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Maree Todd MSP: Concerned about the impact of Brexit on our fishing communities

I grew up in a village that was quite literally built by fishing. Ullapool, on the shores of Loch Broom, is still one of the 10 major fishing ports today – so in many ways this is an issue close to my heart.

We must not underestimate the importance of our fishing industry. It makes a massive contribution to Scotland’s national trade and economy, and it is also a core driver of employment in local coastal communities, many of whom I represent as an MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

On my last visit to Orkney a couple of weeks ago, I met with representatives from the Orkney Fisheries Association in Kirkwall. Since then in Parliament we had the first meeting of the cross-party group on Fishing.

I was really heartened to see all types of fishing represented, as well as environmentalists, at the meeting in Edinburgh. This will help to ensure that parliamentarians are well informed going forward.

Being a Highlands and Islands representative, I’m keen to see a good geographical representation at this group, and hope that technology can help folk to contribute without having to make the long journey to Edinburgh.

As well as discussions around Brexit, we’re keen to learn more about the science involved in sustainable fishing  – and how we can lead the way in Scotland with top quality science as well as seafood!

Orkney is effectively a microcosm of the Scottish fleet – there’s a diverse fleet with locally-owned mobile and static boats fishing prawns, shellfish and whitefish.

The 70 or so islands and skerries that make up the Orkney archipelago have over 500 miles of coastline, from which a predominately inshore fleet of static-gear vessels harvest prime quality produce and make a vital socio-economic contribution to local communities on the Orkney Islands – the annual catch value of the Orkney fleet is worth tens of millions.

Nobody cares more about the sustainability of Orkney fishing, than Orkney fishermen, and their skills and knowledge are vital in stewarding this amazing resource.

On the Brexit front, the fishing communities all over Scotland are watching carefully.

No-one has forgotten that our fishing industry was described as “expendable” during European negotiations back in the 1970s by the UK government.

Back then, the UK government took Scotland into the Common Fisheries Policy against the wishes of Scottish fishing communities.

It is deeply concerning that the UK government seem so willing to once again barter away the interests of our local fishing communities in their Brexit negotiations. A leaked memo shows they consider it only ‘medium’ priority. Both in her keynote Brexit speech and now in the Brexit white paper, Theresa May specifically refers to the importance of Scottish waters to the EU fishing industry, suggesting that fishing is one of the areas which she is willing to give concessions on.

It would be the most appalling irony, if the only EU policy to survive Brexit is the much maligned Common Fisheries Policy!

This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd

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