Something fishy about the SNP


The EU fish talks begin today in Brussels. Following hot on the heels of the EU-Norway negotiations, which settled the total allowable catches (TACs) for the North Sea, the Brussels bun fight will set the TACs for the West of Scotland fisheries.

Whilst the North Sea received significant quota uplifts, the prospects for the West of Scotland are not so bright.  Although the scientists are recommending a 20% increase in West of Scotland monkfish and a large increase for Rockall haddock, they are also set to recommend a 7% cut in Nephrops, and to roll over the ‘No Directed Fishery’ advice for cod. A west coast herring TAC of 0 will be much on the minds of pelagic fishermen. The talks are scheduled to finish tomorrow.

Whatever the outcome of the talks, one thing is certain: at some point this week, Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead will blame the UK Government for something. If past experience is anything to go by, it will be either that Lochhead has been locked out of the talks, or that the poor outcome was a direct result of the UK Government’s handling of the talks. Unless of course the outcome is favourable, in which case it will be Lochhead ‘wot won it’.  You will hear much from Lochhead this week.

It will make an interesting contrast with last week when Mr Lochhead was totally silent.  He certainly had a lot to be silent about, for only a few days ago members of Mr Lochhead’s political group in the European Parliament voted on a proposal that would have seen the discard ban for cod introduced a year early. 

Mr Lochhead is always reluctant to mention that in Brussels, his party is part of the Green/EFA Group. In the vital discussions in the Fisheries Committee last week, the SNP was represented by a Green Party MEP. I think it would be fair to say that the Green Group doesn’t always have the interests of Scottish fishermen to the fore. It certainly didn’t on this occasion. I have even seen correspondence from several MEPs claiming they had no idea of the consequences of their vote, as if that made it better! The UKIP representative also voted without knowing what he was voting on, but that is not uncommon.

My colleague Peter van Dalen MEP voted against meddling with the discard proposal. He represents the Netherlands, and he knew the consequences of bringing in the cod ban a year early. Together, we were able to get the Fisheries Committee to revisit the issue the very next day and ensure that the vote was reversed. No easy task, but vital.

Mr Lochhead would like you to forget that in so many fishing areas, from the discard ban to management plans to technical measures, the European Parliament co-decides the outcome. So it isn’t just London. Scotland’s three MEPs on the Fisheries Committee can make a real difference, and the groups in which they sit can change fisheries legislation, for good or ill.

To take another example, at the moment I am leading Deep Sea Fishery negotiations on behalf of my Group. Scotland got shafted back in 2002 when the deepwater stocks were first allocated, leaving it a derisory share of a fishery that lies just off its coast.  Leading on behalf of the SNP group is Green MEP Yannick Jadot. Again, I don’t believe I am revealing any secrets when I say that the SNP negotiator isn’t fighting strongly on behalf of Scottish fishermen. You won’t hear Mr Lochhead talking about this issue either.

Making sure Scotland’s MEP are engaged and fully aware of the consequences of their actions and importantly, the actions of their colleagues, is vital if Scotland is to get a good deal from any fishing negotiations.  Perhaps it’s time Mr Lochhead broke his self-imposed vow of silence on the shenanigans within his Group in the European Parliament, and explain what on earth they are up to.