Scottish fishermen are “foot-stampingly frustrated” at the Scottish Government for not embracing Brexit and its potential benefits for the industry, MPs have been told.
Brexit could boost Scotland’s fishing industry by more than £500 million, according to representatives of fishermen and seafood organisations, who urged the Scottish Government to “grab this opportunity by the throat.”
After leaving the European Union, the UK Government says it will be able to control fishing in British waters.
Welcoming the proposed Fisheries Bill, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) chief executive Bertie Armstrong told the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster: “This Bill is essential in ensuring legislation to allow us to embrace the big, fat opportunity that Brexit presents to the fishing industry of the UK.”
Mr Armstrong argued that under the current rules, all the waters off the shores of EU countries are considered as “common access”, and the opportunity for UK fishermen “is rigidly set in a position of extreme disadvantage to us.”
He added: “There will be a complete change in the seas around the UK on Brexit.
“The arrival at a position of sovereignty over who catches what in the seas and how much is caught is wholly, absolutely and completely different from the Common Fisheries Policy.”
Following claims the Scottish Government could refuse legislative consent for the Fisheries Bill, Mr Armstrong was asked what effect blocking the laws from applying in Scotland would have.
He said: “We think the overriding issue here is this opportunity, and are very foot-stampingly frustrated at the lack of embrace of the opportunities.
“This will need government assistance from all of the governments of the land but in particular of our northern land to make this opportunity work, to grab this opportunity by the throat.”
Ryan Scatterty, of the Scottish Seafood Association, told MPs Brexit would not affect the growing worldwide demand for seafood, but warned about potential damage from restricting workers’ freedom of movement.
He said: “We are going to need access to labour and that is my concern with our exit from the EU, and we would ask that our representatives in Westminster take serious consideration to our access to labour.
“We could have all the fish in the world but if we don’t have anyone to process it we can’t do anything with it.”
Research conducted for the Scottish Government suggested Brexit could add more than £500 million to Scotland’s fishing industry and approximately 5,000 jobs, according to the SFF.
But when Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing was asked by the MPs whether he feels Scots fishermen would be the biggest winner from Brexit, he replied: “No, I don’t agree with that.”
The Holyrood minister added that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal contained “clear linkage between Scottish and UK fisheries’ waters, and trade and tariffs”.
Questioned by Conservative MP David Duguid on why the fishing representatives do not consider the deal “to have crossed any red lines”, Mr Ewing said: “It is a matter of incontrovertible fact that the agreement which the Prime Minister entered into with the EU links access to the UK’s waters with trade.”
The claim was rebuffed by several Tory MPs, who quoted the fishery representatives’ comments that “there’s a political vacuum in the Scottish Government” and “no sense of direction from the Scottish Government in terms of fishing policies”.
In December, Mr Ewing wrote to UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove urging him to make several amendments to the Bill over seafood levies, fishing quotas and effort limits.
He wrote: “I remain unambiguously of the view that the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent is required,” and demanded an amendment that any change “should only be taken with the consent of the Scottish ministers”.
Although Mr Gove is yet to respond, a Defra spokesman said: “The fishing industry is of vital importance to Scotland and that is why the Fisheries Bill, combined with our withdrawal from the EU, will give more decision-making powers to the Scottish Government.
“This new Fisheries Bill will allow us to create a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for all of the UK.”