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A Pivotal Year for Scottish Fishing

21 March 2013

SCOTLAND, UK - Another year, another set of challenges for the fishing industry. But this year has the potential to bring real change because of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The reform process is supposed to be completed by the summer, but there is every chance it will drag on beyond then, said Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.

The reform of the CFP needs to be bold and courageous, and at the heart of it should be the introduction of regional control but only time will tell whether these aspirations and others that we have been continually pressing for will materialise. Interestingly, the political situation is further complicated by the independence referendum in 2014, and perhaps even more so by the possibility of a referendum on membership of the EU in 2017.

Despite all the inaccurate and negative media that has been associated with fishing, it is important to point out some of the good news. The majority of assessed stocks in north-east Atlantic are recovering, and no doubt the same is true for non-assessed stocks. Indeed, fishing industry/science initiatives will have a very important role to play this year in shedding more light on the status of data deficient stocks, which in turn will hopefully lead to more realistic quotas. Overall fishing mortality has shown a dramatic reduction over the last 10 years or so and our stocks are being fished sustainably.

Here are some facts worth considering. According to Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, the amount of fishing effort by the Scottish fleet has declined by a massive 70 per cent between 2000 and 2011. Furthermore, the latest scientific figures from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) reveals that the spawning stock biomass of North Sea cod has increased by 250 per cent from 2006 to 2012. Fishing mortality for cod (or the amount of fish being taken out of the sea) has declined by 43 per cent between 2000 and 2011. And make no mistake, the pain and the sacrifice made by the Scottish fishing industry in reaching this stage have been immense.

This is why there is increasing anger on the quayside from the continuing carping from the sidelines by environmental groups trying to paint a picture of doom on fish stocks when the situation is actually very positive and continuing to improve. Things really came to a head with the recent Hugh’s Fish Fight TV series, which portrayed fishing in a totally negative and inaccurate manner. It is important that we contest such one-sided and unbalanced reporting and this will be a clear focus for the SFF over the coming years.

Meanwhile, the ongoing fish recovery has led to some good news for quotas with increases for several key stocks in the North Sea including haddock, whiting, and herring. The threat of further cuts in effort and quota for cod have also been fended-off.

But challenges remain, particularly so in the pelagic sector with the continuing overfishing by Iceland and the Faroes threatening both the Scottish industry and the long-term future sustainability of the stock. Hopefully, in the next few months Iceland and the Faroes will return to the negotiating table and agree a deal that is fair and equitable.

Also of concern is the working detail of the now agreed proposal to ban discards. The European Parliament recently voted in favour of a discards ban, coming into force for pelagic fisheries in 2014 and phased in for other fisheries up until 2019. Whilst this agreement is an important first step in ensuring the practical introduction of a discards ban, it should be recognised that huge challenges remain for the industry in its implementation that will require major changes in the way that fishermen operate. The Scottish industry has already made heavy sacrifices in working towards this and it is vital that there is real flexibility in the way that the management of the no discards scheme is finally operated.

Also of concern in recent months have been the low prices for fish. With the horse-meat scandal and other food scare stories being prominent in the media at the moment, now is the time to expend every available effort in promoting Scottish seafood. Scottish fish is an extremely high quality food product that has a low carbon footprint and is healthy to eat. Our resounding message to consumers is to demand from retailers and restaurants more Scottish fish!

TheFishSite News Desk

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