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26 July 2011

Moving towards reform

When it comes to changing long standing policy across the EU, the pace of change is inevitably slow and the competing concerns and interests that must be juggled is a complicated task to say the least. Yet change does come and with the recent publication of the European Commission’s proposals for changes to the Common Fisheries Policy, we are finally getting closer to seeing fundamental changes to the system of fisheries management take place.

The CFP as it currently stands is rightly regarded universally as an unmitigated failure which has failed both to conserve fish stocks and protect the livelihoods of fishing communities. That fundamental change to it is needed has been accepted for some time and that is something we are now moving closer towards.

However, the European Commission’s proposals contain measures which are both positive and negative for the industry in Scotland and as such we must continue to push for a better deal to be reached.

The Scottish Government and the fishing industry in this country have long been calling for a more regional basis to fisheries management to replace the annual negotiations in Brussels which sees land-locked Luxembourg hold more sway than Scotland. The Commission’s plans seem to accept the need for this decentralisation and that is something which is to be warmly welcomed providing it is properly implemented.

The Scottish fishing fleet has been leading the way in Europe when it comes to conservation measures such as using selective fishing gears, real time closures of breeding grounds and perhaps most significantly with the introduction of the catch quota scheme which sees vessels receive a larger quota allocation in return for landing all the fish they catch without any discards. It sees skippers catch less, but land more.

Nobody wants to see the abhorrent practice of discarding perfectly good fish to comply with EU regulations brought to an end more than the fishing industry itself. However, simply proposing a blanket ban on the practice as the current European Commission proposals do takes no account of the challenges of fishing in a mixed fishery, where several types of fish are caught in a single catch. A more radical change to current practice is needed if we are to avoid the CFP simply repeating the same old mistakes in introducing ill-fitting, top-down decisions to the fishing industry. The only real way to solve the problem of discards is to work the fishing industry to find solutions that are practical and can work in a mixed fishery, not to issue central diktats which could prove counter-productive in the long run.

Also of great concern is the threat posed by the proposal that international trading of fishing quotas should be expanded. In time this would almost undoubtedly see a handful of large multi-nationals end up controlling the bulk of all fishing quotas and ruin businesses and fishing communities in Scotland and further afield. It is a measure which must be vigorously resisted or areas like Banffshire & Buchan Coast could see the heart torn out of our fishing communities.

In all there are both good and bad elements to the proposals that have been put on the table, but the fact that reform will take place at all is perhaps the biggest positive. There are two years of negotiation ahead to improve upon what has been proposed and ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. The Scottish Government has already made our views clear and in the coming months and years it is more essential than ever that Scotland’s voice is heard in Europe.

12 July 2011

An opening for the people

After a hectic few weeks following the election in May, the Scottish Parliament began its summer recess at the start of this month. Over the coming weeks I will be taking part in events and meetings across the country in my capacity as Minister for the Environment and Climate Change and also be taking my annual surgery tour of the constituency in August to give people who might otherwise not have the chance an opportunity to raise their concerns with me.

However, before the recess officially got under way there was one final piece of business in Holyrood; the official opening. While it might initially seem odd that the opening is the final thing that happens before Parliament goes into recess, it is the entire five year term of the Scottish Parliament that is being opened and officially gotten under way.

As on previous occasions, the Queen addressed the chamber and gave us all food for thought with her reflections on how the Scottish Parliament has developed since it reconvened in 1999. There were also outstanding speeches from Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick and the First Minister Alex Salmond as well as a host of musical performances throughout the day for MSPs and members of the public.

The highlight of the day though, as in previous years, was the riding. An updated interpretation of the ceremony which used to take place before the Treaty of Union in the old Scottish Parliament, the riding sees groups from all over Scotland take part in a highly colourful and musical procession down the Royal Mile to Holyrood. Each MSP was asked to invite a “local hero”, an unsung member of the community who has worked to improve the lives of people in their area.

It was my privilege to invite Stephen Bruce to take part in the procession in recognition of the outstanding work he has done for JogScotland Peterhead. He has done fantastic work over the last four years in encouraging people in the area to take up jogging and become more active, successfully recruiting over 300 people in that time and last year raised over £17,000 for charity with a series of fun runs. Peterhead JogScotland also set a Scottish record for the highest attendance at a JogScotland event last year when 276 people took part in a night time jog on the streets of Peterhead. He is also currently arranging Peterhead Running Festival which takes place this September and I’m sure will be another fantastically well attended event.

Encouraging people to have a healthier lifestyle is more important than ever given the strains on NHS budgets and I am sure that under Stephen Bruce’s leadership more and more people in Peterhead and the wider area will take part in JogScotland’s events in years to come.

Portsoy Boat Festival

Recent days have also given me the opportunity to take part in another fantastically successful and well attended event; the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival. With fantastic weather for this year’s event, an estimated 16,000 visitors came to Portsoy to take part in the activities taking place.

The festival is going from strength to strength and the large numbers and sheer enthusiasm from those who took part is a testament to the work that goes in to organising it each year. I was delighted to once again attend and alongside my colleague Eilidh Whiteford MP held constituent surgeries during the event.

Anyone who attended this year will know that next year’s Boat Festival will have to go a long way if it is to beat this year’s event!

Stewart Stevenson
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