10 January 2002

(S1O-4412) Fishing Industry (2002 Quotas)

13. Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment it has made of the likely economic impact on the fish catching and fish processing industries of the 2002 quotas for white fish and for pelagic fish landings and what action it plans to take to mitigate any detrimental effects. (S1O-4412)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): The increases in quotas of key pelagic and white fish stocks will have a significant and, I hope, positive impact on the catching and processing sectors in Scotland. The economic return from increased landings for the United Kingdom is estimated to be between £10 and £12 million more than for the previous year. Scotland will be the major beneficiary of that. I believe that those outcomes have been welcomed by the industry.

Tavish Scott: I welcome the minister's answer and I welcome the additional quota allocations that have been secured for the Scottish fishing industry this year. However, does the minister accept that there are pressures on shore-based services in constituencies such as mine? Because of the welcome decommissioning programme, there are fewer boats to use engineering, electronics and other shore-based services. In that context, what assessment is being made of shore-based services? Does the minister have any proposals to tackle those problems?

Ross Finnie: There are two aspects to that question. The first aspect relates to the total amount of quotas. The member will be well aware that the fish processing action group continues to study the problems that beset the processing industry not only in Shetland but throughout Scotland. Those problems arise as a consequence of the recent cuts. We in Scotland continue to press the Commission for multi-annual settlements, which could give a degree of certainty about the amounts of fish that might be available for processing.

As for the problems that are consequent on decommissioning, we are looking closely at the impact that decommissioning might have on services. I am bound to say that, although we now know the numbers of vessels and the ports that they use, it is difficult to give an answer at this stage. In conjunction with other departments, we are assessing and keeping a careful watch on the impact that decommissioning might have. The member can be assured that we recognise that there are consequentials that flow from that step.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): What discussions have the minister and his colleagues had about providing support to people who worked on fishing vessels, given that only the owners will be compensated for decommissioning? Has an economic assessment been undertaken of the effect of decommissioning on the fish processing sector?

Ross Finnie: Let me take the latter question first. As Stewart Stevenson will be aware, the objective and great hope of the decommissioning scheme is that it will give greater sustainability to the whole industry. If the quotas are acquired within the producer organisations, decommissioning should not per se lead to a reduction in the amounts available to the processing industry. Greater sustainability has to be the earnest hope of us all.

The processing industry suffers because of uncertainty over the amounts that may be available. As I indicated to Tavish Scott, we in Scotland are keen to push the Commission in the direction of multi-annual settlements, which would, I believe, give greater certainty.

Dealing with the economic impact on those affected by decommissioning is, as Stewart Stevenson would acknowledge, slightly more difficult. The owners are being compensated, but we have not made a distinction—although we will as we go through the process—between those who have direct responsibility for the people who are employed and those who are not affected in that way and who will not, therefore, share in the benefits. We will watch the situation closely. We do not know the exact details, but we are cognisant of the problem.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Why, despite the acceptance that industrial fishing is detrimental to the marine food chain, has no significant cut been made in the quotas for that sector, especially in the fishing for Norway pout, which leads to a large bycatch of immature fish of other species?

Ross Finnie: The reason such a cut was not made is that we did not secure a sufficient majority in the Commission during recent discussions. The consistent position of the Scottish Executive—and, I hope, of the UK Government—has been to press for continuing cuts in those areas. We very much agree with Jamie McGrigor's point and we will continue to press for reductions in those quotas.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): Does the minister agree that one of the major problems facing the demersal sector in particular is the difficulty in finding crews for fishing vessels? Does he agree that the decommissioning of fishing boats might provide an opportunity for the skippers of vessels to take on qualified and experienced crew members?

Ross Finnie: Yes, I agree. The issue is linked to the one raised by Stewart Stevenson. The ramifications of decommissioning are more complex than simply saying that all those who lose their vessel as a result of decommissioning will necessarily lose their jobs. Rhona Brankin's point is valid.

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