The sea is one of Scotland’s greatest national assets and the fishing industry is determined to protect this precious resource so as to ensure a profitable and sustainable future, Ian Gatt, president of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, told guests at its annual dinner in Edinburgh (6 September).
Speaking to an audience of leading fishing industry figures – including Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead – Mr Gatt said it is in Scotland’s interests that there is a profitable industry, given the support fishing provides to coastal communities and the revenues raised for Government coffers.
Emphasising that the SFF is a politically neutral organisation, Mr Gatt said that for him the acronym SNP stood for Sustainability, National Asset and Profitability.
On sustainability, he said: “The mainstay species for the Scottish fleet are in good health and the fleet is now at the right size to fish for these stocks sustainably.”
Turning to the sea as a natural asset, Mr Gatt said: “We have jurisdiction over a wide expanse from the Borders to Shetland out to Rockall and back to the Clyde. The good news is that our seas are clean and healthy and we have a diverse variety of fish and shellfish living in them.
“We need a national asset like the sea to be well-managed and within that we need our fleet to be well regulated.”
However, he pointed out that in his 30 years of fishing, he had never known a time when all stocks were in good health simultaneously, probably because natural factors had their role to play in determining fish populations. The modern industry willingly accepts its responsibility to recognise this feature and to fish sustainably.
As far as profitability is concerned, Mr Gatt said: “Scottish society needs the fishing industry to be profitable as it is expected that every industry and business should contribute to a successful economy.
“Fishing communities demand that the fleet is profitable as a successful community will feed from the fleet – processors, net makers and ship repair businesses all need us – just as we need them.
“A fleet lying in port may well look pretty but it is not generating vital income for local economies.”
Mr Gatt added: “The good news is that the fleet has returned to profitability and there is an air of optimism for the future and new vessels will join the industry in the coming years. However, we need more young people coming into the industry to serve these new vessels and we are glad to see colleges all over the country having a full uptake for their fishery courses.
“However, We have no divine right to expect young people to join our industry and we must earn that right by being profitable.”
Meanwhile, SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong told guests at the dinner that over the last two years there has been much closer co-operation between scientists and Government and this groundwork should be developed further.
There is now a strong force for change in the way that fishing matters are handled, with Scotland on the cusp of taking more influence in strategy and deciding priorities, given its predominance in UK fisheries.
But he emphasised: “This is not an Anglo-Scottish issue as there is no mutual exclusivity, but is more about bringing together sensible management and decision-making that benefits all UK fishermen.”
Mr Armstrong said negotiations to decide catching opportunity for 2008 were now looming large, and while it was too early to make predictions, the key pressure points are likely to be a cut in herring for the pelagic fleet, actions resulting from the cod recovery plan and possible further restrictions on the number of days that boats are allowed to fish.