Fisheries Innovation Scotland's first Annual Scottish Fishing Conference was declared a resounding success as it came to a close, on Thursday 30th July.
More than 100 delegates covering the entire spectrum of the fisheries industry gathered at the University of St Andrews to discuss issues of common interest under the conference theme of ‘Working with the Landing Obligation’ a key issue which will have wide implications for fisheries and those industries they support. The unique gathering included working fishermen, processors, major retailers, fisheries scientists, regulators and government advisers, technical specialists and conservationists, indeed a who’s who of Scottish fishing. This diversity was picked up by Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment (Scotland’s fisheries Minister), in his opening remarks: “This really is a tremendous day for Scotland, it’s fantastic to see so many different people who have an interest in the future of Scotland’s fisheries in the same room at the same time talking about the big picture issues and some of the more immediate challenges and that’s what Fisheries Innovation Scotland is all about.”
He began the business part of the conference with an overview of Scotland’s fisheries and their importance to the Scottish economy and society. He pointed out that Scotland’s seas are the fourth largest of the core European waters and Scotland is the fourth biggest ‘shareholder’ of European waters. He also stated that four tonnes of fish are taken from each square nautical mile of Scottish waters against the European average of just one tonne per square nautical mile. Scotland’s fishing industry generates £500million each year and provides 5000 jobs in the country. Scotland is a big player and as an innovative country is at the forefront of fisheries management. These statistics set the scene for the remainder of the conference with all speakers turning their attention to the landing obligations and the spectre of the discard ban which could have major ramifications for fishermen working to strict quotas, and the shore based industries that will be faced with landings of unfamiliar species they are not used to processing and passing on to consumers. This became a theme of the conference and it was apparent that behavioural changes throughout the industry and society will need to be made to make the best of any EU-based proposals. The creation of Fisheries Innovation Scotland, still only a year old, was universally applauded as a very positive step in bringing those within and surrounding the fishing industry together and this conference set the bar for encouraging dialogue between the various stakeholders.
Conference Chairmen John Goodlad, a Shetlander who has spent his life within the industry and is currently Chair of FIS was delighted with the success of the conference: “It’s been a huge success, it’s our first year and we weren’t sure how it was going to go. We’ve had some wonderful speakers and most importantly we’ve been given some good ideas on the work FIS should be doing in its research programme to help the industry with the introduction of the discard ban. One highlight was the exchange with fishermen from other countries to learn how they had worked to eliminate discards from their catches. After this conference everyone understands the issues better. I would like to say that I can’t see an easy solution. There remains the problem of the ‘choke species’ the two or three fisheries where Scotland has a tiny quota but there are huge quantities of fish out there – as soon as that very small quota is reached the entire fishery is closed down. We haven’t solved that challenge yet but what we have achieved today is to find research programmes that will get us closer to a solution. Throughout the day we had people thinking the unthinkable, thinking out-of-the-box. We had everything coming back from the good, the bad and the ugly to the unthinkable. But it was all a great example of everybody engaging in thinking out of their comfort zone. I believe if there is a solution to the discard ban, that’s how we’ll find it. The conference exceeded my expectations and a great start has been made. We will definitely be back next year but in the meantime I know that Fisheries Innovation Scotland and the whole industry will work more closely together than ever before. If fisheries challenges can be solved anywhere it will be in Scotland which has a proven track record of innovation and a real desire to make things work for the economy, society at large and the communities and individuals who work together in this important industry.”
To view the ASFC 2015 webstream videos click here