Creelmen to fight on, after court rejects pilot scheme

Evidence is needed to inform how best to manage inshore fisheries and the Inner Sound off Skye is an “ideal location” to host such a pilot, it was claimed this week.

Following their disappointment just before Christmas – when the Inner House of the Court of Session ruled that Marine Scotland acted fairly when it rejected the pilot – the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation are still considering how best to pursue their ambitions.

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Local representative Alistair Philp from Avernish told the Free Press: “The SCFF are very disappointed that Marine Scotland have put so much effort into ensuring Scotland will not be hosting a sustainable fisheries pilot under the auspices of the inshore pilots scheme, and that the fishing communities of the Inner Sound, who have fought for so long to ensure their local fishery is sustainably managed, will be denied this locally managed sustainable fisheries pilot.

“The principal aim of the pilot was to progress the management of fisheries within the sound which many of the local fishermen feel are oversubscribed by both creel and trawl. The pilot would have for the first time in Scotland restricted effort by placing limits on the amount of vessels and creels that could be worked in a defined area.

“It had proposed a local management group be convened to manage the pilot area and an audit of the fisheries sustainability be undertaken with a view to match fishing effort to the optimal capacity of the environment.

“A byproduct of this management proposal was that for the first time a direct comparison could be undertaken which would assess the relative merits of the various fisheries in the sound from a social, economic and environmental perspective.”

As the SCFF considers their options to appeal the latest decision, they will continue to fight on behalf of our member associations to progress sustainable inshore fisheries management.

“This decision in no way detracts from our principal contention that we can improve the social, economic and environmental components of our inshore fisheries, increase employment for both our fishermen and our fishing communities by introducing extensive spatial management and transitioning to a well-managed low impact inshore fisheries zone,” added Mr Philp.

“In fact, any disputing that this contention is not sound just reinforces the argument that an inshore fisheries pilot is required to further evidence the options.

“We maintain that a Scottish inshore pilot should be facilitated that can evidence and inform the issues relating to the relative merits of creeling and trawling and how their improved management could inform wider inshore fisheries management decisions.

“And we maintain that on account of having the support of the vast majority of the local fishermen, the Inner Sound is still an ideal location to host just such a pilot.

“We look forward to progressing those issues in the year ahead and will not rule out further legal challenges in holding Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government to account.”

In a written judgement issued on Thursday 23rd December, the Court of Session upheld the submissions made to it by the Scottish Ministers and overturned an earlier decision that stated Marine Scotland had acted unfairly by dismissing the pilot, the first version of which was submitted by local fishermen four years ago.

Lord Carloway wrote: “The court is unable to accept the fundamental basis for the Lord Ordinary’s decision to reduce the outcome report on the new proposal; viz. that the new proposal was part of the selection process for pilot schemes which the cabinet secretary had announced in May 2017, as an element of the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Strategy, and for which Marine Scotland had produced the Guidance.

“The Guidance was designed to create a framework within which proposals for pilots would be considered initially. It applied to the form of proposals submitted during that exercise.

“The petitioners’ new proposal was submitted, considered, and rejected in the course of a separate and stand-alone decision-making process. That process of decision-making was fairly and properly conducted.

“The consultation process and the reasoning which followed cannot be faulted. There was no procedural unfairness.”

Article by Michael Russell.