7 February 2006

Fishing 2006


Just occasionally you realise that someone in government actually 'gets it' about fishing. The nearest we got in this year's fishing debate in the Scottish Parliament came when former minister, Jim Wallace, discussed the role of Norway in determining the access Scottish fishermen have to key fishing grounds and some of the history of the industry.

Jim harked back to his days in Westminster and to his saying in 1988, “I welcome the opportunity of this debate in advance of the meeting of the Council of Ministers ... It will help the Minister to understand how anxious hon. Members on both sides of the House are about the drastic cuts in the total allowable catch, particularly those for cod and haddock“.

Sixteen years later, the continuing failure of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy to address our needs, or the needs of conservation, leaves us still anxious about total allowable catches for cod and haddocks. More interesting, and a more significant revelation, was his understanding of the strength that Norway, a country with a smaller population than Scotland, has in its negotiations with the EU.

Jim Wallace described the talks between Norway and the Community as “fundamentally important” to the haddock quotas our industry ends up with. And of course he is correct.

But is very revealing of the nature of the Liberal – Labour coalition government that we have in Scotland that such a Liberal feels he can only speak when he has left office, the self-evident truth that independent Norway, outside the CFP, holds the whip hand. Such is the price that the Liberals pay for their ministerial Mondeos.

Such is the price that our industry pays because of it.

Our Northern Competitors

The end of February saw a further visit to the North-East by former Icelandic fisherman, now advisor to the Faroes, Jón Kristjánsson. I first met Jón at a fisheries meeting held at the Ban-Car hotel in March 2003 when he described the very different approach being taken by the very small, but important, administration in the Faroes.

Focusing on effort and not on quotas, they eliminate the hated discards and have seen their stocks rise. Sigurjón Thórdarson, an Icelandic MP, came with Jón to Peterhead and brought a sense of despair about Iceland's quota system all too familiar to our fishermen.

Even with a more hands on approach than in Scotland – and not many of our fishermen are asking for tighter controls – the diminution in stocks could be seen in the graphs that Sigi ran through with me.

The diagrams on the Faroes' fishing effort and stock were startling. A clear cyclical variation in stock levels could be seen over the greater part of a century.

Particularly interesting in support of his case that stopping fishing was not the answer, was the stock graph during the Second World War. With virtually no fishing between 1939 and 1945, we nonetheless saw no difference in the shape of the stock graph over, or immediately after, that period. It gave dramatic strength to the argument that the EU's policy of removing our fishing boats from the sea would not help stocks.

Sigi's concerns about Iceland's fishing industry mirror ours. He clearly hopes that new alliances across national boundaries can persuade governments to look to the Faroes for a new approach.

On Shore

The tensions that exist from time to time between different parts of the fishing industry are not surprising given the interdependencies between them and need for each to make a living.

A vibrant processing sector which produces 'ready meals' and 'added-value' products generally is vital to provide a market for the catchers' landings. The traditional 'wet fish' trade is no longer the staple that it once was and the fish-and-chip shops don't buy much of the new species being landed.

So if our processors hurt, catchers suffer. The resignation of Professor Alexander as boss of Scottish Water illustrates the conflict between government and that industry. And early signs of spill-over into fish processing are there. The key problem has been chronic under-investment in sewers and supply.

And the Liberal – Labour government's insistence on recovery of capital expenditure in just a few years. For processors it has meant that the increasingly high standards governing waste discharge from sewage plants, coming largely - as with the CFP - from Europe, simply cannot be met by Scottish Water with their existing systems.

And the necessary investment to build plant which can accept fish-processors' sewage and convert it to sufficiently pure output, cannot be afforded under government rules. The result? We may see boats having to be paid to take processors' waste 12 miles out to dump it!

Processors being compelled to solve a problem more properly Scottish Water's. This is one issue we deal with ourselves in Scotland. The Liberal – Labour government simply has to come up with a sensible program of support for our water industry that helps our vital shore-based fish processors.

Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP