It’s fair to say that fisheries and its contribution to Scotland’s economy has been well and truly in the spotlight in 2016.
From the successes at this year’s December Council to the EU vote and its impact on fishing, it’s certainly been an interesting time to be fisheries secretary.
A highlight for me, of course, was attending my first December Agrifish Council and being involved in the fast-paced negotiations process.
I’m delighted that we managed to secure improved deals for 16 out of our 23 key stocks, and delivered additional fishing opportunities worth around £47million for our fishermen.
I was particularly pleased that after several meetings with the UK fisheries minister, we managed to secure an extra 1,500tonnes of Arctic cod quota.
This will be available for swaps with other countries to bring in additional quota of stocks that may be running short in the North Sea – particularly important, with more stocks coming under the discard ban in 2017.
The talks also secured extra flexibility around where vessels are able to fish – removing current constraints around fishing for northern shelf haddock – and will provide more choice over fishing grounds, meaning reduced costs for vessels.
These deals were struck against a backdrop of uncertainty for the UK and its place in Europe.
Clearly, many fishermen voted to leave the EU but … we need to do what we can to protect the industry. That’s why we have been vocal about our concerns that leaving the EU could lose both a market and a source of vital funding.
We recently set out our proposals to try and mitigate some of the risks for Scotland being taken out of the EU.
A key part of the document sets out that the UK as a whole should remain within the single market through membership of the European Economic Area. If we are taken out of the EU, we have made it clear that we are committed to staying out of the Common Fisheries Policy.
I look forward to hearing the industry’s views on these proposals in the new year.
In the meantime, I’ll be getting ahead with the job at hand and continuing to do what I can to make sure that fishermen are able to work within the discard ban.
With challenging stocks such as North Sea cod and whiting set to be introduced into the landing obligation from January 1, it’s important that fishermen are able to adapt to live within the new rules.
We do not want an unworkable discard ban that sees vessels tied up, while there are quotas to be landed.
I do, however, welcome the European Parliament’s intervention to remove the limits around the number of days a North Sea cod fishing vessel can spend in a fishing area.
As Scotland’s fishing champion I will continue to push for the best deal for our sector, and I must thank the industry for its support while I learn the nuts and bolts of this complex area.