Scottish Fisheries Secretary’s New Year message

FISHERIES Secretary, Richard Lochhead, has posted the following message to the Scottish fishing community:
‘2014 has been a momentous year for Scotland. The eyes of the world have been on us as we hosted the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup and as millions of us took part in the debate and vote on Scottish independence.
The year has also been a significant and positive year for the fishing industry. It was pleasing to see the increasing abundance of fish in Scottish waters reflected in rising quotas and healthy levels of activity, with over a million boxes of fish landed in Peterhead for only the second time since 2000 and landings also on the up in Lerwick.
At this year’s December Fisheries Council we managed to maintain the freeze on proposed cuts in days at sea and secured further quota increases for eight out of ten of our most valuable stocks in the North Sea and West Coast.
We also managed to secure an early agreement with Norway and Faroe on shared demersal and pelagic stocks, providing much-needed stability and continued international management of our most valuable stocks, such as mackerel, to ensure they remain healthy and sustainable.
These agreements will ensure continued economic stability for fishing fleets, our onshore sector and coastal communities.
Earlier in the year a lot of important work was done at regional level in the North Sea and North Western Waters to develop discard plans for the pelagic fishery.
These are now in place and we are working hard to secure agreement in Brussels as soon as possible to legislation which will clarify the rules on aspects such as minimum landing size and catch composition, thereby ensuring the landing obligation can be implemented effectively.
Guidance has been issued to all pelagic vessels and organisations to ensure there is clarity on the issue from the 1st of January 2015.
Elsewhere, this year saw a lot of activity related to our inshore fisheries, with the Inshore Fisheries Conference in Perth, a task force on gear conflict and the launch of a major programme of investment funded by the European Fisheries Fund to trial new technologies in the inshore fleet and develop enhanced data collection for our valuable inshore stocks.
2014 was also a historic year constitutionally. Following the referendum on independence the Smith Commission made recommendations about devolving more powers to Scotland.
It recognised that more needs to be done to strengthen Scotland’s voice in the EU on devolved matters such as fisheries and I will be working hard to make sure this recommendation is fully implemented so that the interests of all parts of the Scottish fishing industry are properly represented at every level of debate and negotiation in Europe.
This is important because 2015 will be a pivotal year for preparing at EU, regional and national level for the implementation of the landing obligation for white fish and prawn stocks, which commences from January 2016.
Avoiding the chucking back of perfectly good edible fish dead into the sea is a no-brainer – it’s good for the industry, good for the consumer and good for the environment.
It also heralds major change for all of us. I know it will be challenging for skippers and will mean some rethinking of fishing practices.
I’m also clear it means changes will be needed in fisheries management. This will be one of the biggest ever changes to fishing practices.
We will need to update our fisheries management tools both domestically as well as internationally – currently dating from the 1980s – to the 21st Century, ensuring they are fit for purpose.
Getting Brussels to move beyond the flawed Cod Recovery Plan to a mixed fishery plan would be a good start.
So I want us all to work together in 2015 to ensure that the landing obligation can be delivered in a sensible fashion that keeps the fleet viable and builds on the positive picture of stock abundance which we’ve witnessed in recent years.
The discard ban will also be a great leap forward for science and sustainable stocks, we will know much more about the state of our fishing stocks and this can only help us move towards more sustainable and responsible fishing.
Next year will also see the outcome of the major consultation we held this year on the management of quota.
This review is about finding ways of improving access to quota – the lifeblood of the industry – for active fishermen. I hope we can work towards that in 2015 as we take decisions on reforming the quota management system in light of the consultation.
It is clear we will continue to have a number of challenges to overcome in 2015. But we will continue to work hard to prepare for the landing obligation, reform broken mechanisms like the Cod Recovery Plan, improve the quota management system, develop our inshore fisheries management and get the fairest quota deals.’