Scottish ministers, MEPs and fishermen’s leaders pressed European Commission officials for radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) at a mini-summit in Brussels today.
Top of their list of demands was a rapid return to Scotland of decision-making powers, giving the country the necessary autonomy to balance the economic, social and conservation tensions in the industry and drastically reduce the dumping of fish.
The event was co-hosted by the vice-chairman of the European Parliament fisheries committee, Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, and his fellow SNP MEP Ian Hudghton in the run-up to the production by officials of a final paper proposing reforms at the end of June.
Speaking ahead of the event, fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said: “Working in partnership with the industry and environmental groups we need to deliver real and lasting change across Europe, allowing fishermen to land and earn more, whilst catching and discarding less. We cannot deliver this if the framework is broken.
“Our guiding principle remains that decision making must be returned to Scotland where it belongs. However we cannot afford to wait for 2013 for radical changes – we need them now – before it’s too late for our fishermen and fish stocks.
“Discards are widely regarded by skippers, environmental experts and scientists as one of the current model’s biggest flaws. Existing European regulations mean that fishermen currently have little choice but to throw away much of the fish they catch – that is utterly ridiculous.”
He said Scotland had endured 25 years of pain, and at present the country’s fishermen were struggling with low market prices, rising fuel costs and other short-term problems as a result of the “broken CFP”.
“Central to the Scottish blueprint is the need to delegate decision making to member states and beyond. Within a regionalised framework there is much greater autonomy for fishing nations to balance the economic, conservation and social goals of fisheries policies. Greater industry buy-in can help reduce discards, especially when matched with incentives to harness the innovation and experience of the industry.”
Mr Hudghton said: “It seems obvious to me that those who have most to gain from successful conservation and management of our fish resources – i.e. fishing nations and communities themselves – should have the power to determine how these resources are conserved for the future.”
Mr Stevenson said: “Micro-management from Brussels has bedevilled our fisheries sector for decades. We have a chance to put things right. We have a new fisheries commissioner, a new and powerful fisheries committee in the European Parliament and an opportunity to reform completely the discredited Common Fisheries Policy.
“We must ensure that any new management policies put in place no longer pursue the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that has been disastrous for Scotland’s fishermen. Now is the chance to design a management system that guarantees a sustainable fishery with healthy fish stocks and a good living for everyone in the industry.”
Meanwhile, echoing the views of the politicians, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, told the meeting that the current, centralised fisheries management regime does not work.
Mr Armstrong said: “If we do not have clear policy objectives, accompanied by an equally clear definition of exactly what is to be delegated, we will remain where we are with the fishing industry unable to steer itself towards full sustainability and economic success. A regional solution is the only viable solution.”