18 March 2004

(S2F-736) White-fish Industry

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister when changes in the regulation of the white-fish industry will be announced. (S2F-736)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): I expect to see a formal Commission proposal amending December's total allowable catch and quota regulations later this month. It will give effect to the delayed agreement with Norway on certain quotas, on the haddock management changes that we have requested and on possible changes to the effort control regime.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the First Minister aware that many fishermen with quotas in the main haddock grounds have, because of the current bizarre system, exhausted those quotas in the three months that have passed, in the face of a 30-year high in the stocks of haddock? I welcome the news that Allan Wilson will travel to Europe to engage directly on our behalf in an attempt to change the rules. However, what happens until we get a revision? Currently, men are tied up against the wall. Do those who are going to sea have to keep dumping good haddocks and scarce cod, which the regulations were meant to protect? Fishermen are forced to dump their future over the side. When will we hear, what will we hear and what happens meantime?

The First Minister: What members will hear from us is that we are making a continued effort, at the European level and elsewhere, to secure the changes that are important to improving not only the viability and sustainability of the individual fishing boats in Scotland, but the sustainability of stocks in the North sea.

The changes that we have sought to secure—with good co-operation from the industry, I have to say—are important for the coming year and will have an impact, if we can get agreement. However, the other side of the matter is the responsibility that is on the individual fishing boats. It is important that people in the industry take the regime seriously and, for example, use the permits that are available. There must be a two-pronged effort. First, the Government must make the effort to secure the changes that are required for the coming year and, secondly, those in the industry must take their responsibilities seriously, use the permits and ensure that they are not put in the position that Stewart Stevenson has outlined.

Mr Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Does the First Minister accept the findings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's inquiry into the scientific regulation of the white-fish industry? Ministers have always claimed that cuts in quotas are imposed only after the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. Will the First Minister accept that the methods used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea as a means of calculating cod stocks is "subject to error", as the Royal Society of Edinburgh scientists claim, and will he ensure that the views of the industry as well as those of fishery scientists are taken into account in future stock analysis?

The First Minister: The points that the Royal Society of Edinburgh made were very interesting. We have said that we support the general thrust and direction of what was stated in the report. I hope that the Conservatives in the Parliament will also listen to what was said in that report, which makes it clear that there is a need for a common fisheries policy in Europe and that that common fisheries policy should have the active engagement of Scotland. I hope that Mr Brocklebank will listen to his good advice to me and take it himself.

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