Access to Scottish waters must not be “used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations”, the Fisheries Minister has warned.
Expanding proposals for post-Brexit fishing in Scottish waters, Fergus Ewing set out eight principles to protect the future of the industry “whatever form Brexit eventually takes”.
Mr Ewing called for cross-party support from MSPs to ensure sustainable fishing and suggested treating fish as a national asset.
Pledging to fight any attempts by the UK Government to allow access to waters around Scotland to be “traded away” in negotiations with the European Union, Mr Ewing added: “Let me be absolutely clear: Scotland’s rich fishing grounds should not be used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.
“We want to make the most of our waters and encourage long-term sustainable growth for our rural communities.
“Scotland’s relationship with the sea is a long and productive one; from the largest port to the smallest quayside, our fishing communities take pride in producing high-quality produce in a sustainable way.”
Setting out the principles in the Scottish Government’s Future of Fisheries Management, discussion paper, he said: “I want a truly-nationwide discussion on these proposals so that everyone involved in fishing has their say and that we can agree on the way forward.
“The uncertainty around Brexit makes for challenging times for the families whose livelihoods depend on fishing.
“I will continue to fight to get the best deal possible for our fishing interests from Brexit.
“But whatever form Brexit eventually takes, I also remain committed to continuing to champion Scotland’s fishing interests at home and internationally.”
Mr Ewing expressed a desire for the industry to fish sustainably, in line with scientific advice, to protect the long-term future of fish stocks.
“As part of this we will continue to use Total Allowance Catch (TAC) to manage most fish stocks in the future and may consider introducing quotas for non-TAC species such as shellfish,” he said.
It was also suggested using remote electronic monitoring equipment to provide evidence in any cases of conflict between fishing vessels.
The minister’s statement was largely-welcomed by MSPs, including Conservative Peter Chapman, who said: “I think it’s the first time this SNP Government has had anything positive to say about leaving the EU and leaving the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy].”
Both Mr Chapman and Labour’s Rhoda Grant raised the issue of quota speculation, with Ms Grant asking whether he would look at community ownership of existing and new quotas.
“This would make sure it remains rooted in the communities that fishing supports; it would not only stop speculation, but also make quotas available to local fishing industry and to new entrants,” she said.
In response, Mr Ewing stressed that current quota holders “have invested very substantially in new vessels” and would have “a legitimate expectation” and mentioned previous pledges that any changes on this issue wouldn’t be done within seven years.