OPINION: The desk-bound green groups that dictate fishing policy

By Daniel Lawson

Here at the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, we look out over Mair’s Pier and the daily bustle of harbour life as Shetland’s fleet of vessels comes and goes, fulfilling its mission to bring the best seafood on the planet to our plates.

At the quayside, or in the office, we speak constantly with our members to take up their concerns, minor and major.

Shetland skippers have worked in harmony with the sea for thousands of years; the maritime world in general and fishing in particular are vital to the very existence of our community and way of life.

In contrast, the corporately-funded, desk-bound staff of environmental campaign groups operate in a fluorescently-lit, urban world of computer screens and utterly misplaced conceptions about our industry.

Yet so warped has our political system become that, despite their having no stake whatsoever in our future, they are the ones being allowed to dictate fisheries policy and regulations.

The rigid ideological stance of these so-called eNGOs prevents them from accepting the sheer complexity of marine biology and apparently exempts them from the requirement to provide proper evidence for their assertions.

The ultimately unsuccessful plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) came from this back-of-the-envelope approach.

It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so dangerous. It jeopardises the jobs of hundreds of people and poses a genuine threat to our community.

Why? Because fundamental to the outlook of eNGOs is the belief that fishing causes catastrophic environmental harm.

Obviously, every form of food production has an impact on the environment. But we need to eat. And the reality is that our fleet is highly regulated and catches healthy, well-managed stocks.

So a plea to the Scottish government – resist the siren voices of these groups with their litany of falsehoods and determination to destroy perfectly legitimate businesses.

Let’s face it, ministers and civil servants must be fed up with the stream of freedom of information requests being made by eNGOs and legal action being both threatened and taken.

All that does is absorb ministerial and civil service time and resources, slowing up policy implementation and in a cynically created feedback loop giving the eNGOs a further strand to their relentlessly negative narrative.

At the heart of this is a basic failure to understand that the story they want to tell is untrue.

Over 70 per cent of Scotland’s key commercial stocks are fished at sustainable levels – the highest for over 30 years – and scientific advice is for increases of over 100 per cent in total allowable catches for some stocks.

There is also clear international scientific recognition of the healthy status of cod in Scottish waters, despite what the eNGOs have told the public over recent years.

Who can forget the headlines about there only being “100 cod left in the North Sea”?

At what point do you cross a boundary that bars you from having any right to influence policy?


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