Sunday, 31 May 2015
Sunday, 24 May 2015
Agenda item 3 is a review of the evidence that the wild fisheries review has gathered in its final report. We are joined by Andrew Thin, who is the chair of the wild fisheries review panel, and by Jane Hope and Michelle Francis, who are members of the panel.
Good morning, all. We will try to keep our questions close to the spirit of your wide-ranging report, which makes 50 or more recommendations and could well modernise our whole approach to wild fisheries. First of all, what led to the recommendation that a new national unit within Government be established, and who would head up such a unit to lead the process?
Andrew Thin (Wild Fisheries Review Panel):
Accountability is a very strong theme in the report. Scotland’s wild fisheries are a public resource of considerable potential and importance but, as things stand, the management system is not fully accountable to the Scottish people—it is not democratically accountable. That particular point is reflected in our proposal for the creation of a national unit. The question of who should head it is, of course, a matter for ministers, not for us.
However—and I want to underline this point—an associated and very strong theme in the report is decentralisation, local empowerment and harnessing the power of voluntarism and everything that goes with that. I think it important that we take those two themes together.
Just before I bring in Alex Fergusson and Mike Russell, I want to bring in the local aspect, so that we can see both sides of the coin. If there is to be a national overview, what powers would the fisheries management organisations that are proposed in the review have? Did you consider any alternative approaches to fisheries management organisations and the national aspect?
We looked at a number of alternatives, which might be summarised briefly as two extremes. At one extreme, we could have what would, in effect, be statutory bodies, with ministers appointing boards and all that sort of thing. At the other, we could have third sector bodies—and ultimately private companies—contracting with Government to deliver services. We felt that putting things too much on a statutory footing would be cumbersome and would probably undermine the whole principle of empowerment and voluntarism. It is difficult to harness that kind of enthusiasm if we use an overly statutory route for the local bodies. However, if we go the other way and say that they are just private companies, we start to lose accountability. That is why the model sits in the middle.
Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con):
Good morning, panel. I will continue the exploration of that theme if I may. Your first recommendation in the report states:
“The new wild fisheries management system should be firmly based on a decentralised and locally empowered model.”
Nobody will argue with that, but we are discussing a centralised and empowered overarching authority. I have difficulty in seeing how those two join up. Will there not be something of a power struggle between the local management organisation, which as far as I can see will vary from covering one catchment to taking in several rivers—we will probably come to that later—and the centralised body that will deliver the national policy? I would really like further explanation of how you envisage that working.
Okay. Do you want to try, Jane?
You are passing the buck.
I am happy to try to answer but it is important for the committee to hear from the others.
Jane Hope (Wild Fisheries Review Panel):
I am sure that it will take more than one of us to answer the question completely.
There is always a balance to achieve between local interests and national interests or, we could say, the public interest and the private interest. That is what we are talking about.
The management of wild fisheries stocks will always be done locally by the people with local knowledge. That is right and it is what our arrangements try to maintain. On the other hand, the fisheries are, in essence, a valuable public resource on which ministers have international commitments. Therefore, it is important that, although efforts be directed locally, they be co-ordinated in a way that gives us the best national outcomes because the fisheries are a national resource. That is the balance that we have tried to strike.
I will pick up Alex Fergusson’s point about tension in the relationship. It is clear that there must be a tension. There are many other equivalent public service delivery models in which some sort of national or, sometimes, local authority-driven mechanism provides the overall strategic framework and the third sector delivers the service. The care service is an obvious example, as are many aspects of health. Locally empowered third sector contractors harness the power of local initiative and voluntarism to deliver those services.
The model has been made to work before; it is not a novel idea. We considered different models. As Jane Hope says, the central issue is accountability in the management of a public resource. One option might have been to transfer all the responsibility to local government, where there is an existing accountability mechanism. However, that creates a difficulty in that, as Jane Hope says, this is a national resource on which we have international treaty obligations and it is difficult to manage that entirely through local government.
The model that we suggest is not some sort of big, all-encompassing central monolith. We have emphasised that point again and again and I emphasise it to the committee. Implementation will be everything. We need national strategic direction and national accountability for the system for all the reasons that we have given, but there must be a high level of decentralisation and local empowerment in the delivery.
There will be a tension in that relationship. At times, it might be destructive and, at times, it might be constructive but the fact that there is a tension is not necessarily a reason not to introduce the model. The two alternatives, which are to decentralise the whole system and lose accountability or centralise it and lose local empowerment, are undesirable.
Can I ask one last question?
Yes, but then I will let Mike Russell come in.
Do you have evidence to suggest that we are not adhering to our international responsibilities at this point?
There is a risk of that, yes. Whether we are not adhering right now, I am not sure that I can say, but there is certainly a risk that we might not adhere to our international responsibilities in relation to salmon. At the moment, ministers do not have all the tools in the toolbox to deal with that, because the system is too decentralised and unaccountable.
Mike Russell (Argyll & Bute)
I think that the report is very good, but I want to strengthen this part of it. There is another purpose for having this national unit and an individual involved, which is, in essence, to create the institutional memory of how salmon are managed. I am old enough to remember—and Sarah Boyack, who was environment minister, probably is too—the estimable David Dunkley, who was Her Majesty’s inspector of salmon and freshwater fisheries for Scotland and then the salmon expert in the civil service. He was able to bring many years of specialised knowledge, which has been lost in a civil service in which there is substantial churn in every department. Having people who remember what has taken place, who know international and national policy and who can rely on resources such as the freshwater lab at Loch Faskally, which has done tremendous work on these matters, is important.
I presume that you would not object if that purpose was injected into this idea, so that local decision making could be informed by some national thinking that was based on experience and expertise.
Absolutely not. We pursued a very open, participative and collaborative process, which led to the report. Through that process, one thing that came out was the idea that whoever leads the national unit needs that kind of longevity, expertise, credibility and institutional memory. We bandied around terms such as “wild fisheries commissioner” and all the rest of it, but eventually we concluded in the report that we should not go there, as that was a matter for Government. However, the principles that you articulate are well supported across the sector and by us.
Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP):
Tensions already exist between boards and netsmen. Government decisions in this area have been subject to criticism and, if memory serves, even legal challenge. Do you think that your proposals will improve the situation? I presume that you do.
I might let Michelle Francis have a go at that question, but I will start. Conflict is not only a matter of structures; it is also about individuals, culture and all that sort of stuff. Undoubtedly there is a job to do in relation to the sector better managing those conflicts. Government can only do so much. There is a strong theme in the report about the need for better leadership across the sector. It is too fragmented, and so on and so forth, and those matters are mainly for stakeholders, not Government. I make that important point by way of a preamble.
However, yes, there are things that Government can do. The fundamental theme in the report that is relevant to your question is the issue of decisions being made on the basis of objective, sound science and evidence. We are very fortunate to have a salmon population in Scotland that generates a sustainable surplus every year, which can be harvested and which generates employment, economic welfare, recreation and all the rest of it. We are very lucky. If we let that population fall to a point at which there is no sustainable surplus, we will be doing our children a huge disservice. We recommend very strongly in the report that while there is still a sustainable surplus, we put in place a system that ensures that that sustainable surplus is harvested in a rationed way, on the basis of good, solid science.
That system is not novel; it is nothing new. Many other developed countries in the world that harvest species sustainably adopt the same rationing system, whereby scientists decide what the surplus is each year, and that surplus is then rationed out on the basis of a licensing system, usually with a charge. Often the charge is part of the licensing system—it is about how much you can afford to pay. You can use a market mechanism to ration but we are not recommending that; we are recommending that the Government fixes a charge on a cost recovery basis.
I accept what you say and people will continue to argue—that is human nature and the sector needs to address that—but they will be arguing against a scientifically robust, objective system, and at the moment they are not.
Michelle Francis (Wild Fisheries Review Panel):
How that rationing is done places users on a level playing field. The discussion is within the same parameters and how a decision has been made is transparent.
Let us move on to resourcing wild fisheries management.
Jim Hume (South Scotland) LD
Good morning everybody. It is nice to see you.
The report suggests that levies would mostly be spent within the FMO areas where they are raised but that there should be flexibility to move funds between different areas. That is quite interesting. Can the witnesses give us some examples of circumstances in which levy funding should be moved from one FMO area to another?
We encountered quite a lot of evidence that suggests that, in certain parts of the country and in certain rivers, relatively short-term investment would allow the populations in those rivers to come back up.
Under the current system, income generation is very segmented. In some ways, it is almost counterintuitive that the successful rivers are the ones that generate the most income and therefore the ones that have the most money spent on them, while the ones that have declined the most have the least money spent on them. We could make a complete counter-argument that the ones in which the population is down need more investment to bring them back up and the ones that are doing well possibly need less. As a matter of principle, flexibility is important to allow the country to invest in places that give the best return on that investment.
The danger of not having such a system is that we get into a spiral in which the river goes down and so its income goes down, and when the income goes down, the river goes down, and on it goes. That means that we will end up with some rivers—there probably are some like this on the list—that are close to having no sustainable surplus because there is no money to invest.
Do fish owners have a legal right to challenge that? I can see that, if someone on the Nith, Cree or Tweed saw the money going up to the Tay and the Spey, for example, they would be concerned about that. Is there any scope for a legal challenge? Who decides on where the funds go? Is there any kind of appeal mechanism? What criteria are there for such decisions, or would they just be general decisions?
First, I think that the money is more likely to go the other way on those rivers. Secondly, like any system of raising rates or taxation, if the legislation is framed correctly, I see no grounds for a legal challenge.
We had lots of sessions with stakeholders on this topic, and I heard a general acceptance of the principle, provided that the more affluent rivers are not providing a massive proportion of the money. The stakeholders understood the logic of the principle.
So what are the criteria for the decision? Is it about moving funds from one area to the other? Michelle Francis is talking about a massive proportion of funds—is that 51 per cent, 10 per cent or 99 per cent?
I said that it would not be a massive proportion.
The principle must be that the money is spent where we get the best return for public investment—that has to be the principle. It is quite difficult at this time to predict that exactly, because it will change according to environmental factors and all the rest of it.
If it is the case that investing £100,000 in the River Cree will deliver an additional 1,000 fish a year, and investing £100,000 in the Tay will deliver five extra fish a year, clearly the public interest is best served by investing that money in the Cree.
I have a short supplementary. What about a situation where at the mouth of a river there was a netting operation that was operating on mixed stock, and the actions were impacting on a series of other rivers. Can you envisage a transferral of levy income in such a situation?
I do not think that there would be any difference. The levy would still be charged on that business—in effect, the levy would be a business rate on it—and it would then be for ministers to decide how the money is deployed. The basis of that decision would be where we would get the best return for a public investment, which has to be the fundamental consideration. I do not think that the situation would be any different for mixed stock.
Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): Share
Good morning. I will turn our focus to sporting and business rates. You will be aware that the Scottish Government’s consultation on land reform proposes the reintroduction of sporting rates for stalking and shooting businesses. The consultation also said that the business rate exemptions for fisheries would be considered separately by ministers in response to the recommendations of the wild fisheries review, which you have been leading. Could you comment on whether you think that fisheries should continue to be exempt from sporting and business rates, and, if so, why?
Our recommendation is that business rates are reintroduced for fisheries; that is the effect of the recommendation. What we have called the core levy would in effect be a business rate on fisheries. That is very close to what the land reform review group recommended.
We have also said that there will be circumstances at a local level in which local stakeholders believe that additional investment is required in their specific system or region. It should be open, as it is now, for those stakeholders to propose to ministers an additional local rate that is explicitly hypothecated for local investment.
I do not want to labour the point—I do not know how much time we have—but to build on what Andrew has said, the logic is that the levy is split into two. One element is equivalent to the business rate, in a sense, and that is the element that we are looking to to cover delivery of things in the public interest. The other part of the levy, which is more at local discretion, is to deliver local requirements. That is the logic of the split.
The Convener: Share
Thank you for that explanation. Mike Russell has questions on angling.
Michael Russell: Share
I would like you to explain a little about the concept of angling for all and its relationship to rod licences. The rod licence issue is controversial; Andrew Thin knows that, as I have written to him on behalf of some of my constituents on the matter. A number of people see the rod licence as the thin end of a wedge, and they are concerned that it would restrict their ability to undertake something that they have undertaken for a very long time.
I would like to know whether angling for all would assist in that issue. Also, as I see that the report is very cautious about rod licences, I would like to know whether that caution can be expressed even more strongly by you.
The report makes it clear that we are not recommending a rod licence as such, but we are exploring the potential for it. We received lots of submissions on the subject, some very supportive, some very hostile and some in between. It is clearly a divisive and difficult issue and a very difficult political issue.
What we are saying is that this sport—this recreation—has significant underdeveloped economic and social potential in Scotland. A lot more people could be getting out and doing it in the canals and the rivers in the middle of towns, such as the Clyde. It is not all about people in tweeds up in the Highlands, for heaven’s sake. If we are going to make this activity much more widespread, inclusive and diverse and of much more public value, we will have to invest—it will not happen automatically. In an age of austerity we cannot expect Government to come up with large chunks of new money.
If we are going to do that, first we have to get together all the sectoral bodies—of which there are a surprising number—and develop a really serious development programme, probably running over a decade, that changes the face of the sport in Scotland. If that could be designed and put together and if it was well supported across the sector, our impression is that a rod licence to fund it would be politically supported. However, just ramming in a rod licence is not sensible.
A rod licence is a form of hypothecated taxation to develop the sport, if I may put it that way.
Yes. That is how we would see it.
Ministers will be very nervous of that, given that it would be new taxation. What level would a rod licence have to be to make sufficient investment, given the nature of those who are taking part at the moment?
We thought quite hard about that, and of course the answer depends on what “sufficient” means. To some extent, it is one of those “How long is a piece of string?” questions. We looked at it from the other end of the telescope and asked what happens south of the border and in other countries, how much a licence is there and what sort of sums it could raise here. Our conclusion was that, if the rate charge was broadly similar to that in other countries, it would give us a very significant amount—Jane Hope did some of the sums at the time. There are questions about take-up rates, obedience and so on, but it would raise significant sums of money.
You are edging closer to the awful truth of the figure. Can we edge a little bit closer? Jane, you are always the master of detail. How much would it have to be?
I happen to have the page in front of me.
It is a very difficult thing to come up with precise figures on, but, for illustration purposes, I can tell you that a study at Glasgow Caledonian University indicated 260,000 participants, although it did not say how those people are participating and the figure includes a number of visitors as well as residents. The figure of 260,000 participants is one number to keep in your head.
Across the border, rod licences have been used for a long time. Just to digress, it is interesting that, when they were introduced in 1992, numbers apparently declined for quite a long while and then suddenly picked up again in 2007 and 2008. I never got to the bottom of why that happened, but I suspect that there must have been something about publicity, making it easier and all the rest of it. That is a side issue but an interesting one.
The average licence cost is £16.80, which is a mix of all types of licence. Even if you charged £10 a person on average, you would be raising £2.6 million. That is what I was leading up to. I am always very wary of bandying figures about, but you can see that it is doable for a relatively modest sum.
Can I ask for information on two aspects of that? Do people buy licences or do they attempt to evade them? What are the penalties for evasion? If you introduce a rod licence, you have to enforce it.
If you were to have £2.6 million or £3 million, what would you invest it in? What benefit would those people who currently fish see from that, apart from possibly more people fishing on waters that they would like to have to themselves?
A significant amount of the investment would be about bringing in new people. What is striking about the sector is that the bulk of the people who spoke to us are very concerned about the fact that not enough young people are coming in behind them. I am not sure that everyone is entirely self-interested; I still retain enthusiasm for the notion that society is more than that. I sense that a licence that is sold on the basis that it is an individual’s contribution to helping future generations participate is one that would receive significant support.
On top of that, as we say in the report, another issue is undoubtedly to improve access to information about where and how to fish. Although when we delved into the matter we found that there are no real obstacles to fishing in Scotland, the reality is that the vast majority of punters find it incredibly difficult to get information. The big plus for existing fishers would be the introduction of a really good system of information about how, where, when and all the rest of it. A very strong part of the licensing system is to say to the sector, “If you are serious about the future of the sport that you love, you need to help us invest in it.”
Will there be a penalty if someone does not pay for a licence? Is that not what happens elsewhere?
We could use the same system as down south, where there is some system of fines, although I do not know the ins and outs of it. The bailiff system already exists in Scotland and it could be used to police the licence process. I accept that we do not want to spend a great deal of money policing the system, as that would be silly.
The impression that we gained from evidence that we received is that the system could be made to work and that it could be policed through the existing bailiff system. We would have to live with an evasion rate. A very strong theme in our recommendations is that if we introduce a licensing scheme that is just taking money off people—a tax—it will not be popular and people will evade it. That is not a good thing to do, and we do not need to do it, so we should not do it. However, if we introduced a scheme that is about the current generation of fishers helping to develop their sport and bring in young folk, we would create a completely different dynamic.
I have to cut across that slightly by suggesting that, if a rod licence is introduced and we are encouraging people to fish, we need to find more water for them to fish on. In other words, people need to have access to water, which may currently be extremely restricted by the approach of the riparian owners in the river catchment areas. Would some of the money raised from a rod licence be used for that?
We found a lot of evidence of serious underfishing, particularly in trout waters. Ironically, that has led to there being too many fish that are too small, so fishing would help the fishery. There is plenty capacity in Scotland—the issues are access and information.
We have made a number of recommendations about the protection order system, which in our view is not working. It needs to work, and it needs to be about good access. We did not encounter any suggestion that if there were increasing demand and good, centralised and almost certainly internet-based systems to provide information—about trout waters in particular—owners would not want people to fish on their waters. The main thing is that there is no information, which is a common problem in Scotland. You may recall from the debate about access legislation that lots of visitors come to Scotland and find the Scottish countryside inaccessible. The issue is information rather than restriction.
The second point is that riparian owners have guests and clients. Would those guests and clients be subject to rod licensing, too? Whichever country or whichever part of the country they came from, would they pay a rod licence to fish in a particular part of the river system?
Alex Fergusson wants to pick up the point about sustainability.
The whole subject of sustainability is central to the review’s thinking and that is obviously a good thing. I will start by exploring the recommendation that
“Ministers should introduce a ban on the killing of wild salmon in Scotland except under license”.
That is already out for consultation.
The report reads to me as suggesting that that approach is considered to be a good thing for netting operations, so we should have it on the rivers as well. I will explore how it would apply in the river system. I am not clear who would apply for the licence or how the quota would work. As I see it, the proposal would introduce a quota under another name, because people would have to apply for the number of fish that they wanted to take. I have no idea how that could be done in advance of a season, because we cannot know what the runs and catches in a season will be on any given river.
I am not clear how the quota would be distributed across any river on the different beats and whether it would be shared out month by month. Once a person had reached their quota, would there be catch and release only?
There is no killing of salmon in the spring run anyway. Killing a 3 pound grilse is surely very different from killing a 14 pound, egg-bearing female. I do not understand how the practicalities can work on a river system. Will you expand on your thinking on that?
You are right to say that everything should be soundly based on science. Where is the evidence that rod fishing contributes to the decline in salmon stocks? I would really like to know. I am not convinced that that evidence exists, and your report suggests that it does not.
On the last point, in most years, rods kill more fish than nets do. It is important to be clear about that. A significant number of fish are killed on rivers by rods.
The system is based on one that is now widely used internationally to ration the sustainable surplus of a quarry animal, whether that animal is salmon or bighorn sheep. It is pretty much impossible to introduce that system for one user of the species but not another, because it is predicated on the assumption that someone must have a licence to kill a fish and keep it. We cannot police that system if some people have to have a licence but others do not—it is not possible. Everyone needs to be treated the same.
The system is perfectly functional on a river. The desirable outcome is that the trend towards greater catch and release for rod fishing continues. For example, the Dee is more or less 100 per cent catch and release. We need to continue that trend, because the sustainable surplus is only modest and we need to discourage the killing of the species across the piece. It is important to be clear that we would expect and hope that more and more owners of rod beats would move to 100 per cent catch and release, which is already happening.
It is accepted that some people would wish to continue to kill fish. It is entirely reasonable to ask people to decide now how many fish they want to kill next year. They can fish for as many as they like, but it is reasonable to ask how many they want to kill. I do not see a problem with asking them in advance. Everyone would have to apply for what they wanted by 31 December.
Who is “everyone”? Is it the riparian owner? Would they apply individually?
The report is very clear that it is the riparian owners who would apply by the end of the year for what they wanted. There would be a problem only if the total number of applications exceeded the sustainable surplus. The rationing would kick in only if that happened. On many rivers, that is unlikely to happen, because the bulk of people will not want to bother with the system and will go to catch and release. The trend towards catch and release will continue and that is what one hopes for.
When the number of applications exceeds the sustainable surplus, there has to be rationing, which has to be done on the basis of sound science. It also has to be done on a sensible basis that is in proportion to the application or in proportion to the number of miles of bank the applicant owns. That is a matter for the owner to decide, but that is not a difficult thing to do.
What evidence do you have to suggest that rod catching is partly responsible for the decline in salmon stocks?
In dry years, the situation is different but, in most years, simple statistics show that significantly more fish are killed by rods than by nets. That suggests that rods are a significant factor.
Will a fit-and-proper-person test be applied both to the initial application for a licence and when the conduct of licensees is reflected on as the licence renewal comes up every year?
We did not consider that, because a fit-and-proper-person test is not attached to the ownership of salmon fishing rights, which is really what would be required. Under land reform, there is consideration of whether a test should be applied, but that is a wider issue than the one that we looked at.
Do you accept that there ought to be a fit-and-proper-person test, given what you are trying to achieve with the proposed measures?
That does not seem unreasonable.
But that is not being proposed.
As I said, this is a wider issue that involves the ownership of rights, so it is really a land reform matter.
I assume that you have not considered a fit-and-proper-person test for the person exercising the right to fish, either.
That might be another subject. I still have reservations about the practical implications of the proposal, but we can come to that later.
I will move on. The creation of an offence of reckless and irresponsible management of fishing rights is proposed. How do you see that being applied, what conduct would amount to that offence and how and by whom would the law be enforced?
We thought long and hard about whether to include that proposal, so I entirely accept the implication of your question. The issue is difficult, but we received evidence—I stress that it was anecdotal—that, in some circumstances, the ownership of fishing rights has set out deliberately and extensively to remove certain species in an unsustainable way. We therefore think that there are circumstances in which such a measure would be desirable and effective. It is one of those things where policing is difficult, so the main reason for having an offence is to create a disincentive in the first place.
Who would be the overseer or guardian of proper management?
In this matter as in others, the first line of defence would be the bailiffing system. In effect, a new wildlife crime would be created.
You have talked about taking a precautionary approach to mixed-stock fisheries, and you recommend phasing in a reduction in catches in some instances. Will you expand on that and give an example of where that might be appropriate and how it would be beneficial?
It is worth saying that, by and large, we did not encounter evidence to suggest that there is significant overfishing, so let us be clear about that. However, our approach needs to be science based and evidence based, and we should not harvest more than the sustainable surplus from a population. In mixed-stock fisheries, it is particularly difficult to work out what the sustainable surplus is, so we are developing the science further. Marine Scotland is doing a lot of good work to improve the science, but it needs money, investment, fish counters, radio trackers and so on.
While that work is going on, it makes sense to take a relatively precautionary approach, because we simply do not know exactly what the sustainable surplus in a mixed-stock fishery is. It may be—we say “may” because we simply do not know—that the scientists conclude that one or two mixed-stock fisheries are being fished at an unsustainable level that needs to be stepped down. We are simply saying that, if that happens, let us deal with that in a stepped manner. The change is not so urgent that it has to be done overnight; it could be done over three to five years. Social and economic consequences will follow from stepping down a netting catch, so the Government needs to do that responsibly.
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
You just mentioned the scientific evidence base to support wild fisheries management, and you have identified a number of gaps in the knowledge base. You point to the reliance on self-reporting of catch data as a weakness in the system. Your report recommends that research is needed in the short to medium term in a number of areas and you make a fairly extensive list of recommendations on that. You also recommend that the national unit should develop standards for fisheries management, including data collection standards, and that it should develop training and continuing professional development for FMOs. Given that you recommend that a number of pieces of research should be completed in the short to medium term, is work already being done in any of those areas?
Yes. There is already an extensive programme, which Marine Scotland is leading, and the local fisheries boards and local fisheries trusts fund significant amounts of research through third sector funding, so a lot is going on.
There are two themes. One is to make the research more co-ordinated at the national level, as it is too fragmented. The second is to ensure that the work is genuinely prioritised and strategically driven so that, whether we are spending third sector money or public money, we get the maximum possible impact for that investment.
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Have you assessed the resource implications if all those pieces of research were to be funded? Have you considered what work should be prioritised?
Given the funding arrangements and the available resources that are likely to come through them, we think that there is enough to do the research. We could always spend more money on research if we wanted to, but the existing funding levels are sufficient to do a reasonable job. We are not saying that the Government needs to spend more money. If it wanted to spend more, it could do things faster, but it does not need to.
Our report sets out where we think the priorities are. They mainly concern ensuring that we can meet international obligations on salmon, which is the top priority.
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
So your opinion is that extra resources are not required to improve the data situation.
Andrew Thin: Yes. There is a balance. The more money we spend on research, the more certain we can be of what the sustainable surplus is. The less certain we are, the more we have to take a precautionary approach. If we do not want to be precautionary, we can spend more money to get more certainty, but precaution allows us to work within the available resources. Everyone knows that resources are tight and that the economy simply cannot stand spending vast amounts of money on salmon research at the moment.
I will add one codicil. There are 40-something salmon boards and 20-something fisheries trusts. One point that has been made over the years is that there are too many such bodies. I do not have a view on whether there are too many, but it falls out of the recommendations that we will probably end up with fewer fisheries management organisations in total. Therein will lie some of the efficiencies that we expect to fall out of the rearrangement.
Some of those organisations are very small and cannot really do some of the work that needs doing. If we end up with organisations that have a greater critical mass individually, each of them will be much better placed to do the required work. That is about using the funding better rather than increasing the funding.
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
To follow up on that exact point, only 10 per cent of the spend of my local fisheries trust—the Galloway Fisheries Trust—is raised from local levies. The rest is raised from voluntary fundraising, grants and so on. The trust largely supports most of the proposals, but it has a concern—I suspect that other trusts have the same concern—that the centralisation of funding before it is redistributed might well have an impact on the local feeling of ownership of the trust, if I can put it in that way. Have you taken that into consideration? Mr Thin, you are nodding, so you obviously have, but how do you counter the concern?
We spent a lot of time in your area, where there are particularly difficult and challenging issues. In the report, we refer to the possibility of a federated structure for FMOs in areas such as yours, which recognises exactly the sense of ownership issue. However, I make it clear that, in such a case, the money that is raised through the third sector—the 90 per cent—would still be raised through that sector and the Government would have nothing to do with that.
We are saying only that the public money needs to be brought under democratic control. That seems intuitively right and is also more efficient, because the Government can then ensure that it gets best value for the public spend. There are still some misunderstandings out there about what we are saying. A trust that raises 90 per cent of its money from the third sector will continue to raise 90 per cent of its money from that sector. The Government will not touch that money.
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
That is helpful—thank you.
We move on to regulation and compliance.
Is there a need to extend the annual close time for salmon fisheries? I ask that in light of the situation to the north of the area that I represent, where the local trust, which covers rivers in Angus and Aberdeenshire, has written to ask anglers not to kill fish before June, I think, or possibly July. The trust feels that such a move is necessary. I accept that there are different circumstances in different rivers but, in a general sense, is there an argument for extending the close time?
As part of the process of issuing licences to kill salmon, we recommend that that issue is considered thoroughly. The system of close seasons and close days is quite anachronistic. If the scientific evidence says that killing salmon before June is not sustainable, that should be stopped. That might well be a national issue and not just an issue for your constituents.
Would you expect the decisions to be made locally and to be specific to individual rivers, or would you expect a national move?
I would see the decision as being primarily national because, if killing spring salmon is unsustainable, that is probably a national picture. However, the Government needs to have the flexibility to say, “We can kill salmon in the west but we can’t kill them in the east,” if there is a scientific reason why that is the case. That flexibility is needed in the system.
Your report finds that “the principles behind the protection order system are fundamentally sound”but that the system needs “a thorough overhaul”.
Will you expand on that for us?
When we met stakeholders, we had feedback on the governance for issuing protection orders—on whether a majority of everybody in the area is needed to set them up or whether the number of people could be slightly smaller. Stakeholders also raised the issue of whether there is a reasonable appeal system when people feel that they are not getting what they expected out of the system or that they have not been fairly represented.
A few such issues were raised. The way in which the system is governed and the need to make it more transparent and more open to appeal were the main points.
The purpose of the protection order system should be to ensure that fish are sustainably managed, not to enable landowners to prevent people from fishing, and some evidence was presented that suggested that the system is being used for a purpose that it was not intended for. That is the essential problem that we need to address.
There seems to be a long history of that in the River Tay. Would you like to expand on that?
The issue does not affect just the River Tay. There was pretty persuasive evidence from a number of locations that the protection order system is not being used for its intended purpose. In particular, there was confusion about private and public interests.
Our recommendations are about bringing everything back to the question of what the system is for, focusing on that and, on top of that, ensuring that there is robust on-going scrutiny, including a proper complaints system. There should be a good reason for putting a protection order in place and a good reason for continuing to operate it.
That is helpful.
I note that the report comments on the issue of water bailiffs, which have already been referred to with regard to rod licences. Police Scotland has indicated that it thinks that water bailiffs’ powers are not being substantially used in the way that they used to be; indeed, according to evidence that the committee has received, Police Scotland feels that it is involved much more in enforcement. Are there grounds for restricting and clarifying the role of water bailiffs? Although many water bailiffs do a good job, some have been involved in spectacular bad practice, using powers that many people felt that they should not have had.
We spent quite a lot of time on this issue. It is bizarre that we have a separate police force for fish, and I am not entirely sure that, if we were designing such a system now, we would start from here.
However, we did not encounter any really persuasive evidence to suggest that the system should be scrapped. It is potentially—I repeat, potentially—fit for purpose. Our view, which I hope comes through in the recommendations, is that the issue is one of accountability and supervision rather than whether there should be a separate system. The Government and Police Scotland could have an interesting debate about having a separate system, but the fact is that any such system must be accountable and properly supervised with proper scrutiny and complaints systems.
At the moment, the warranting of bailiffs happens at local level by an unaccountable body, and that situation needs to be brought under democratic control. Moreover, the complaints system does not appear to work, partly because it, too, is not particularly accountable. We need a proper complaints system and, associated with that, proper appraisal, proper continuing professional development and all the rest of it. If all those things are put in place, the system will work—and, in our view, will work fine.
As for the question whether there should be a separate system, we did not really go there.
The report provides an opportunity to rethink how things are done, which is always welcome. The swearing-in of rangers as special constables by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, which is something that Jane Hope will know about—
It was a long time ago.
Or if she does not know about it, I should say that it was not that distant from her own national park. That is one possible model in which people are given powers that are understood. There might also be an opportunity to strengthen the system of wildlife crime officers.
The third thing that we should be mindful of—I would be interested in your views on this issue, given that Andrew Thin and Jane Hope have known this in the past—is that some organisations associated with the environment tend to see themselves as enforcing the law, even though they do not necessarily have any such warrant. That has caused considerable tension, particularly in the area of wildlife crime. As I have said, I would be interested in hearing your reflections on that matter, because I would have thought that there would be a good opportunity to align all this with the police force.
I am afraid to say that I am not an expert on this, but what you have said seems to make perfect sense. Nevertheless, I return to Andrew Thin’s point that you have to make the current system accountable, ensure that it is trusted and respected and put alongside it well-structured training and CPD arrangements. The stronger you make those arrangements and the more people trust them, the less of a hold the other sort of policing that you have referred to will have.
Given our remit, we focused on asking, “Is this thing working and what needs to improve in relation to fisheries?” It is not for me to tell Mr Russell what to think about, but if I were sitting in his seat I would want to consider whether it is wise for Scotland to have the current system. Perhaps we should take the approach of thinking about what we would do if we had a blank sheet of paper. However, doing that would have taken us well beyond our remit.
Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP):
I will follow on from the point that Mike Russell raised and from the discussion that we had with Police Scotland when it appeared before the committee some weeks ago. Your report suggests that little more than modest reform is required in the water bailiff system. I take your point about powers, accountability, scrutiny, complaints systems and so on.
My first two years in Lewis were spent in Stornoway jail; I hasten to add that that was because the council gave me an office there when I first went to Lewis to work. One of the things that I witnessed there was the police burning salmon nets that they had lifted from the shore and confiscated.
There are two sides to all these things. For example, evidence has been given to me of water bailiffs up in Caithness cutting the leader ropes of nets that were left in the water. The netsmen would claim that the nets were left in the water because it was too dangerous for them to go in and lift them. However, the water bailiffs went in and cut the ropes, which let the nets drift. Should they not have lifted those nets? There could have been fish in the nets already and the nets could catch other fish, but in any case they will kill fish. The nets could also get caught in the propellers of boats, which could lead to dangerous situations. If it was safe enough for the nets to be lifted, why did the bailiffs not lift them, take them ashore and dispose of them rather than just cut the leader ropes?
That was an example of bailiffs using current powers. Police Scotland told us that most of the time bailiffs do not use their current powers. If that is right—and I have no reason to doubt it—why leave bailiffs with powers that allow them to do things such as I described? It is tantamount to allowing police officers to stop someone while they are driving, find their car unroadworthy, take the wheels off the car and leave it at the edge of the road. That would be similar to what the bailiffs did in my example, which I believe that they did quite legally.
There is an issue around that, which we need to look at. We need to tighten up on accountability, scrutiny and complaints systems, but we also need to look at the specific powers that are given to bailiffs. Do the witnesses have any comments on what I have said?
I am aware of the case to which you referred. The fundamental question in that case is whether there is a robust, accountable complaints mechanism to assess all that and make proper recommendations. We received very little evidence to suggest that the powers themselves were the problem. The evidence that we received suggested that the main problem is the exercise of the powers, rather than the powers themselves. It is therefore about complaints scrutiny, appraisal and development.
You are suggesting that the powers are the problem, but that is different from the evidence that we received. However, if that is the case, undoubtedly it should be part of what is reviewed. As I said, we did not get that view from many people.
No doubt we will explore that point with the minister and the panel next week.
We move on to ideas about access to fishing and employment—the developmental part of your report—which Sarah Boyack will lead on.
Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab):
I will follow up some of the points that have been made about the angling for all programme and how it would be led.
You talked about the age profile of angling but you did not mention gender. That was interesting. I was thinking about how we promote angling. The review that was done in 2008 identified a lack of access to sufficient information online. Do you envisage that the national unit would be responsible for promotion, fed into by the local fishing expertise?
I return to the point about the conflict between promoting access to the sport and ensuring that we have the right resources. That conflict has been commented on in relation to salmon stocks in particular and how we might promote more trout or pike fishing.
We considered the gender profile as well and, as I am sure you are aware, it is almost all male. Angling is not something that a lot of women get involved in at the moment. We identified that as an issue as well as the age profile.
Rather than thinking that the national unit would be responsible for all the information, we focused on the notion of a number of bodies getting together to develop an angling for all programme, which would include improving information. We would not necessarily make that a responsibility of the national unit but would try to get the bodies that already promote angling to do that more holistically by joining together more comprehensively.
We need to be slightly careful on that. We came across some examples, particularly in west central Scotland, of very good volunteer-led initiatives to bring young people into the sport, make it more socially inclusive and provide all the self-confidence and self-esteem benefits. The third sector is doing some extremely good work with a bit of Government support, but the work is not Government led. We concluded that it is a classic case of the third sector probably being the best way of driving the initiative. The Government should catalyse, facilitate and support, but should not lead; the third sector should lead.
At the moment, the sport is fragmented—there is the coarse fishing body, and quite a lot of other bodies; I cannot remember how many—so we made some strong recommendations about the need for a lead national body in sportscotland to get everyone together and co-ordinate the programme. It is not the only sport in which there is a problem in that regard.
The carrot is the rod licence issue. If we can get everyone together, really wanting to do something and really supporting it, the Government can facilitate by providing significant amounts of money, as Jane Hope indicated. It would take significant amounts of money, which, in the current environment, will not come out of departmental expenditure limits because it will just not be available.
There is huge potential to do something really important for Scotland, particularly for the urban disadvantaged. That will require people to come together and we have suggested that the central role of the Government is the catalytic role. Perhaps the Government should bring together the programme under an independent chair, but it should get people together, put them round a table and try to get something to happen.
Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab):
So we need a strategy to move forward and the resources to deliver on it once we have pulled it together.
There is an issue about local access, and you have just picked up an issue about knowledge and encouraging young people to get involved. On the tourism opportunities, you talked about what is normal in other countries in terms of paying for access. If we were to have a proper strategy and were to resource it and explore it, what opportunities would there be for local job creation?
The central issue is information. There is no shortage of fisheries potential. An essential part of any integrated programme—angling for all, or whatever we want to call it—must be a national web-based portal to which people can go to find out what they have to do when they are on holiday and want to go fishing. That is essential but it does not exist at the moment.
We have not attempted to quantify and are not really qualified to quantify the economic potential. However, we know that there is huge underused capacity, particularly in relation to trout, where the underused potential is massive, but also in relation to species that historically have not been of great economic value. Pike is one of the most obvious ones. It is becoming highly sought after throughout Europe but, although it is being exploited in Scotland, that is not happening in an economically productive or efficient manner. In one area, we were told that the pike fishery, if it were properly developed, would be worth more than the salmon fishery.
I cannot quantify the economic potential for you, but I am satisfied that there is a big economic, as well as social, prize here.
We saw that diversification as very important for the industry, particularly in the light of climate change and its potential impact on other popular species in Scotland. That diversification of different quarry species could also be powerful for Scotland’s use of fish as a tourist attraction and Scotland as a place of recreation.
We have had a good round of discussion on the subject. The report has given us plenty to think about. It looks as though it is a way forward through which, when it is honed into an organised fashion, we will be able to see a real future for wild fisheries in this country. It is very optimistic and we have got a clear picture of what the industry and the recreation sector are like at the moment, which was well overdue.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance and efforts. No doubt we will be in touch if we have any questions for you.
We will have a short suspension in order to change over to the next panel.
Sunday, 17 May 2015
Lord Snooty just a week into his term rushed up to Scotland to acknowledge the mandate the people of Scotland gave to the SNP! Fearful of an early referendum he obviously wants to be seen to be reasonable! Nicola Sturgeon true to her word gave Snooty a list of demands and will now formalise that list and wait for the Westminster response. With the implosion of Labour and wipe out of the puppets Lord Snooty is clearly the premier of England, in Scotland however we have rejected his vile policies making his premiership over Scotland illegitimate! Scotland has emphatically rejected the politics of greed spawned by Butcher Thatcher in favour of equality and social cohesion! Lord Snooty will have to tread very carefully as the Scots now watch his every move! Round one to Nicola Sturgeon, ga'an yersel hen!
The refugees arriving in Italy continue to grow. they have taken and are looking after over 70,000 of these desperate people! Germany also doing its bit has taken thousands and other European nations also taking significant numbers. The UK? Well it appears their total is close to 150! Desperate hunger ridden weak and oppressed people worthy of anyone's help and the above is Lord Snooty's response! Tories - the very pits of our society, a thoroughly detestable bunch of rich people with no concern for other unfortunate people!