To mark the milestone of 10 years of Brodies in Aberdeen we are hosting an Enlightened Thinking webinar series dedicated to the region. Our second session - 'The future of fishing in the North-east of Scotland - Marking a Decade in Aberdeen' - looked at the future of the fleet, fishermen and fishing in this rapidly changing world.

To discuss the challenges and opportunities for the sector we were joined by Elspeth Macdonald, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, Mike Park OBE, CEO of Scottish White Fish Producers Association Ltd and John Watt, Managing Director of Macduff Shipyards, alongside the webinar chair, Brodies' Marine Partner, Malcolm Mackay. Here, we highlight a few of the topics covered during the session.

Challenges ahead?

Our panel agreed that resilience is a key trait of the sector and those working in it. Mike Park reminded us of the changes that have already been weathered – moving from sail to steam, to diesel.

Elspeth Macdonald and John Watt also highlighted that Brexit, which will have an undeniable, but as yet uncertain, impact on the sector, will shape things for the years to come. Elspeth was hopeful that the change in the UK to now being an independent coastal state will allow a different relationship with our neighbours and, of course, the chance to discuss and set our own fisheries management policy. The need to introduce more young people into the industry and environmental issues – climate change, sustainability, and reducing unwanted catch - were picked up early by the panel as hot topics for the next decade and proved popular throughout the webinar too.

Back to the 80s

Both John Watt and Mike Park reminded us of the grants of the 1980s and how they helped shape the industry with building new vessels, allowing for upgrades to older ones and supporting onshore work. Indeed, we still see some of the vessels built then working hard today.

Our panel talked about the personal impact those grants had on them and those they know and work with. While the sector has seen some financial support during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, a fully thought-out grant system has the potential to open up the industry financially to the next generation – helping defeat one of the key challenges our panel identified in getting new blood into the sector, especially when the cost of training, certification and buying your own vessel can be such a hurdle.

The importance of balancing onshore and offshore work was highlighted, and we were reminded that the two go hand in hand. The panel talked of their desire to see fish not just landed in Scotland and moved overseas, but processed and enjoyed in Scotland too.

Changes to the fleet

John Watt of MacDuff Shipyards is on the front line of new technology and changes to the fleet and was able to guide us through what those will be. The biggest current issue is the lack of middle-aged boats in the Scottish fleet, with many being scrapped around 10 years ago. This gap will be filled by new vessels, but they will be different beasts. Nowadays people look for new builds with versatility, a boat that can do a few different jobs, and larger boats with a bigger guaranteed catch, and owners are hunting out the quota to support that.

Some of the strength in the sector also comes from the partnerships that own vessels as well as the variety of vessels, with the North Sea being home to working boats from new builds to 50 years old and a few meters up to 70m, demonstrating real versatility.

The panel also discussed changes in catch area, with changing migratory patterns for fish – particularly North Sea cod, possibly due to climate change. We may see more vessels in the next decade with onboard freezing facilities, capable of offering new products fishing to the north of Norway and Iceland.

Ethical considerations

The panel discussed the three pillars of sustainability: - economical, environmental, and social. They are likely to be a driving force for consumers and therefore the sector.

Things have come a long way from the overfishing of decades ago and what is needed now is a well-resourced system of science to understand the stocks, how to fish them, and how to protect them. Climate change and its impact on North Sea cod and marine protected areas were also discussed, and a key focus will be the continued close relationship with the scientific community as the sector continues to modernise. Part of that modernisation will be more environmental engines and fuel efficiency, on which John Watt spoke in detail, as well as picking up on the new focus of 'food miles' and shopping local, which is of even more importance during the 'stay at home' measures.

So, what next?

Watch the webinar to hear the panel's discussions in full, which include landing obligations, buying local, safety, the ILO188, and fuel emissions.

What is clear is that there is pride in the sector's resilience, diversity, and ability to look forward, and those traits provide optimism for whatever challenges come next.