News | Published November 22 2018

As MPs debate fisheries bill, the Shetland Fishermen’s Association provides food for thought

With the government’s Fisheries Bill currently being debated in parliament, the contribution of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association to the 2018 Review takes particular relevance. The organisation, which “represents the interests of Shetland’s diverse fishing fleet”, had suggested that Brexit offered organisations like themselves greater freedom and Labour’s proposed amendment yesterday may make that prediction even more possible.

Earlier this year, the government issued a white paper on fishing that called for the UK to take greater control over their waters, which organisations like the SFA hope will provide them with greater autonomy. The SFA said that a new fisheries arrangement should be “more effective and reactive” and Labour’s proposed amendment called for the government to provide smaller vessels with a higher quota.

  • The SFA comment of state of UK's fisheries
  • Fisheries Bill is being debated in parliament prior to Brexit

The fishing industry in the Shetlands generates around £350 million and employs around a fifth of the population explained Executive Officer Simon Collins. Their membership is vast and ranges from “single-crew five-metre boats predominantly targeting shellfish to highly sophisticated 80-metre pelagic trawlers catching species such as mackerel and herring”. Collins hopes that the impact of the referendum will bring the focus away from Brussels and onto London and Edinburgh.

But under the current EU rules it was calculated that two-thirds of fish that makes up the UK’s quota is controlled by just three multinational companies. While the government has been able to negotiate these quotas while a member of the EU, Collins said that Brexit will lead to “fairer shares of internationally agreed catch quotas”.

The Shadow Fisheries Minister Luke Pollard appeared to agree with this analysis in a recent statement. He said “Michael Gove could take action to redistribute fishing quota now if he wanted to, but he is failing by not delivering quota reallocation in the fisheries bill. Fishing reform could usher in a huge regeneration of coastal towns, but not unless ministers drastically improve the fisheries bill.”

In response, however, the Conservative party explained that they had increased the quota given to the UK’s vessels by around 13 per cent and argued that Labour should “back our landmark fisheries bill to ensure we can take back control of our waters and decide who may fish there and on what terms” if they want to stand up for UK fishermen.

To conclude his article, Collins said that the SFA will continue to do what they can to benefit the fishing industry on the archipelago and stated that are “acutely conscious of its wider responsibilities to the 23,000 people that call these islands home”. Collins will be watching how the bill progresses, as we are sure will many fisherman up and down the UK.