'Hugh's Fish Fight' campaign, which was highlighted recently in a series of TV programmes on Channel 4, has generated a new round of public debate and widespread concern about the failings of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Instigated by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the campaign aims to put pressure on politicians to tackle, among other things, the scandalous waste of fish which occurs as a result of discards. The subject of discards is not a new controversy, and it is true to say that the discarding of perfectly marketable and nourishing fish is one of the greatest scandals in fisheries management under the CFP regime.
The opportunity afforded by the currently ongoing process of CFP reform must be grasped if we are to transform the failed CFP into a workable system of management. In my view we should scrap the CFP and start afresh, with a return of real management power to fishing nations such as Scotland.
We could then devise and implement conservation measures based upon the actual situation in logical sea areas, such as the North Sea, with only those nations with fishing entitlements having a say on management rules. Under such a framework, those with most to gain from successful conservation of fish resources would have the incentive to conserve, knowing that they would benefit from the success of stock conservation in future years.
The Channel 4 programme rightly pointed out that representation at EU level, including on CFP Reform, is a matter reserved to the UK Government. I hope that the attitude of the current UK Government will be very different from that of the Tory government of Edward Heath. He described our fishing communities as "expendable" when he agreed the terms for the UK's entry to Europe and the CFP, thereby instigating a flawed Policy which has failed to conserve our fish and has betrayed our fishing dependent communities. The SNP Government of Scotland is speaking out, and acting, against the discarding of marketable fish. In spite of restrictions imposed by EU policies, Scotland has pioneered a system of 'catch quotas,' whereby participating vessels land all the fish they catch without wasteful discards. I hope that this example will become the norm in fisheries management, rather than an exception.
Achieving radical reforms at EU level will not be easy, but I hope that Hugh's Fish Fight will help to motivate more UK and EU politicians to back major reforms. Most of all, for the sake of our valuable marine resources, I hope that we will soon win independence for Scotland so that the Scottish government can have the final say on our behalf in such vital international negotiations.