Industry leaders this week welcomed pledges to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to ensure more local control – but isles MSP Tavish Scott warned fishermen could not wait until 2012 for the changes.
The European Commission published a green paper last month that made several radical suggestions, including devolving fisheries management to the local level where possible.
The paper was discussed at the latest Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels this week, where European Commission bureaucrats admitted that the system had failed.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) chief executive Hansen Black said: “This is something that we have been involved [in] for some time now. All fishing leaders from the EU member states agree that the Common Fisheries Policy needs reform.”
One of the things the SFA has campaigned for is decentralisation of fisheries management. “We want management to be closer to the industry and further from Brussels.”
However Mr Scott said: “Our fishermen are currently struggling with the old discredited CFP. They cannot wait for a reformed CFP to come into force in 2012. Unless the current draconian restrictions imposed as a result of last December’s Fisheries Council are eased, they may well drive our whitefish fleet out of business so that there is nothing left by 2012.
“The renewed confidence in the whitefish industry which we saw a few years ago, with new boats joining the Shetland fleet, has been hit by the regime imposed on them last year. The Scottish Government needs to make sure that they act now to keep our fleet in business. They must not be allowed to think that the promise of a reformed CFP in 2012 is enough to help our beleaguered fleet.”
Turning to the proposed reforms, Mr Scott said: “I have long argued that radical reform of the CFP is needed. The existing centralised version needs to be torn up and replaced with regional management of fisheries. So this acceptance by EU fisheries ministers that this is the way forward is welcome, although I don’t underestimate the pressures they will still face from those in Brussels who will still want to micromanage our fisheries from the centre.”
Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead welcomed the acknowledgement at the meeting that the CFP has failed and that a new approach was required.
However, Mr Lochhead warned that Scotland faces a tough challenge to negotiate changes that will protect the country’s historic fishing rights and to return decision-making to Scotland.
“At long last there is widespread recognition that Europe’s damaging CFP is failing and is over-centralised. Scotland has been one of the CFP’s strongest critics and we are in the vanguard for change. The acknowledgement that top-down micro-management of Scotland’s rich fishing grounds has failed our fishing communities and damaged fish stocks is a huge step forward.
“But it is clear that Scotland faces a big challenge to ensure that genuine decision-making is returned to Scotland and that our historic fishing opportunities are protected under any new arrangements to be agreed in the coming years. It is certainly the case that change can’t come quick enough because with every day that passes Scotland suffers that bit more under the discredited CFP.
“It was encouraging to hear the European Commission citing Scotland’s own measures as the way forward and this supports the Scottish Government’s view that we should be left to put our own fisheries conservation measures in place as Scotland’s fishermen know best how to manage our own waters.”