Scotland politics

EU system needs 'radical changes' says Scots fisheries secretary

Image caption The SNP government has called for the EU's grip on fishing to change

The biggest stumbling block to progress for Scotland's fishermen is "the rigid system imposed by the European Union", according to Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead.

He has called for decision making to be more devolved to member states.

The SNP government claims this will give fishermen more flexibility. It comes after a meeting last week with Scottish skippers.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have backed Mr Lochhead's call for change.

Fishermen from the east and west coasts, including Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Campbeltown and Ullapool met with the minister to discuss the pressures and demands of working in the industry.

Mr Lochhead said: "I am in full agreement that the present system needs to change, which is why I'm pressing for radical changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

"Regionalisation would mean decisions that affect our fishermen - such as these skippers - can be taken closer to home, tailored to their needs while better protecting the stocks."

The European Commission is making changes to the current CFP and believes that the "top down" system of micro-managing fisheries from Brussels is failing and that decision-making needs to be decentralised.

Fish imported from non-EU countries now accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU.

Image caption Fish from non-EU countries accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU

The new CFP is likely to come into force in 2013, but Mr Lochhead wants these EU reforms to be far more radical and said more "carefully targeted measures" would be needed to stop discards.

Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman Tavish Scott urged the Scottish and UK government to move "heaven and earth" to make regional fisheries management happen.

He added: "Scottish fishermen need an active government focused on their interests. Decisions over fish stocks should be taken by the countries that border the North Sea.

Commenting on the call for radical change, Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation demanded immediate action.

He said: "I am glad that the Cabinet Secretary has given public recognition to the message directly from working skippers that despite increasing stocks, the value from their businesses remains trapped in inflexible regulation.

"He has certainly heard this before and we simply cannot wait for CFP reform to fix all ills - if we do there will be no serious fishing industry left and its associated infrastructure that is so vital to fragile coastal communities."

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