Scotland’s largest fishing body has thrown its weight behind a new organisation which aims to give the industry a bigger say in decision-making in Brussels.
The Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association is now a member of the European Association for the Promotion of Sustainable and Responsible Fisheries – Blue Fish for short – and chief executive Mike Park has been made its vice-president.
Blue Fish’s aim is to transform the image of the industry among politicians and policymakers in the European Union.
Using evidence gathered by the group’s own scientists, members hope to correct some of the misapprehensions they say are rife in the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The organisation was launched by the two biggest fishing ports in France – Lorient, where it is based, and Boulogne sur Mer.
It now has members in Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
As well as representing the industry, it speaks for port management organisations, research and educational institutions and a variety of public organisations.
One of its chief aims is to highlight the industry’s success in restoring many stocks to maximum sustainable yield, the yardstick used to show catches do not threaten their survival.
Mr Park said: “For too long environmental NGOs have had the upper hand in Brussels, influencing policy with good intentions but often disastrous results.
“We only have to look at the landings obligation (skippers will soon have to land at least 95% of all the fish they catch) or discards ban to see how things can go awry.
“None of our fishermen want to throw back healthy fish, but a ban on doing so has to be made workable and as things stand it is likely to bankrupt many boats.”
He added: “Blue Fish is all about promoting responsible and durable fisheries policy, and balancing the protection of the marine ecosystem with the protection of marine jobs and activity.
“We will do this by sharing knowledge and good practices that enable us to have sustainable and responsible fisheries around our coastal communities.”
The launch of Blue Fish coincides with big changes in the EU’s political institutions.
MEPs on the European Parliament’s new fisheries committee will meet for the first time next month and a new EU fisheries commissioner is due to be appointed in November.
Mr Park said: “It’s critical that we work hard to demonstrate to officials and new and returning MEPs that fishing is a much leaner, more environmentally-friendly industry than it is portrayed by environmentalists.
“But we will do this using powerful evidence and eschewing rhetoric to ensure a productive, sustainable future for this ancient and noble activity.”