Fishermen need support - Scottish government must take the initiative
Scottish fishermen catch the largest quantity of white fish - cod, haddock, whiting - in Europe. Peterhead is the largest white fish port in Europe. When the discard ban for the white fish stocks begins on 1 January 2016, it is Scotland that will be most affected.
The negotiating team from the European Parliament did all they could to ensure that the ban would be workable in practice and that the costs of implementation would be allocated fairly. It was agreed that fishermen would have to bear the on-board costs resulting from the discard ban - reconfiguration of the fish hold, additional sorting and icing, stowage, etc. However, it was the aim of the MEPs negotiating the reform that the onshore costs would be met by the Member State authority. That is the view of the Parliament’s chief negotiator, Alain Cadec MEP, and it was a view I endorsed, as the only Scot in the negotiations.
From the outset, the Scottish Government have been disinclined to see their shoreside responsibility in the way negotiated by the European Parliament. The view of Scotland’s Fisheries Minister has been that the European Parliament’s amendment was ambiguous, and therefore fishermen are liable for the shore-side disposal and all incumbent costs. Now the SNP MEP Ian Hudghton, a sixteen year veteran of the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, has taken up the cudgel, arguing that the deal struck by his own committee should not be used to support Scottish fishermen.
You will hear Mr Lochhead (and now Mr Hudghton) talk a lot about using the EU Fisheries Fund to pay for shoreside handling facilities. All fine and good. I know about that fund because I pushed to have it retained in the negotiating text, despite the best efforts of Mr Linnea Engstrom MEP, the individual nominated by Mr Lochhead’s Political Group in the European Parliament. However, this money will address the facilities in certain ports. It will not remove the potentially costly liabilities under the Animal Byproducts Directive. Nor will it solve problems where there are no shoreside handling facilities (which could well be the case on the islands), nor will it address the costs of stowage shoreside while processors and meal merchants determine if there is sufficient tonnage to merit a collection.
So what has been Mr Lochhead’s response? Is it to discuss the clause and how it can be implemented in a manner that does not create an undue burden on fishermen? Is it to accept that there is a cost for shoreside handling and that he will find funds to support the big change coming? Is it even to reply favourably to my requests for an early meeting with fishermen to discuss the issue? No. None of the above.
His response has been to write to the UK Minister to see how they are doing things in England and then to declare that because they are planning to do things differently south of the border his hands up here are tied. After all, it is really the fault of the pesky Tories and their meddling ministers.
Well, let me be clear. Of course they are going to do things differently in England and Wales. Over 90% of the quota for white fish resides north of the border. The scale of the problem in Cornwall and the North East of England is an order of magnitude different. Things are different in Scotland and the response must be different too. Even if England & Wales determines that it can address its white fish issue in a different way. Even if Mr Lochhead does not accept that a Conservative MEP is actually working in Brussels to get a better deal for fishermen.
Remember, EU law sets a floor, it, does not set a ceiling. Mr Lochhead can do things differently if he wants. He can go above and beyond the EU ruling. Indeed he can go beyond the English & Welsh approach. Or he can pick another fight with London, blame UK ministers and claim that there is nothing he can do.
Well Mr Lochhead, there is plenty you can do. Support Scottish fishermen through this difficult time for a start.
This article appeared in the Fishing News on the 23rd of June