Cabinet secretary has ‘constructive’ discussions with local fishermen

Scottish Cabinet secretary for rural affairs and net zero Màiri McAllan made a long-requested visit to Eyemouth last week accompanied by local MSPs Finlay Carson and Emma Harper, to meet with members of the Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association (ASFA).

As part of a ‘summer tour to engage with communities about marine protection’, she also met local processors and paid a visit to the nearby Marine Education Centre, run by Berwickshire Marine Reserve, to learn more about the conservation work undertaken by volunteers there.

Speaking to FN, David Gilchrist, chair of the ASFA, said: “It was a meeting we’d requested in the build-up to the HPMA consultation, but to no avail at that stage.

“The discussion was fairly open. She gave her reasons for dropping the HPMA plan, under its original guise. She admitted that ‘75%’ – ‘an overwhelming majority’ – of responses to the consultation had been against HPMAs.

“The way forward was to be ‘balanced’ and ‘based on community consultation and agreement’,” she told us. “It will be ‘evidence-based’ – but marine science is not as advanced as land-based science with regard to environment and climate.

“We stressed the need to identify, through evidence, what the Scottish government wish to protect, how they will do it – rationally – and how they would measure this being achieved.

“We also asked for a commitment to monitor the results of any actions, evaluate them, and for confirmation of whether areas which are restricted to fishing will be reopened if there is either no improvement, or if fishing is shown not to have been the problem – again, back to evidence.”

The spatial squeeze was highlighted throughout the meeting by those present, who also included Clyde Fishermen’s Association members. Particular concerns were raised around the spider’s web of cables, both existing and planned, running into the southeast coast of Scotland, key fishing grounds for the Eyemouth fleet.

The fact that cable capacity has been underestimated, and additional cables to those licensed will be required for offshore wind farms to work effectively, was raised – licensing and consent is racing ahead of technology and scientific data, the minister was told.

“The main point that came out of the meeting, from both conservationists and fishermen, was that in our local area, we work hand in hand, collecting data and monitoring stock,” said David Gilchrist. “It was pointed out to Ms McAllan that on the pier, outside the door of the meeting, we had member vessels with creels carrying Berwickshire Marine Reserve survey tags – a perfect example of the two working together for the betterment of the community as a whole.

“The message from Eyemouth was: ‘What we do together works – if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it!’”

Lobster fisherman Shaun McGuire, secretary of the Galloway Static Gear Fishermen’s Association, added: “It was a constructive meeting. The fishing industry in South West Scotland made clear our feelings on HPMAs and quite a few other issues. We felt we were being listened to at the time, so let’s hope we were right.”

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 £3.50 here

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