The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)

In the black from blue

- By Keith Find­lay BY KEITH FIND­LAY

Scot­tish wa­ters are awash with economic po­ten­tial, whether it be from fish, en­ergy, tourism or any other marine-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties that can help to boost the na­tion’s cof­fers.

Our ports are in­vest­ing mil­lions of pounds in up­grad­ing their fa­cil­i­ties to take ad­van­tage – in some cases tar­get­ing lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing cre­ated from a buoy­ant global cruise in­dus­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, this coun­try’s “blue” econ­omy – de­fined as sec­tors de­pend­ing on the marine en­vi­ron­ment for their out­put – gen­er­ated £5.2 bil­lion gross value added, or 3.9% of the to­tal, to the na­tion’s econ­omy in 2017, ex­clud­ing North Sea oil and gas ac­tiv­i­ties.

It also ac­counted for about 3% of to­tal Scot­tish em­ploy­ment.

The marine econ­omy can be broadly split into four ac­tiv­ity groups – fish, trans­port, recre­ation and tourism and oil and gas ser­vices.

In The Busi­ness this month we take a close look at the marine econ­omy, high­light­ing not only the many pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments tak­ing place around our coast­line and off­shore but also some of the ma­jor chal­lenges loom­ing large on the hori­zon.

Keith Find­lay, of the P&J, throws the spot­light on fish­ing on th­ese two pages and guest colum­nist El­speth Macdon­ald, who took over the helm of the Scot­tish Fish­er­men’s Fed­er­a­tion just a few months ago after a spell as deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of Food Stan­dards Scot­land, sets out the in­dus­try’s key pri­or­i­ties and am­bi­tions before and after Brexit on page 20.

Seafood pro­cess­ing is in sharp fo­cus on pages 10 and 11, while The Lunch – hosted by the P&J’s Re­becca Buchan – dives into some of the im­pacts of the oil and gas down­turn on the wider marine sec­tor.

On pages 14 and 15, Ian Forsyth looks at Royal Navy ves­sels mak­ing their own im­pact off the north­east coast while, on pages 18 and 19, he says the po­ten­tial for off­shore wind is “vast” in an ar­ti­cle about re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ments in Scot­tish wa­ters.

Wildlife tourism is a boom­ing busi­ness at many lo­ca­tions around the coun­try and on pages 22 and 23 Peter Ranscombe looks at how marine mam­mals and seabirds are help­ing to gen­er­ate new rev­enue streams.

Throw in some thought-pro­vok­ing con­tri­bu­tions from reg­u­lar colum­nists Philip Rod­ney, Rus­sell Borth­wick and Martin Gil­bert and you have a fas­ci­nat­ing range of per­spec­tives on the marine theme over the pages that fol­low.

Next month’s The Busi­ness, out on Mon­day De­cem­ber 16, is all about how to in­vest your money rather than just spend it as an­other fes­tive sea­son ap­proaches.

Akey part of Scot­land’s marine econ­omy is fac­ing a sea of un­cer­tainty go­ing into 2020. The Brexit boost the na­tion’s fish­ing in­dus­try has longed for since the June 2016 vote to come out of the Euro­pean Union – the much-hyped “sea of op­por­tu­nity” – is still a long-term am­bi­tion.

A lot of wa­ter will likely flow un­der the hulls of the fleet before fish­ers can start reap­ing the much-touted ben­e­fits of the UK be­com­ing an in­de­pen­dent coastal state.

And for all the talk of a po­ten­tial bounty await­ing the sec­tor after the UK seizes con­trol of its wa­ters after years of EU fish­eries man­age­ment, the prospects for next year are grim.

EU mem­ber states, in­clud­ing the UK, are ex­pected to sign up to hefty quota cuts in the North Sea – as much as 70% for cod – at the De­cem­ber Fish­eries Coun­cil in Brus­sels.

At least the UK will be at the heart of those crunch talks and not sit­ting on the side­lines as a “con­sul­tee”, as would have hap­pened if Brexit had hap­pened on ei­ther of the two ex­pired dead­lines of March 29 or Oc­to­ber 31.

Even if Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son achieves his stated aim of achiev­ing Brexit, with a deal, before the end of Jan­uary 2020, the UK will still be part of the EU’s Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy (CFP) un­til the im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod runs out at the end of next year.

If he fails to se­cure a work­able ma­jor­ity after the gen­eral elec­tion on De­cem­ber 12, or if he is ousted from of­fice, Brexit will at the very least be fac­ing a con­sid­er­able delay.

This would squeeze the im­plemeta­tion pe­riod and, in all like­li­hood, force an ex­ten­sion to it that would be as un­palat­able for an im­pa­tient fish­ing in­dus­try as it would for die-hard Brex­i­teers.

There is one po­ten­tial out­come that would speed up the whole CFP exit process and that is if Mr John­son – or any­one else in his shoes after the elec­tion – takes the UK out of the EU with­out a deal.

Un­der this sce­nario, the im­ple­men­ta­tion agree­ment won’t be worth the pa­per it’s printed on, the UK will im­me­di­ately be­come an in­de­pen­dent coastal state and fish­ers will hap­pily say “good rid­dance” to the CFP.

All of this gives those with an in­ter­est in the sec­tor plenty of food (seafood?) for thought as the an­nual bi­lat­eral and tri­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions over fish­ing quo­tas play out over the next few weeks.

Could UK in­ter­ests in th­ese talks be side­lined or to­tally ig­nored as a form of “pay­back” for all the dis­rup­tion caused by the in­ter­minable soap opera that Brexit has be­come?

Yes, if some in­dus­try in­sid­ers are to be be­lieved, although oth­ers in­sist the prize of fu­ture ne­go­ti­ated ac­cess to boun­ti­ful UK fish­ing grounds would back­fire badly on any­one try­ing to push that agenda.

Ar­guably the big­gest fear among fish­ers just now is that dec­la­ra­tions of sup­port for their cause at the high­est lev­els of UK Gov­ern­ment may be quickly for­got­ten as prag­ma­tism takes over in post-Brexit trade talks with the EU.

After all, it would not be the first time fish­ing in­ter­ests have been sac­ri­ficed as an ex­pend­able fea­ture of po­lit­i­cal and economic re­la­tions be­tween Lon­don and Brus­sels.

Fish­ers with long mem­o­ries have never for­given Ted Heath’s Tory gov­ern­ment for do­ing ex­actly that in the run-up to Bri­tain’s en­try into the Euro­pean Economic Com­mu­nity in the early 1970s.

In March last year, Theresa May faced a fu­ri­ous back­lash from fish­ers after sanc­tion­ing a “mas­sive sell-out” of the in­dus­try in its in­terim Brexit deal.

Fish­ing chiefs branded the de­ci­sion to “ca­pit­u­late” to EU de­mands that Bri­tain con­tin­ues to abide by its hated quo­tas dur­ing a two-year Brexit tran­si­tion as a “dis­gust­ing be­trayal” and “ex­tremely harm­ful”.

As Scot­tish Fish­er­men’s Fed­er­a­tion (SFF) chief ex­ec­u­tive El­speth Macdon­ald told guests at the in­dus­try body’s re­cent an­nual din­ner in Ed­in­burgh, “there are as many views on Brexit as there are fish in the sea”.

But the SFF and its mem­ber­ship are in no doubt there is a “sea of op­por­tu­nity” wait­ing for them.

On the face of it, in­dus­try fig­ures cer­tainly back that up. Com­mon ac­cess – one of the pil­lars of the CFP – has re­sulted in about 60% of the seafood re­sources within the UK’s 200-mile ex­clu­sive economic zone be­ing caught by non-UK, EU fish­ing ves­sels. It has also been es­ti­mated the value of the UK fish­ing in­dus­try could in­crease by around 50% to £1.2 bil­lion an­nu­ally once Bri­tain be­comes an in­de­pen­dent coastal state.

How­ever, hav­ing a far big­ger quota share for UK wa­ters may not mean all that much if tra­di­tional key stocks are so de­pleted in num­ber that fish­ers can­not catch much any­way.

Sci­en­tists say cli­mate change is hav­ing a grow­ing im­pact on our seas, with some cold-wa­ter species such as cod mov­ing north and away from Scot­tish fish­ing grounds.

This has huge im­pli­ca­tions for this coun­try’s fish­ing fleet, re­gard­less of Brexit.

It threat­ens do­mes­tic sup­plies go­ing into fish sup­pers through­out the UK, although drift­ing stocks may at the same time de­liver new op­por­tu­ni­ties for catch­ing more mack­erel, plaice and hake.

Squid num­bers have also surged in re­cent years so per­haps it’s time for a re­think of what the tar­get species should be.

And in light of un­cer­tain­ties over the UK’s fu­ture trade links with the rest of the EU,

 ??  ?? SNAPPED UP: The ma­jor­ity of Scot­land’s best shell­fish is shipped abroad
SNAPPED UP: The ma­jor­ity of Scot­land’s best shell­fish is shipped abroad

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