Examination of witnesses
(Questions 168 - 179)
TUESDAY 12 JANUARY 1999
JOHN H GOODLAD
and MR HAMISH
168. Gentlemen, thank you for coming to
London. We will come to see you as well in Scotland in the not
too distant future so our paths may cross again. I am sorry to
have kept you waiting. We began a little late with our last witnesses.
We will try and be disciplined to enable you to say what you want
to say. Mr Smith, can I begin by inviting you to introduce your
(Mr Smith) I am Alexander Smith and I am President
of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. I am a sixth generation
fisherman and have spent 40 years at sea, 35 of those as skipper
of my own vessel. On my right is Hamish Morrison and I will let
him introduce himself.
(Mr Morrison) Hamish Morrison, Chief
Executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation of only six months'
standing; previously Chief Executive of the Scottish Council for
Development in Industry and, a long time before that, I was an
officer in the Royal Navy when I think I met your father in law.
169. We will discuss that after the session
(Mr Goodlad) John Goodlad. I am one of the two Vice-Presidents
of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and in addition to that
I am employed by the Shetland Fishermen's Association and the
170. Mr Smith, can I just begin by inviting
you to paint a general picture, briefly please, of the Scottish
industry, how it differs from the rest of the United Kingdom and
what you see as the most important factor shaping its future?
(Mr Smith) Firstly, at the risk of maybe offending
my colleagues south of the border, the Scottish fishing industry
does catch 70 per cent of the fish caught in the UK industry.
Most of the new investment over the past decade, or maybe perhaps
longer, has been in the north east of Scotland, mostly with pelagic
vessels. That is the standing of the Scottish industry as we see
it. What was the second part of your question?
171. What factors do you think will be particularly
important in shaping the future of the industry in Scotland?
(Mr Smith) How long do we have?
172. Just a snapshot of one or two things.
(Mr Smith) Something that concerns us is the structure
of our fleet now and the age. The average age of the Scottish
fleet is in excess of 25 years. I can think back five years ago
when we said the average age was in excess of 20 years. I certainly
hope that, in five years' time, I do not have to say the average
age is 30 years. That is something that gives us great concern.
It is very much linked to safety. The amount of new builds coming
into the industry is minimal and the cost of these new builds
with licences and fishing entitlement in particular is of an excessive
nature. It is almost a closed shop. In other words, if you are
not in the industry now, you will have great difficulty in getting
into the industry. The cost of these licences has been well documented
in the past. The problem is like a car market. There are people
who cannot afford a Rolls-Royce and can only afford a small
173. Robin Reliant?
(Mr Smith) That is the bottom of the line, I suppose.
The only way we can get second hand cars is for people to buy
new cars. This is very much the case in the industry. Because
of the lack of new investment in anything other than a trickle,
the good second hand vessels are not working their way down the
line. Thankfully, most of the new vessels are built in the north
east of Scotland but nevertheless, once people build new vessels,
they then in turn put their second hand vessels, which are very
good quality, on the market and they ultimately will move. Places
like the west coast of Scotland, in England as well and Northern
Ireland are where all the older vessels tend to go. The fact is
that these vessels are not working their way through so there
is a problem with the age of the vessel all through the fleet.
That gives us great concern so that is one area that certainly
has to be addressed in the future. We do need support to rebuild
and modernise the fleet.
174. This is about research again. Do you
consider that the current money spent by the UK government on
fisheries research actually is real value for money for the taxpayer?
(Mr Goodlad) The very short answer to that is it probably
is, but I would qualify that very importantly by one or two points.
I think we are very critical, quite rightly, of much of the scientific
research but at the same time we acknowledge that it is a very
difficult science and a very inexact science. You can only get
an approximate indication of the real health and status of stocks
by sending out one or two vessels, taking trawlers doing net surveys,
stock assessments and so on. It is a very inaccurate science at
best. We believe that it would be better value for the taxpayer
if the industry were more involved and I do not mean by that simply
consulted in terms of, "This is the work we have done and
this is what we reckon next year's stocks will be. This is what
we propose in terms of next year's quotas." That is the kind
of consultation we have at present, which is fine. It is very
valuable, but we believe that we should much more proactively
involved, rather than simply reacting and giving an opinion. We
should be more actively involved with the scientists in establishing
what kind of voyages should take place, what kind of scientific
assessments should be undertaken. Fishermen should be more actively
involved in those voyages. In the evidence of the NFFO, it was
said that scientists should go on board fishing vessels. I agree
with that. In addition to that and perhaps more importantly, working
fishermen should always accompany the scientific research vessels.
That is beginning to happen now in Scotland with, for example,
the Scotia, the new research vessel on pelagic voyages. Active,
working skippers are encouraged to go on board and have an active
input into the operation. It is a two-way process. The scientists
will benefit and the fishing industry will benefit and will perhaps
better understand the scientific process. I think it probably
is reasonable value but it could be better if the industry was
involved more closely.
175. But you know that he who pays the piper
calls the tune. Would you be prepared as an industry to put some
resources and funds into that so that you would have a greater
say in deciding the research projects or even paying for your
own scientists to do some work?
(Mr Goodlad) Again, the short answer to that is no
and maybe yes to the last bit. I think no because I think the
Common Fisheries Policy is based on quota regulations and it is
incumbent on every Member State to do their bit in providing the
scientific assessment. It would be entirely wrong for the United
Kingdom government to abrogate its responsibility in that field
by looking for commercial funding where no other Member State
does so. Equally, the industry is hardly in the position of having
excessive profits such that it could make such a financial contribution
that would be in any sense meaningful. Again, if the UK industry
were asked to do that, it would place us at an even greater competitive
disadvantage with our European competitors, none of whom make
a similar contribution. In essence, the answer is no. However,
we recognise that if we are to become more proactive with the
scientific community in fisheries assessment and stock assessment
then perhaps we need to do a little bit more ourselves. The Scottish
Fishermen's Federation, for example, is looking again at the possibility
of perhaps employing a scientific adviser.
176. Given that there are limited resources
on the spending for the research, which area do you consider should
be prioritised at the expense of which others in the research
that is being carried out?
(Mr Smith) There are a number of new fisheries and
I feel that there is inadequate data to give clear or even closely
accurate advice on stocks. Some of these stocksI will name
a feware under precautionary total allowable catches for
the year, West Coast Monks in particular, where there is very
little assessment done on this fishery. The TAC that they keep
rolling on year after year is a precautionary TAC which bears
no resemblance to the stock at all. The reason I say it bears
no resemblance is because most of the new builds in the demersal
fleet in Scotland have been built to prosecute the deep water
fishery and the deep water continental shelf edge of it which
previously was not fished by our vessels prior to maybe ten years
ago. It is a new expanse of ground that is being fished for the
first time by our vessels and the data that scientists have is
totally inadequate to give a proper stock assessment. The other
one is with North Sea nephrops, where it also is on a precautionary
TAC and the same applies there. If I go back ten years ago, there
was hardly any vessel that caught nephrops outside, say, 30 miles
of the land. Now that is where the main fishing area is for nephrops.
Scientists have said that, in their opinion, there could be an
increase in the precautionary TAC but it has never happened. These
are areas where fishermen genuinely see that the scientists have
got it wrong and those are the areas where the industry could
help scientists in as much as the vessels fishing in the deep
water on the west coast could carry scientists with them on commercial
voyages and they would take data from these voyages to substantiate
what we are saying.
177. You have said in your memo to us that
fishermen are increasingly sceptical about the accuracy and the
value of some of the research findings. Do you have any direct
evidence that they are right to be so?
(Mr Smith) The easiest direct evidence is when you
go to sea and you find that there is an abundance of fish everywhere.
An example of that was the haddock stock last year, where they
said it was going to be a poor year. This was one of the reasons
why the black fish scenario got out of all proportion, because
fishermen could not avoid catching these haddock. It did not matter
where they went, they caught haddock. They were in a dilemma.
They had two choices. After taking them on board, they could either
dump them or else they could land them. This is the difficulty
that the working fisherman has. When scientists get it wrong,
then it creates problems that are insurmountable by fishermen
because we are working in a mixed fishery and we cannot avoid
catching these fish. Cod are another side of it. If we go back
about three years ago, a very highly thought of scientist had
said that the cod stock in the North Sea was close to collapse.
Within nine months, Lowestoft had come out and said that there
was a massive year class coming into the fishery. Hence, there
was a big increase in the TAC for 1998. The full scientific advice
was not taken. The scientific advice was 140,000 tonnes and the
end result was that the TAC was 125. The industry was quite happy
inwardly to accept less than the scientific advice. In other words,
we felt that we had banked some cod for future years. We were
accepting a precautionary state at that time but it meant we still
had an increase. Nevertheless, there have been problems this year
with the abundance of cod on the grounds. If you catch cod, you
are in this dilemma. Do you throw it back dead or do you land
178. Mr Marsden asked questions of your
English counterparts about the particular situation about seals.
I wonder if you would like to give us your comments about that
particular policy and what you think is the way forward for that?
(Mr Smith) John is on speaking terms with many of
the seals in Shetland.
179. There are not a lot of them in England
(Mr Goodlad) We have them all up there. I think Mr
Marsden asked for some factual evidence which I will be pleased
to give but before that, as someone who was born and brought up
and continues to live and work in Shetland, I know from my own
personal experience that the seal population is now several fold
what it used to be when I was a young boy. That is something which
you will find if you ask any Shetlander or anyone living in the
north of Scotland. It used to be that many people made their living
from hunting seals not that many years ago. Of course, that no
longer is the case. The seal population has literally exploded.
In 1979, the Natural Environmental Research Council undertook
an assessment of the grey seal population of the north of Scotland
and concluded that the population had reached record levels with
something like 60,000 grey seals reported off the north coast
of Scotland, including Orkney and Shetland. In their opinion in
1979, that was an excessive number and they advised the then Labour
Government under Jim Callaghan that a seal cull should be undertaken.
Of course the public outcry following the Norwegian sealers coming
into Orkney was such that the government abandoned the seal cull.
I am making no comments whatsoever on seal culls. The only point
I will make is that the present evidence on seals, undertaken
by the Natural Environmental Research Council, is that the seal
population which in 1979 was at record levels at 60,000 is at
least 130,000 or 140,000 now, so it has doubled and the problem
has doubled from what it was in 1979. When you consider that each
seal will eat at least two tonnes of fish per year, our seal populationand
I am talking only of grey seals off the north coast of Scotlandof
140,000 will therefore eat 280,000 tonnes of fish every year,
well in excess of the Scottish white fish quota, for example.
The point I am making is there is a huge problem with the seal
population. The seal factor has to be taken into account in evaluations
of size of fish stock and the seal problem has to be addressed.
We find it a very difficult issue for the fishing industry to
address. It is extremely emotive and most politicians, if you
will forgive me saying so, are too frightened to deal with it
because of the public reaction. We have not any easy answers but
we would hope that a Committee like this would at least begin
to look at the serious issue and perhaps begin to see if there
are any ways of addressing it. It is a very serious issue. There
are too many seals and they eat too many fish.