The following article by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, appeared in the Buchan Observer’s Fishing in Focus feature
I can’t recall a time in the past when I’ve opened the SFF’s annual Fishing in Focus feature on a positive note – which is why I am so happy to do so this time around.
After an incredibly difficult 15 years or so, it is satisfying to see that the hard work and sacrifices of our fishing industry is now bearing fruit in terms of stock recovery. The majority of stocks of interest to our fishermen are in good health or increasing.
This includes North Sea cod – and there is even talk of this iconic species being entered for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in the near future. Many other of our key stocks are already part of the MSC programme, including haddock, saithe, herring and mackerel. Scotland is becoming synonymous with responsible fishing. This is good for Scotland and good for the Scottish seafood brand.
The healthy status of our stocks has in turn resulted in an upsurge in new boat building – in itself the best possible expression of industry confidence.
As ever, however, there are a number of factors that are still causing great uncertainty in the industry – not least the discard ban. The first phase for demersal fishers is already underway this year, but that is the easy part. A recent Seafish report has warned that fleet earnings could be cut significantly from 2019 onwards once the full ban is implemented.
Choke species – fish where all quota has been fully utilised – have the potential to close fisheries down early. This is why it is so important that the discard ban is managed in a common sense manner where initiatives are needed to address choke points created by low TAC and data-poor fish stocks.
In effect, our fishing industry is dependent upon the Scottish and UK governments who signed-up to this largely unworkable regulation in finding management measures that will get us out of this mess.
Another ongoing challenge is that while most of us love to eat fish, many well-funded environmental NGOs don’t want us to catch fish – or impose such tight restrictions as to make commercial fishing impossible. For reasons best known to them agriculture seems to be acceptable but fishing isn’t. This is a rather blinkered view of food production, which if carried out to the full would actually do immense harm to our global environment.
Looking to the immediate future, the outcome of EU referendum will chart the path over how our fishing industry will develop over the coming years. If you ask around the quayside, then it is nigh on impossible to find a fisherman who favours remaining within the EU. This is hardly surprising, given the years of incompetent management that has been the hallmark of the Common Fisheries Policy.
Of course, as fishermen make up their minds and prepare too vote, the one big question that will be looming in their minds is would the Scottish and UK governments do a better job negotiating on our behalf if we were out of Europe, than they do now when we are in?