A minister has warned that a way must be found to implement the landing obligation that does not tie up fishing vessels as early as February, reports Tim Oliver.

Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing said the most problematic area of the CFP was the way in which the landing obligation was being implemented.

He also told a Scottish parliamentary committee that he had not received any assurances from the Westminster government that Scotland’s fisheries would not be traded away in Brexit negotiations, and called for UK fisheries to be run by Scotland.

The minister also stressed the importance of the EU market for the Scottish seafood industry.

His comments came during a discussion in the Scottish Parliament Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that was looking at the implications of Brexit for Scotland’s fisheries, agriculture and forestry.
On the landing obligation, Fergus Ewing told the committee: “The most problematic area of the CFP is the way in which the landing obligation is being implemented. The purpose is to prevent discards… which is a repellent practice that everybody agrees should come to an end.

“However, in order to deliver a practicable result, there has to be a system that does not result in fishing vessels having to be tied up in February. We would not expect Marks & Spencer to shut in February each year and remain shut for the rest of the year, would we?”

He said greater flexibility was needed, and the landing obligation was the ‘the subject of ongoing discussion’ in the European Commission. “We are up against a stumbling block of a regulation that was overly prescriptive, and which many fishermen would be happy to see go, or be changed into a more manageable one,” he said.

“The problem is not an easy one, but there has to be far more flexibility in finding a solution to it.”

He said the CFP had caused ‘enormous problems’ for Scottish fishermen. “We believe profoundly that Scotland’s not having had a direct voice in the EU has hindered our ability to prevent the worst excesses of the CFP over the decades.”

The minister said Scotland needed clarity that ‘all the powers over agriculture and fishing will come to this parliament’. He said a deal with Brussels on fishing and agriculture would take a long time to negotiate, and the UK government must set out ‘a serious transition plan’.

He said stocks must not be overfished, but there were different schools of thought and different strategies that could be pursued. And there were aspects of the CFP that it would be ‘sensible’ to keep, such as technical gear regulations and access to markets.

Answering questions on access, and the UK 200-mile EEZ, from Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson, Fergus Ewing said he had asked DEFRA ministers Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice on several occasions ‘for a guarantee that the UK government will not bargain away Scotland’s fishing interests in its Brexit negotiations. I have received no answer to that question’.

On enforcement in the Scottish 200-mile zone, Marine Scotland official Alan Gibb said the enforcement burden would increase. Scotland would be reliant on vessel-monitoring satellite (VMS) systems and electronic logbooks – ‘two additional elements of the CFP that we would probably look to keep’.

Markets ‘massively important’

Mr Ewing said the EU was ‘a massively important market’ for Scottish fish, and EU workers were also important in fish-processing factories. Scottish seafood exports were worth £601m and accounted for 78% of the UK’s seafood exports in 2016.

The EU had also supplied more than £77m to over 1,200 projects in the fishing, processing and aquaculture sectors, which had safeguarded about 8,000 jobs. “There is a question about what would replace that source of funding,” said the minister.

MSP John Mason (Glasgow SNP) said fishing groups were ‘not worried so much about a tariff of a few pence or pounds as they are about not getting fish across borders quickly. Delay in getting fish into France, Spain or wherever is the big worry for them’.

Doubts over days-at-sea

Marine Scotland official Alan Gibb said a days-at-sea system of fisheries management to replace quotas was ‘unlikely’ to be a suitable system for UK fisheries.

Peter Chapman, Conservative MSP for NE Scotland asked if it ‘would be worth considering changing from a quota system to a days-at-sea system to regulate the amount of fish taken, and going down a different route entirely?’.

Alan Gibb told the committee that a days-at-sea option was ‘quite popular in the press at the moment’ and that there were other options, such as credits for the type of fish and extra credits for catching cetaceans as by-catch.

“I emphasise that those options are very complicated. In the mixed fisheries of the North Sea, for example, you have to look at your weakest stock,” he told the committee.

“If you are going to follow your international responsibilities on sustainability, you cannot just go out and have unlimited fishing for a fixed number of days. You have to understand the mixture of your catch, and avoidance techniques.

“A days-at-sea-only solution is unlikely to fit the mixed fisheries that we have in the North Sea and the west of Scotland.”

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