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EU Fishing Speech

February 17, 2017



As the UK enters another round of talks on Scotland’s behalf, with the EU, about fishing, I am reminded of an essay in The Scottish Review written by Shetlander Robert Lowes in 2004. He likened the EU Common Fisheries Policy of the time to a Birthday Cake.


Quote –

“Imagine a large plump fruitcake, a grand birthday cake, candles, icing, everything. A cake anyone would want to taste. Who gets this birthday cake?


Well, to be fair, everyone round the table who has come to the party should get a slice. So, who divides it up? Not the host, who might have favourites amongst the guests. 


A Cake Commission will need to be created and they will divide it up. Fine.


However, one of the guests demands a slightly bigger slice, because in the past he always got a slightly bigger slice.


“this will have to be proven” says the Cake Commission, “from past cake records. And, if we are actually getting around to measuring slices, how big is the actual cake itself? To avoid squabbling, scientific evidence of the exact size of the cake will be required, at each and every birthday in the future.”


Another guest is watching his waistline.


He decides his slice is just too much for his reduced appetite, so he will eat only part of it and sells the rest to his neighbour who, it seems, has an insatiable appetite for cake.


Ah, yes, but when we come to divide up next year’s cake, how is that slice reckoned? Did it belong to the full man or the hungry man? Could it be used as an argument for the hungry man to get a larger slice and the thin man to get less the next time round?


The guests are getting greedy, so it is agreed to make tea plates smaller and even remove a few altogether, to try and cut the demand for cake.


Then, a real dilemma. Someone else is knocking on the door, someone known to be incredibly hungry, who has travelled some way to come to the party.


The guests can’t exclude him from the party, that would be very rude, but if this hungry person comes to the table, there will be less cake than ever to go around.

New sharing rules must be devised, the new arrival stalled as long as possible. Questions are asked about the new guest’s entitlement to come to the party. Who invited him? While this goes on, he starts quietly buying up all the surplus cake crumbs he can get his hands on so that when he does get through the door he can knead it into a sizeable lump and insist that this is his historic slice, ready for when next year’s cake appears.”


Presiding Officer, fishing, as an industry has historically been one of the most important in Scotland and my constituency, indeed my home town of Wick saw one of the most remarkable periods in Scottish fishing – the boom of the Herring Industry.


It was during the 18th, 19th and the early part of the 20th Century that Wick was the largest herring port in Europe.


By 1865, records show that 1100 vessels from Wick and the surrounding area were engaged during the herring fishing season.

Herring fish lived in vast quantities in the waters around Scotland and was a relatively easy catch.


The final years of Wick’s association with the herring industry was during a short period following World War Two.


But by 1953 it was all over and almost 200 years of the herring industry became resigned to the history books.


Coming back to the present day, Presiding Officer, Scotland is still placed to have the best fishing in Europe.


We export over £400 million of seafood to the EU every year to a market of 500 million people, we need continued access to that market.


And there is still cake in the form of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, which saw a reform in 2013.  


In the 1970’s we were sold a Haddy by the UK Government when we were told fishing was ‘expendable’.


Scottish Government Minsters now need to attend the party so that we can continue this as a key priority for Scotland.

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