Bertie Armstrong: Be proud of our innovative fishermen

WITH the process to reform the Common Fisheries Policy well under way, it is worthwhile reflecting on the huge strides and sacrifices fishermen have made over the past decade or so in ensuring a sustainable future for this most important of Scotland’s industries.

The Scottish fishing industry is much smaller than it was at the start of the millennium, with the whitefish fleet alone having shrunk by 66 per cent. Considerable pain has been felt in our fishing communities, exacerbated by the relentless onslaught of totally inappropriate regulation fuelled by the European Commission’s obsession with micro-management.

Our stocks of valuable fish have inevitably suffered as a result of this mismanagement. But rather than sitting back and feeling sorry for ourselves, the Scottish fishing industry has recognised the need for effective conservation measures by pioneering its own initiatives that are already bearing fruit by dramatically reducing discards.

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In the whitefish sector, our fishermen are spearheading a range of unilateral measures, such as using more selective nets and avoiding fishing grounds where cod are spawning or where there is an abundance of juvenile fish. This has resulted in a significantly reduction in North Sea cod discards, a commendable effort that is greater than that achieved by any other EU country.

Our prawn fishermen, too, have embarked upon remarkable unilateral measures, including the development of a number of trawls that have reduced the amount of whitefish discarded by up to 70 per cent.

All this is still work in progress, because we want to continue to reduce this figure by adopting and refining these innovative conservation measures so as to reflect the real-life conditions found in the complex mixed fisheries that our fleet operates in.

Fishermen abhor discarding. But they have taken matters into their own hands and our valuable fish stocks are now recovering. This is something every Scot should take pride in.

• Bertie Armstrong is chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.