David Milne, chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, reflects on a uniquely challenging year for the industry – and brighter prospects ahead…

As we move towards 2022, the fishermen that I know and work with are glad to see the back of 2021. Instead of it being the first in a brave new world where we took control of our waters and the share of the fish that swim in our waters, we have dealt with the impact of less areas to fish and less opportunities to catch.

A further grievance for the fishermen is the fact that we continue to operate under the discredited Common Fisheries Policy, albeit now badged as UK legislation.

Whereas it would be wrong to dwell overly on the past, it would be equally remiss of me not to reflect on the main reason for such a difficult year. The anger of the fishers is still palpable. The Brexit sell-out still hurts, especially the broken promises, the extensive use of hyperbole and the strange relationship with the truth of those we trusted.

The Covid pandemic has continued to impact businesses worldwide, although the impact on business remains secondary to the personal tragedy and heartache it has brought to many. The fishing industry, like any other sector of business, needs to remain vigilant and maintain best practice at all times.

As we look forward to 2022, there is a buzz of optimism. The mood music is that international deals with both Norway and Faroe are possible, which will be a huge boost for several vessels eager to escape the confines of operating only within the UK EEZ.

Scotland has a modernising fleet that requires options and flexibility and the economic opportunities that it provides. The operations of our vessels are interconnected, and delivering those relief valves, as insignificant as they may seem to some, often has a very indirect yet economically important impact on everyone.

Maintaining healthy stocks continues to be the prime focus for our members, and indeed the catching sector at large.

We all have a responsibility and part to play in ensuring that boom-and-bust policies of the past remain firmly in the past, and maintaining a focus on the reduction of unwanted catch through improved selectivity is an important pillar of that. Only if that is maintained we can ensure a future for the young fishers of today and tomorrow.

It is extremely easy to blame others for a slackening in standards, but if we all commit to doing our best, then our best should prevail. We should never forget that the fabric of our coastal towns and villages depends on a vibrant and economically heathy fishing industry. We often overlook the fact that a pound made from fishing is spent five times before it leaves the area.

During 2022, we have a unique opportunity to contribute to the future catching policy within Scottish waters, and indeed UK waters. I have instructed our CEO to ensure that he and his team consult fully with members in drawing up our response. It should be a simple yet iterative process that through the fullness of time should deliver a suitable and balanced fisheries management system.

I wish you all a safe and prosperous Christmas and New Year. The challenges ahead will remain sizeable and challenging – of that I am sure. But I am also sure that by working together and with each other, no problem will be too great for us to resolve.

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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