Rhoda’s opening speech for Labour in the Scottish Parliament debate on Fisheries Negotiations
11 December 2018
I was going to try very hard to avoid mentioning Brexit, but given that Peter Chapman did not amend his speech in the light of the fact that there is to be no vote on the deal in the UK Parliament this week, I must turn to that issue and state clearly that we are concerned about the fact that the deal that is to be put before the Westminster Parliament at some point in the future will keep us in the CFP.
We will have no negotiating rights, and if the backstop should come into force, we will, as well as remaining in the CFP, have to negotiate trade arrangements that would certainly not be good for our fishermen.
The Conservatives can sign any pledge they like, but when they are working against the good of our fishing community, that carries no weight at all.
There have been years when the debate on the fishing negotiations has been all about cutting effort and quotas, and about tough decisions for our fishing communities.
There are still tough decisions to be taken, but if the fact that the difficult decisions that have been taken in the past have led to a recovery of stocks teaches us anything, it is that we should manage the seas to ensure that we have an abundant supply of fish for future generations.
Brexit has drawn attention away from the year-end fisheries negotiations, so we must make sure that that the Brexit pantomime does not distract us from the big issues in this year’s negotiations.
Not only will the outcome of the negotiations form the foundation of what we take with us as we go forward into Brexit—if Brexit ever happens—it will also affect our fishing sector and what it will do in the coming year.
Labour’s amendment recognises that there will be increased quotas for prawns on the west coast and in other fisheries where stocks continue to rise.
We are asking the Scottish Government to distribute that increase in order to provide the maximum economic benefit to rural communities, while safeguarding that quota from being traded away.
That would create a foundation for Brexit that must lead to a greater allocations of quota to our rural communities, while also preparing for stepping up our effort in preparation for—eventually—a greater share of our fishery.
Some island communities already lead the way.
They have kept quota in public hands and they lease it to the fishing community.
That means that it cannot be traded away; nor can it gain an inflated value that puts it out of the reach of new entrants to the industry.
If new quota is distributed through local authorities—or, where there is a distinct community, through community ownership—it can be leased to local fishermen and new entrants. In order to provide the maximum economic impact on remote rural areas, practical priority should be given to smaller boats that are rooted in their communities.
The people who work on those boats are more likely to live in and spend their earnings in those communities.
That also provides the opportunity to be innovative with licences.
The Scottish Government could keep ownership of the licences, but lease them out, thus preventing the licences being leaked elsewhere or traded, as we have seen in the past.
In order that the assets keep on providing the maximum economic benefit, we should keep them in public ownership, to be leased rather than traded.
In order to attract new entrants, funding must be provided to help to purchase boats.
That will undoubtedly be commercially viable, if a business can show that it has access to a licence and quota.
However, small grants might be required in order to provide a degree of collateral.
That would allow us to maximise the benefit of the new quota while gearing up for Brexit.
However, we need to increase processing as well as catching. Processing creates jobs and adds value.
Where possible, it should be carried out in rural communities, which needs workforce planning and training.
The workforce issues that currently affect processing will get worse with Brexit’s impact on immigration.
It is sad to see salmon processing factories closing or relocating when we need that part of the industry to grow.
We might need to adapt the factories for other species, but we need the infrastructure and workforce.
To achieve growth, we must make sure that the sector is seen as an attractive career choice, and that the infrastructure is available, so that workers can live in the communities.
They need houses, schools and services.
If we provide those, we can take steps toward repopulation.
If we are to reap the benefits of increased catches, we must plan for the workforce in the catching and processing sectors so that we can capitalise on increased catches.
We agree with the discard ban, but it is disappointing that there is as yet no solution to choke species.
When there is no quota for the bycatch, then the fishing industry cannot catch the quota of the species that it is lawfully pursuing, regardless of the amount of quota that it holds for that species.
Every year, at this time of year, I argue that the Scottish Government or local authorities should own quota for choke species.
If they owned that quota, they could make it available to those who must land bycatch.
They could lease that quota at a cost that would neither encourage nor discourage its landing, but which would, crucially, allow the industry to continue to fish.
Furthermore, everything that is landed must be used.
Because of advances in selective fishing, we are catching less and less bycatch, which means that there are fewer uses for it.
Traders are not interested because of the small quantities, which means that it is difficult to dispose of.
The Scottish Government must step in to ensure that bycatch is put to good use.
Failure to do that will mean that bycatch will not be landed.
It would be just as bad if it were to be landed and left to rot on the quayside.
It would be better discarded at sea—at least it would feed birds and sea life.
Finding a solution to that problem is now essential.
Although we need to develop even more selective fishing methods, it is realistic to prepare for some bycatch.
The smaller that bycatch, the more difficult it is to find uses for it or markets to sell it, which means that we must step in to find a solution for the fisheries that are affected.
I turn briefly to the other amendments.
We will support the Liberal Democrat amendment.
However, although we have sympathy for the Green amendment, it is too widely drafted and would apply to static gear boats.
It is widely accepted that static gear is the most selective form of fishing, and those small boats are community based, which makes them crucial to the rural economy.
They are also the boats that have the narrowest margins. I do not believe that the Greens meant to add to their costs or thought that they needed to be tracked in the way that the party’s amendment suggests.
We cannot support the Conservative amendment.
Although we recognise that what it talks about is the aspiration of the fishing community, the Brexit deal that we have on the table will not achieve that.
In fact, it will do the very opposite and will keep fishing within the parameters of the CFP without giving us a role in the negotiations.
It will also, in the long run, leave the people who are involved in fishing open to export levies.
It will be the worst of both worlds.
The negotiations are crucial to our fishing industry.
Although the talks are not anticipated with trepidation, as they have been in previous years, we cannot be complacent.
We need to build the foundations for the future of the industry, and we must plan how to reap the highest economic impact from that future for our rural communities.
We must build the workforce and infrastructure that we need in order that we can do that.
To miss that opportunity would be to let down future generations.
I move amendment S5M-15096.1, to insert at end:
“; notes that there will be increases in quotas; calls on the Scottish Government to support the industry to grow to meet the increased capacity both within the catching sector and processing, and further calls for protected quota shares for new entrants with smaller community-based vessels.”
Rhoda’s concluding speech for Labour :
I have lost count of the number of times that I have spoken in this end-of-year negotiations debate, so I cannot join the bidding war that has been going on this afternoon.
However, it is an important debate that we have every year; the fishing industry might be a small part of the UK’s GDP, but it is a huge part of our rural economy and we need to protect it very much.
It sustains many communities, and damage to the industry is damage to fragile economies.
Shetland, for instance, gains more from fishing than it does from oil and gas, which shows the importance of fishing in our part of the world.
We must also bear in mind the dangers of fishing, and so make it as safe as possible.
When we have debates on the subject, we sometimes forget that fishermen put their lives at risk.
That point that was made by Finlay Carson; it is one that we need to emphasise.
Too often we hear of tragedies at sea; we must invest in research into and development of the safety of our fishing folk to ensure that they can catch fish and return home to their families safe and sound.
I turn to the Labour amendment, which was questioned by Tavish Scott.
I need to clarify that allocation of quotas and models of working in Shetland and the Western Isles are what the amendment is about.
Such ownership allows fairer distribution of quota and, when more quota is available, it allows new entrants.
It prevents quota from being sold off to the highest bidder and makes sure that it is retained in the communities for their economic development, rather than enriching the few.
We have seen how that works very well in Shetland, which has retained much of its fishing and is capitalising on the industry.
We have heard how it is seeing increased landings, for which we need to be better prepared. I hope that I will have a chance to come back to infrastructure later.
I turn to the Green amendment. Mark Ruskell talked about it costing £3,500 to fit a vessel with monitoring equipment.
That can be a huge amount of money for a small vessel, and I do not see the point of extending the requirement to static-gear boats, given that there could be little or no gain to having that equipment fitted to such boats.
That would just create hotspots by making information on their catches publicly available.
The European maritime and fisheries fund provides 90 per cent of the funds for installations of monitoring gear at the moment. The data that would be gathered by vessel monitoring would be useful for the shellfish sector, because it could be used in modelling to establish MSY of stocks in order to ensure their long-term sustainable health. Does Rhoda Grant acknowledge that?
The sector is sustainable—in fact, its fishers have led the way in sustainability through V-notching of lobsters and so on.
Those fishermen know where their catches come from—they guard those secrets carefully because they are where their living comes from.
They are willing to look at sustainability options, but monitoring is perhaps a step too far for them.
Our concern with the Green amendment is not that it applies only to Scottish vessels—larger vessels can already be tracked and monitored—but that the amendment would apply to smaller vessels, which already engage in good practice.
The amendment is possibly a bit over the top for such vessels.
However, I have sympathy with the amendment, in that the Greens are concerned about illegal dredging, which Claudia Beamish mentioned.
Therefore, I would have no difficulty with mobile gear vessels of whatever size being fitted with monitoring equipment in order to help us to deal with damage such as we have seen.
A small minority of the community is creating the damage, but unfortunately that leads to the whole community being tarred with the same brush.
We need to stop that damage happening, but we also need to recognise the value to the community of our small boats of less than 10m, as Maureen Watt mentioned.
Those boats sustain their communities.
A number of members talked about Brexit.
I tried to avoid doing so, but I do not think that we can go through the debate without talking about what has been said today.
The deal that is on the table is the wrong deal for the fishing industry.
I have said that, and nothing that has been said today has changed my mind on that point.
In his speech, Lewis Macdonald was clear that it is the EU that rules; we have no say in what happens.
If we do not negotiate a comprehensive fishing agreement that builds on the CFP with Europe, we will be subject to levies on all fish that are exported to Europe from the UK.
That would tie our access to waters with access to markets, which is unacceptable.
Having spoken about creel fishermen, I point out that the fishermen who sell predominantly in the EU have the most to lose from access to waters being tied to access to markets.
The big issue in the debate is choke species.
We need to find a solution.
We have talked about the issue in our fishing debates year after year, but we seem to be no closer to finding a solution.
We have to do the swaps that Tavish Scott talked about, but we need to ensure that the quota that we gain for choke species remains in public hands, so that all have access to them and we can continue to fish and catch the quotas that we have.
As I said in my opening speech, I support the Liberal Democrats’ amendment on science.
People have argued that we know about the waters and that the science is good, but we know very little about the seas that surround our country.
We need to develop that understanding, so it is important that we build on our knowledge using our institutions.
It is also important that the information on which we base our understanding of catches is peer reviewed.
We need to take the information that we have seriously in order to ensure that we protect stocks, not just for now but for future generations.
It would be absolutely wrong if we did not do that.
I turn quickly to infrastructure.
Tavish Scott talked about shipping from Shetland, which is a big issue for Shetland.
As Jamie Halcro Johnston said, fish have been left behind on the harbour. I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity about that and I had an assurance that the new tender will allow expansion of the fishing industry in Shetland and, which is important, will allow getting catches off-island.
However, we also have to build on processing: we need the processing infrastructure to make sure that the catch that we land gets value added, and that we encourage people to take up careers in the industry.
We also need to provide the infrastructure for people to live in those areas.
As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, our processors are extremely worried about Brexit because they will have to deal with the trade tariffs and levies if it happens and we go into a backstop arrangement.
I make a quick final plea on the European maritime and fisheries fund, which Claudia talked about.
I should have said “Claudia Beamish”.
I am getting the evil eye from the Presiding Officer for using her first name only. [Laughter.]
That is an important fund and it will be good if the cabinet secretary, in summing up, can talk about what he sees taking over from it, because that will help our fishing communities.
We all wish the cabinet secretary well in the negotiations.
Indeed, we hope that they will be finished in good time to allow him to go home and do his own Christmas shopping and save Mairi Gougeon that pleasure.
We believe that at the heart of the talks should be sustainability and work to ensure that fishing is available to future generations