The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) held its 50th anniversary dinner in the spectacular Queen Anne Room in Edinburgh Castle last week, with equally stunning Scottish seafood served up to the guests, who included several past presidents of the federation, as well as two previous CEOs.

Incoming SFF president, the Orkney Fishermen’s Association’s Hannah Fennell, told the assembled guests that after 50 years of successful operation, facing many challenges, the federation acted as a beacon of hope for the next generation of fishermen.

Mairi Gougeon, the cabinet secretary for rural affairs, gave a wide-ranging speech to the packed room, acknowledging that although much of the Scottish fishing industry didn’t share her views on Brexit, marine protection or Scottish independence, everyone in the room had a shared vision and aim for a prosperous and sustainable Scottish fishing industry.

Cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon addressing the SFF dinner. “Of course we do not always agree,” she said. “But our relationship, like the fishing industry itself, is one I would characterise as resilient and enduring, not least because we share the same vision – of a vibrant, prosperous and sustainable fishing industry.”

Looking back over the many challenges that the Scottish industry had faced in the previous 50 years, from the loss of distant-waters access and the closure of the herring fishery, and through the difficult years of days-at-sea regimes and decommissioning schemes, she also outlined what she saw as the next raft of challenges.

The climate crisis, she suggested, would force more change on the fishing industry, even as it provided more challenges for marine protection. Spatial squeeze, she acknowledged, would also prove to be a real challenge for the industry, with multiple claims on sea areas, including from foreign fishing vessels, that needed to be carefully managed.

“There will be difficult decisions to be made when we consult on these measures, particularly for protected areas. But we will not impose decisions on you or your communities. You do have a place and a future in our blue economy,” she said.

Input from the industry with respect to cod TACs had, she suggested, been a vital aspect of the move towards new benchmarking and assessment of cod stocks, and she said she hoped this would translate into TACs for the northwest stocks in 2024 that reflected fishermen’s experience of their health on the grounds.

Looking back over the achievements of the last 50 years, SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald emphasised the huge steps that the industry had taken over the years, as well as the threats which faced it. Throughout this time, and looking forward, she said, Scottish fishermen had always focused on the balance between what nature could provide, and sustainable harvesting.

Ann Bell, well known across the Scottish industry for the support she provided during her time at Aberdeenshire Council, won the star prize in the annual draw, presented to her by Mairi Gougeon.

“Fishing is an activity whose sole purpose is feeding people,” she said. “You can’t produce any food without some form of impact. But seafood is scientifically proven to have lower impacts than many other forms of food production – for example, greenhouse gas emissions lower than all other forms of animal protein, and lower even that some forms of plant production.

“We need practical policies and pragmatism, not idealism. We need to take time to get policies right – not dancing to the tune of political cycles. We can and we must make adjustments and adaptations to climate change. We can and we will work with government on sensible, properly developed policies for nature conservation – but we mustn’t go down extreme roads that damage our nation’s ability to produce food.”

Spatial squeeze, from HPMAs, wind power development or other issues, continues to risk the production of much of Scotland’s fish, she said – but increased regulation and loss of grounds would simply ‘offshore our food production to places without the highly developed and sophisticated fisheries management and environmental regulation seen in Scotland’.

After the speeches, attention turned to the food. This was primarily a night for celebrating the success of the federation over 50 years, meeting up with old friends, and catching up with the many guests the federation had invited from outwith the industry.

It is testament to the many fishermen’s representatives who have served on the SFF executive, and to the 10 Scottish fishermen who have served as president over the last 50 years, that the federation is held in such high regard by politicians and lawmakers, and treated as a valued partner in many discussions, even when marked differences of opinion are evident.

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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SFF dinner celebrates 50 years


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