When it comes to the fishing industry, the Scottish Government has been active politically and bureaucratically in a fashion never seen in this country before. Partly that is a result of the geography of representation: many of its politicians, including First Minister Alex Salmond and fisheries minister Richard Lochhead, are MSPs for fishing communities. It is also a function of the wider desire of the SNP for independence, which the party believes would give Scotland greater scope to work for the industry even in the context of European Union membership.
Whatever the causes, the result is a higher profile for an industry that has been at the receiving end of a mesh of regulations worthy of a big trawler net since Britain joined the then European Community in the mid-1970s. This week a study commissioned by the Scottish Government highlighted a quadruple whammy of poor prices, high fuel costs, quota reductions and restrictions on days at sea as being responsible for the hard times the industry is currently facing.
Poor prices and high fuel costs are variable, of course, and unit prices and costs cannot be easily manipulated. What can, however, are the quota and days at sea restrictions. It sincerely to be hoped that, partly as a result of the report produced by Seafish for the government, which is to be put before Commission officials ahead of the annual quota/days at sea negotiations, strong account is taken of the plight of the industry this year.
In the longer term, the Green Paper published by the Commission earlier this year made positive noises about returning some aspects of control of fisheries to local producer organisations. Let us hope that this proposal is gaining steam in the corridors of power in Brussels and survives the bureaucracy’s gutting knives.