By LOUISE THOMASON
At the first meeting of the Scottish Fisheries council in 2009, the Scottish government announced it is to launch a detailed study into the profitability of the fleet.
Among the issues discussed on Tuesday were measures to be taken to assist the fleet in the current economic situation, particularly in light of changes made at the EU Fisheries Council in December.
The meeting was chaired by fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead, who said: “As we begin to feel the full effects of the downturn, our study will produce plans to enhance the economic success and resilience of our fleets. We will work with the industry to identify effective steps that can be taken, whether by government, industry or others, to enhance profitability.
“Any measures will support the government’s six point economic recovery programme. We will continue to put sustainable economic growth at the heart of everything we do. The fishing deal achieved in the autumn negotiations will deliver economic benefits for the whole of Scotland, but tough challenges remain.”
A strategy and management plan to enable the conservation of stocks and reduction of waste, through landing more and discarding less fish, will be among the biggest challenges fishermen will face.
Mr Lochhead continued: “I have already announced measures to help fishermen meet the cost of new conservation measures agreed at [the] December Council, including a fast-track mechanism to access the European Fisheries Fund (EFF).
“Today was a welcome opportunity to update the industry on what we will do to help them weather the economic storm. Fishing is part of the social fabric of Scotland, defining many communities, and Scottish landings are worth about £350 million to our economy.
“In the current climate it is even more important that we work alongside the industry to develop solutions. We are not immune from this downturn, but by working together we can come through it and be prepared for a strong recovery.”
However Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong warned of the practical realities faced by those in the industry: “This is not as simple as it sounds and represents a very difficult challenge for fishermen.”
The federation has agreed to a plan to help fishermen land fish which have the highest market value, thereby reducing the amounts that will be dumped in an attempt to work towards the targets set.
“This will involve close liaison between processors, fishermen and the market as a whole,” said Mr Armstrong.
The current economic climate formed the basis of the meeting and with this in mind, the SFF and all stakeholders highlighted the need to ensure fishermen are financially protected.
In particular, they are looking for the government assurance that fishermen will be protected from liquidation and will receive payment for all the products they sell to allow them to remain in business.
Mr Armstrong said: “We believe it is essential for the fishing industry to have some kind of payment guarantee or protection system in place to ensure that the fleet remains viable.”