Local control essential (Richard Lochhead)

With the eurozone financial crisis dominating headlines across Europe, it’s easy to overlook that we’re also at a vital stage in EU fisheries reform – with critical discussions by EU fishing ministers in June on the future of the much derided Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

These decisions will impact on Shetland fishermen – and those across the whole of the EU. Some good progress has been made by the European Commission, such as work towards the eventual elimination of fish discards, which Scotland has pressed hard for. Dumping marketable fish dead overboard is a shocking waste of a valuable food resource and one of the biggest failings of the deeply flawed CFP.

But with a policy that stretches from high-tech pelagic trawlers of the Atlantic to artisan anchovy fishers in the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise it’s been challenging to develop solutions that all countries can sign up to.

The fact is that in the Common Fisheries Policy there is precious little common ground – and even less common sense. As a consequence we are yoked to a policy that represents the lowest common denominator.

Fortunately, one key reform proposal still remains on the table – to move fisheries management decisions away from Brussels and replace it with more regionalised and local control. Scotland has been at the forefront of promoting this approach, essential if we are to solve the damaging “one size fits all” approach of the CFP.

Regionalisation taps in to local knowledge and experience and is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the marine environment – something the current CFP simply cannot do. The principle is strongly supported by fishermen and environmentalists alike. It’s a no-brainer for the better management of our seas.

Despite this clear case there are concerns that vested interests may seek to neuter this most significant plank of reform. For all their warm words, there are some within the Commission and the European Parliament who would probably prefer the dead hand of Brussels to keep our fishing communities tightly within their grasp.

That’s why I’m fully committed to doing all I can to ensure greater regional control is a key feature in a reformed CFP. We have lobbied the UK government strenuously on this issue – and as a member state the UK must press the case for genuine regionalisation.

Without radical decentralisation of the CFP the reform process will have failed. The UK in particular must make this a priority or will have failed fisheries conservation and our fishing communities. The CFP reform process is therefore a big test for the UK government and, indeed, all governments.

We cannot condemn Scotland’s industry to another decade of disappointment and hardship. That is the prospect we face if inaction, suspicion and fear stop meaningful reforms in how Europe manages its seas.

Richard Lochhead
Fisheries secretary
Scottish Parliament,


Add Your Comment
  • James Anderson

    • May 29th, 2012 23:25

    Richard Lochhead means well when he talks of the ‘eventual elimination of fish discards’. He seems to believe fishermen will applaud this policy with cheers and flag waving, yet I am a fisherman and I haven’t met any fishermen who support a discard ban.

    Would a fish living it’s natural life cycle not end it decomposing at sea? Should we bring ashore fish which will inevitably end up in land fill?
    When we discard at sea it is either non marketable or we haven’t quota for it. The problem with a ban is what happens when the quotas are taken. When for instance the Shetland quota for hake or ling is taken in perhaps May or earlier, what would we do? If we can’t discard them and we can’t land them presumably we would have to stop fishing. This would leave main stock quotas uncaught and boats going bust. We are told to adapt our gear to avoid these species we are short of quota for, this has never been achieved and probably never will. It would be like picking up a handful of marbles of similar size but mixed colour with a blindfold on and trying to get only one colour.

    We should accept that fishing is never going to be completely clear of discards and instead concentrate efforts on discard reduction and not a discard ban. To those who question the fishermen’s motives for not welcoming a ban, remember we only get paid for the fish we land. Discarding is work and for no money, but it is a part of the job. It should be noted that all discards go back into the ecosystem and food chain of the sea. If we bring these fish ashore it is worse than discarding, as it robs the sea of the natural cycle which would happen if these fish were left to their natural death.

    Where is the sense in slashing quotas then expressing horror at the fact we now discard more! We need politicians to take a step back now and try to find solutions to these problems .If not we will get the worst case scenario of a politically expedient ban which would hit fishermen very hard and achieve nothing.


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