Still some rough seas to navigate
The annual battle over EU fishing “opportunities”, culminating in the December Fisheries Council in Brussels, is notoriously fraught.
EU fisheries ministers must balance the competing demands of industry, scientists and environmental groups, while also meeting political objectives dictated by circumstances back home.
But this year’s negotiations have an extra dimension – it is the last end-of-year bun fight before Brexit.
Industry chiefs and politicians alike will be looking to see how well UK Fishing Minister George Eustace and his team fare against counterparts from the rest of Europe, amid the background of Britain’s EU divorce settlement.
Sources close to last year’s December Fisheries Council said the mood in the room was decidedly frosty as other EU nations and the European Commission took a hard line on any issues affecting the UK.
With Brexit nearing, it is hard to imagine it will be any better this year. In all likelihood, it will be worse.
Transition arrangements also tie the UK to the much-despised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) until December 2010, meaning Scotland’s fishing fleet will still be operating under EU rules well beyond Brexit.
The UK will technically not have a place at the negotiating table during quota negotiations in late 2019, but it will still be bound by the CFP and be consulted on quotas affecting its waters.
All the while, industry leaders will be watching from the sidelines to make sure fishing is never again used as a bartering chip.
They have already warned that sacrificing UK fishing interests in a trade deal would be seen as another “betrayal” akin to Ted Heath’s “sell-out” of fisheries in the run-up to Britain joining the old European Economic Community in 1973.
Hopes are high that Scotland’s fishing fleet is facing a brighter future as it sails purposefully towards a new dawn.
Challenges such as the discard ban are generally seen as EU-imposed inconveniences which must be endured along the journey to Brexit.
Quitting the EU can deliver a fairer share of the fish in Scotland’s own waters, rebalance the access rules in this country’s favour and free the fleet from the shackles of the CFP, or so the theory goes.
Brexit is certainly an ideal opportunity to wipe the slate clean after decades of fisheries governance from Brussels, much of which can at best be described as well-intentioned but ill-conceived.