President’s Message 2017

The result of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 took everybody by surprise including the fishing industry.  It does present our sector with some exciting prospects, what we are calling a “sea of opportunity” – but more on that later.

First of all I would like to pay tribute to Ross Dougal who has had to step down as President due to ill health. He was an effective and hardworking President and we wish him a speedy recovery. We also look forward to his return as chairman of SFF Services in due course.

I would also like to welcome the Fife Fishermen’s Association into the membership of the SFF. Our strength lies in the diversity of our representation, both in terms of fisheries type and geography.

A number of strategic changes are being implemented to improve the internal operation of the Federation.  Regular online meetings with Association representatives ensure the Federation executive is kept up to speed with new developments.  Our internal committee structure has been revised with Associations now taking over chairing and setting policy direction of the important meetings.  I’m grateful to Elaine Whyte (Clyde FA) and Fiona Matheson (Orkney FA) for heading up the inshore and sustainable fisheries committees.  Mike Park (SWFPA) and Simon Collins (Shetland FA) have stepped up to the plate by heading up the newly formulated Brexit committee.

Brexit, of course presents a huge opportunity for all our members and fishing communities by offering us the chance to regain control of our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. We believe this will lead to a more effective fisheries management system that delivers business as well as environmental stability. It also delivers the opportunity of ensuring fairer and more appropriate shares of catching opportunities for the UK fishing industry within our own waters.

However, we are totally aware of the real danger that the interests of our fishing communities will be traded away during the complex negotiations ahead. This is why we are putting so much co-ordinated effort into making sure that the opportunities that Brexit can bring for fishing are heard at the highest level of government.

Brexit will be major workstream for 2017 but we can’t take our eye off the ball in terms of other policy areas.  Complying with the landing obligation for instance will remain to be a major issue for our fishermen as long as we remain in the EU.  We most certainly don’t want to see boats disappearing from the fleet due to this legislation, especially at a time when we are on the cusp of regaining control of our fisheries.

The introduction and implementation for Marine Protected Areas is an ongoing issue for us all and we have been working hard to ensure that they are designated on an evidential basis and with due recognition that sustainable fishing and marine protection are not mutually exclusive.

In general terms, the level of new vessel building and second-hand vessel movements is indicative of an underlying mood of optimism in the industry. For the demersal sector, quota increases in 2016 for key stocks such as haddock and cod has provided a welcome boost. Similarly for pelagic, 2017 will see an increase in the TACs for a number of our important stocks such as mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto Scandian Herring.  The market is currently robust for both mackerel and herring.

Market trends for the scallop sector have remained positive with slight increases for King Scallop and a significant increase in value for queen scallops.

The nephrops trawl sector continue to face new demands, but new innovations in gear technology focused on increasing selectivity show the ability of the sector to meet these challenges head on.

Prices in the inshore creel fishery are currently buoyant in large measure due to the euro exchange rate which is a very welcome boost to the fishery where prices have been in the doldrums for several years.

These are challenging times for SFF Services Ltd with the downturn in the offshore oil and gas sectors, but despite this, effective management has ensured that revenues and work-streams are holding well, which is benefiting many of our members.

I am also pleased to report that the Scottish Fishermen’s Trust has had another productive year helping to support a range of worthwhile projects ranging from fishermen’s training to scientific research. I would encourage fishermen keen to undertake training to apply for training support for non-mandatory courses.

2016 has been a very dark year in terms of fishermen losing their lives at sea. Man overboard appears to be a major cause of loss of life and it’s worth noting that the majority the MAIB’s current investigations are focused on such incidents. It is important that we all learn the lessons from such incidents so as to reduce the likelihood of future occurrences and our Safety Officer is engaged in a number of initiatives that will hopefully lead to a reduction in the number of accidents at sea.

Finally, it worth noting that there is much to be optimistic about in the terms of the general health of our fish and shellfish stocks, with the majority in good shape and being fished sustainably. This can only bode well for the future.

I wish you all a safe and prosperous 2017.

Ian Gatt

SFF President