In a detailed response to the European Commission's Green Paper on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Scottish Government set out its vision to deliver improvements now and in the future for Scotland's fishing fleets and fish stocks.
The Green Paper offers countries the opportunity to set out their principles on European fisheries policy, with detailed negotiations on the future of the CFP set for 2010 and 2011.
In their submission, Ministers reiterated their belief that the CFP should be scrapped rather than reformed. They stated that even if Scotland remains part of the CFP then powers must be returned to Member States to allow them to co-operate on a regional basis to help bring an end to the damage inflicted by Europe's most unpopular policy.
Measures aimed at securing a more profitable and sustainable future for Scotland's fishermen and environment include:
- Management measures to end discards - the most unpalatable aspect of the CFP;
- Co-management of Scotland's seas with industry and marine stakeholders - giving the real experts more of a say in future policy;
- Management measures aligned with marine environmental and marine planning objectives;
- A model that respects each country's historic fishing rights and that prevents quota being sold to other countries.
Scotland accounts for over two-thirds of UK quotas, and last year our fisheries landed £400 million worth of fish into Scottish ports. The value of these landings and the onshore sector means fishing is many times more important to the Scottish economy than to UK as a whole.
Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said that the Scottish Government's aim is to deliver a system that is in complete contrast to the CFP. One that is 'without micromanagement' and a world away from the 'myriad of existing unworkable and complex regulations', and free from measures that actually prevent innovative conservation.
Highlighting the need for changes and reform of the CFP 'before 2013', Mr Lochhead said: "The last 25 years of the CFP have been extremely painful and often ruinous for our fishing communities. As far as every Scots fisherman is concerned, the CFP is Europe's most damaging and unpopular policy. Now the CFP's future is up for debate and there is a long awaited opportunity to put its failures behind us and bring decision making back to Scotland to allow us to safeguard our fishing communities and our fisheries.
"The outcome of the CFP review will determine to what extent we are able to give our fishing communities a future and safeguard our rich fish stocks and an invaluable food supply for future generations.
"The Scottish Government wants the CFP scrapped and decision making returned to member states. We urge the European Commission and other member states to examine this option. If we do have to continue being part of a CFP beyond 2012, our guiding principle throughout the negotiations will be that decision making must be taken away from Brussels to the local and regional level.
"The annual madness and ill fitting regulations imposed on our fishermen by late night meetings in Brussels involving 27 countries must end. Even land-locked countries on the other side of Europe get involved in the management of our fisheries off our shores which is an absurd state of affairs.
"I am proud to say that Scotland has taken the bull by the horns and is driving forward the debate. For fishermen and environmentalists changes can't come soon enough. Our response to the Green Paper is based on the knowledge that Scottish fishermen are already ahead of the game when it comes to dealing with crucial conservation issues.
"Where we have managed recently to negotiate some say over how we manage our fisheries, working hand in hand with our industry, we have shown we can make a better of job of it than Brussels ever will. A fine example of this is the introduction of the Conservation Credits Scheme where we developed incentives to buy back days at sea rather than just swallow straights cuts. We have also secured EC agreement to go ahead with a pilot catch quotas project, to allow us to manage what is caught in the first place rather than landed with rewards for fishermen who abide by discard bans.
"I believe we have earned the right to bring control back to Scotland. We would still work with our European partners to set long term, but realistic, targets for the health of our seas and everything living within it.
"For the sake of our vital fishing industry, a way of life, and the health of our fish stocks, Europe's politicians can't afford to miss this opportunity for change."
In January 2009 the Scottish Government set-up an independent panel to produce an Inquiry into the Future of Fisheries Management and an alternative model to the CFP.
In Scottish waters, different species, such as cod and whiting, swim together. Yet Europe issues separate quotas for each individual species. This means that when fishermen haul in several species in the one net the law makes them discard those fish for which they have no quotas even though the fish are already dead. Fishermen do deploy selective nets and they help greatly. But in a mixed fishery like Scotland's, it remains very difficult to catch one species at a time. During 2007, whitefish worth an estimated £60 million was discarded in the North Sea.
Since then Scotland has developed a number of innovative conservation measures such as selective gear and closure schemes to reduce catching fish without quota that is then discarded. These measures are reducing wastage, but Scottish Ministers believe that Europe must change its rules now to prevent the waste of hundreds of millions of pounds worth of our fishing resource.
In response, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The objective of the CFP has always been based on the exploitation of living marine resources that will provide for sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.
“It has failed to meet this aim, making reform essential. We would strongly argue that the lifeblood of sustainable fishing has to be profitable industry. The one big block to achieving that objective has been the centralised micro-management.
“We have long been pressing for the decentralisation of the CFP as the way forward for effective fisheries management, with special arrangements put in place for stocks that migrate across international boundaries. The best way to meet the aim of sustainable harvesting of our wonderful natural resource is to properly involve the professionals with first hand knowledge. We have committed to that in Scotland and will continue to expand upon the successful start we have made in working together with government and scientists.
“For Scotland, it is essential that CFP reform includes the assurance that our fishermen will always have access to stocks based on our historical fishing rights.”