After the EU referendum vote, the last few months has seen a frenetic period of activity for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), as we set out our position to ministers in both the Scottish and UK Governments.
Brexit provides a sea of opportunity for the UK and especially for Scotland, given that the heavy end of fishing happens in the northern waters. It delivers the chance to reinvigorate our coastal and island communities and ensure a thriving, profitable and sustainable seafood industry.
Scotland sits strategically on the northern continental shelf, slap bang in the middle of some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. There is cod, haddock, herring, mackerel, langoustines and many other types of fish and shellfish. The majority of these stocks are in good shape and being fished sustainably.
The fundamental reason Norway and Iceland remain outside the EU is because of their fisheries. They know how important they are to their economies and have no intention of ever relinquishing control. Now, we too have the chance to take back control of our fisheries. This is because following our exit from the EU, the UK will, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, regain control over our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a fully fledged coastal state. This means foreign vessels could not then fish in that EEZ without our express consent.
Regaining control of our EEZ presents two major opportunities. Firstly, it will deliver the power to establish a more effective and reactive fisheries management system in our waters that will ensure environmental sustainability. As part of our submission to government, we are insistent that fisheries regulations incorporate a commitment to sustainable harvesting whilst allowing the fleets to operate in an economically coherent manner. Scottish fishermen have a proven track record of managing stocks sustainably, rebuilding depleted fish stocks and protecting the wider ecosystem.
The second opportunity is the ability to deliver fairer, more appropriate shares across the continental shelf of catching opportunity for the UK industry within our own waters. Having control of our prize fishing grounds could generate significant and sustainable economic growth in Scotland’s island and coastal communities at no cost to the taxpayer.Other opportunities include the freedom to explore new markets for seafood in expanding economies outside the EU, the ability to direct grant funding in ways more suited to Scotland than the EU allows, and scope for innovative thinking around fleet diversification and development.
Of course, to achieve all this, we need our politicians to be fully onside so that they can deliver these opportunities to our coastal communities. What we don’t want is for fishing to be considered expendable in the pursuit of some other goal. This is why we are committed to seeking a close working relationship with both the Scottish and UK Governments during the Brexit process and for the period thereafter. We are on a mission to secure the best possible deal for Scottish fishers, irrespective of constitutional developments.
For this to happen, it is essential the Scottish and UK Governments work as a team to produce the best outcome for our coastal communities. This is not a time for political point scoring and conflict, but rather, an opportunity to deliver a grand prize that will benefit each and every one of us.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, www.sff.co.uk