By LOUISE THOMASON
The chief executive of Shetland Fishermen’s Association has rejected the European Commission’s assertion that there are too many boats chasing too few fish, at least in local waters.
Hansen Black was reacting to the publication this week of the green paper from Brussels on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
However, Mr Black welcomed many aspects of the report, which suggests among other things devolving control of fisheries management to the local level in many instances.
The green paper is heavily oriented towards “ecological sustainability” of fish stocks, calling for major changes to be made to combat overfishing and fleet over-capacity, which it cites as the “fundamental problem” of the industry.
The CFP must be revised, it states, to alleviate “the current reality of overfishing, fleet over-capacity, heavy subsidies, low economic resilience and decline in the volume of fish caught … The current CFP has not worked well enough to prevent those problems.”
Mr Black said: “Some areas jump out as being of concern to us. We would challenge the Commission’s views on over-capacity as here in Shetland and Scotland we have a fleet that is reasonably well in balance with the fishing opportunity.
“There is also a fairly good recovery of stock in the waters around Scotland and Shetland. We have asked the Commission to be more specific in terms of fishery for Scotland.”
He added: “Decentralisation is something we would clearly welcome. The micromanagement of fisheries by the Commission doesn’t work and is completely unsustainable; they have to devolve responsibility out to member states.”
The green paper marks the beginning of a public consultation phase, in which fishermen, those in the industry and the general public are invited to respond to and give their opinions on the ideas proposed.
This will be open until 31st December this year, after which an impact assessment report will be produced and presented to the European Parliament and Council in early 2011. It is hoped the new CFP could be adopted in 2012.
Along with overfishing, problems include a decision making process which dissuades long term sustainability and fails to give “sufficient responsibility to the industry” and a lack of political will to back the decisions.
Of worrying consequence to fishermen and environmentalists alike are the poor fish stocks which have resulted from these problems.
According to the report, 30 per cent of fish populations are “outside safe biological limits”, meaning they are in danger of never being able to replenish. In stark terms, the paper observes that “European fisheries are eroding their own ecological and economic basis”.
Previous efforts to reduce fleet sizes, for example a two per cent reduction in recent years, have been largely ineffective due to a simultaneous advance in technology which meant fishing efficiency also improved by an estimated two to three per cent in the same period.
The failings of the CFP have long been an issue for those in the industry.
Speaking before the green paper was released, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the current management structure and decision making process desperately needed to be revised.
Mr Armstrong said: “It is essential that the final outcome ensures that there is an efficient framework of properly managing the access of European fleets to a limited and shared resource – fish do no not recognise national boundaries.
“The mechanisms of the CFP are far too centralised, in a top-down, one-size-fits-all regime. This takes little account of regional differences and the starkly different approaches taken by individual member states to responsible fishing.
“We have worked hard and made sacrifices to protect the stocks and will continue to do so. There must be a transfer of powers and responsibilities from Brussels to the regions, to member states and to the fishing industry. We look forward to playing our important part in shaping the future of fisheries policy in Europe.”
SNP president Ian Hudghton MEP similarly called for structural changes to tackle the effects of a centralised decision making process.
Mr Hudghton said: “The problems with the CFP began when historic rights were taken away from Europe’s coastal nations and powers were transferred to the centre. It is now time to reverse that process and return these powers to individual nations working in co-operation on a regional basis.
“This wholesale review of European fisheries finally gives us the opportunity to redress the balance – and return the powers to where it matters.”
Released on Wednesday, the paper met with approval from fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This wide ranging paper identifies some of the problems that we have been highlighting for years, such as the devastating impact of micromanagement on our vital fisheries industry. I welcome its publication and the opportunity that it provides to improve future fisheries policy.
“We want to engage positively in this debate, identify viable alternatives and help provide a brighter future for the industry.
That is crucial for all of Scotland given the importance of the fishing industry to our national economy.”
Further information and the opportunity to respond can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries /reform/index_en.htm.