The Scottish fishing industry is currently facing numerous challenges, most notably in adapting to new ‘Landing Obligation’ regulations to eliminate discards at sea, Ross Dougal, President of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), told guests at tonight’s (4 November) Federation annual dinner in Edinburgh.

Mr Dougal told the event, attended by Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead and other leading industry figures, that much detail still had to be finalised on how the landing obligation would be effectively managed for the demersal sector of the fleet.  The new regime, which is already in place for pelagic vessels, will be phased in for demersal fishers from 1 January 2016.

Mr Dougal said: “After a lot of discussion the concept of phasing in the species over the years 2016 to 2019 has been accepted but a lot of the provisions contained in the landing obligation, especially those concerning flexibilities, are ill defined and are still being debated by industry and administrators. The problems of choke species and how the landing obligation copes with species that have a zero Total Allowable Catch are the subject of many discussions but, so far, without any practical answers.”

He added: “All these difficulties are beginning to have an effect on the member states and it is welcome to hear a shift from the original hardline rhetoric surrounding the landing obligation. Dramatic political action may yet be required to avert or mitigate a potential economic disaster for the Scottish fleet and subsequently the onshore processing industry.”

On Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Mr Dougal stated: “The first tranche of management measures to protect the features within the West Coast MPAs were announced in the summer of 2015 to the consternation of the fishing industry.

“The SFF, together with representatives of the various fishermen’s associations and working skippers, had been at the forefront of discussions regarding sensible and proportional management measures but the measures announced exceeded what had apparently been the options discussed.

“It must be remembered that MPAs are meant to protect features that are evidenced and are not designed to be anti-fishing measures.”

He added: “We are grateful to the Scottish Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for not only scrutinising the draft legislation but taking time in their extremely busy work schedule to hold an evidence session in response to the many submissions from the fishing industry regarding their concerns.

“We still have many questions regarding the scope of the socio-economic analysis on the impact of the proposed management measures used in the decision making process by the Cabinet Secretary. The analysis seems to be very broad brush and does not reflect the impact of the proposed management measures in the local areas that will be affected.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Dougal also highlighted the work of the Federation in promoting safety within the fishing industry and encouraging new entrants into careers in fishing.

The President was introduced by SFF Chief Executive Bertie Armstrong who in his opening remarks noted with regret that the ‘Team Scotland’ of a few years ago where the industry /government interface was hallmarked by transparency and collaboration had unfortunately developed into a more uncertain relationship.

Mr Armstrong said that given the scale of challenges facing the fishing industry and government, some areas of visible disagreement have surfaced in recent times.  However, he hoped that the return to a coherent ‘Team Scotland’ could be rapid and such a move would be embraced by the industry.