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The Scottish Government recently hosted an event in Brussels to highlight Scotland's vision for sustainable management of fisheries. EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki attended the seminar, involving MEPs and senior officials, to discuss the findings of Scotland's independent Inquiry into Future Fisheries Management and to promote the innovative work already being done by Scotland to reduce discarding of marketable fish.
Scotland's catch quota trials reward fishermen with increased quota provided there are no discards. Fishing activity is monitored by CCTV and enables less fish taken from the sea while more can be landed to market. Through the Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme, vessels are using more selective fishing gear to avoid catching undersized and unwanted fish and in return can spend extra time at sea.
Thanks to the efforts of the SNP government, some solid progress has been made in demonstrating that locally devised management measures can be successful - in spite of the failings of the current EU Common Fisheries Policy. With CFP reform high on the agenda in Brussels, this is a good time to be spreading the word about our vision for future management of our fisheries, and seeking a return of real powers to the fishing nations of Europe such as Scotland.
But, in spite of the fact that Scotland is home to about 70% of the UK's fishing industry, our Fisheries Minister has to seek a permit from Westminster to attend, and is routinely prevented from taking the lead role at, EU Ministerial meetings.
The Council of Ministers is a very important part of the complex decision making framework in the European Union. With crucially important decisions being taken jointly by MEPs and the 27 governments in the EU which will shape the future of agriculture and fisheries policies, and with massive opportunities for Scottish jobs in the renewable energy sector, it is vital that Scotlandʼs voice is heard.
With independence - the normal status of nations like Scotland - we would have a full and proper say in international bodies like the EU, with the guaranteed rights, to vote and to veto, that only independent member states are entitled to.
We've seen Scotland grow in stature and recognition internationally in recent years, thanks to the dynamic approach of the SNP Government, making maximum use of the limited powers available with devolution. Yet we still have fewer MEPs than countries of a similar size, and we have no automatic right to send Ministers to EU Council of Ministers meetings, where so many important decisions are made.
Independence will give us responsibility for our relationship with the EU. With independence we can take our place in the community of nations and play a constructive role in the world. As a nation, we accept the independence of other countries as normal. We have an opportunity in May, with SNP votes at the Scottish general election, to move further towards restoring normal, independent, status to Scotland.