Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead outlined his main priorities for supporting a successful fishing sector to industry representatives in Scalloway yesterday.
Top of the agenda for the fishing industry was the landing obligation or “discard ban”, the ongoing review of quota management, and continuing work on the inshore fisheries strategy.
Speaking prior to the Scalloway meeting, Mr Lochhead said that fishermen, consumers, environmentalists and the public all wanted to see the phasing out of the discarding of fish which is thrown, dead, overboard and a “complete waste of a valuable food resource”.
He added: “The question which is causing a lot of people concern is how we get there. We have a complicated mixed fishery and it is quite difficult for fishermen to catch their quotas but at the same time avoid discards.
“I accept that. That is why were are looking at the potential for a phased in approach of the discard ban over the next few years, so we can learn how to do it properly, so we can work with the industry and of course let’s not forget that the policy of phasing out fish discards has a lot of flexibility built into it to help have a bit more of a smooth transition.
“But I do not underestimate for a second the scale of the challenge. It’s about changing the culture of how we treat our fisheries and of course our fishermen are the last people in the world who want to throw good quality fish overboard dead.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) welcomed the opportunity to quiz Mr Lochhead during his visit to Shetland this week.
SFA chairman Leslie Tait said: “His visit coincides with better times for the industry – good stocks have bred confidence, so significant investments are being made once again.
“However, it is vitally important that the discard ban and possible changes to quota allocations don’t jeopardise these positive developments, and we will be raising these issues with the minister.”
According to the SFA fishing is not only incredibly important to the Shetland economy, but a third of the whitefish landed in the UK is caught within 100 nautical miles of Shetland.
The Faroese mackerel quota and inshore fisheries are among the other issues that were discussed. Fishing, Mr Lochhead said, contibuted more than £400 million to the Scottish economy each year.
“It is great to hear that the fishing has been good over the last year, with further quota increases across many of our key stocks promising to keep businesses buoyant.
“This brings confidence and it’s great to learn that new vessels are being brought into the Shetland fleet and that Shetland has just had its record year for fishing. I’m hopeful that we can see revenues grow further, adding to fishermen’s bottom line and creating further good quality jobs,” he added.
“I also want to discuss our current review of fish quota management, which goes to the heart of our aspirations to tackle inequalities in Scotland. Quotas are the lifeblood of this industry and we want to ensure they’re managed in the common interest, in a way that provides active fishermen with the access to quota that they need, rather than concentrating them in the hands of those with the deepest pockets.
“We want to create a platform for sustaining jobs and paving the way for the next generation of young skippers, by providing an environment in which new businesses can secure the quota they need to get off the ground and add to the health of Scotland’s fishing fleet, in a way which spreads the wealth offered by our abundant fishing grounds.
He claimed that Shetland’s fisheries were a “great example” of the steps the government had taken to empower local communities and that Shetland’s inshore fisheries had shown how a local community could manage its precious natural resources.
• Richard Lochhead meets isles food producers – see The Shetland Times tomorrow.