The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)
In the black from blue
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,