The year of 2018 has been an interesting journey filled with uncertainties for all sectors, particularly for fishing. At the time of writing this piece the leadership of the UK and its future relationship to the EU, International Countries and indeed possibly to Scotland is subject to many variable conditions.

This uncertainty is of course, a source of unrest in both policy and business terms, therefore, as well as engaging with government, we are additionally getting on with the day job whilst political musical chairs take place elsewhere.

Regardless of the eventual outcomes of current issues, the CIFA (Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance) has spent the last 12 months scenario planning and creating a set of principles for fishing, which members believe, would see a much-needed revival – indeed survival – of coastal fishing.

HeraldScotland:

Many of these principles and policy directives could work no matter what the constitutional or governmental situation.

They are based on the basic cornerstones, which coastal fishing need to thrive, and indeed, many are drawn directly from the Norwegian experience of fisheries. CIFA has been actively relaying their key principles to both Scottish and UK governments over the last year. Coastal fishermen need to have a strong voice in these crucial times, and thankfully the public are starting to understand more about what fishing actually looks like both nationally and with the sub-divisions of its sectors.

CIFA considers fish stocks to be a national asset, and as such supports a fairer system of quota and licence allocation.

We very much want to see opportunities for attracting new start young fishermen, to enter the profession and develop successfully around the coastline, but also an opportunity for our fishermen to work flexibly/seasonally with the stocks.

CIFA understands the backbone of the inshore is currently from species such as crab, lobster, scallops and prawns, but fishermen understand the downfalls of over-reliance on just a few stocks and seek to diversify where quota and circumstances allow. The extended and jagged Scottish coastline, with its single track roads, ageing port infrastructure, lack of chill/cold storage facilities, boat building facilities, ice plants, or holding facilities, coupled with patchy and poor digital connectivity, are all issues which a coherent policy strategy could and must turn around.

CIFA states: “What is needed is for fishing interests to identify need in partnership with local government, feeding up to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and creating from there, a coherent and workable strategy for the next 20 years.

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Joined up thinking, for a synergised coastal community audit of fishing regeneration needs, which will bring about a circular sustainable economy coming out of the sea, is a very real and exciting possibility.”

With this stability and economic resilience, Scotland’s coastal communities could be strengthened. CIFA recognises this will involve seed corn funding, and a means to borrow money to invest, would be welcome - particularly if a National Investment Bank had a bespoke fisheries loan scheme.

There is a vision of an innovative modern-thinking circular reinvestment and repopulation. CIFA is confident that modest investments through low risk schemes could be implemented for beneficial national return. CIFA states: “The need for improved science is a must, with fishermen helping and assisting in data collection, we will contribute towards establishing sustainable fishing levels.” CIFA sees potential in developing new markets in the Far East, but also believes it’s vital to maintain EU markets, which have taken decades to establish, with frictionless trade and the avoidance of high tariffs.

CIFA recognises that adequate national and regional marketing strategies will be critical to the success of our current and future markets. It seeks to ensure that socio-economic linkage to coastal communities in respect to fishing is implemented, but it respects the nomadic nature of fishing and no coastal communities should find their fair access to local stocks impeded by domestic or non-national vessels. CIFA looks to examples of the Azores and the potential which local line fisheries for Blue Fin Tuna could bring in terms of community benefit.

Coastal communities suffer from depopulation, but CIFA feels fishing can help create stable employment enabling young people to move to coastal locations, just as Denmark, Norway and Faroes have done. It recognises that for the next few years, the UK will continue to have a skills gap on available crew and whilst working towards better domestic training and recruitment policies, it acknowledges the requirement for non-UK crew and process workers.

It also supports the recognition of human rights, coupled with good, fair working environment and living conditions, for all skilled seamen. CIFA has grown dramatically in the last year. In addition to a number of businesses and science professionals there are over 400 member vessels comprising mobile, static, line and dive fishermen. “This sends the message that many coastal fishermen needed a body in which to work with other like-minded fishing interests in order to deliver a broad church, inclusive policy making approach, to fisheries,” it states. CIFA has groups and individuals around the coast lending their voices. It has grown from six fishing associations (Galloway Static Gear Association, Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, Orkney Fishermen’s Association, West Coast Scallop Association and Clyde Fishermen’s Association) to many more associations nationally.

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Current members include scientific representation from SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science), processors such as Loch Fyne Langoustines, West Coast Sea Products Ltd in the South West of Scotland and Barratlantic in the Outer Hebrides, along with a range of other fishing related and coastal community based businesses. New members included North East Creel and Line Association and Dunbar Fishermen’s Association alongside representation from St Andrews, Moray Coast and many others. It’s also worth noting CIFA has members in the Isle of Man and in England.

With modest investment, new boats, yards with skilled workers and apprentices to create an improved fleet for the 21st century, designers, engineers, new entrant skippers and crew and access to licenses and waters, marine biologists, data analysts, entrepreneurs and innovators, a greener industry could be achieved. And along the way, the health of the nation could be improved with a return to a fishrich Scottish diet.

“There is a bright future if we all work together with a realistic and practical vision and many of the tools are within our grasp already,” states CIFA. There is much to play for without having to look far over the horizon.

This article appeared in The Herald's special report on Scotlands Fisheries Sector on the 15th December 2018.