Inshore Fishing: Why is it Important to Orkney?
The UK is now set on course to leave the European Union and with that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The UK joined the CFP in 1970 with the conclusion of a deal signed by the then Prime Minister Ted Heath .The seas became a shared resource. Before this there had been no CFP. It gave all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds. The disastrous impact of the CFP was soon felt in the Scottish fishing industry and despite reforms it has remained deeply unpopular.
In Orkney we have an extremely successful and environmentally responsible Inshore Fisheries Industry. It is of vital importance to the local economy and provides employment in some of our most fragile communities. Leaving the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy means we are entering an era of uncertainty for the industry until we know the deal that the UK secures with the remaining 27 countries of the EU.
What does inshore mean?
Well there is no clear definition, however, in Orkney we think of it as being up to six nautical miles (nm) from the shore. This is not a limit as such in that it does not prevent offshore vessels accessing it. Fish also, as you can imagine, go where they decide, not where we may wish them to go.
In Orkney most inshore fishermen work in small family run businesses with many of them being the sole operative of their boat. They are vital to the sustainability of our island communities.
As reported in the Inshore Fisheries Management Plan produced by Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd,
“Fisheries are an important part of the local economy with 354 full and part-time direct jobs in the industry employed among some 142 vessels. 102 of these vessels are under 10m and a further 32 between 10 and 15m. Gross annual fishing vessel income is around £14 million.”
“The local shellfish processing sector is also significant with the two co-operatively owned factories in Stromness and Westray employing over 130 full-time staff and turning over some £10 million. As an island community Orkney is heavily dependent on marine resources for the future social and economic survival of its communities.”
Currently Scotland exports £461 million in seafood to EU countries within the single market. It is not yet known if the UK will be able to make a deal with the 27 remaining nations of the EU which would allow access to their markets. A huge worry for the industry and expressed by Ian Gatt, President of the Scottish Fishermen’s Association is that:
“the Fishing Industry may be used as a bargaining chip”
He said “the key issue is access to our resource” and that UK fishing grounds “cannot be traded off for access to the EU single market.”
The Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd report states:
“Lobster, velvet crabs and scallops are largely sold live. There are a number of UK based vivier trucks (with sea-water tanks on board) who come into Orkney on a weekly basis to transport shellfish to continental markets. The majority of velvet crabs and around 60% of lobsters leave by this route. The remainder of the lobster catch is airfreighted to markets in Scandinavia and Europe. “
“Dived scallops are mainly sold live to the restaurant trade in mainland UK with the remainder sold for processing. Around 80% of the brown crab caught and landed by local vessels is processed at the two co-operative factories in Stromness and Westray. The remainder is shipped live by vivier trucks.”
If the UK or Scotland cannot gain access to the single market of the EU, shellfish will have to be transported further to access more distant markets. This is achievable but requires substantial investment in cold storage and freezing facilities on the islands where the catch is landed, including the small ports of Tingwall, St Margarets Hope and Burray.
Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd has done a massive amount of valuable work protecting species and the marine environment. This is an environmentally responsible industry. It is involved in research projects with amongst others : WWF – UK, The Crown Estate, Marks and Spencer and Marine Scotland . It would be a tragedy not only for this industry and the communities it supports but also for the marine environment if the fantastic contribution it has made to sustainable fishing is compromised.
In the wheeling and dealing that will commence once Article 50 is triggered and the UK begins its two year process to leave the EU will Orkney’s voice be heard?
Will the significance of this industry to the islands of Orkney even figure in the final negotiated deal?
And will the industry be supported in Orkney with the necessary investment in constructing cold storage/ freezer facilities where the catches are landed so that distant markets can be accessed by Orkney shellfish producers?