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Fisheries Committee - November 2015

Ian Hudghton MEP

The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament recently held a public hearing on Multispecies Management Plans for fish stocks. Public hearings provide a valuable opportunity for MEPs to hear from experts about the 'real world' practical implications of the topic under discussion - in this case the implementation of new management principles arising from the review of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

We heard contributions from speakers who raised some important issues, including a considerable amount of emphasis on the phased rollout of the landing obligation, otherwise known as the discard ban, which is one of the key changes being introduced as part of the evolution of the CFP. One of the headline presentations at the hearing was made by Mr. Simon Collins, Executive Officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, representing one of the most fisheries-dependent areas to be found anywhere in the European Union.

Mr. Collins highlighted the importance of the fishing industry to Shetland, where almost a quarter of all jobs are supported by an industry which accounts for a third of the islands’ GDP. Fisheries is absolutely vital to the economic wellbeing of Shetland – and the continued diversity of the islands’ fleet is necessary for the viability of the industry as a whole.

Mr. Collins also highlighted the highly mixed nature of the important demersal (white fish) fishery, where different species of fish swim around together – with the average tow of a net resulting in a catch of five or more different species. This underlines the huge complexity involved in implementing the landing obligation. The changes necessary for fishermen to comply with the new regime must be gradual – and must be brought about in full cooperation with the industry itself.

I know that there are grave concerns in the fishing industry of Shetland, the whole of Scotland and, indeed, across the EU. Whilst fishermen themselves have no wish to catch unwanted fish, and most certainly do not want to waste this valuable resource by discarding, the shift of emphasis in the new CFP will require the allowance of a considerable period of time for adjustment.

I have therefore sought assurances from the European Commission that the gradual implementation of the landing obligation will fully adhere to one of the other key innovations of the supposedly reformed CFP, namely regionalisation. The days of highly complex and rigid rules emanating from Brussels must be surely at an end – and fishermen in key fishing nations such as Scotland must be allowed to develop workable systems in conjunction with their local and national authorities. Fishing communities like Shetland are dependent on the long-term survival of their local fishing industries – and that requires a pragmatic and regionalised approach from the European Commission.

Nobody wants to see dead fish thrown back into the sea, least of all fishermen themselves. Discards were however part and parcel of the old CFP and it is to be hoped that the new policy can bring improved fisheries management. The changes necessary cannot however be brought about overnight.

Fishermen must be allowed to adapt and develop new systems to comply with the new regime. This means cooperation between the local and national authorities and the fishermen themselves, those who are best placed to know the situation in their own waters. My view is that the discard ban should provide incentives to minimise unwanted catches and therefore to reduce fish mortality, rather than simply relocate the discards problem on to the quayside.

Meanwhile the planned referendum on UK membership of the EU is a topic of conversation in Brussels. The European Parliament has invited David Cameron to speak on the subject, and debate with MEPs, at a future plenary session.

The EU membership reforms which the UK Government claims to be promoting are somewhat vague, and David Cameron has confessed that Treaty changes would not be able to be concluded before the in/out referendum. It is reported that the other 27 member states have demanded that Mr Cameron spell out his demands clearly in writing for consideration.

In reality, the EU is constantly evolving to take account of political realities and seeking to address the concerns of the member states. Some reforms can be implemented within the existing Treaty framework, rather than requiring Treaty change. These reforms should focus on two priorities; economic and social policies which will make a tangible difference to the lives of its citizens, and regulatory reform. Member States which engage constructively with EU partners in pursuit of their objectives are more likely to succeed in negotiations and deal-making.

The EU internal marketplace of 500 million consumers is vitally important to Scotland's economic performance, now and in the future. Scotland benefits directly from being a part of the EU. 336,000 Scottish jobs were estimated to be directly associated with exports to the EU in 2011. The EU was the destination for 46% of Scotland’s total exports in 2013 - worth £12.9billion that year.

The freedom to travel, study and work across Europe has brought major benefits to Scotland. At present there are 170,000 people from the European Union who live and work in Scotland. They contribute a great deal to the diversity of our culture, the prosperity of our economy, and the strength of our society.

Article published in Scotland Europa