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Euro MPs get Reality Check from Scottish Skippers

29 April 2013

SCOTLAND, UK - Fishermen have to balance their dangerous profession with mounting costs and economic pressures against a background of regulations and controls often driven more by environmental concerns than by an understanding of the sector. This was the message from Scottish skippers addressing a working breakfast in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The meeting entitled "The Business of Fishing" was organised by the Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development and chaired by Scottish Conservative Euro MP Struan Stevenson.

The session featured a new short film introduced by Hazel Curtis, Chief Economist at Seafish, featuring four vessel owners from around the UK highlighting the day-to-day strategic aspects of running a fishing business. In addition, the meeting heard contributions from Scottish skippers Iain Harcus and Jimmy Buchan and Scottish Fishermen’s' Federation President Alan Coghill.

Speaking from Brussels after the meeting Struan Stevenson said: "Fishermen risk their lives to bring high quality, healthy, fresh food to our tables. They struggle to do so against an austere economic background with rising fuel costs, massive costs for quota and an increasingly hostile public, stirred up by doom and gloom environmentalists and celebrity chefs who claim that fish stocks are collapsing and our seas are being emptied.

“The reality is quite different. The NAFC Marine Centre in Shetland, one of our foremost maritime educational institutes, has just published a report based on information collated from ICES (The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas), which proves that in the past decade, cod stocks in the North Sea have doubled, plaice stocks have trebled and hake stocks have quadrupled, while fishing mortality rates (the proportion of fish caught each year) have fallen dramatically year on year. This new report has confounded the critics and demonstrated clearly that the hard work and sacrifices made by the industry have paid off.”

"We are now in the sensitive position of negotiation between the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy. This is a once in a generation opportunity to devolve day-to-day management responsibilities to the Member States, to introduce a system of maximum sustainable yields and to phase in a sensible ban on discards – the wasteful practice of dumping fish dead back into the sea. But the emphasis has to be on the word 'sensible'."

Mr Stevenson concluded: “The contributions of the Scottish skippers involved today demonstrated the strength of their view that a 100 per cent ban on discards in a mixed fishery is simply unachievable. While discussions are on-going between the EU institutions under the co-decision process on 'de-minimis' percentages of fish that can continue to be dumped under a flexible discards ban, this has become a difficult and sensitive area as the majority of MEPs have voted for a total discards ban with a zero de-minimis allowance.

"It is perhaps timely that this meeting went ahead today so that MEPs had the chance to hear the views of front-line fishermen on discards and other key issues against the background of CFP reform and the fact that the biggest Seafood Exhibition in the world is taking place this week in Brussels. I hope their views will help to shape the outcome of these sensitive negotiations on CFP reform."

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