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Scottish Skippers Discuss Industry Challenges with Minister

Sustainability Economics Politics +4 more

SCOTLAND, UK - A group of skippers visited the Scottish Parliament last week, to discuss with Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead the challenges of working in the industry.

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A key theme to emerge was that, in dealing with a very unpredictable working environment, fishermen need more flexibility to change fishing practices and minimise costs. Nine skippers took part, representing both east and west coasts, with whitefish, prawns and scallop sectors represented.

Mr Lochhead said: "Scottish fishermen work in harsh conditions, day in, day out. Yet what this meeting with skippers impressed on me is that their main issues are not with making a living in this tough environment, but the frustrations and difficulties of a rigid system imposed by the EU that doesnt give the flexibility they need.

"I am in full agreement that the present system needs to change, which is why Im pressing for radical changes to the Common Fisheries Policy. Regionalisation would mean decisions that affect our fishermen such as these skippers can be taken closer to home, tailored to their needs while better protecting the stocks.

"I was heartened to hear that the skippers felt we must do more to promote Scottish sea fisheries as an outstanding seafood product. Im committed to working closer with the industry to get that message across in the same way that Scotch Beef and Scotch Whisky are perceived around the world.

"What was also made clear is that the Scottish Government can do more to communicate directly with the grassroots of the industry and ensure our messaging is clear and consistent. Ive asked my officials to take this feedback on board.

"Improving communications with the grassroots the hard working, active fishermen who experience all the difficulties of fishing first hard is why this meeting was organised. And over the winter we are continuing a programme of engagement, through the quayside conversations events.

"This approach is enabling direct contact between senior Marine Scotland staff and the fishing industry. Eighteen events are planned in ports around the country and I look forward to attending a number of quayside conversations in the New Year."

Commenting on the message from Richard Lochhead, Scottish Fishermens Federation, Chief Executive, Bertie Armstrong said: "I am glad that the Cabinet Secretary has given public recognition to the message directly from working skippers that despite increasing stocks, the value from their businesses remains trapped in inflexible regulation. He has certainly heard this before and we simply cannot wait for CFP reform to fix all ills - if we do there will be no serious fishing industry left and its associated infrastructure that is so vital to fragile coastal communities.

For example, on days at sea, the flexibility we need to balance shortfalls in one area with surpluses in another must be dealt with now - not as part of a process unlikely to produce regulatory reform before 2014. There is a pile of priorities that need to be addressed urgently- the number of days that vessels can put to sea, sanctions for Iceland and Faroes for overfishing mackerel, and a common sense approach to discarding, which I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will agree need to be on the immediate practical agenda. All these facts will repeatedly be hammered home by the SFF and by all the skippers he meets."