HPMAs, offshore wind, crewing and fishermen’s medical certificates feature prominently on a busy agenda for 2023, reports the SFF Executive Committee

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) Executive Committee met recently in Edinburgh for its first meeting of 2023.

Time was taken to pay respects to the late Alan Coghill who died at the end of last year, and to reflect on his many years of service to the fishing industry, including a spell as SFF president between 2010 and 2014. Through his role in the Orkney Fisheries Association (OFA), Alan had been involved in the federation for many years, and Hannah Fennell, who currently leads the OFA and is SFF vice- president, and Kevin McDonnell of the Orkney and West of Scotland POs wrote a very fitting tribute to him that was published recently in FN.

Elspeth Macdonald, SFF chief executive, reported that there had been a busy agenda for the Executive Committee, preceded by a full day of focused working groups. She said: “The landscape that we’re working in at the moment is certainly very crowded, not just at sea but also in policy development.

“We are working on responding to several key consultations, including Marine Scotland’s consultation on Highly Protected Marine Areas and the Scottish government’s draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. These are really important areas for us to focus on as the impacts of both could have significant effects on fishing.

“We continue to take every opportunity to press the case to ministers in both the Scottish government and the UK government that developing policies that fail to recognise the importance of maintaining food production or properly support fishing as a sustainable way of producing protein will have far-reaching consequences.

“We continue to be extremely concerned about Marine Scotland’s policy on HPMAs, which is politically driven rather than being based on any meaningful ecological objectives, and where the plans are extremely vague and lacking in any justifiable scientific foundation. It is very worrying that Marine Scotland presses ahead with HPMAs and expansion of offshore renewables with so little evident effort to understand and address the impact on the fishing fleets.

“We also discussed our concerns about the poorly understood biological and ecosystem effects of marine renewables, where governments’ ambitions for scale and speed appear to trump taking a precautionary approach – yet that is what our industry is required to do when there are data gaps in stock assessment. Government seems to be taking a completely contrary position as far as offshore wind farms are concerned.

“We took the opportunity to discuss these and other matters with officials from Marine Scotland who attended part of the meeting.

Whilst we might sometimes have robust exchanges of views, we do really value officials attending our meetings to talk about issues in more detail, and with some new faces in the Marine Scotland senior team, it’s important that we get to know people who’ll be working in this area.

“It was also really useful to have a presentation from Dr Kyla Orr about seaweed farming, showing a good example of best practice on how to develop a marine business whilst taking local fishing interests fully into account. We know that there is ambition for seaweed cultivation to be another area of expansion in our seas, and there is much that others could learn from her approach.

“As chair of the UK Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance (FWA), I also updated the SFF membership about work being done by FWA to make representation to the Home Office about the crewing situation in parts of the fleet, and the importance of providing a reasonable period for adjustment to comply with new immigration rules. We know that other parts of the maritime sector have been granted concessions by the Home Office to allow time to adjust.”

The Executive Committee also discussed the MCA’s plans to introduce medicals for all fishermen by November this year, including single-handed fishermen. Elspeth Macdonald said: “We are continuing to press the MCA to ensure that single-handed fishermen who have fished safely for many years are not disadvantaged by the introduction of these new rules. It’s critical that the right approach will be taken, where fishermen’s welfare and safety continue to be protected through these new rules being applied appropriately.”

Elspeth Macdonald and the SFF team are ready for another very busy year ahead. “There is much for us to do in the weeks and months ahead. SFF celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the past 50 years have seen much challenge and change for the industry.

“We want to help set it on a positive path for the decades ahead, and will be doing all that we can to ensure that our great industry can continue to thrive into the future.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.

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