THE Scottish fishing industry is united in its conviction that exit from the EU presents a unique set of opportunities for Scotland to reinvigorate its coastal and island communities.
An industry briefing paper, prepared for MSPs ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish parliamentary debate on Brexit, states that exit from the EU will enable the UK to assert control over its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and that foreign vessels could not then fish in that zone without express consent.
The paper – Scottish Fisheries Post-Brexit: A Sea of Opportunities, jointly produced by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) and the Scottish Association of Fish Producers’ Organisations – says: ‘This sea area – most of it Scottish – contains some of the most productive, valuable and diverse fisheries to be found anywhere.
‘Access to it confers a particularly strong bargaining position that should not be conceded within the general Brexit negotiating mix. It should be used instead to secure the future of our own fishing industry.’
Given that the fisheries in what would become the EEZ are currently managed largely by the EU, and Scottish vessels account for a minority of overall catches from them, the paper outlines two key areas where Brexit creates major opportunities:
- The power to establish a more effective and reactive fisheries management system in UK waters that delivers business as well as environmental sustainability. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy does a poor job on both counts.
- Fairer and more appropriate shares of catching opportunities for the Scottish fishing industry within UK waters. At present, Scottish vessels account for a minority of the total tonnage and value taken from what would become our EEZ; control over who has access to these prize fishing grounds could generate significant and sustainable economic growth in Scotland’s island and coastal communities at no cost to the taxpayer.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Bertie Armstrong (pictured), chief executive of the SFF, said: ‘Brexit provides a sea of opportunity to restore our coastal rights and give our industry a real chance to prosper once again.
‘We will have the critical mass to control the bulk of fishing on the northern continental shelf, with some of the best fishing grounds in the world.’
Other opportunities include the freedom to explore new markets for seafood in rapidly expanding economies outside the EU, the ability to direct any grant funding in ways more suited to Scotland than the EU currently allows, and scope for innovative thinking around fleet diversification and development.
The paper concludes: ‘The Scottish fishing industry seeks close working relationships with both the Scottish and UK governments during the Brexit process and thereafter.
‘We intend to secure the best possible deal for Scottish fishers, irrespective of constitutional developments, and believe that the two governments working together would produce the best possible outcome for fishers on both sides of the border.’