Scottish Government on ‘Mackerel War’ & Climate Change (May 2013)

Interview of the Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead at ESE 2013, Brussels (April 23, 2013)

by Bertrand Charron, Editor. Posted 02.05.2013

Of Scottish seafood’s Premiumisation, ‘Mackerel War’, Climate Change and Scottish Independence…

The Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead gave SeafoodIntelligence an exclusive interview at the European Seafood Exposition (ESE) in Brussels last week (April 23). He commented on the ‘Premiumisation’ of Scottish seafood and on the latest round of EFF grants; gave the Scottish take on the ongoing, 4-year long & un-sustainable ‘mackerel war’ between the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes – and suggestions as how to end the stalemate (NE Atlantic mackerel will in 2013 will likely overfished by 50%!); Mr Lochhead also expanded on preparedness & mitigation to climate change impacts; and last but not least: made the fisheries case for Scottish Independence…


 1) On the ‘Premiumisation’ of Scottish seafood & the latest round of EFF grants

Minister R. Lochhead:

“World demand for seafood is continuing to rise and that offer a fantastic opportunity for Scotland as a major European producing nation. We are very lucky to have a large number of innovating companies who are very much exports-orientated. And given my desire for us to add value to every fish landed in Scotland, I want to support the premiumisation of Scottish seafood to tap into those opportunities. Therefore it is very encouraging that in the latest round of fisheries grants – which amounts to £2.6 million – there are many processing companies as well as many fishing vessels wanting to adapt, innovate and expand into the future. So that’s clearly a vote of confidence in the future of the seafood sector in Scotland.”

[Re. £438,007 funding to supply a personal flotation device to every fisherman in Scotland]

“Clearly safety at sea is something we treat very seriously and too many fishermen in the past have paid the ultimate price for putting fish on our table. Therefore I’m very encouraged that the fishing organizations have come forward with this proposal for every fisherman in Scotland to have a personal floatation device, and that is a very good use of public money to support that safety-at-sea initiative, and that’s part of the professionalization of the industry in Scotland.”

2)   Commenting on the Mackerel Dispute: what is the solution to end this 4-year deadlock?

“Because the mackerel stock is of enormous value to so many different countries and with it being an international stock, it’s very important that we have a international management framework in place, otherwise the stock will not be here in a few years time – potentially – and that would be an economic and social disaster for many fishing communities relying upon it. And of course it is a health food which it would be irresponsible to jeopardize.

“So for both conservation and economic reasons, we really have to get back into place an international agreement. If every country took the view that we’ll fish that stock as much as possible when it’s in its own waters, then clearly that’s a recipe for disaster and will spell the end of a very important successful stock. That’s why it’s really important we do everything we can to persuade Iceland and the Faeroese Islands to come back to the negotiating table.

“There was after all a management regime in place for a decade which has let the stock get healthy in the first place, and that should be remembered.

“If all countries’ response is moving forward, we can have a healthy stock for decades to come. But if countries walk away from international agreements, or refuse to participate and set their own unilateral quotas, then we’re all losers. […] I hope Iceland the Faroese will both recognize the need to come back to the negotiating table and do just that: negotiate..


“After fifteen rounds of negotiations, we’re clearly at a stalemate, a complete deadlock… I have suggested that perhaps we should have a look at having an international mediator, have someone come-in from the outside, get some fresh impetus in the negotiations. If we want to persuade these countries to come back to the negotiating table, perhaps the table should look a bit different… and that’s why I think that perhaps there should be an international mediator. If anyone else has any better idea, I’m all open to hear them. I’ve not heard of any alternative ideas coming forward.

“We have to be responsible as the EU, and all countries which are part of the EU are part of this framework also.”

[When SeafoodIntelligence put it to the Minister that when speaking to the Faroese official/Head of Negotiating team, the Faroese Government in February said it had not been formally made aware of Mr Lochhead’s proposal to bring-in an international mediatorDid that mean that the EU/EC had not put such offer forward to Iceland and the Faroese? Is such proposal now in the pipeline?]

“Well, many countries are very sensitive of not giving any advantage to any other countries at the moment. And of course we’re awaiting the science this year from the tri-annual survey of [mackerel] eggs to understand the state of the stocks.

“But there are discussions going on within Europe over the potential of bringing an international mediator. Likewise we’ve been promised sanctions time and time again by the European Union. We have to show our own fishermen that we are able to protect their interests when they have been responsible, and of course not rewarding irresponsible behaviour is a key principle in this debate.

“But let me be clear: my complete preference is for the countries to come back to the negotiating table and amicably reach an agreement that we can all sign-up to, so that we don’t have to go down the road of sanctions or whatever.

“However, we do have to find ways to persuade these countries to come back to the negotiating table in the first place – if sanctions have a role to play in that then they should come into play as soon as possible – and if a mediator could help with those negotiations once we are back at the negotiating table, if we have then a better chance of succeeding – then I think that’s a good thing to do as well.”

Any date pencilled-in for future round of negotiations?

“My understanding is that Europe is waiting for an indication that the Faroese and Iceland are willing to negotiate”.

3)   As this last winter has exemplified, sudden climate change events can take their toll on the economic life of Scots… Has Scotland taken any steps as regards to preparedness to climate change and mitigation of its potential impacts?

“The impact of climate change is a very serious issue that the fishing industry understands has to be central to our future vision for our seas. Climate change of course will impact on the biologies of our seas, which in turn impact on location and behaviour of fish stocks.

We have to have as much research as possible in the coming decades to understand the active factors at sea. We can see changing behaviours of stocks. There are many assumptions that climate change is one of the factors behind that but it’s very difficult to have evidence. But warming waters clearly is having a direct effect on fish stocks. What’s difficult is to measure the extents.

We already have in Scotland and throughout the British Isles co-operation over science that looks at the impacts of climate change, and that takes into account our seas and provides some projections of potential changes of fish stocks behaviour. Given the fertility over cod stocks for the last ten years, many scientists believe climate change is playing at least some role in that.

At the moment, we have prawn stock are not appearing in the usual numbers for this time of year, and many fishermen tell me this is because of colder weather at this time of year. Again that is related to climate change.

“So there is a whole variety of ways in which climate change will impact the future of the fishing industry. We may be fishing different stocks in the decades ahead. That’s why it is so important that fisheries regulations are flexible and easy to adapt to climate change and not fixed in time which would be counter-productive in terms of how we manage our fisheries.”

4)   Last… but not least: Is it part of the governmental brief to advise what would be the impact a future potential Scottish Independence would have on the Scottish fishing/seafood sector? [NB: Mr Lochhead, as a member of Scottish Government is a member of the ruling Scottish National Party – SNP – in favour of Scottish Independence: A referendum on the topic will take place in September 2014].

“One of the big challenges of fishing in the recent decades has been copping with ill-fitting one-size-fits-all policies from Brussels.

“Because fishing is not a priority for the UK Government, but it is for Scotland because it is much more economically important, Independence would give us the possibility to influence the future of the fisheries policy to a much greater degree, as well as providing the ability to protect our fishing rights and ensure that our own fishermen are able to fish the stocks in their own waters.

“In 1973, when the UK went into Europe, the Conservative Party at the time said that fishing was expendable. They took Scotland into the Common Fisheries Policy [CFP] which has caused enormous damage to people’s lives, fishing communities and fisheries conservation.

“Therefore, Independence would give Scotland the power to have greater influence on fisheries policy and a greater say in Europe as well.”


A few relevant backgrounders on the News Database:

1)   On the ‘Mackerel War’

2)   On Scotland & Seafood Exports:

3)   On Climate Change & Fisheries/Aquaculture impacts

On Twitter @Salmoskius:

@GunnarHJ  “really important” that Iceland & Faeroes come back to negotiating table:@RichardLochhead

“After 15 rounds of negotiations, clearly a stalemate, complete deadlock“ Scot Minister; #MackerelWar sanctions?

@MariaDamanakiEU Fish regulations need to be flexible & easy to adapt to #climatechange:@RichardLochhead #CFPreform

@YesScotland @PerthGreens: @RichardLochhead dreams of ‘a nation once again’ + Independence would benefit Scot fishers

@RichardLochhead supports ‘premiumisation’ of Scottish #seafood to tap into growing exports market opportunities

“My preference is for [Iceland/Faeroes] to come back to negotiating table”; @RichardLochhead Amicable #mackerel deal


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