By MARK BURGESS
THE SCOTTISH Government had officials in Shetland this week to meet with and inform fishing representatives and the general public about the current consultation process over alterating the fishing quota and licensing systems.
The NAFC Marine Centre lecture theatre saw a particularly sparse turnout for the evening public presentation by Mary McAllan and Jim Watson of the Sea Fisheries Management Division. The pair had met privately with representatives of the SFPO, SFA and other industry concerns earlier in the day but the turnout was still far below already conservative estimates for attendance.
Among those who did attend, representatives of fishing-related financial businesses did stimulate discussion with some particularly relevant and astute questions, which were seen as an aid to the consultative process and warranted further investigation by officials. Discussion of this type was in keeping with the objective of the visit to gain more insight from industry sector sources along with providing information to them.
The outline purpose of the consultation is to test the Government proposals on those people most affected by proposed changes in fishing regulation and to provide them with an opportunity to shape new legislation as it happens.
Mrs McAllan and Mr Watson had already had “enormously helpful feedback” from meetings at other major fishing communities in Scotland, including Peterhead, Ullapool and Orkney.
The proposals at the heart of the consultation are designed to make full use of the quota allocated to Scotland by ensuring that there is no regular history of unused quota through more active fisheries management within the industry.
Although it may seem unlikely for quota to remain unused, such a scenario could arise through regular guard-boat duties, for instance. There is also the intention to simplify the highly complex licensing system and establish a Scottish license review body.
The Scottish Government, having devolved power over fishing regulation, is motivated to make full use of its resources given that fishing accounts for one per cent of Scottish GDP and fishing is rated at 10 times more important to Scotland in pure economic terms than it is to the UK as a whole. Government representatives were keen to stress that the new regulations that come out of the proposals would not be in any way heavy handed or on a “use it or lose it” basis. Reviews of quota management will take place annually and holders will be given ample time to address any concerns raised by the review process before any intervention takes place.
In associated literature it is clearly affirmed that the Scottish Government is seeking to attempt to withdraw from the CFP and return greater responsibility for fisheries management to Scotland and this more active approach is seen as a step in that direction, while still operating within current policy restrictions.
Other benefits of the changes to management of the sector may come in the form of greater incentives and facilitation of newcomers to the industry to gain quota from existing holders.
It is claimed this would be done in an entirely positive fashion with available quota being directed toward this and no reduction in quota for existing fishermen, foreseeable as similar in nature to the recently controversial Community Quota scheme developed in Shetland.
The consultation process runs until 21st August, 2008 and the Marine Directorate is keen to receive comments before that date.