President’s Message 2016

2015 has again been a challenging year with solutions for many potential problems still to be found. Scientific advice, especially on North Sea stocks, is fairly upbeat although many of the assessments for the West Coast continue to be less encouraging.

As government budgets decrease the increased involvement by the Scottish fishing industry in the stock assessment process has become even more important. The SFF observer scheme and SFF Services’ scientific charters will continue to contribute to this aim. Also the Scottish Fishermen’s Trust, which was established by the SFF in 2000, continues to support a diverse range of fisheries science and conservation projects with approximately £100,000 of grants.

The Landing Obligation, for pelagic species, started on 1 January 2015 and by and large seems to be workable although some fine tuning is still to be completed on the revision of technical regulations which, in some cases, contradict the Landing Obligation requirements. The thorny topic of a level playing field on control measures for all participants in the pelagic fisheries is still to be resolved.

The Landing Obligation plans for the demersal fisheries, submitted by the high level directors’ groups for the North Sea and the North West Waters after advice from the relevant Advisory Councils, have been accepted by the European Council. After a lot of discussion the concept of phasing in the species over the years 2016 to 2019 has been accepted but a lot of the provisions contained in the Landing Obligation, especially those concerning flexibilities, are ill defined and are still being debated by industry and administrators. At the time of writing the level of catch quota increases from the previous discard element of stock assessments and the mechanisms by which these increases will be utilised is yet to be decided. The move to Maximum Sustainable Yield (‘by 2015 if possible  but no later than  2020’) is a further complication and has the potential to seriously downsize the anticipated movement from the ‘discard’ element of the ICES stock assessments to the landings allowed.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were announced by the Scottish Government in 2014 and the first tranche of management measures to protect the features within the West Coast MPAs were announced in the summer of 2015 to the consternation of the fishing industry. SFF staff, together with representatives of the various Fishermen’s Associations and working skippers, had been at the forefront of discussions regarding sensible and proportional management measures but the measures announced exceeded the options that had been discussed.

The SFF took part in the Smith Commission process on ‘Devomax’ to try and get greater or more clearly defined Scottish influence when the UK, as member state, has dealings with the EU. The UK fishery administrations seem to be trying to work together on this. The full impact on the other areas of concern to the Scottish fishing industry such as the future of the Crown Estate and Seafish levies are still being discussed.

The long running dispute on mackerel quota allocations between the EU/Norway and Faroes was settled but the allocation of other pelagic species is causing friction. Despite excellent stock assessments leading to a massive increase in the mackerel TAC for 2014 the recommendation for 2015 was a cut and a further cut is proposed for 2016. The Scottish pelagic industry continues to be affected by the Russian trade embargo on imports from the EU in retaliation for economic sanctions on Russia because of their actions in the Ukraine but the mitigating facility of an increased ‘banking’ of quota from one year to the next has again been requested.

The scallop industry has again managed to get extra Western Waters effort from France in exchange for seasonal closures in the French part of the English Channel.

The whitefish sector has again been struggling with the mismatch between allowable quotas and the ever increasing abundance of stocks on the fishing grounds. The result of the quota consultation and the fate of its attendant moratorium is still to be announced affecting, in practical terms, quota leasing and quota swaps from outwith Scotland.

The quota advice for 2016 is for further cuts in North Sea saithe and whiting (although further discussion on whiting has been requested) with a substantial increase in haddock, which is now recognised as being the same stock in the North Sea and West Coast. Cod is now officially recognised as being well on the way to recovery and the advice for 2016 is an increase of 20% in the TAC. Unfortunately the Cod Recovery Plan, although discredited and to be repealed, will still be in force until 2017 at the earliest causing practical difficulties around the various fishing effort regimes.

The low level of Nephrops catches in the North Sea in 2015 has been a concern and the scientific advice is for a 20% decrease in TAC for 2016.

The SFF work plan for 2016 is again going to involve hard work and will require great input from our constituent associations to formulate our courses of action. We will endeavour to work with all stakeholders in the industry and liaise with both Scottish and UK Governments to try and secure the best future for the Scottish fishing industry.

I wish you all a safe and successful 2016.

Ross Dougal

SFF President