lochhead:

Of course, it is not just the Scots fleet that must abide by regulations or face being accused of breaking the law. Across all fleets in the North Sea, 1 million tonnes of fish has been dumped overboard each year for the past few decades.

Elaine Murray and others mentioned spurdog in the context of discards. We support the Commission’s position that there should be a 5 per cent bycatch of spurdog. I know that people think that there should be no such bycatch, but if there is no bycatch of spurdog, there will be a discarding of spurdog. While we must ensure that spurdog is not a targeted fishery, we must allow a bycatch to be taken or spurdog will simply be discarded overboard. 

….. in 2008…..we have had 15 real-time closures on the basis of 169 inspections. The compliance rate for those closures has been nearly 100 per cent.

Some members mentioned Bertie Armstrong’s comment at the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee about the virtuous triangle that we now have in Scotland, with conservation interests and environmental interests working with the industry and the Government to take forward measures. That has been extremely productive over the past year or two, and it is going from strength to strength. Only last night, I met WWF Scotland and RSPB Scotland to discuss some of the issues that we are debating today.


Extracted from parliamentary official report here.

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