7 Jun 2013
UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon took part in a debate on fisheries at the Scottish Conservative party conference today.
A copy of his speech is below.
(Check against delivery).
Richard Benyon speech
It is a pleasure to be with you here in beautiful Stirling, the ‘gateway to the highlands’.
We are near the scene of many great Scottish battles throughout history.
I am here however to discuss a battle of a different nature.
A battle fought by this Conservative led Government on behalf of the people of Scotland and our United Kingdom, on behalf of fishermen and all who care about our marine environment.
However, before I begin, I want to place on record my heartfelt thanks to a great Conservative who after 15 years, is standing down at the European elections, next year.
Struan’s counsel has proved invaluable to me, and his unrivaled knowledge of fisheries and marine matters at the European Parliament will be sorely missed.
He has been a true champion for Scotland and I am proud to be able to call him a friend.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are on the verge of a highly significant breakthrough.
Radical reform the Common Fisheries Policy that has plagued the British fishing industry for too long is within our grasp.
Let’s remind ourselves of the negative trio of misery that this policy generates.
And poorer coastal communities.
If that doesn’t equate to the perfect storm, I don’t know what does!
The centralised top-down management system that tries to micro-manage our fisheries with a one-size-fits-all system
from the sub-arctic waters in the north of the North Sea to the tropical waters of the south Mediterranean, is long overdue for reform.
The absurdity of this system requires me as UK Minister to sit up until the wee small hours holed up in Brussels with Commission officials, negotiating net sizes and the precise location in those nets for an escape panel for non-target species.
These nets used by fishermen perhaps 1000 miles away off the north coast of Scotland.
This is utterly absurd.
However, I am delighted to report that reform is being achieved with the principles of our shared Conservatism at its heart.
Namely, a redistribution of powers back to member states, ending the status quo of obstructive centralised micro management that Brussels is famed for
and a belief in something we hold dear – good stewardship.
Alongside this decentralisation will be a binding requirement to fish at sustainable levels.
Let me be clear, this includes Spanish and French fishermen too. A long overdue level playing field is in sight.
In addition, the abhorrent practice of discarding perfectly edible fish will end.
This happens because fishermen have to comply with complex quota rules.
For many people across Britain this is the big one.
A major reform ending an activity that has taken on totemic status.
We must remember that discarding fish is as abhorrent to our fishermen as it is to us as consumers.
Some shrill voices like to claim that what the Government does is too often remote from the needs of people in Scotland.
Well here is why they are wrong – let me spell it out. The fishing industry matters to the people of Scotland and the Scottish fishing industry matters to the United Kingdom Government – and to this Party.
These reforms are about making sure there is an industry to attract the next generation of Scottish fishermen.
A rising biomass of fish and a management regime that respects fishermen rather than victimises them.
Decisions on the details of management will be taken close to where our industry fishes from.
Not miles away in Brussels.
My mission is to do everything within my power to help grow the British a sustainable fishing industry.
Ending discards, fishing sustainably and managing fisheries locally is a start.
Now, I accept that many in our Party, indeed, many in this room want me to go faster and further.
In every conversation I have on the Common Fisheries Policy – and believe me, I have many – I always say, ‘I wouldn’t start from here.’
But you and I know that fish do not recognise lines on a map. Whatever system we have, we need to manage it at an ecosystem level.
Usually that means on a sea basin basis.
That means cooperating with all countries which fish in the same seas.
Decentralisation does not equate to shunning our neighbours.
The United Kingdom will always need to engage with our neighbours whether they are in the EU or, like Norway, outside it.
Now, another reason for my being happy to be in debating this important issue with you here today is that fishing is of greater economic and cultural importance here, than anywhere the UK.
Scotland lands over 60% of the UK’s total catch. A staggering figure.
Just under half the UK catch is landed in three ports, all in Scotland. Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Lerwick.
These and other Scottish communities have been dependent upon the sea as a source of employment for generations.
In other parts of the UK there is a significant fishing industry but also a skilled and highly economically important processing industry.
It is in no one’s best interests to see this vital integrated industry sliced and diced on the false promises of nationalism.
I wish to place on record my praise for the Scottish fishing fleet’s innovative conservation efforts. The Catch Quota scheme, pioneered in Scotland, has been praised abroad. The industries own development of real-time closures are an example of leadership and good stewardship.
Serious problems exist, not least in the Scottish prawn fleet but the Scottish fleet is highly skilled and respected by contemporaries throughout the United Kingdom.
I know there are challenges to comply with the new world we will be in but I am confident that the Scottish industry will deliver.
And together as one country, one United Kingdom, we will work for the benefit of fishermen and the marine environment because it makes economic, environmental sense to do so.
The many successes we have achieved would be placed in jeopardy if we were to break up the United Kingdom. Scotland would find it harder to be heard on the international stage and end up in an invariably weaker position.
I do not want this for the Scottish fishing industry, which is highly integrated on a UK scale, both with other fishers and the processing and retailing sector.
As progress this year alone attests, we are stronger together and would be weaker apart.
I have always believed that fishermen must be at the heart of any discussion, as architects of the new management system. Not the helpless victims of remote and ill-informed decision-making.
We need to change the mindset on how we manage our seas. For too long we have considered marine issues in silos. Fisheries. Energy. Renewables. Leisure. Conservation.
This is changing. A more holistic approach is where we are going.
We all depend on our seas for so much and this Government is making sure we value our seas and manage them better in the future.
I started by setting out what was wrong with the Common Fisheries Policy. lets be clear, as a United Kingdom, we are winning the battle for our seas.
Scotland’s voice is heard loud and clear and I shall continue working with Conservatives in Holyrood, at Westminster and in Brussels, to fight for Scotland’s fishing industry and for healthy and productive seas.