SCOTLAND SETS OUT STALL FOR FISHERIES NEGOTIATIONS
Scotland sets out stall for fisheries negotiations. Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, has outlined Scotland’s approach to the 2023 coastal state fisheries negotiations and securing principled, sustainable outcomes.
Speaking in the Parliament, she said:
“ I welcome the opportunity to set out Scotland’s approach to the negotiations with coastal state partners on fishing opportunities for 2024. I hope that it is an approach that Parliament can support.
“This is my third year of leading Scotland through the annual negotiations and, every year, the objective is the same: to protect Scotland’s interests. These negotiations are crucial for Scotland, providing economic opportunities for our coastal communities and safeguarding the health of fish stocks and ecosystems for generations to come.
“Going into 2024, I want to build on the successes of last year’s negotiations, which resulted in outcomes worth around £500 million to Scotland. The negotiations also have a role to play in the evolution of Scotland’s world-class fishing sector and help to deliver a range of the objectives that are embedded in our “Future fisheries: management strategy—2020 to 2030”, “Scotland’s National Marine Plan: A Single Framework for Managing Our Seas” and the “Blue Economy Vision for Scotland”.
“As was the case in previous years, we will be fully involved in multilateral, bilateral and trilateral negotiations on shared stocks and exchanges of opportunities. We will also take part in meetings of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, where management measures in international waters will be discussed.
“The Scottish Government’s overarching approaches to this year’s negotiations remain consistent with our well-established principles and are underpinned by our national and international commitments. We remain committed to ensuring that Scotland continues to be a reasonable and co-operative partner within the UK and on the international stage. All but one of Scotland’s quota stocks are shared with other coastal states, meaning that the most sustainable management measures are best agreed jointly and in collaboration with our negotiating partners.
“As usual, the scientific advice for 2024 presents a mixed picture, but I am pleased to see positive indications for the health of some of our key North Sea and west of Scotland stocks. That is a testament to the efforts of Scottish fishers, who have engaged and worked so closely with us to protect and recover those stocks. We will continue to advocate for responsible fisheries management approaches, informed by the best available scientific evidence. That means working within environmental limits and ensuring that fish stocks are managed sustainably to help to provide a resource for future generations and safeguard the diversity of the marine ecosystem.
“As a guiding principle, we will follow the scientific advice where appropriate, working towards fishing at maximum sustainable yield, or MSY. However, we should not be constrained to follow the advice when it is not the most appropriate course of action. Socioeconomic factors, potential choke risks and total allowable catch fluctuations must also be considered, in line with national and international commitments, including the joint fisheries statement.
“For data-limited stocks that are not assessed under the MSY approach, we view the precautionary approach as a viable path to sustainability. As a Government and as a fishing nation, we are committed to recovering stocks that are in decline by introducing appropriate management measures: reducing discarding, addressing choke situations and balancing the socioeconomic challenges of negative scientific advice for our key demersal stocks in particular.
“We will continue to seek to mitigate large TAC fluctuations at a sensible level, to reduce and manage the potential adverse effects for offshore and onshore fishing businesses and to protect the long-term sustainability of stocks. When deviating from advice, my mandate to Scotland’s negotiation team makes it clear that we must adopt an incremental approach to achieve sustainable catch levels, with a focus on at least maintaining or increasing spawning stock biomass whenever possible. Sometimes, that approach might span several years.
“At the same time, this Government remains wholly committed to identifying areas where additional benefits to Scotland’s fishing sectors—catching and onshore—can be secured while being mindful of the impact on our negotiating partners. Our goal is to be seen as a strong yet fair partner in negotiations.
“Talks for 2024 are well under way and, as I speak, Scotland’s negotiators are in London for bilateral and trilateral consultations with the European Union and Norway. Further negotiation rounds are scheduled over the coming weeks to discuss a wide range of stocks. Consultations have already been held to set catch limits for the coastal state pelagic stocks, in parallel to discussions on longer-term management elements, including sharing.
“Next week, coastal states will come together again for the annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. In December, we will begin bilateral discussions with the Faroe Islands on possible exchanges of opportunities for 2024. I thank fishing and environmental stakeholders for their close and constructive engagement with the negotiations teams in the lead up to the discussions. Their input will continue to be invaluable as the negotiations progress.
“We have three main priorities for this year’s TAC negotiations. The top priority within the trilateral and UK-EU bilateral is the newly defined northern shelf cod stock. The latest scientific information gives us a strong basis for transforming the way in which we manage that stock. It shows an extremely positive picture for the health of the north-western stock, better reflecting what fishers have been seeing on the ground. It is also a step change away from the previous zero TAC advice for the west of Scotland. Our aim is to secure catch limits that reflect that positive outlook, including an appropriate and evidence-based allocation to the west of Scotland. I do not underestimate the complexity of those changes, but coastal states now have the information to make better management choices for fishers, and it is time to get that right.
“Secondly, monkfish remains a priority for Scottish interests for 2024. It is a stock of key socioeconomic importance to many Scottish vessels, and I have instructed my negotiators to work to mitigate any further cuts in quotas next year. I also look forward to the completion of the benchmark on that stock early next year, which will help to inform discussions about the stock’s future management.
“Finally, I have instructed officials to seek further discussion with our negotiating partners on the approach to stocks where decreases are routinely proposed simply because of the methodologies that are being used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea rather than because of actual changes in stock dynamics. Scientific advice is critical to sustainable fisheries management and decision making, but we need to have confidence that we are working with and making decisions based on the best available evidence.
“As well as setting TACs, we will seek to agree exchanges of opportunities with two of our closest fishing neighbours: Norway and the Faroe Islands. I am pleased that we were able to agree on exchanges of opportunities for 2023 with both parties. Those bilaterals provide much-welcomed additional opportunities and flexibility for Scotland’s fishing industry. In particular, the Faroese deal is enabling our larger white-fish vessels to divert effort into Faroese waters, in turn putting less pressure on stocks in Scottish waters. For 2024, I have instructed my negotiators to continue to seek balanced and equitable bilateral arrangements, building on our long-established relationships and our shared goals to see fish stocks managed sustainably.
“As usual, advised quota changes will need to be considered carefully when exploring exchanges of opportunities. My priority here is to secure balanced deals that enhance the package of opportunities available to Scottish fishers next year. I appreciate the importance of both bilaterals in achieving that.
“We are, of course, also fully involved in the multilateral negotiations as part of the UK coastal state. I am pleased that coastal state consultations on shared, highly migratory pelagic stocks concluded with agreement to set 2024 catch limits in line with the scientific advice. Those stocks are significant for Scotland economically. The need to agree sharing arrangements is becoming urgent.
“Parties have set individual quotas in recent years that, when totalled, are above agreed limits. That is not a situation that can continue. Although progress has been positive and dialogue is constructive with most of our fishing partners, there is still further to go. Accordingly, in these multilateral negotiations, a top priority for Scotland is for the parties to agree comprehensive, evidence-based sharing arrangements as soon as possible. That will provide the long-term stability and management that we all wish to see for those stocks.
“The annual fisheries negotiations matter hugely for Scotland. Responsible fisheries management is a cornerstone of a healthy, productive marine ecosystem and, for so many of our fish stocks, agreeing shared management approaches with our fishing neighbours is an integral part of the process. We are fortunate, in Scotland, to be represented by negotiators with a wealth of experience, and I am confident that they will, again, deliver the best deal possible.
“While the rest of us are beginning the countdown to the festive season, Scotland’s negotiating teams are preparing to spend days and weeks away from home and are moving between locations in London and Europe to ensure that Scotland’s interests are represented, our voice is heard and our fishing industry benefits. They are ably supported by a team of data analysts and technical experts at home, whose expertise enables us to keep up with the pace and movement of discussions.
“Throughout the 2024 negotiations, the Government will continue to seek the best outcome for Scotland’s environment, fishing interests and coastal communities. That means balancing environmental, economic and social considerations, and considering short and long-term impacts on fish stocks and the fishing industry. That matters for the onshore supply chain, which depends on fishing effort as much as it does for the offshore businesses. We will take principled, robust positions based on the best available scientific information and take into account socioeconomic factors. We will also work closely and collaboratively with stakeholders and coastal state partners to ensure the sustainable use of those important stocks in the long term.
“Every day, Scotland’s fishing fleets put themselves in the front line of climate change. They go out to sea in increasingly unpredictable weather not only to secure a living but to ensure that we all benefit from healthy produce that is important to our future food security. It makes me all the more determined to safeguard their future in these and, indeed, future negotiations. Scotland’s fishing industry deserves nothing less.”