Before I call Zac Goldsmith, may I suggest that I am minded to increase the time limit to 10 minutes, or possibly 12 minutes, depending on how long the opening speeches last?
I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the Fish Fight campaign; and calls on the Government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, end discards in relation to all fish and shellfish with derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding, require that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels by 2015, ensure the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in decision-making processes and enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters, taking into particular account vessel size and environmental impact.
The motion has been tabled my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), for Clacton (Mr Carswell) and for St Ives (Andrew George), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and myself. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us an opportunity to have this very important debate.
The motion is about the scandal of fish discards. Up to half the fish caught in the North sea are thrown back into the water either dead or dying, as a direct consequence of perverse EU common fisheries policy rules. Members will know that there was an overwhelming public reaction following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign. More than 600,000 people signed petitions calling for an end to discards, and many of them wrote to their Member of Parliament calling for immediate action. Their concerns are clearly mirrored here in Parliament, where the second most supported early-day motion since the general election calls for a discard ban. In addition, we have a Minister responsible for fisheries and a Prime Minister who have both recognised the absurdity of the current rules.
The time is right for a debate of this type because CFP negotiations are at a crucial stage. The European Commission is to make formal proposals in June or July, and decisions are to be taken some time in October, so now is our chance to give the Government a mandate to take the strongest possible line in those negotiations.
It is difficult to know exactly how many fish are being thrown away, because records are not kept and discards are not monitored. However, the EU estimates that in the North sea, between 40% and 60% of the total catch is discarded. The research of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs more or less backs up that figure. In other UK fisheries, the total is probably even higher. For instance, in the west of Scotland area, the Scottish Government believe that as much as 90% of the total cod catch is discarded. Partly because of that horrendous and mind-boggling waste, the European Commission’s own scientific advisers estimate that 72% of assessed EU species are now overfished.
It is grossly unfair that so often the fishermen get the blame for that madness, because most of the discards are the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of decisions imposed on them by politicians. To add insult to injury, those laws are supposed to be about conservation.
I am very glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about fishermen, because Scottish fishermen in particular have spent a great deal of time and effort to try to have measures introduced to minimise discards. However, the current CFP works against them in many ways.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Fishermen all around our coast are trying very hard to avoid this appalling waste, and I have yet to meet a fisherman who supports the current rules, so I echo what he says.
As all Members will know, reform of the CFP is complicated and hugely contentious, but whatever reforms are agreed, they must include a discard ban. We know that there are alternatives. For example, we could replace landing quotas with catch quotas so that by-catch that would otherwise be discarded had to be landed. The UK has already been piloting a scheme for cod involving six vessels in England and 17 in Scotland, and results so far suggest that it is working. Discards of cod are down to, I believe, between 1% and 7%. In addition, fishermen are using more selective gear and managing to catch more valuable fish.
I entirely support the hon. Gentleman’s point. I do not wish to sound pedantic, but I hope he agrees that when we talk about fish discards, we are primarily talking about the discard of dead fish. There are many fisheries in which the poor fish, although they are no doubt traumatised, can be slipped back into the sea. Many of them are juveniles and capable of further growth.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, and in fact the motion suggests a
“derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding”,
so that would include the type of catch that he mentions.
In addition to the pilots in our own waters, a discard ban has been operating since 1987 in Norway, where over-quota or unwanted species are landed for a guaranteed minimum value and sold to the fishmeal industry, with the proceeds used to reinvest in and support the fishing industry. To make a discard ban easier, we will have to do everything we can to help fishermen access and use more selective gear so that they can avoid the unwanted fish in the first place.
Consumers also have a clear role. A significant percentage of fish are discarded because there is no market for them, and the Government can boost that market through their vast procurement programme. We spend £2 billion each year on food for the wider public sector, and that is an obvious tool that the Government can use. However, there are obviously limits to what a Government can do to shape a fashion, and it is worth mentioning non-Government initiatives such as “Hugh’s Mackerel Mission”, which is intended to help stimulate new markets for less popular species. It is a valuable campaign, and I urge Members to support it.
Discards are the most visible flaw in the CFP regime, but they are only part of the problem. In addition, the motion calls for radical decentralisation, and I wish briefly to focus on that. One of the key demands from our fishing communities, and in particular from the under-10 metre fleet, is that we assert our control over what are wrongly described as our sovereign waters—the 12 nautical miles surrounding our coastline. I say “wrongly” because whereas the British Government can legally impose whatever rules and regulations they want within those waters, from six to 12 miles out those rules will apply only to British vessels. It is clear that higher standards are a good thing, but only if they are fair and we have an even playing field. That is categorically not the case in our waters.
For example, in 2004 the UK banned pair-trawling for bass within 12 miles of the south-west coast of England, to protect dolphins and porpoises. Although our own fishermen adhered to the law, the ban did absolutely nothing to prevent French and Spanish trawlers from continuing to catch bass in those waters, which was both wrong and unfair. If those rights for foreign vessels are to be retained, it seems to me that they should come with an absolute and non-negotiable obligation to adhere to our own rules. That is why the motion demands, among other things, that any reforms of the CFP must
“enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters”.
That is an absolutely fundamental issue. If we reassert our control over those waters we will not only provide welcome relief for our smaller boats against the onslaught of the factory fishing vessels, but we will be able to establish an intelligent, ecosystem-based management system and ensure the health of our fisheries indefinitely.
Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it was a mistake almost 40 years ago when the fishing grounds were used as a bargaining chip for entering the European Economic Community, as it then was? What will he do to ensure that his Government reverse that and give us 200-mile control rather than 12-mile control?
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my concluding remarks, so I will ask him to hold on for a few moments.
If we were able to reassert control over our waters, we would also be able to set the rules on science. With the active involvement of those who depend more than anyone else on the viability and health of our marine environment—the fishermen themselves—we would be able to get the policy right. That would also allow us to do something even more important—to recognise in law and in our regulatory regime, finally, the difference between smaller, traditional fishing vessels and their giant industrial competitors. It is an absolute mystery to me why successive Governments have always chosen to view the latter, the so-called fishing lobby, as the true voice of fishermen.
More than three quarters of the UK fleet is made up of vessels of 10 metres and under, which represent about 65% of full-time employment. Under the previous Administration, the 5,000 or so 10-metre and under vessels were given just 4% of the national quota, compared with the staggering 96% that was given to bigger boats, which number fewer than 1,500. It is staggeringly unfair, and if we were able to organise ourselves in the way that we chose within those 12 miles, we would be able to recognise the madness of that system in law.
It is an obvious observation that the smaller vessels are restricted in where they can go and what damage they can do, simply because of their size. The tools that they use do not compare with those available to the industrial factory fishing vessels, some of which have lines that would stretch from Parliament to Brighton, and purse seine nets that are big enough to swallow two millennium domes—which is a nice thought in some respects.
Whereas the interests of the smaller fishing communities are necessarily aligned with conservationists and consumers, the tools of destruction used by the mega-trawlers are fundamentally incompatible with any kind of sustainable future. That has finally been recognised at EU level, in word if not in deed. The new EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, has said:
“We…believe, based on scientific information, that small-scale fisheries are more sustainable and have a lower environmental footprint…Small-scale fisheries are also…more friendly to employment, and this is a key issue. We also recognise that small-scale fisheries are very important for the survival of coastal communities, for their identity, culture, history and way of life.”
Hear, hear to that, but let us see that finally translated into law. It is time for a clear and forceful policy distinction between the interests of the small-scale, more traditional fisherman, and large-scale operations.
Is it possible for us to have small-scale fishing out to 12 miles, and to ban factory fishing within, or am I being slightly naive in this modern age?
I can only tell my hon. Friend that I would like to see a system biased in favour of the small-scale, traditional fisherman, but that is an academic discussion until we reassert our control over those 12 miles. When we have done that, we can raise standards. Lobby groups that represent the fishermen who use smaller vessels are very much in support of his message.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me about the current restrictions on the 6 and 12-mile limits? The 0 to 6-mile limit is restricted to UK fishermen only, but in the 6 to 12-mile zone, we share access with vessels from member states that have historical fishing rights.
My hon. Friend makes an accurate observation. That was exactly my point in my opening remarks. The zone between 6 and 12 miles is described as sovereign or territorial waters, but we are unable to apply our rules to foreign vessels, which is deeply unfair. I know that she will speak on that issue with much greater experience than I could ever hope for.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this measure before the House. Like his constituency, my constituency can hardly be described as coastal, but we have both had a large amount of correspondence on this subject. I believe that that is informed not only by concern for the environment and our fishing industry but by an instinctive dislike of wasting food, which is very deep in the national psyche.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In normal circumstances reform of the CFP would be regarded as a nerdy issue, of interest to very few, but fish discards have caught the public’s imagination, for all the reasons that he identifies. No one likes the idea of waste, and no one welcomes the obliteration of our marine environment. People also instinctively recognise that this is also about fairness.
I shall conclude shortly, because I know that there is great demand among hon. Members to speak. For all Ted Heath’s “pure brilliance”—his words, not mine, as no one will be surprised to hear—he was wrong to surrender our fishing rights as a price worth paying for our entry into the European Economic Community. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) about that. However, we have an opportunity to empower our brilliant fisheries Minister to right some of those historical wrongs. We can end discards, restore control over that key 12-mile zone, and set rules that allow both our fishing communities and our marine environment to survive and flourish. I strongly urge all hon. Members to support the motion.
Order. I should let the House know that the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) have been selected. She may move them later.
Before I call Mr Austin Mitchell, I remind the House that I have extended the limit to 12 minutes.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) both on his record on conservation issues and on securing this important debate. It is marvellous that the grumbles and grievances of Members about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have subsided so much that we have time for a full-length debate on this matter. I hope that all the hon. Members for inland fishing ports who are round about me in the Chamber are gathering to give us their ports’ views on the CFP. Fishing rarely gets such an opportunity for a serious debate. We are usually squeezed in at the end of another serious discussion, but today we have time, and I hope all fishing Members use it.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall certainly did a useful and important job, but we should draw attention to the iniquities of the CFP, which causes the problem of discards in the first place. The CFP puts marine wildlife, seaweed and all forms of sea life into the European constitution. It is the first constitution to include seaweed, marine life, algae and all the other things. That is a great achievement in constitution making: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. Marine life has a right to be part of the European constitution, to be dealt with only by European vessels!” That is Stalinism at sea—the last vestige of the Stalinist state—and it is being imposed on the waters around Britain, where it has been most damaging.
It is my contention that it is impossible to deal adequately with the problem of discards as long as the CFP remains, because it is the major cause of discards.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of a European consultation paper on the CFP. The paper admitted the failure of the CFP and that the areas where it worked were those under national control. Surely if people want the CFP to continue, they should allow national control to 199 miles, and apply the CFP between 199 and 200 miles—a minimal ribbon. The CFP has failed and will continue to do so, but there are no milestones by which we can correct the CFP in future. We will bumble on for years with the CFP unless European Governments get their acts together and get rid of it.
I hope that that becomes part of Scottish National party policy and that it is implemented by the new SNP Government in Edinburgh—it certainly needs to be. I hereby renew my application to become the SNP fisheries spokesman. My previous applications over the years have been consummately rejected.
The important point is that the CFP allocates catches by quota to fishing vessels in mixed fishing grounds, which waters around the British coast are. As long as we control catches by quotas, there will always be discards, because fisherman who put to sea for haddock or cod will catch species that are not in their quotas.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one other main problem with the CFP is the single-species stipulation, which often applies to the species that are most under threat? That causes distortions in the catching of other species and leads to discards. There are better models than the EU model, such as those in Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. The CFP model is the worst of the lot. That is why those countries will have nothing to do with Europe.
I agree, absolutely—this speech is becoming a duet between me and the Scottish National party, which is an interesting state of affairs. The problem that the hon. Gentleman points to is that simplistic solutions will not work. The problem with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s proposals is that they are simplistic. The EU has responded to them with another simplistic solution, which will not work either. It took the Norwegians 20 years to develop their techniques, and they did it in very different fisheries, with an emphasis on conserving the young, immature fish. Norway’s job has therefore been much easier, but it has taken it 20 years to eliminate discards. We have had 10 years of working to reduce discards, in which they have been reduced by 50%. That has happened partly, it has to be said, as a result of decommissioning, but also because of other measures, such as square-mesh panels, which were developed by the industry as a means of conservation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Norwegians’ use of temporary real-time closures of areas when by-catch becomes excessive has served as an incentive for fishermen to use more selective gear? Does he also agree that selling fish caught illegally, without quota, through fishermen’s sales organisations—where the fishermen are entitled to only 20% of the revenue to cover the costs, thereby avoiding wastage and maintaining incentives to use selective gear by channelling profits back into fisheries—has been a key measure in achieving what he describes?
I agree, absolutely. We have a lot to learn from the Norwegians, but the point is that the Norwegians control their own waters in the 200-mile limit around Norway, just as we should control the 200-mile limit—or the median line—around the British coast, but we do not. Therefore, we cannot enforce such measures. That is the problem with all these arguments.
The television programmes that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall did were fantastic. The great innovation—the great gimmick—of landing discards at Hastings and throwing them to the crowd on the beach, because landing them would have been illegal, was marvellous, because people took those fish home and cooked them. I wrote to Fearnley-Whittingstall and suggested that he should hire a cruiser and follow the fishing fleet around, picking up the discards and serving them as expensive meals to a wealthy clientele on the North sea coast. That kind of experiment would have been useful. However, his solution is simplistic; therefore, it will not work.
Following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pressure on fisheries policy—on which I again congratulate him—the EU has put forward another simplistic solution. What it is doing—I suspect rather cynically—is setting out the problem, throwing it back to the nation states and telling them to solve it with a ban on discards, which will not work and cannot work. The Minister cannot solve the problem, so we are in deadlock. The EU proposes measures that will not work and forces them on the nation states, which cannot enforce them because of the common fisheries policy, and nothing happens, which is likely to remain the outcome.
The British reduction of discards by more than 50% over 10 years was achieved through square-mesh panels, video observation of the fishermen, closing grounds in-season and cod recovery plans, which were submitted by the fishermen and approved by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They were all painstaking, laborious techniques, but they have worked. That is the only way to do it, not through a simplistic ban, because fishermen will continue to discard.
There have been lots of European ideas to enable the cod recovery plans. However, on many occasions scientists put forward regulations and suggestions when fishermen were saying that there were schools upon schools of cod in the sea. Therefore, there is perhaps a difference between the scientist and the fisherman when it comes to who knows best.
That is certainly true, and again, it illustrates the difficulties that we face. One attempt that Europe has made—the cod ban—has proved disastrous for enforcement and protecting stocks, not to mention avoiding discards. That is control from the centre. What we need in the EU now is a policy to address that, yet power is being taken away from the Council—at least we have an opportunity to put up a fight against any proposals in the Council, and to bargain and improve our position in negotiations—and transferred to the Commission. However, the commissioners have never knowingly handed power down to the nation states—or, in the case of fishing, to the regional advisory councils. The North sea RAC is doing a splendid job. If the power to manage stocks was conceded to it, it could eliminate discards. However, it is not doing that because in the final analysis, the EU will never hand over the necessary powers to allow the RACs or nation states to deal with the problem adequately. In those situations, discarding will continue because, under a discard ban, what is a fisherman who catches fish that are not on his quota supposed to do with them? It is inevitable that he will chuck them overboard, if he can do so unobserved. We cannot monitor every ship by satellite or closed-circuit television; that is just impossible. So this is an impossible plan and it will not work.
That is why I was loth to give my support to the early-day motion. There is a continuous conflict between the conservationists, whose aims I admire, and the needs of commercial fishing. We see this in the marine conservation areas. There is now an argument to make them areas in which there is either no fishing or very restricted fishing, but we must not turn the waters around the British coast into a patchwork quilt, with some areas where fisherman can catch and some where they cannot, or with different quotas for different areas involving limits on species. It is appalling that there is a proposal to ban fishing in the experimental areas that are being set up. We cannot do that.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the 2006 reorganisation of the Manguson Stevens Act in the US required the end of over-fishing by 2010? In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has now heralded the fact that that has taken place in US waters. That policy’s success was due to the requirement for new annual catch limits in every fishery, and the establishment of strict scientific guidelines on the limits of sustainability, within which annual catch limits could be set.
That is so. We have set up our marine conservation areas, and I support them, but I do not support them as a means of restricting the opportunities for fishing.
I suppose that I had better bring my remarks to a conclusion, enthusiastic as I am to go on for hours, preventing all the other Members who want to raise matters from doing so. I shall simply say that the fishing industry has the greatest and the closest interest in proper conservation, because it has an interest in the sustainability of stocks. It wants the stocks to be there to hand on to the next generation of fishermen. That is why it was always important for us to have 200-mile limits to protect our fishing, in the way that Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, America, Canada and many other nations have been able to do. We cannot do that now, however, because Ted Heath foolishly handed these powers over, just like that, without argument, to Europe. The fishing industry wants sustainable catching as well as conservation measures, and it is the only body that can enforce them and ensure that they work, because it is in the interests of the fishermen to do so.
Although the industry might have the desire to be involved in conservation measures, would the hon. Gentleman agree that, as a result of the quotas and the ridiculous policy on discards, there is no incentive for fishermen to take that long-term view? Anything we can do to align the stewardship incentives with the incentives for the industry would be extremely welcome.
I agree. That is a very important point, and well put—said he, unctuously. This comes back to my point that the only way of enforcing these measures is if the industry enforces them itself, because it is the only one who has such an interest in them. At the moment, the regulations work in a contrary direction, but if they could work with the grain of the industry, and if the industry could be involved in formulating the measures, we could get a proper, effective conservation measure that would work. That is the aim, and we should not look for measures from Europe. We should aim for a handing down of power to the industry, so as to involve it in creating sustainability and pursuing its own interests.
For the second time today, I declare a special interest as the custodian of an under-10 metre commercial trawler, although she is not fishing at present. May I also thank all hon. Members for the support and kindness they have shown me following Neil’s death? It is a great comfort to me and my children that so many people have been thinking of us.
I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee and to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for securing this debate. Europe’s fish stocks are shared out according to Council regulation 2371/2002, which must be reviewed by 31 December 2012. This is the third review we have seen. I will not dwell on the history, although I will go back over a little of it. In 1972, the UK accession to the European Economic Community agreed equal access to a common resource. In 1976, the UK declared a 200-mile limit or median line, even though we had by then ceded control of fisheries to the EEC. In 1983, the total allowable catch—TAC—and quota system was agreed, along with the principle of relative stability, which is a mechanism of sharing out the European TAC among the member states according to their historical record of fishing. That agreement was reviewed in 1992 and the fishing industry was looking for some change, but it never came. In 2002, we were given a promise of change, but still TACs and quotas continued, with this Minister’s Department and, more recently, devolved Administrations responsible for the domestic quota management. So much regulation has been heaped on fishermen over the past 40 years, is it any wonder UK fishermen feel they have been served a very bad deal? I agree with their view.
There are several parts to this motion. An ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management is sensible, and I am pleased the Minister is already looking at marine protected areas. However, I have grave concerns that despite in excess of £4 million being spent since 2009 on consultation, my local fishermen in Looe and Polperro feel that the information that they have supplied has been completely ignored by Finding Sanctuary and Natural England. Scientists, environmentalists and fishermen should work together, but to make this work fishermen must be confident that they are equal partners. I hope that the Minister will confirm that no marine protected area will be imposed upon the south-west unless and until there is buy-in from the fishermen. I attended one of the Finding Sanctuary consultations with my husband, and we were asked to give details of where the fishermen worked so that the marine protected areas would not prevent them from earning. I am shocked to be told by those very same fishermen today that those very areas are now identified for closure or restriction.
Socio-economics must be a major factor when marine environmental measures are introduced. The discarding of fish is a wicked waste of nutrition. I congratulate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on bringing the issue to the attention of the public and to that of the European Commission. In the early 1990s, south-west fishermen covered Royal parade in Plymouth with plaice to illustrate the waste caused by the quota, but 20 years on we are still talking about the problem. There are anomalies to a discard ban. Lobster and crab survive capture. Crab pots are not size-sensitive, yet if all the babies were landed, it would lead to the extinction of the species.
I think that 2015 is a realistic target to ensure we fish sustainably. British fishermen do not intentionally set out to catch baby fish; they continually adapt their nets with square mesh panels and separator grids to avoid catching small fish or the wrong species. I understand that only two days ago discussions at a meeting north of the border centred around introducing a trial of a net to reduce discards in the nephrops fishery. I have been told that it would take only half a day to adapt an existing nephrops net to this design. Fishermen cannot avoid capturing unwanted fish and, in my constituency, they sometimes find their nets full of undersized red gurnards. Those are non-pressure stock and, according to the Marine Conservation Society, the data have shown an indication of their stability in recent years. We need to find a use for these fish, however.
Scientists and environmentalists will often talk about fish without considering the fishermen. Many people forget that a fishing skipper needs expertise in a number of fields: engineering, fish biology, navigation and weather forecasting, as well as the usual requirements for running a small business. Imagine how soul destroying it is to tow gear for hours, haul in a net and find the cod-end full of the wrong species, then throw them back and return to port with a massive fuel bill and no money to pay for it! It angers me when I hear scientists dismiss out of hand the fishermen’s assessment of the stocks. The fishermen—and some fisherwomen; we have at least one in Cornwall—are experts and should be treated as equals.
Let me move on to deal with fishing within territorial waters. According to paragraph 2 of article 17 of the basic regulation, fishing activity is restricted in waters up to 12 miles from the baseline under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of member states to local fishermen or those from other member states with historic rights—until the end of 2012 when the limits that have been in place for 30 years could be abolished.
I believe that abolition of this protection would be a move too far. We have a referendum lock in place for new EU treaties, so why not have a referendum if the protection of our sovereign territorial waters is threatened? I believe the 12-mile limit should be reserved for small inshore UK vessels that are unable to migrate to fishing grounds further from their home ports. These vessels support coastal communities. Small vessels—even small trawlers that operate with a single trawl, many fitted with rockhopper foot ropes and vented trawl doors to avoid damaging the sea bed—have a lower impact on the marine environment than more powerful vessels or vessels towing two nets at the same time.
Under 10-metre vessels have been disadvantaged by the UK system. The underestimation of the quota came to light under the last Government, who failed to resolve the problem. We now find that the very vessels that caused the least amount of damage to the stocks are struggling to survive.
I praise my hon. Friend not just for the knowledge and expertise she brings to this debate, but for the dignified way in which she has spoken. I speak as an MP for a landlocked area, and we are lucky that a number of fresh fish sellers come daily into my local villages in Colne Valley and West Yorkshire. We also have Fairtrade shops, so we know what kind of chocolate or coffee to buy. Will my hon. Friend advise my constituents on what kind of accreditation marks they should look out for if they want to make a knowledgeable purchase of sustainable fish products?
Yes, the Marine Conservation Society accredits species of fish caught in an environmentally friendly way—pole fishing for tuna, for example, or mackerel handlining, which is particularly important in the south-west. I understand from a question put to the Minister earlier that there is cause for concern in Cornwall about the cost of accreditation for mackerel handline fishermen.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging the point I put in a question this morning. For Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, the 200 Cornish fishermen who benefit from this particular fishery have to pay £12,000 plus VAT a year in registration costs. In addition, they see that a number of rather high-impact fishing methods used elsewhere have also received accreditation, which they view as altogether downgrading the significance of MSC accreditation.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has great expertise in that subject. I applaud the way in which the Minister is trying to resolve the matter, but ask him to take a further look at the impact assessment accompanying the present consultation.
Earlier in her speech, my hon. Friend mentioned the marketing of fish. Is it not important for us to seek innovative ways of marketing them? The humble mackerel is really a tuna. Should it not be called the north Atlantic tuna? I know that in my hon. Friend’s constituency the pilchard is in reality a Cornish sardine and that the pollack has been renamed a colin, but surely we should consider other innovative ways of putting unpopular fish on the slabs of fishmongers, or at least into some form of fishfinger that people would want to eat.
Marketing necessities in the United Kingdom certainly include the need to attract the British housewife to other species of fish as well as just the traditional cod and haddock.
I assure Members that I have tried a variety of fish in my time. Perhaps at this point I should pay tribute to my local fishermen. When my husband came home with a fish for me, it was usually a damaged fish that he could not put on the market for sale. Since his death I have received carrier bags full of fish, and I now have a huge amount in my freezer. I thank the fishermen in my constituency for considering my family in that way.
Several assumptions have been made on page 13 of the impact assessment that accompanies the recently published consultation document. May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether his Department has conducted a sensitivity analysis to test the effect of those assumptions on under-10-metre vessels?
Let me end by thanking my hon. Friend for the way in which he has approached his brief. Having been involved in fisheries for almost 30 years, I have dealt with quite a number of fisheries Ministers, and it is really refreshing to have a Minister who cares about the marine environment, fish stocks, and—most important to me—the fishermen themselves. I wish him well in the negotiations over the coming months, and hope that he can secure a deal in the Council to secure the real change for which the industry has been calling since 1983. I hope that all Members will join me in supporting the motion, and that the Minister will have the backing of the House in seeking the outcome that we all want to see.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who brings a great deal of expertise and experience to this and other fisheries debates as well as to DEFRA parliamentary questions dealing with fisheries issues. I do not have the same amount of personal experience. Indeed, I believe that I was one of the only three Members who spoke during a fisheries debate in Westminster Hall in December whose constituencies did not contain fishing fleets; the others were the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain).
I note that many more such Members are present today. That may demonstrate the power of television in focusing attention on the issue of discards, which those who are involved in fisheries issues have been discussing for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned the action that has been taken by fishing fleets around the United Kingdom. That too has been happening for many years, although it is in danger of being overlooked in the debate. It is assumed that the issue has only just come to public attention and that people are now suddenly caring about it, but that is far from being the case.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park on tabling the motion and initiating the debate. He has hit on an issue that many of our constituents have raised. However, we should not see dealing with discards as a panacea for all the problems connected with fisheries, especially as we head towards the period from July onwards when the Minister will be discussing reform of the common fisheries policy.
In the fisheries debate in December, I said that about 10 years had passed since I worked at the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the same arguments are being made now as were made then about the pressing need for reform of the common fisheries policy.
My hon. Friend says that there were calls for reform many years ago, but nothing has substantively changed. I think we should abolish the CFP and return to having national fisheries, but in any case is it not time that we got rid of the word “reform”? It is used by Front-Bench spokesperson after Front-Bench spokesperson as a get-out for doing nothing in reality.
I share some of my hon. Friend’s frustrations about the lack of progress over many years. Often in European discussions, issues get traded off against each other; certain issues that should have been dealt with are not addressed, as other issues are seen as more pressing concerns. Fisheries have suffered as a result. Perhaps because I am slightly younger than my hon. Friend, or perhaps because I am a little naive in this respect, I am more hopeful than he is that the documentation from the Commission and some of the comments from the commissioner may give us cause to think that we have a serious chance of getting decent reform of the CFP on this occasion.
We will certainly have further discussions on this topic, but it is right to offer the Minister who will handle it in Europe our encouragement. We all understand that the negotiations will be very complex, as they will involve various different states and lots of different interests. One of the consequences of the increased interest in discards and other issues is that that has provoked the commissioner into saying some interesting things recently. While just saying things is not necessarily an indication of future action, there is now an opportunity, and we would be foolish not to try to take it.
Is it not noteworthy that the commissioner has referred to the sheer scale of the public outcry and demand for action in the United Kingdom, and does that not point to the need for us to sustain this admirable campaign—I congratulate all those who have been leading it—and to broaden it to other European countries?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which I alluded to when talking about the power of the television documentary and the campaign.
I want to address the wider issue of CFP reform, as well as discards. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) must know a lot about the discards issue, as some of the fleets in her constituency have tackled it in innovative ways, such as through employing different nets. As that shows, fishing fleets have taken action, but we must address discards within the context of the CFP as a whole, and there are other important issues that will also need to be taken seriously in the negotiations.
The hon. Member for South East Cornwall and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby talked about sustainability. That is not solely the preserve of scientists and conservationists; sustainability is also inherently in the interests of the fishing communities, but for far too long they have, effectively, been given perverse incentives not to act in a sustainable way. That is the fault not of the fishing fleets or the communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing, but of the regime. It therefore needs to form part of the changes to that regime.
A move towards multi-year quotas, which the report of the draft I read this morning seemed to suggest the Commission was proposing, is an important part of the changes needed, so I encourage the Minister to keep it on his agenda for the negotiations. It is frustrating that once a year in December people have to sit through the night to set the agenda for the next year, while industries and people—sometimes working in remote parts of the country—whose livelihoods depend on the industry are left not knowing what the position will be a few months hence. That does not help them to make long-term decisions about investment in their vessels or about how to pursue their economic interests. We hope that the July discussions will provide an opportunity to address this situation, because it is not healthy, sensible or sustainable.
Will the Minister bear it in mind that, as I said in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions earlier, we cannot have imposed on everybody an inflexible regime that is unable to adapt to local circumstances? There are a number of fisheries around the UK coast in which fleets fish for mixed catches, and a strict regime on them could have unintended adverse consequences. We have to ensure therefore that there is the appropriate flexibility for local management within whatever improvements are made to the CFP. I share others’ frustrations with the CFP over recent years. Reform remains necessary, and discards are part of the problem. It is heartening that this issue is getting much more attention than even a few months ago, but it is not the only issue. CFP reform and moving to multi-year quotas and greater sustainability will be in the interests of everybody involved in the industry. They are also in the interests of a number of my constituents who have recently discovered a shared interest in this issue because of the discards campaign. We need to ensure that this is at the forefront of the agenda in the negotiations that the Minister will take part in over the next few months. I sincerely wish him all the best in that, and I hope that many Members will support him in taking this agenda forward.
I do not intend to take up my full time allocation, as I want to make only a few points. First, however, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who brought this motion before the House, and to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who spoke eloquently and informatively. She brings to the House the benefit of her and her family’s expertise and experience in Cornwall.
As many Members will know, Sherwood is a land-locked constituency in the middle of Nottinghamshire, but my constituents know what is right and what is wrong—and this is clearly wrong. Only the European Union could dream up a policy under which trawlermen can bring back to land only a small proportion of the fish they catch and must throw the rest overboard. It does not make any sense ecologically, economically or morally. We have to consider the reason for these discards, however. They are the result of the quota system introduced by the EU, which measures the fish brought back to land. If possible, we should consider a system that measures the fish as they are brought on to the boat, rather than when they are landed back at the port.
I am not an expert in fisheries, but the comparisons with agriculture strike me. Is it possible to consider a system similar to the one that operated in the sugar industry with sugar beet, with an A, B and C quota. The fish would still be taken to market, but their value would be much lower, to encourage them to be brought back to land.
High grading is a system whereby fishermen go out, catch the fish and try to retain those of the highest value. That is causing a problem in that the small-value fish are thrown overboard. In terms of the fish stocks, however, they are quite high value, because they are often the young and small fish that will go on to grow and be the future stocks.
This seems nonsensical to me. Surely we cannot design a system whereby any fish are thrown back. Once a fish is landed, it is damaged, and if it is put back it will probably die. Whatever system we design must be sensible, ensure that all fish are landed and aim to preserve fish stocks. We should not just put some back and keep some.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We also need to find new technologies, and there are technologies available that sieve fish and pass the smaller ones through the nets so that they are not captured.
I broadly support what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but is not the problem not that individual fishing boats are catching too much fish but that too many fishing boats are fishing? Overfishing can be regulated only by a nation managing its own fishing waters and what is landed from the sea. That can be achieved only with a national approach to fishing.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. Standing in this place, with history around us, I wonder what such characters as Drake and Nelson would have thought of the way in which this country has given up its territorial rights to our waters. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which Drake would have tolerated French and Spanish ships coming 12 miles off the shore of England and done nothing about it.
We need to take control of our waters. All this happened when I was at primary school—
Of course, I was not at primary school with Sir Francis Drake, but I was at primary school when the European Union came up with the schemes that gave away our territorial rights to our waters. That was a great shame, but we need to consider it in the light of where we find ourselves today. We need to consider how we can take it back and find a system that is morally acceptable and better for our oceans.
As a sponsor of the motion, I am grateful to have the opportunity to put on the record how important I think it is. Surely the important issue is the marine ecosystem and the duty and responsibility we all have to ensure that it can function in an ethically sustainable way. We must put the environment at the heart of all that we do so that we have a sustainable ecosystem for our marine waters.
I absolutely agree and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. We need to ensure that future generations have access to fish as part of their diet. Fish make up an important part of the diet. Omega 3 is important and people need it as part of a healthy diet. Unless we get this right at this moment, fish stocks will not be available for future generations. That will be a sad indictment of us as politicians and of the decisions that we make.
My final comments are to the general public. Consumers are powerful and retailers listen to consumers. I encourage members of the public to challenge their retailers—supermarkets and fishmongers—to tell them how their fish is caught and harvested and how many discards there are. Several retailers, including Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, have done some work on making good progress on this front. I hope that we can find a solution.
I would add Waitrose to that list of supermarkets, and I declare an interest because I used to work for it. It sponsored a very good film called “The End of the Line”, and I would like to note the brilliant work done by the person who put that film together in kicking off this discussion, ahead of the Fish Fight campaign, several years ago. Will my hon. Friend join me, and other hon. Members I am sure, in encouraging consumers who feel strongly about this issue, many of whom have written to us, to be part of the solution, albeit a small part? If everyone who has sent us an e-mail about this also changes their fish-buying behaviour and attempts to influence their friends and family to change theirs, they can become a small part of the solution just as much as by urging us to be part of it.
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. The Countryside Agency ran a campaign some time ago with the strapline “Eat the View”, which encouraged consumers to think about where their food came from because its production directly affects the world around us. What we look at, what we see and how the world produces food is directly affected by how and where we purchase food. I encourage consumers to hold retailers to account—to challenge them and make sure that they are doing the right thing not only for us but for future generations and future food production in general.
I am very pleased to be a sponsor of the motion and I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on introducing it. I congratulate him also on drafting a motion that mentions not only discards but what we fundamentally need to do to achieve the aims and objectives that have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), among others, of putting sustainability and our environment first in our fisheries policy.
Something that has always struck me about fisheries policy is that, whatever concerns one has about the motives and actors involved, it resembles what is sometimes described in political theory discussions as the tragedy of the commons. If eight farms surround a common and one farmer decides to keep pigs, which eat the beech mast from the common and get very fat, that works very well for that rational farmer who does very well. So then another rational farmer decides to keep pigs too, thinking that those pigs will also get fat from eating the beech mast on the common—and they do. But then another two farmers also decide, quite rationally, to keep pigs, thinking that the beech mast comes every year and is not a finite resource. After three or four more farmers have the same rational idea, all the pigs die because there is not enough beech mast for them all. Whatever the rational concerns of fishermen, fishing fleets and, indeed, policy makers about fish stocks and how fisheries work, unless there are policies that go beyond relying on the rational instincts of people who are involved in these issues, and unless policies regulate the industry so that it is genuinely sustainable overall, tragedy will inevitably result.
It is commonplace to say that the world is extremely overfished, but we also know that about 90% of all the cod that are caught have never had a chance to breed. I do not think that it requires a great deal of analysis to recognise that if 90% of the breeding population is removed before it can even begin to breed, that population will not last long.
Only a fortnight ago, I went across the Clyde to Arran to see at first hand a no-go area, which has already achieved results beyond everyone’s expectations. Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be plentiful fish, but only on the basis that we allow breeding grounds where there is no fishing?
My hon. Friend anticipates what I was going to say. Any ecosystem-based fishing policy has to relate to precisely the question of no-fishing areas. I appreciate the difficulties of enforcement and the problems that that represents, but under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2010 we have developed the potential of no-fishing areas and have already seen results in limited fishing areas, which create a haven where species can start to rebuild breeding stocks and then repopulate other areas. That is an important part of an eco-fishing analysis.
I want to echo that point. The most successful marine protected areas around the world are protected with the co-operation of fishing communities, and the biggest beneficiaries, beyond the fish, are fishermen themselves. In Costa Rica, Japan, Spain and so on, there are lots of successful stories of marine protected areas, which have boosted fishermen’s income and increased biodiversity, which is crucial.
The hon. Gentleman underlines a point that I wish to emphasise. The tragedy of the commons is a good example of regulated assistance for rational activity that benefits people who are trying to make a living and acting rationally in so doing. With the assistance of those no-fishing zones, there are substantial consequences beyond those zones, as there are benefits for all concerned.
Yes, it is true that we should end discards, but if we do so that will not by any means solve the problems. The motion goes much further and proposes that an ecosystem-based fishing regime should be part of a new common fisheries policy. The question of discards is a world issue for fishing. The average estimate of discards from catches across the world is about 8%, but it is certainly far worse in Europe, and that is a result, as we have heard, of aspects of the CFP as it stands. Let us consider the prawns and shrimps that we eat on our table. For every tonne of shrimp that is landed, probably 10 to 15 tonnes of fish have been discarded. That is across the world—it is not just in Europe. It is unlikely that many people would accept a non-sustainably sourced prawn on their plate if they were aware of the overwhelming numbers that died to bring that prawn to their plate.
Discards are an important issue not only in the EU but across the world, not just because the fish could be used but because we are damaging species by changing breeding populations and ecosystems.
The motion asks the UK Government to develop a package of measures beyond which it would be impossible to go in considering whether to endorse a new EU fisheries policy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I generally welcome the motion and will be happy to support it, because it is absolutely necessary that we have a different approach to the common fisheries policy. I wish to draw the House’s attention to a report produced many years ago by a House of Lords Committee, which highlighted the need to apply science and technology—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making an intervention. If he wishes to draw the House’s attention to something, he can make a speech, but he cannot do so in an intervention, so we will leave it at that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he wishes to intervene again briefly, I will give way.
That is extremely generous of the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that the House of Lords report was absolutely right to highlight the need for science and technology and draw our attention to the systems used in Norway?
The answer to that very pithy intervention is yes. As we move towards a new EU fisheries policy, it is absolutely vital that we remove ourselves from all the baggage of previous fisheries policies, which, since the first one was introduced in 1983, have never contained an environmental, conservation or sustainability component. A few things have been added—rather like adding Dolby sound to Philips cassettes to try to make them work better—but basically the policy was designed simply to stop countries squabbling about who should fish where. In relation to what I said about the tragedy of the commons, that merely divides the commons between different people to carry on fishing in the same way, rather than moving the debate forward.
It is essential that we have an EU fisheries policy that is fit for purpose for the world we now live in. That is the bottom line of the debate. That includes ending discards and introducing technology that ensures that what is caught approximates most closely to what is intended to be caught, for example by using different nets. It includes looking at science to secure the best way forward for reducing the collateral consequences of fishing. It includes no-fish zones, which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) referred to.
It is an ambitious package of measures. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it must be our starting point if we are to have fisheries that are fit for the 21st century. If we continue with fisheries that are fit for the 19th century, the fish will have disappeared by the time we are not much further into the 21st century. I wish the Minister good luck in his endeavours, which I hope will be fruitful. It is encouraging to hear the difference in tone from the EU Commission, and if we can build on that tone, on the Fish Fight campaign, which I, too, congratulate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on bringing to the public’s attention, and on the head of steam that has built up to recognise that we have to make a step change, not a gradual change in fisheries policy, we will find that these debates have been worthwhile, and that the Minister’s success in achieving such changes on behalf of Europe will have been a triumph indeed.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who was absolutely right to conclude by emphasising the importance, if we are to move forward effectively, of reducing the need to discard any dead fish in the sea. We need a more sophisticated package of measures, rather than the same blunt response to the blunt instrument of quotas, which caused the problem in the first place.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), before he leaves the Chamber for a no doubt well-deserved comfort break, on having brought forward the issue and on his persistence in raising it. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of the motion.
I also pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for having brought her great knowledge to bear and, in significantly difficult circumstances, raising the issue. She has warm support across the entire House for her contribution, and the House very much appreciates her widely acknowledged knowledge and expertise on the subject.
I was born and brought up in west Cornwall in my constituency. My family had a fishing boat, but my father was primarily a market gardener, so I have some experience of the issue, although far less than my hon. Friend. Many members of my family are engaged in the industry around the coast of my constituency, and I do my best to keep in contact with them in order to understand the pressures of the industry, but that certainly does not compare to my hon. Friend’s expertise.
A number of essential elements are required to move the issue forward and to make significant progress in addressing the concerns that have rightly been highlighted as a result not of only the Fish Fight campaign but of the many other campaigns that went before and highlighted precisely the same issues. I hope that the current process of reform, and the debate about the reform, of the common fisheries policy leading to 2013 will be more successful than the last.
We have inched our way forward, but the EU is like the United Nations when it comes to treaties: trying to reach an agreement across states requires tremendous diplomacy as well as the campaigning skill and zeal of many people in order to ensure that messages are properly understood, and that there are constructive proposals as well as attacks on and criticisms of the existing scheme’s failures.
In order to make such changes, there are a number of essential elements. First, we need to get right the management framework of the common fisheries policy, and it helps that we have moved the debate on in this Chamber from where it was five or six years ago, when my beloved coalition colleagues used to take the rather different view that we could unilaterally withdraw from the policy. The whole debate became a legal argument, which meant that we never had the right kind of environment—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will in a moment, because I know that the hon. Gentleman is simply going to go back over that debate, and I just want to make this point to him. We did not have the environment that we needed to be able to have the kind of constructive debates that we now have about the management, technical and other measures that are required and can be delivered, although it takes some time. Because we could not legally withdraw from the common fisheries policy while remaining in the EU—it was technically impossible, and no one was proposing that we should withdraw entirely at that stage—we could not make that kind of progress.
Does my hon. Friend accept that six years ago his party’s policy was one of regionalisation of the common fisheries policy, and that securing the regional management that his party was promising was probably as extreme and impossible to deliver as national control?
Having given a warm tribute to my hon. Friend, I hate to find myself in significant disagreement with her. She is right that the Liberal Democrats have argued that we should have a more regionalised basis for the common fisheries policy; we have been consistent in that for the past 20 years. We have been not only consistent but right and effective, in that the regional advisory councils have now been established.
The view of the coalition Government—we are in complete agreement between the parties—is that we need to strengthen the regional advisory councils to become regional management committees, in order to give fishermen, along with other stakeholders, significant power. With that power comes responsibility. If the fishermen themselves are making the decisions about the future management of their stocks and the framework within which they operate, they will be the losers if they fail to make any progress. We have succeeded in that fundamental principle. We are making that progress, and the next reform will see us move the agenda forward significantly and positively.
My hon. Friend mentioned the regional advisory councils. That is precisely what they are—advisory, so no attention has to be paid to what they decide. That is not exactly what I remember his party promising six years ago.
This is turning into a more partisan debate than I intended.
It’s your own fault.
I know; I blame myself. I apologise for having drawn myself into the very cul-de-sac that I was saying was the reason why we failed to make progress before.
As a result of the regional advisory councils, we were able to develop measures such as the Trevose ground closure, around the north coast of my constituency, each spring, which ensures that large numbers of vessels are not going in and plundering the stocks in that area. We have seen a significant improvement in the health of several species following that measure. The proposal was originally made and instigated by local fishermen, but rolling it out required international agreement.
I seek to bolster the hon. Gentleman’s position, not to attack it. Does he agree that if we are to have truly ecosystem-based management of stock, it must be based not on regional advisory councils but on regional management?
The hon. Gentleman emphasises my point. We need to move from advice to management. We have a far too centralised common fisheries policy and, as we have been saying for decades, we need to decentralise it.
The fundamental problem, as many hon. Members have said, is the blunt instrument of the quota system. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test implied, we do not want to replace that overnight with the blunt response of stopping all discards. That could have immediate catastrophic consequences. We need to move to a situation where there is no need for discards of dead fish from trawlers.
I want to reinforce my hon. Friend’s point. In the Northumberland coast fishery, where most of the boats are day boats that do not travel far out, an immediate ban on discards would prevent people from catching other species. At the moment, a lot of haddock are being caught because they are plentiful. We could not stop all the boats from fishing completely because of the number of haddock they are catching.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who is assiduous on this issue and helps to emphasise the particular problems for day boats and inshore fisheries.
There is also a problem with the illogicality of throwing back dead fish. No one quite understands the benefit of that. The only possible scientific benefit is that other fish might feed on those fish. As all those involved in fisheries management will understand, the problem is that to apply an effective fisheries management policy, one needs to be able to distinguish between intended and unintended by-catch. Of course, a lot of the by-catch is of a high marketable value. One has to query what would be the ultimate impact if one said, “We’ll stop all discards and you can land and market all the fish you catch, regardless, because we feel sorry for you and don’t like to think of you throwing back dead fish.” We cannot simply adopt, overnight, a ban on discards.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am sorry to say no to my hon. Friend, but I will not give way again, because of the time.
I have mentioned decentralisation. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall rightly emphasised the importance of being able to extend the inshore management limit to 12 miles, so that only those with a historical entitlement from other fishing nations can fish between the 6 and 12-mile limits.
It is important for fishermen and scientists to work together. That is increasingly happening, and it works well in other European countries. In successful fishing nations such as Norway and Sweden, fishermen and scientists work hand in glove all the time. That improves efficiency and effectiveness, and they have developed techniques that have taken them ahead and left us behind. The more we encourage a culture that enables fishermen and scientists to work together, the better it will be, because more trust will be established between the two, and there will be better assessment of stocks. We need to develop more effective methods of assessing stocks, because fishermen often rightly criticise the basis on which quota decisions are taken.
A number of measures have been identified by Government and the fishing industry to help avoid discards in the first place. I have mentioned management methods such as temporary closures, for example in the Trevose ground, which can be very effective. In a question to the Minister this morning, I mentioned the worrying decision of the Cornish mackerel handliners not to pay their annual subscription of £12,000 to the Marine Stewardship Council because they do not believe that the benefits of membership are justified by the cost. They have also identified that another fishing method, the trawling and seining of mackerel in Scotland, is accredited by the MSC. They question that, because theirs is low-impact fishing and other types have a much higher impact.
I look forward to the Minister’s response, although I may not be able to stay, because I have a train to catch at 6 o’clock. The hon. Member for Richmond Park has secured a very important debate, and I hope that, whatever basis we do it on, we shall decentralise the management of our fishery stocks.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) not just on bringing the debate before the House but on his wider ongoing efforts to bring attention to the need for sustainability in international fisheries. I know that he has played a key role in the Fish Fight campaign, bringing the scandal of fish discards to public attention, and I commend him for his efforts.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s recognition that under the current rules, fishermen have no choice but to dump fish, and that the underlying problem is the systemic failure of the common fisheries policy. I have the privilege of representing some of the UK’s most fishing-dependent communities, including Peterhead, Europe’s largest white fish port, and Fraserburgh, Europe’s leading shellfish port. Thousands of my constituents work in fishing-related jobs, whether onshore or offshore, in the processing sector and in other related industries.
Fishing is at the heart of the identity of the communities around the Banffshire and Buchan coast, and for years people in those communities have expressed their anger, frustration and exasperation with the CFP and the disgrace of fish discards. Many of them have said to me how glad they are to see the issue finally getting the widespread public attention that it so deserves.
Having tabled my amendments, I wish to make it clear that I am in full sympathy with the spirit behind the motion and that the amendments are intended to strengthen its wording and reflect the fact that discards are a symptom rather than a source of the problems, which rest squarely with the CFP. To end discards, we need to end the practices that encourage discards, and there is no real shortcut to that. In no way do I want to dilute the strong signal that the motion and the debate will send, but I hope that we will foster a more nuanced understanding of why discards occur and the range of measures that are needed to end them. We have had positive signals from the European Commission that it recognises the problem, but we need a lot more than rhetoric. We need practical solutions.
I am one of those in the House who have campaigned long, and so far unsuccessfully, to ban the atrocious practice of the discard of dead fish, with all the waste involved. From the hon. Lady’s experience of her important fishing community, can she tell us how much better it would be for her local fishermen if the practice were banned?
It is very important that the UK Government avoid having the Commission make a knee-jerk response to the problem that could cause damage to certain stocks and jeopardise the livelihoods of fishermen who have already made huge sacrifices to put the industry on a sustainable footing. We only have to go to the ports of the north-east to see that the white fish fleet has basically halved in the past 10 years, and that is a huge sacrifice that the industry has made in order to be sustainable. We need to avoid the same top-down solutions that we have had from the EU hitherto, and we need solutions that come from the industry itself and from the communities that are most directly associated with it.
I understand that in 2009 the value of discards was about £33 million—about a third that of the white fish that was landed. However, since 2008 the efforts that the Scottish National party Government have taken have seen discards decline at a greater rate than in any other country in the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I hope to address it in my speech.
Today’s debate gives us impetus for a different approach to fisheries management. We want to avoid, rather than replicate, the one-size-fits-nobody approach that has characterised the CFP for several decades and had a devastating impact on the communities that I represent and our marine environment.
We need a greater role for regional management, and that is happening in fishing communities not only in Scotland, but in other parts of the UK and Europe. We also need longer-term management plans and meaningful stakeholder involvement. That is the way forward, and I hope the Government press that agenda in the ongoing and forthcoming European negotiations.
It is important to recognise that discarding is a particularly big problem in mixed fisheries, where the rules and regulations simply do not reflect the reality of the eco-system.
The hon. Lady’s amendment (a) would insert “practices that encourage”, but does she not agree that that would weaken the motion, because a motion for an end to “practices that encourage” discards is weaker than one that calls for an end to discards? If she genuinely wants a strong motion, she should accept that her words do not need to be included.
I do not accept that. I tried to make the point that discards are not the problem, but the symptom of the problem. There is no simple solution to discards and no one reason for them.
Perhaps the best way to explain that is with concrete examples. Fishermen who fish for prawn, megrim or monkfish off the west coast of Scotland are very likely to pick up by-catch of cod, haddock or whiting, which is a protected stock. As the fish mix freely and do not understand the EU CFP, they do not present themselves in the quantities and combinations required by the catch composition rules. That is the nub of the argument.
That is only one reason for discarding, but it is by no means the only reason. There are a range of reasons. The most obvious one, perhaps, is lack of quota and the quota problems that hon. Members have highlighted. Another common problem is that vessels can catch fish below the minimum landing size. There is a real danger in landing juvenile fish that have not yet reproduced. Creating a market for those fish would be detrimental to the long-term sustainability of the stock. That is why a blanket ban on discards is too simplistic a solution, although I do not wish to undermine or diminish the need to end or reduce discards. High grading—when fish of no or low market value are discarded when caught—is another good example of a damaging side effect of the current regulations. I shall not repeat the points that other hon. Members have made on that.
Just as there is no single reason for discards, there is no single solution. Rather, a variety of measures are necessary. As the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) pointed out, Scotland has been at the forefront of bringing to an end practices that encourage discards. The Scottish Government, industry and other stakeholders have worked together to make the Scottish fishing industry the most conservation conscious in the world. Currently, more than 50% of Scottish fisheries by value are now certified, or are in the process of being certified, by the Marine Stewardship Council, including 90% of the pelagic sector.
The hon. Member for St Ives addressed the issue of smaller versus larger boats. There is no doubt that the pelagic vessels in the Scottish fleet are huge, but they catch some of the most sustainable fish stocks in the EU. In addition, those boats are tied up in port for many weeks at a time and fish sustainably. They find a market for their fish and have a viable business, which is at the heart of a sustainable industry. This cannot be about artisanal fishing only, because communities and thousands of jobs in small businesses in local economies depend on commercially and economically viable fishing.
I merely wanted to take the opportunity, before the hon. Lady’s speech comes to an end, of acknowledging her amendments and recognising why she wants to include those words in the motion. I hope she agrees that the inclusion in the motion of the derogation, which was a last-minute inclusion, goes some way to assuring her that we are calling not for a blanket ban on discards, but for a qualified ban.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that. I appreciate the efforts that he has made to accommodate the practical issues that face our fishermen, who are currently in difficult economic times.
I am sure that there is nothing to be gained from generating a dispute when fishermen share the same objective of achieving a sustainable industry. The amount of fish that Cornish mackerel handliners catch is equivalent to what one purse seine can catch in just one week. There may be issues with by-catch or other things, but the hon. Lady will surely understand people’s concerns about the impact of fishing on that scale compared with the low impact of the handlining method.
Clearly that is fishing on a very different scale. The fishermen whom I represent are providing an important food source. This is not an either/or issue; rather, there is room for everybody, small producers and large producers alike. There is enough to go round—enough fish in the sea, shall we say?
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mike Park, the chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who just last week was awarded the WWF’s 2011 global award for conservation merit in recognition of his efforts to promote sustainable fisheries. I am sure that Members across the House will want to join me in congratulating Mr Park on receiving such a prestigious international award. It is a well-deserved recognition of his leadership and a testament to the efforts of everyone in the Scottish fleet who has worked so hard to put the industry on a different and more sustainable course. The award is also a tribute to the work of WWF Scotland, which, in confounding the stereotypes of conservationists being pitted against the interests of fishing communities, has engaged with the industry constructively, recognising that sustainable fisheries must be about sustainable livelihoods for fishermen and sustainable, thriving fishing communities. I commend WWF Scotland for that.
Some of the innovative and pioneering measures that have had such a dramatic and demonstrable effect in reducing discards in Scotland offer practical ways forward in the wider European context. The use of selective fishing gear is perhaps the most obvious way to reduce unwanted by-catch, and is a key way to prevent discards. Since 2007, a voluntary system of real-time closures has been in operation in Scottish waters as a means of protecting concentrations of cod. Scotland was the first country in Europe to introduce such a scheme. When skippers encounter a high abundance of cod, they are encouraged to notify the Marine Directorate and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, and the relevant area is closed for three weeks at a time. That not only helps to protect the stocks, but helps to improve the accuracy of the science, which is often called into question.
Other important initiatives have included banning high grading in the North sea and the pelagic sector, and the use of jigging machines in the pelagic sector to enable catches to be sampled before the nets are lowered. The catch quota has been mentioned. It was not without controversy when it was first introduced, and many people were sceptical about it. However, although nobody would claim that it is a full solution to the problem in itself, applications to take part in the scheme are now exceeding the places available. It is clear that its success is starting to win over those who doubted its efficacy in the early stages.
The common fisheries policy is well past its sell-by date. Minor tinkering is no longer an option. We badly need a well-managed industry working on a regional basis with long-term planning, and with fishermen—the key stakeholders in the industry—fully brought into the heart of the process. If Ministers can deliver such a system in the European Union, they will be performing a great service to those who have for a long time called not just for an end to discards, but for an end to the system that causes them in the first place. I commend the motion to the House.
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on selecting the motion and my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on convincing the Committee to discuss it. This has been a useful and helpful debate. I also welcome the decision to hold the debate in the main Chamber. Many of us were concerned that the main fishing debate was not held here last December, and I hope that that can be put right later this year. I also hope that the Government will support the motion, so that we can send a clear, unanimous message on discards back to the European Commission. That would strengthen the hand of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) when he negotiates with what I perceive to be our European competitors.
I have campaigned on the issue of bringing our fishing waters back under UK national control, and on the issue of discards, in my constituency for the past 10 years as part of my campaign to sit on these green Benches. During the past decade, I have spoken to the academics at Plymouth university, the local fishing industry and the many experts who work in those agencies that make Plymouth one of the major marine scientific research global players. They say that, by bringing UK waters back under national control, we can conserve fishing stocks and potentially discourage the large Russian and other foreign factory ships and industrial trawlers that come into our waters and do so much damage to our fish stocks and our fishing industry.
I want at this stage to pay a real tribute to those people who, as the nursery rhyme goes, “put the little fishies on our little dishies”. Fishing is one of the most dangerous industries in our country. Our fishermen go to sea each day, in all kinds of weather, day and night, in winter and summer, to put Britain’s No. 1 traditional signature dish on our plates. It is ironic that, only recently, the House has been served a very real reminder of just how dangerous fishing is. I want to express my own personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, whose husband died in such tragic circumstances a few weeks ago. I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for coming to a packed funeral, where the local fishing communities on both sides of the Tamar river came together to pay tribute to one of our top fishermen. The Minister’s attendance made a real impact, and may I take this opportunity to thank him for buying me a drink afterwards as well?
However, I do not need to be reminded that sacrifices such as Neil Murray’s are a regular occurrence among the peninsula’s fishing communities. Anyone who walks down the Barbican in my constituency will see a large wall covered in memorials to Plymouth fishermen who were killed trying to feed us on a regular basis. The last time I went out on a boat, it was shortly after a force 7 gale and I have to admit that I was a little bit ill on several occasions. I learned that anyone who is able to get their boots off in time once they have fallen overboard will probably survive for about three minutes before almost certainly dying either by drowning or of the cold. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will speak to our hon. Friends in the Department for Transport to ensure that no more lives will be lost because of policy changes relating to our coastguards.
I am not going to pretend that I am as well informed on this issue as others, including my very good and hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, who has demonstrated her excellent understanding of the issues that face the industry. I am aware, however, that fishing is a totemic issue in the south-west, and that it focuses attitudes towards our membership of the EU. One of the biggest mistakes that Britain made in joining the European common market in the first place was to sign up to the common fisheries policy. It was designed to make European fishing grounds a common resource by giving access to all member states.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the initial mistake, but surely that mistake has been compounded, decade after decade, by successive Conservative, Labour and coalition Governments who have done absolutely nothing to correct the error that was made almost 40 years ago.
I do not disagree, but I hope that we now have an opportunity to turn the tide as far as that matter is concerned.
The stated aim of the common fisheries policy is to help to conserve fish stocks, but I believe that in the current form it is a wasteful policy which damages the environment and our fishing industry. It determines the amount of fish that each national fleet can catch. Employment in the industry has declined dramatically, especially here in the United Kingdom, and, despite reforms, fish stocks have continued to fall. I have always understood that the requirement for Britain to sign up to the CFP was a last-minute act; the six countries of France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Italy put it in at the last moment. This country was so keen to join the European Common Market, as it was then, that Geoffrey Rippon, who was leading the whole debate and our negotiations with our European competitors, agreed that we would sign up, much to their surprise. At the time, few envisaged that Austria, which I remind hon. Members has no coast, would also have the opportunity to vote on the CFP when it joined the European Union in 1994.
The hon. Gentleman makes a classic, tremendous point: Austria has a say but Scotland does not. Does he understand why I might be a Scottish nationalist?
I do not, as it happens. What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that this situation becomes a bargaining tool for other bits of policy which can be played around with.
Over the last few days, I have been inundated with e-mails and letters from people calling on me to support this motion and Channel 4’s Fish Fight campaign, and I suspect that a large number of other hon. Members have too. I give my support very enthusiastically. The idea that fishermen, who do such a dangerous job and are not particularly well paid, are fined for landing fish which do not fit a specific regulation and are thrown back into the water, is a total scandal. I welcome the Government’s commitment to fight for changes to the size of nets, but I hope that the Minister will press our European competitors to reform the CFP further, to allow us to decide which fish are taken out of our seas and who takes them out, and to stop this discarding policy.
It is a pleasure to speak in the House on this issue, and I commend and thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for securing the debate. Fishing is a very important factor to my constituency and although I extended this invitation to the Minister last year, I again invite him to visit the fishermen in Portavogie to get a better idea of what that means. I am sure that he will be anxious to take up that invitation and I look forward to his visit.
As we know, the fishing industry might not be a big contributor to the gross national product, but it has a big effect on some villages. Back in 1985, 260,000 fishermen in the European Union caught some 8 million tonnes of fish, and at that time, more fish were imported than exported. Things had changed by 2007, in that the catch was down and the number of people involved in the fishing industry had reduced—that was a concern. The EU fleet has 97,000 vessels of varying sizes. Fish farming produced a further 1 million tonnes of fish and shellfish and it employed another 85,000 people. So fishing is clearly an important sector in parts of the United Kingdom—it certainly is in the area that I represent.
I commend the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who is no longer in her place, on making a valuable contribution to the debate. She has many friends in Northern Ireland and she is oft in our thoughts and oft in our prayers. Fishing represents no more than 10% of local employment in any region of the EU, but in some areas, including the one I represent, it is a very important factor. Fishing features highly in the employment available in my area and in the village of Portavogie, so it is important that Community funds have been made available to fishing as a means of encouraging regional development.
I also commend the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) on the amendments she tabled and I am glad that they have been selected, because they would add to the motion and they make a valuable contribution.
Fresh fish sales have fallen, while demand for processed fish and prepared meals is growing. There has also been a shift towards more supermarket sales rather than restaurant sales. Employment has fallen over this period, mainly due, in my opinion, to European policy. That is why I am particularly pleased to speak in the debate. Rather than there being a fall in availability or demand, it is quite clear that the demand remains.
The EU is the world’s second largest fishing power after China. I put a question about China to a DEFRA Minister this morning. China seems to be batting up fish all over the world, putting pressure on our own industry. More than 2 million tonnes of fish products were exported in 2006, but more than 6 million tonnes have to be imported to meet EU needs. The competitiveness of the EU fish industry has also been affected by our own bureaucracy and the fact that our fishermen are simply not allowed to fish, so cannot provide the fish needed for the supermarkets.
With fuel costs so high, the end price is higher than for countries not within the EU, which also compounds the problem. We are constrained by red tape yet we have to compete with those who are able to fish as much as they want. It is hard to be competitive with people who have freedom to expand their business as they desire and as the need dictates, as opposed to being so restricted.
I recall that a Member spoke earlier about the Spanish armada. Well, the Spanish come regularly to plunder the Irish seas and other coasts around Great Britain. It sticks in the craw of many of us when we see that happening.
It is clear that something must change—and that something is the common fisheries policy. However, Europe does not see that the regulations need to be relaxed—indeed, it sees quite the opposite. It is so concerned with the so-called “scientific” reports that say there are no fish reserves that they will curb fishing completely, which will undoubtedly kill off any chance of fishermen in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom being able to make a living. The EU wants to cut the size of fleets and the time fishermen spend at sea. It is important to try to get a balance.
The Commission says there are still too many vessels chasing too few fish, and that ecological sustainability must take precedence over economic or social factors. In other words, just because a community has traditionally depended on fishing, it does not mean that it can continue to do so. That is a key issue for me as the elected representative for Strangford. It is particularly hard to take when I am consistently assured by fishermen that they can see schools upon schools of fish in the sea, yet they are not allowed to touch them.
I have spoken on this policy before, wearing other hats. I am a member of Ards borough council and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, so this issue is close to my heart. It is a pleasure to be here today to speak and co-operate with my English, Scots and Welsh counterparts to ensure that this unfair practice, which does not allow our fishermen to catch our fish in our sea, is brought to a close. This is a United Kingdom notice of motion, representing all the regions of the UK. In my opinion, the Irish sea has fish enough for our boats—an opinion backed up by the Fish Producers Organisation as well by as the Trawlermen’s Association.
The Minister will, I know, take this matter on board, put the work in and stand up tall to ensure that the fishing industry within the Province will not be subjected to a process that will mean no fishing industry at all in five years’ time as a result of European regulations. Something bred into people in our fishing villages will no longer be an option due to EU interference. That is what some of the fishermen are telling me.
We need a sustainable fishing industry. When I contacted one fish producer organisation, its representative reiterated to me that quayside prices, increasing overheads—especially fuel costs, to which a new “green” tax has recently contributed another 2p a litre—as well as the plethora of fishing regulations all challenge fishing vessel operators and are leading fishermen at least to consider throwing in the towel.
One of the main problems faced in places like Portavogie in my constituency is that most of the men worked on the boats and the women worked in one or two fish factories, but those factories have recently closed. Things are changing on the sea and on the land as well. Jobs are hard to find. Young people who relied on fishing in the past are now going into the civil service—which is also facing cuts. If the fishing industry has to bear any more pressure, there is every chance that more fishermen will leave their boats. There comes a point at which the sustainability of the industry comes into question.
In 2010, we in Northern Ireland ensured that we were at the forefront of innovation. That has been seen in the delivery of state-of-the-art new pelagic trawlers that represent the pinnacle of Europe’s fishing industry, in the significant investments in the onshore processing sector, and in investment in several more modern prawn trawlers. All that represents a vote of confidence in the future of this home-grown, privately owned industry.
I am informed by local industry organisations that UK fisheries Ministers tell the industry that fisheries management decisions must be based on the best available science, and so they should. Although we continue to have certain issues with the science, especially with regard to the abundance of cod in the Irish sea, it is not so much the science that presents us with a problem as the European Commission’s interpretation of it. Many of the Commission’s TAC proposals have less to do with negative science than with the delivery of a political aspiration. In the Irish sea, the science states that stock has increased by 8% in the past two years.
There are many other issues with which time does not permit me to deal, such as cod recovery. What is clear, however, is that the opinions of fishermen and fish producers must be listened to and acted upon. I hope that the motion will bring that about. The actions of the Faroe Islands and Iceland of late have shown that the EU is not in control of fisheries. It must adopt a sensible approach and take account of the views of those who are on the seas every day and whose livelihood depends on stock replenishment. They know the seas better than any flown-in scientist ever could.
The long-term cod recovery regulation that was agreed in November 2008 contained a commitment to reviewing the plan after three years. I ask the Minister to ensure that that review now begins. The industry was encouraged to hear recently from DEFRA officials that the review should be “fundamental” in nature and should not, as the Commission has previously suggested, examine the implementation of the 2008 regulation. Such a fundamental review should be delivered as a matter of urgency, and I hope that the Minister will respond to that point when he sums up the debate.
Recent media coverage has highlighted concern about the level of discards among European fishing fleets. Let me stress that that concern is shared by locally based commercial fishermen. As other Members have pointed out, they are not ignoring the problem by any means. They want to sort it out: they want a balance as well. It should be borne in mind that much discarding is a result of EU regulation. I have received numerous e-mails from environmentalists and concerned constituents asking me to ensure that there is an end to the senseless waste of fish and the ignoring of fishermen’s voices. As every Member has said today, it is a scandal, a shame and immoral for fish to be thrown back into the sea when they could be used.
While fishermen in other areas continue to explore ways of reducing discards of cod and to monitor their positive results through, for instance, the CCTV and catch quota trials in the North Sea, Northern Ireland fishermen working with fisheries scientists have delivered their own results, and, as other Members have mentioned, the results are similar in Scotland. However, the work will not stop there. A project aimed at a further reduction of discards of whiting and haddock is already being planned. Fishermen are clearly leading the charge, but the fear persists that the European Commission will interpret their results—together with the year-on-year reductions in landings of cod that are due to reductions in the amount of cod that fishermen are permitted to land by Europe—as evidence that fewer and fewer cod are left in the Irish sea. Let us ensure that the evidence base is in favour of fishermen and what they do.
The current policy is not good for fishermen or for the sea. It is long past time that the House and its Members took decisive action to deal with the situation and to secure the right of fishing folk to fish the sea, make their living and raise their families without the unnecessary interference of the EU. I firmly support the motion, and heartily congratulate the Members who have enabled us to debate it. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and to supporting him in Europe when he does his best for the fishing industry and the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on tabling the motion, and congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allowing it to be debated on the Floor of the House. Fishing is an important subject, and it is important for us to debate it on the Floor of the House rather than, as happened last December, in Westminster Hall.
It is clear that discarding must stop. We must end the practice of returning to the sea fish that will not survive. Discarding fish is not only a moral and environmental issue; it is a needless waste of valuable economic and food resources. It also results in considerable amounts of data being lost to scientists, who are trying to calculate fish stocks accurately in order to inform fisheries management.
As has been emphasised throughout our debate, discarding is not caused by bad behaviour by fishermen. It has been forced upon them by a series of unworkable EU regulations. When calculating annual quotas, the European Commission assumes that a very large percentage of the catch will be discarded back into the sea, but it has no idea of the actual proportion. Various estimates have been made, but they have always had a wide margin of error. Because the discards are not measured, we have no idea how much dead fish is thrown back into the sea. European fisheries are currently regulated by total allowable catches or TACs, but they do not in any way put a cap on catches. They measure and place a cap on landings of fish at port; what is measured is not the amount of fish that are killed, but the amount of fish landed at the port. The system therefore serves to obscure the scandal of discards.
The vast majority of discarding occurs in mixed fisheries. That is because the current regulations are unable to cope with mixed fisheries. The main control of activity is single-species TACs, but that is overlaid with other, complicated regulations, such as catch compositions, days at sea and effort control. These complicated regulations do not mirror the contents of the ecosystem. Fish do not swim around in shoals neatly made up of exactly the same proportions of the different species as laid down by the Commission. The fish are not co-operative; they are caught in very different abundances and combinations from day to day. As a result, the requirement to discard to meet the rules is created.
In pursuit of solutions, there has been a great deal of innovation and experiment. The Scottish fishing industry has led the way, such as through the development of selective nets to let unwanted fish go and “real time closures” to avoid catching such fish in the first place. Although a lot of good work has been done at the local level in many parts of Europe, what has been lacking are Commission initiatives to address the regulatory faults underlying the mixed fishery problem.
There is widespread agreement that regional control is the way forward. Central control from Brussels has failed. The regional advisory councils or RACs are a significant step in the right direction, but they are only a first step. They must develop into decision-making bodies, and common fisheries policy reforms must include allowing the current list of initiatives to be developed and translated into local regulations that best fit local circumstances. All the stakeholders in European fisheries must strive for that.
We must have science-based, long-term management plans that provide a secure and sustainable future for fishing communities throughout Europe and for the environment. The current regulations that force fishermen working in a mixed fishery to discard must be changed, such as by allowing fishermen to match quotas with catches through an improved, transparent system of quota transfers.
If we have better regulation that is determined at a more local level and science-based, long-term management plans, we can make our fishing industry sustainable for both fish and fishermen. If I may conclude by amending a quote by a former eminent Member of this House, we must be tough on discards, and tough on the causes of discards.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Luton is land-locked and nowhere near a fishery, but I have a passionate interest in and concern about fishing and fish stocks. Indeed, the first question I asked of the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time concerned the common fisheries policy—he said that he had expected the question to come from his side of the House, rather than mine. However, I have been pursuing unashamedly the abolition of the CFP, and if not that, we should at least give notice that we plan to seek a derogation for Britain, because the fact is that our seas have been overfished. We have had possibly millions of tonnes of discards—certainly hundreds of thousands.
It is impossible to monitor what is done by fishing vessels from other countries. The only way to overcome that problem is to get back Britain’s historic fishing waters within the 200-mile limit—the median line. British vessels could then fish in those areas, French vessels could fish in French areas and Spanish vessels could fish in Spanish areas. They could have their own fishing grounds the same as we do. The contrast, of course, is with Norway, where there are no discards and no overfishing, all vessels and landings are monitored and there is no problem. It manages its fish stocks properly.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that Norway does not have such mixed fisheries as we do in UK waters, so the conservation measures that the Norwegians pursue often would not work in the mixed fisheries in UK waters.
I defer to the hon. Lady, who obviously has an advantage over me in having knowledge of the detail of fishing. However, I am confident that if there was less fishing in British waters, there would not be a problem with shortages and overfishing, and that the need to disaggregate fishing would not be so great if there were plenty of fish, no overfishing and no diminution of fishing stocks.
The general point, however, is that member states ought to be able to manage their own fishing waters and protect them from the depredations of other nations. I have been reading in the Library that there is a multibillion pound industry in pirate fishing across the world. I am sure that we are a law-abiding country and fishermen know that their catches are monitored, but can we trust other nations to do the same even within the EU? There is the suspicion that other nations do not monitor their landings and their catches like we do, and it would take a long time for me to be persuaded that some of those nations do it as well as we do.
Is one of the problems not that although we are very good at imposing and policing regulation, places such as Spain are not as good because the regulators are some way away from the ports?
Indeed. I was going to say that I agreed with every word of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. It was a very good speech. I should also compliment the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who moved the motion, which I hope we can all support, and the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who made a brave and wonderfully informative speech. I felt that I was being educated about the fishing industry while listening to her. It is a rare privilege for us to have someone with her expertise in the Chamber.
I believe that we are considering reform—we have tried it before, and no doubt incremental changes will continue to be made—but we will not win the battle against overfishing until the CFP is history. As I have said before in the Chamber, I think that the Government should give notice that at some point Britain will seek a derogation from the CFP if it is not abandoned altogether. Our nation has possibly the largest coastline and fisheries in the EU, and decisions are being made about our fishing industry and livelihoods by land-locked nations such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria that have no particular interest and can be easily bought off in any European Commission vote.
As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that as well as this having splendid motion it is equally important, whatever the consequences of the vote, that we ensure we apply our own sovereignty if the Government, the European Commission, the European Union and the European Court of Justice are not prepared to heed the message that the House sends out? We must assert our sovereignty and override the European legislation where necessary.
I personally agree very strongly with the hon. Gentleman, but we might have some difficulty persuading a majority of the House to agree with us. I believe that the European Commission and the European Union will not shift until they have the sense that Britain is serious about wanting to abandon the common fisheries policy or seek a derogation.
My hon. Friend will know that I am quite a strong pro-European, but fishing gets me nearer to his camp than I might normally be. My constituency is right in the middle of England, nowhere near the sea, but my constituents care about this issue. They certainly care about discards and about the quality of the sea and of the fish in it. Why can we not get an agreement that works for this country within the European Union? Let me remind my hon. Friend that before the European Union existed, it was a total dog-eat-dog mess. It might not have been dogfish, but it was dog eat dog and it was worse than it is now.
Going back to what happened before the common fisheries policy might not be the best idea. We are now living in an age in which we are more sensible about these things and I would like to think that we would have an industry that was properly regulated by our Government on behalf of our consumers and our fishermen.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the latest device from Europe to get their hands on the fish from our seas—I am speaking particularly of Scotland? The internationally tradeable individual transferable quotas will mean the slow buying off of fishing rights for future generations by big industry fishing, which would mean that future generations on the Scottish coast might see fishing happening around the coast but would have no right to go near it. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the approach, which is new today from the European Union, and it must be resisted by all quarters of this House at all costs.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I have the BBC news sheet in my hand, which is headlined, “EU fisheries reform would ‘privatise oceans’.” Things will be handed over, no doubt, to Spanish and French fishermen who will have long-term quotas and who can do what they like outside our control.
This is not about nationalism. It is about every nation being responsible for managing its fisheries. The only way to guarantee that they will be managed properly will be for each nation to know that it has to look after and husband its own stocks and fishing industry. If people know that they can cheat by stealing fish from other countries, possibly not even doing discards, doing secret landings and cheating the system, I have no doubt that they will do it.
Just recently, the British public have shown themselves to be strongly incensed by any kind of cheating. Members of the House, some of whom have suffered the penalties of the law, have known the anger of the British people. I think that the British people can be just as angry about cheating on fishing, and the only way to overcome that is to re-establish national fishing waters for all nations in the European Union and for each nation to manage its own fishing stocks, its own fishing industries and the fishing boats that fish within those waters.
Billions of pounds of fish have been lost to Britain. Being in the common fisheries policy has not only had an economic cost to Britain but has been an environmentally damaging experience. One does not necessarily want to push for a nationalistic view, but the reality is that we have been ripped off by the common fisheries policy and we have a massive balance of trade deficit with the rest of the European Union. I would like to think that the motion could go someway towards helping to redress that balance.
I am doing this not because I am a little Englander, or even a big Englander or a big Britisher. I care about fish stocks, and I care about the fishing industry and about making sure that the marine environment is protected for the long term. The only way to do that is by having countries manage their own fisheries.
Thank you for your patience with me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was contributing to the debate on education in Westminster Hall, which I helped to secure, and being in two places at once is not an ability that I can establish. I have enjoyed the debate that I have listened to so far and I intend to read the report of it as soon as it is available later tonight.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing the debate along with other hon. Members. I admit that I was not one of those who signed the early-day motion because I do not sign early-day motions. There was a clause in it about using enforced temporary closures to manage fisheries of which I could not have approved because such practices have led to problems in my constituency, with the under-10 metre fleet lurching from crisis to crisis because of temporary closures here and there. I am delighted that this wonderful motion does not contain that clause, so I can give my full support to the intentions behind it.
It is fair to say that discards are a disgrace. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) has previously related to the House the success of Project 50% and I will not steal her thunder because I am sure she will speak about it again, but I wanted to say that we can learn from some really good examples around the British isles of how to do something about discards. As the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) has said, this is about addressing local regulations. Fishermen in my part of the world often catch far more than the quota they are allowed but will land only what they are legally allowed to land. Sadly, the discards—the smaller fish—end up going back into the sea. Fishermen need to secure the maximum price for their fish, so they pick only the best and the rest sadly go to waste. We need to get around that problem. I do not blame them for doing that because that is their business and that is all they are allowed to do. Unlike during world war two when fish was the only major foodstuff that was not rationed, our total allowable catch is going down nowadays.
I said I would keep my comments short, but I want to talk about the common fisheries policy. The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) was right to suggest that we should have control of our fisheries. Constituents find it very difficult to understand that countries with no sea or fishing whatever should have an equal voice to that of the United Kingdom on the common fisheries policy. I wonder whether the Minister would consider afresh working with colleagues in the European Union and saying that the CFP does not work at all so we need to start again. What matters is not the politics of fish but the fish, fishermen and constituents. To that end, I suggest that we should scrap the current Fisheries Council and reconstitute it to include only countries with fishing fleets in the European Union. Frankly, if countries such as Austria can use their place on the Council as a bargaining chip for other European negotiations, that short changes our country.
Is the hon. Lady seriously suggesting that we should take all international agreements, whether they are European or international—at a time of threat from global warming, when we need sustainable solutions for our oceans and seas, which must be reached through co-operation—and say that everyone can do as they like? Is she suggesting that we should say that Iceland can hunt whales and everyone else can catch what they like?
That is not what I am suggesting at all. I am suggesting that the artificial Fisheries Council is making policy, but that some of the member states on it have no interest in fishing whatever and therefore simply trade their votes for influence over other arrangements. I appreciate that my suggestions are radical, but is this not a debate for ideas? Of course, I am not the Minister—I am not the person who has to go to Brussels to do the negotiations—but if someone keeps walking down a street and falling into a hole and does not change their route they will for ever be trying to get out of the hole. Speaking for myself and other hon. Members present, I think that something we can do as new politicians is say that if fisheries policy has not worked and stocks are not recovering we should try something new.
I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that rather than limiting ourselves to working only with the European Union we should work with non-European Union countries—Iceland, Norway or other neighbouring countries—to tackle the wider challenges.
I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I am afraid that I will not cede the floor to the hon. Gentleman.
Let us develop the debate by considering what we can do locally. The creation of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities is a useful step in the right direction, but they must take fishermen with them. I did a PhD in chemistry, so I accept that evidence is available. Science shows that if there is evidence, one can propose a theory around it. Often, people have an argument about whether that theory is right, and one must continually build evidence. An important part of that evidence should be the knowledge and understanding of the fishermen who fish those waters every day. It is frustrating when fishermen say that there are plenty of fish out there, or they are told that they can fish for cod, when the cod were there three or four months ago but it is now too late.
Fishermen have to be involved, and science has to be involved. Sadly, fish have become subject to politics. Regrettably, every year we seem to have a crisis about quotas, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister fought the fight to get more fish for our fishermen, so that our ever diminishing industry manages to stay alive for another season. I hope that we can end this ridiculous quota swap and give fishermen a guarantee of a sustainable future.
I was a little surprised by reports that fishermen are going to be paid to fish for plastic, rather than fish—that is one of the ideas coming from the European Union—which would be rather disheartening for our inshore fleet. I will not give another analogy, but I imagine that the fishermen with whom I am in touch would say that if all that they have to do is fish for plastic, they might as well put their boats aside.
I shall bring my comments to a halt, because I believe that there are plenty of people who have great experience of fishing. I do not pretend to do so—I speak only for a small number of fishermen in my constituency, but they are culturally and socially important. If the United Kingdom loses the battle for fish, it will be a sad loss for our country.
One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1861, using wooden boats and primitive technology, UK fishermen caught 12 to 15 times more cod in the North sea than they do today with sophisticated sonar to track the fish and extraordinarily advanced gear and nets to catch those fish. That is why this debate is important.
At the heart of the motion is the demand that CFP reforms adopt
“an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management”.
Some people may misinterpret that as putting the benefit of the fish before the benefit of the fishers, but without sustainable fish stocks there is no sustainable fishing industry. The history of our coastline, sadly, bears witness to that, as fishing communities from Stonehaven to Newcastle, from Grimsby to Cornwall, have declined over the past century.
I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for pressing the issue both inside and outside the House, and to the GLOBE secretariat, whose work on a global oceans recovery strategy has been under way for the past two years as part of the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems, which I chair. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that regard. The Minister has co-operated with the GLOBE commission, and I am delighted that he will respond to the debate. I am sure that he will wish to be constructive, as always.
Last night I attended the launch of Project Ocean at Selfridges. The Prince of Wales opened proceedings, followed by a private party attended by Elle Macpherson, the folk rock band Noah and the Whales—[Hon. Members: “Whale!”] It is not my normal Wednesday evening activity, and I have no doubt that I was invited only to add a bit of glamour to the event. How extraordinary that fish discards have now become so sexy. I pay tribute to Selfridges and to the work of the Zoological Society of London. I pay particular tribute to the work of Professor Jonathan Baillie and Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford university, not only for the sound science that they have brought to Project Ocean and their work on CFP reform, but for helping to popularise it in this way.
I am terribly disappointed that I was unable to see my hon. Friend adding glamour at the event he referred to. Would he give some message to my constituents, who are particularly concerned about discards, on how Project Ocean will deal with that problem and what it can add?
I am very pleased to do so. There are three key areas of discards, which are often not well understood: over-quota discards, which are calculated to be about 22%; undersized discards, which are calculated to be about 24%; and non-commercial discards, which are calculated to be about 54% of discards. I will deal with each of these in turn, but first I want to talk about the importance of the ecosystems-based approach.
The ecosystems-based approach is fundamental to sustainable environmental management. It establishes a strategy for the management and sustainable use of natural resources by considering them in the context of their role in the entire ecosystem. The current EU common fisheries policy and the EU marine strategy framework directive already commit the EU, in principle, to this ecosystems-based approach. The tragedy is that that has not been reflected in practice.
True ecosystems-based fisheries management would require systemic reform through the introduction of a regionalised management framework. A regionalised management system within Europe would divide the EU fisheries into management regions according to ecosystems, rather than nations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) suggested. Unfortunately, fish do not carry passports about their person. They do not know when they are travelling from one nation’s waters into another’s. Therefore, one must look at the ecosystem and not simply the national boundaries.
My simple point is that nothing will happen in terms of the proper management of fisheries without self-interest—the self-interest of the member states and of their fishing industries. If a simple regional and scientific basis is used, that essential self-interest will not be built into the system.
I am glad that my hon. Friend makes that point, because that is exactly what I wish to challenge. It seems to me that we can assure the fishing industry and fishers that there is real self-interest in promoting this approach.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am already pressed enough for time.
Certain decision-making powers would be devolved to regional management bodies, in consultation with local stakeholders, in order to tailor the application of central policy objectives for EU fisheries to the specifics of each ecosystem. A fully regionalised management system would include the following features: quotas allocated on the basis of ecosystem regions in order to manage fishing pressure according to the necessities of the different ecosystems; regular scientific assessment of all marine species, not just fish stocks, within a given eco-region to establish the impact of fishing on the ecosystem as a whole; quota allocation on the basis of eco-regions with different licences used in different ecosystem regions and no transfers between the regions.
The discards in the North sea are between 40% and 60% of total catch, while in other European fisheries, such as that for west of Scotland cod, they can total as much as 90%. The vast majority of fish discarded overboard of course die. In an effort to limit fishing to sustainable levels, EU regulations under the common fisheries policy prohibit the landing of commercial species above a given annual quota. However, in practice this often results in the discarding of thousands of tonnes of saleable fish—the over-quota discards—as fishers are forced to cast overboard their excess or non-target catch before landing, so as not to contravene EU law.
The result is a policy that fails to prevent fish mortality above levels deemed biologically sustainable. That is a particular problem in mixed fisheries—the majority of EU fisheries—where fishers will catch more than their landing quota for one species as they continue fishing for others that swim with it, in order to maintain fishing throughout the year. The Government estimate that over-quota species account for about 22% of English and Welsh discards.
The introduction of catch quotas in place of the current landing quotas would make fishers accountable for their total catch, rather than for what they land, thereby eliminating the legal catch and discard of over-quota fish. The current CFP also prohibits the landing of quota species below a certain minimum landing size—MLS—to ensure that they are not caught before reaching maturity, thus preserving the reproductive capacity of the stock. In practice, however, many under-sized fish are still caught and simply discarded at sea. An estimated 24% of discards are quota species below legal MLS, so too small to land. The introduction of minimum catch sizes in place of minimum landing sizes has been successful in Norway in incentivising the use of selective gear in fisheries and minimising the catch and mortality of under-sized fish.
An estimated 54% of English and Welsh discards are of non-commercial species caught as by-catch. Stimulating the creation of new or stronger markets for under-utilised sustainable species such as dab and coley in UK fisheries could result in the elimination of unnecessary waste, greater profits for fishers and a reduction in fishing pressure on other more popular and over-exploited species. We need to be careful, however, that that policy does not encourage the creation of markets for species whose population could not support a sudden increase in harvesting.
There is currently no obligation to conduct regular stock assessments for most non-commercial species in EU waters, as they are not subject to quota restrictions, so there is little understanding of the impact that increased fishing of them would have on their stocks and on the wider ecosystem. The first priority of any policy that aims to eliminate discards and improve demand for under-utilised species, therefore, should be to mandate regular stock assessments for all species, with a view to introducing management plans, including catch quotas, for all species caught in EU fisheries.
At the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development in 2002, the EU committed to achieving a maximum sustainable yield for all fish stocks by 2015 at the latest, but in 2010 it estimated that 72% of its fisheries remained overfished, with 20% fished beyond safe biological limits, risking the wholesale collapse of those fisheries.
The EU marine strategy framework directive requires that all EU fisheries achieve good environmental status by 2020, which includes the attainment of sustainable fishing levels for all stocks. The European Commission requests scientific advice for the establishment of fisheries management plans on the basis of sustainability, but the European Council is under no obligation to adhere to that advice when agreeing total annual quotas for stocks. The result is that the European Council sets total allowable catch limits that are on average 34% higher than the scientifically recommended sustainable limits.
Ensuring that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels is an absolute prerequisite of the future profitability and survival of EU fisheries. By requiring the delivery of that target by 2015, we will ensure that the EU fulfils its international and domestic commitments to achieve sustainable fisheries and end overfishing.
A legal requirement to end overfishing of all fish and shellfish by 2015 will necessitate the following key measures: first, rendering scientific advice binding, thus preventing quotas from exceeding biologically sustainable limits; and secondly, introducing stock assessments and management plans for all fish and shellfish, including non-commercial species that are currently unmanaged, in order to establish sustainable limits for harvesting.
Co-management is an approach whereby Government authorities involve local communities and other stakeholders in management decision making, monitoring and surveillance. The approach aims to encourage co-operation and a shared sense of responsibility, and it has been shown to improve compliance with regulations as well as to improve the effectiveness of management measures, because it draws upon community knowledge to address local socio-economic and ecological issues.
The establishment of regional advisory councils is cited as a key success of the 2002 CFP reform, because they have served as forums for stakeholders to inform policy implementation at the regional level, but they have no decision-making powers.
Small-scale and artisanal fishing represents a vital link between the industry and historical coastal fishing communities, and often utilises lower-impact methods—more environmentally sustainable methods of fishing that draw on local traditional knowledge. A future common fisheries policy must reverse the balance of incentives by allocating access rights to fisheries on the basis of environmental sustainability, so giving priority to vessels that utilise selective gear and low-impact methods of fishing. By enabling the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation for UK and foreign fishing vessels within its inshore fisheries, without recourse to the European Commission, we would regain powers to determine and manage our coastal marine ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) spoke of the importance of ITQs—individual transferable quotas—and the problems that will arise from them. Under this proposal, which is probably the most dramatic in impact of any EU proposal, skippers would be guaranteed shares of national quotas for periods of at least 15 years, which they could trade among themselves—even, if the relevant national Government agree, with fleets from other countries. This is already practised on a smaller scale in several EU member states, including the UK, but it has been taken much further in other countries.
A global survey published three years ago showed that fisheries managed using ITQs were half as likely to collapse as others, which is one of the reasons why the Commission is so enthusiastic about them. However, the blanket nature of its proposals gives rise to serious concerns, and I echo those that the hon. Gentleman expressed. Ecologically, ITQs diminish overfishing and seek to protect the sustainability of fishing in the area concerned, but experience shows that they can give rise to the privatisation of fisheries. That is a very serious point, which the Minister has to take on board.
I have no more time left, so I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Order. The wind-ups are going to start at half-past 5. Seven people wish to catch my eye, so if they speak for a shade under six minutes, that means that everybody will get in. I will rely on your generosity for that. I call Eric Ollerenshaw.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will try to keep to my limit.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing this debate, particularly for the way in which it has been conducted and the experience that has been brought to it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), I do not claim to be an expert in this field, but I do represent the town of Fleetwood. This year marks 175 years since its foundation, and for all those years it has been synonymous with the fishing industry. Indeed, in the 19th century Fleetwood was at the end of the west coast main line, principally to enable fish landed there to get to Billingsgate as fresh as possible. Being new to the fish world, as I call it, I have had to learn at first hand the stories and legends from fishermen. Believe me, some of those are long and involved, but I sat there listening patiently. As other hon. Members have said, the hurt that they feel at the tragedy that they have endured through the devastation of their once-proud industry is very apparent.
Fleetwood, more than most, has seen its fishing industry destroyed in the 20th century. The port is now down to a few dozen registered boats with perhaps two or three boats landing fish, mainly shellfish. The crazy irony of the history of fishing in this country is illustrated by the fact that Fleetwood’s success still lies in fish processing. Hundreds of tonnes of fish now arrive in Fleetwood by truck from every port in England because of the large scale of Fleetwood’s fish processors, which are still on the docks, but the docks do not land any more fresh fish. That is what we have come to. It is difficult to explain the impact that this decline in fishing has had over the years on the morale of a town where most people claim descent from the original dozen fishing families around whom it developed. These intricacies go back years. Indeed, with the good advice of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), for which I am very grateful, I am still dealing with compensation claims that go back to the Icelandic cod wars.
Like other Members, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on the record for her advice. She has been unstinting in her help, and in sharing her knowledge and passion for the subject. She has taught me a great deal.
This debate is rightly focused on discards, an issue that has united fishermen and the public like no other issue in recent years. It is incredible that from primary school children through to politicians, everybody sees the sense of the argument about the scale of the discarding, the moral condemnation of it, and the economic wrongs it has created. As an ex-history teacher, I compare it to prohibition, because it is a policy that has been so counter-productive in terms of its original aims that it will go down in the history books. I fully support the motion, given that discards in the North sea alone equate to some 500,000 to 800,000 tonnes a year. That is waste on an incredible scale.
Discarding is also wrong because there appear to be solutions, and I am pleased that the Government have supported some of those. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park mentioned the pilots for cod quotas, which have prevented discards. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall mentioned the intricacies of net size, which again have prevented discards. I have looked at the 50% scheme in Brixham, which has received widespread praise. All those solutions have presented incentives to fishermen, as conservation is in their interests.
I believe that this campaign has demonstrated, once and for all, that fishermen and the public understand the need for managed conservation. I hope that the success of the pilots and the public support will provide the Minister with backing when he goes to Brussels. He might not achieve the scrapping of the common fisheries policy, which many of us want, but he will now go armed with the support of this House and of a country united in a demand for real reform.
As hon. Members have said, discards are just the tip of the iceberg of things that have wrecked the fishing industry. Fishermen in my constituency are fighting for realistic compensation for the increasing areas of Morecambe bay being filled with wind turbines, with the support of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It has amazed me that there is no statutory compensation, and that every fisherman has to fight individually for compensation. At the same time, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby reminded us, marine conservation zones are spreading, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is on the fishermen’s backs, fishermen are involved in consultation, and they are fighting for compensation and quotas. One sometimes wonders what time fishermen have left actually to go fishing, in between all the demands placed on them.
We are getting to the point where so many Departments have a slice of our seas that perhaps we need a Secretary of State for the seas. Perhaps I would not be as radical as my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal, but something major needs to happen if we are to alter the decline that we have seen, and the casual treatment, by previous Governments of all parties, of the great seas around us. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) talked about farmers. I have always wondered how we can manage to protect the environment in national parks successfully, and to sustain real business in which farmers are a fundamental part of saving that environment, when we cannot manage to do that out at sea.
The Fish Fight has brought together fishermen, processors, retailers, consumers and—dare I say it?—politicians of all parties, as we have seen today. Its success may well be the signal that we can finally start on the long road back to protecting one of our greatest resources: the seas that make these islands to which we all belong.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing this debate on the important issue of fish discards. I rarely sign early-day motions, but I felt compelled to support his recent motion on fish discards, because the way in which we kill unnecessarily and throw back fish on an industrial scale is an absolute scandal that, as many Members have said, has continued for far too long.
We should recognise that this is not a new problem. The environmental consequences of the common fisheries policy have been recognised and argued over for more than 20 years, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) said. I remember speaking about the scandal of fish discards as long ago as 1999 when I was a candidate for another party.
We should note, though, that some modest progress has been made over the past decade. The volume of fish discarded was actually reduced from 2002 to 2008. However, with some estimates suggesting that we are still throwing away more than half of all the fish caught, it is clear that we are still only scratching the surface and that significant changes are required.
Three key factors are driving the practice of discards: the lack of a market, the quota system and the problem of undersized fish. On the first of those, DEFRA estimates that more than half of all the fish that are discarded are those for which there is currently no market. That is not the fault of the CFP, but it is the largest single area in which we could make a difference.
One of the most important outcomes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Hugh’s Fish Fight” series was the call for, and the beginning of, the creation of demand for other fish species. When I recently visited Falfish, a fish processor in my constituency, it reported a significant increase, for instance, in demand for pouting. Although far smaller than cod, it has a similar texture and can be used as a substitute. We all have a role to play in creating a market for currently unfashionable fish—consumers by being more adventurous, the industry and processors by doing more to market less popular fish and the Government through projects such as their Fishing for the Markets scheme.
The other causes of fish discards relate to the CFP. DEFRA figures estimate that 22% of all discards are fish for which there is no quota, and that 24% are undersized. I have to say that I think that last figure understates the problem, because it is calculated on weight rather than the number of fish. Addressing those two problems is where we need meaningful change.
As I have said, the problem with the CFP is that we have talked about it for a long time but nothing has changed. If one thing has really been clear over the past 20 years, it is that the most successful policy innovation has taken place when national Governments have been free to experiment with new ideas and approaches. We have a bit of a problem with the structure and culture of the EU, because it does not lend itself to an evidence-based policy approach. All too often, policy development becomes a mere negotiation and the outcome is a policy based on the lowest common denominator rather than one informed by the power of ideas. The EU is currently considering another round of CFP reform, and we will soon find out whether it is now fit for purpose or whether important issues such as fisheries policy require a quality of thinking and reasoning that is simply beyond institutions such as the EU.
Another problem is that a one-size-fits-all policy cannot cover such a wide area. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said that fish do not carry national passports or recognise national borders, but they do not carry EU passports or recognise EU waters either.
It is also misleading to talk as though fish all behave in the same way. Iceland talks about migratory fish, straddling stocks and non-migratory fish, so the idea that all fish are the same is highly misleading. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to make that point, because I did not have a chance when the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) was speaking.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I could not agree more. It is true that fish do not recognise national waters, but it is important that we have a tailored local solution to protect our ecosystems. We should not get bogged down in whether waters are national or European. That is why, like the hon. Member for Brent North, I am attracted to the idea of breaking up the current structure of the CFP and putting in place a regionalised management system. It could retain the common objectives of protecting the ecosystem, having sustainable fishing and minimising discards, but the delivery of those common objectives would vary in response to local realities.
I wish to say a little about some of the conclusions that we can draw from successful experiments that other countries have come up with. First, Norway has found a way of dealing with the discards caused by fish caught over quota by allowing fishermen to land those fish but paying them only a fraction of the market price. Let us consider that. Secondly, Norway and Scotland have both had success with real-time closures, with areas being closed to fishing when there is a problem with excessive by-catch. That creates an incentive for the industry to use netting gear that reduces by-catch, so let us consider that, too.
Thirdly, our fishermen in the south-west are involved in a really successful project, Project 50%, which has brought together fishermen and scientists to develop new fishing practices that have dramatically cut fish discards. Let us consider that, too. Finally, Cornish fisherman led the way by having the first no-take zone within European waters, so that there is a sanctuary for spawning fish. We should also consider that.
If we are serious about developing a sustainable approach to fishing, we need to change the basis on which quota is allocated. Rather than simply basing it on some historical formula or rights, we should reward good fishing practices by giving the most sustainable fishermen the most quota. That could act as a powerful incentive. Those who adopt good fishing practices that substantially reduce by-catch will be allocated more quota, as will producer organisations that are the most successful at creating markets for unfashionable fish species, whereas producers who turn a blind eye to the need to reduce discards and continue as if nothing has changed will face losing some of their quota.
If we adopt such solutions, we can improve the CFP and dramatically reduce our fish discards.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on his tireless efforts to reduce fish discards. All hon. Members understand the importance of fishing to our local economies, but I represent Brixham, which lands the highest-value catch in England. That represents more than £17 million for our local and national economy. That is real jobs, not just at sea but on land, and a very valuable export market.
I thank the fisheries Minister for his recent visit. He is now aware of Project 50%, which is being carried out in Brixham, to which many hon. Members have paid tribute. I should like to recognise the work of Darren Edwards, the net designer, and scientists at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. Shaun Gibbs, who presented the results of Project 50% to Maria Damanaki, and other trawlermen, have fitted cameras to their trawlers to monitor catches, so that we can get away from the existing quota system. They are taking part in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea area 7e sole catch quota trial.
I also recognise the work of south-west fish producers, who are working with the Government through the Fishing for the Markets project to look at how to achieve better sales for unusual fish, such as pout, whiting, gurnard and dragonet. I hesitate to give anyone cooking advice—my family certainly do not miss my cooking back at home—but all one has to do with gurnard is stick it in the oven with a bit of butter and rosemary. Nothing else is required, and it is absolutely delicious. I commend gurnard to the House!
Fisherman in Brixham and surrounding areas have made extensive efforts to reduce discards—all hon. Members will recognise that—but we can imagine their frustration. They have reduced their fishing effort and taken part in a series of trials to reduce discards, at great personal cost, and improved the sustainability of the mixed fishery in the English channel, only to find that Dutch fly-draggers that have fished more than their quotas and destroyed their fishing grounds in the North sea are coming over and having the same impact in our waters. That is extremely demoralising for our fishermen.
The CFP is undoubtedly outdated and unsustainable, but we must be careful how we implement measures on discards. I was reassured that the wording of the motion was altered so that we recognise that not all species that are thrown back into the sea die. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who is very experienced, drew attention to the fact that if we landed all the crab that we catch, crab would become extinct, which is an important point. We must also recognise the efforts made in the lobster fisheries, which now notch rather than land buried, egg-bearing lobsters, which has greatly increased fish stocks locally. Therefore, we need to be careful how we talk about discarding, and look at all the alternative measures that have been outlined, which I hope the Minister will consider.
I know that the Minister works tirelessly on behalf of our fishing industry, but we would also like to see some fairness. I am in the difficult position of representing both the under-10 and the over-10 metre fleets, which clearly have different needs, as we all recognise. However, if we are to have fairness, their efforts must not be undermined by foreign vessels. I am sure that all Members would ask the Minister to press home the point in Europe that this is the only way forward. However, I know that many other Members wish to speak, so with that I will take my seat.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on securing this debate. May I also associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) about our hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall?
In the limited time available I would like to support the part of the motion that talks about necessary reforms to the policy affecting small-scale fishermen. I would like to share with the House the example of a group of fishermen in my constituency which I hope will underline all the valuable contributions that we have heard from across the House—something that, in itself, underlines the fact that we need to make more decisions here in the UK about our fishing fleet.
I represent a maritime constituency. Ensuring that we manage our marine environment and support sustainable fishing is vital to me and my constituents. We have perhaps the most sustainable fishery in Cornwall, at the Fal river oyster fishery, which is officially known as the Port of Truro oyster fishery. It is the last oyster fishery in Europe harvested under sail, by Europe’s last commercial sailing fleet. We have native oysters in the River Fal, which have been harvested in more or less the same, highly sustainable fashion, without the use of mechanical power, for more than 500 years.
Byelaws introduced by the Truro Corporation back in the 19th century protect the Fal’s beds from over-exploitation by limiting harvesting to non-mechanical means. That means relying on wind and tide, with sail-powered working boats towing the dredges across the beds in a fashion known as “drift”. Many of the historic vessels used have been on and off the water for more than 150 years, and are used for fishing in the winter and racing in the summer. Further up the river, hand-rowed punts are used with the same dredges. Any oyster that is smaller than the statutory two and five-eighths of an inch in diameter is discarded and returned to the river bed to grow on. After the oysters have been harvested, they are purified and sold all over the world. They are very popular in France, although more than 10,000 oysters are consumed during the immensely popular annual Falmouth oyster festival, which is held each autumn.
The number of licences issued by the Port of Truro harbour authority fluctuates each year, but in the 2010-11 season, 45 licences were applied for by 32 separate people. There were 12 sailing boats and six punts fishing over the past winter. A licence is needed for each dredge. The season runs from October to March, with fishing strictly limited to between 9 am and 3 pm each weekday, and 9 am and 1 pm on Saturdays. The most recent statistics show that during the 2009-10 season, some 750,000 million oysters were caught.
Typically, oysters are sold by fishermen to buyers at 25p an oyster. Buyers sell them on to shops, which sell them for about £1 an oyster. Despite the cost to hon. Members who enjoy eating oysters, the fishermen make a modest income. I hope that hon. Members can see that, through the measures taken in Cornwall, we have managed to keep this sustainable fishery. There is a proactive relationship between the harbour authority and the oyster fishery to manage and improve the nursery beds for future years.
Members with a lot of experience will recall that marine fisheries licences are required by all UK vessels fishing for profit. They were introduced in 1992 as a method of enforcing EU regulations for sustainable fisheries management. Captain Brigden and Carrick council made representations to the Government of the day in 1993, and secured an exemption for boats under 10 metres fishing under sail or oar. This meant that such boats would not require a marine fishing licence to fish, and the exemption covered the boats of the Truro oyster fishery. Now, the EU is reviewing the exemptions that have been granted to the fishery, and possibly others.
What would be the impact of ending the licence exemption for the Truro oyster fishery? Fishermen would have to meet the substantial one-off costs of applying for a marine fisheries licence. The cost depends on the size of the vessel, and for the average 28-foot oyster fishing boat, it would be about £4,500. This would be in addition to annual fees and local fees. This overhead would put many oyster fishermen out of business, so this EU measure would have the perverse outcome of putting out of business some of the most highly skilled and sustainable fishermen in Europe.
Learning to fish for oysters by hand and under sail takes many years to master. The fishermen work very hard in the winter and most have other seasonal work during the rest of the year. In a good year, the fishery can provide a reasonable living for the experienced men who are prepared to put in the time and effort in all weathers in order to make a sustainable living. The extra licence fees will put an end to centuries of oyster fishing on the Fal.
The renaissance of locally produced and traditional foods has been a great source of satisfaction for many people around the country. Locally grown food is also healthier food. In October, Falmouth hosts the oyster festival, which helps the whole community to celebrate our heritage and sense of place, as well as attracting tourists from all over the world. Just last year, Rick Stein opened an oyster bar in Falmouth, so the oyster fishery makes a wider, significant contribution to the local economy of Falmouth and Cornwall, and contributes to the reputation of Cornwall as a producer of high-quality food. I urge the Government to ensure that decisions about the licensing of our small vessels are taken in this country, to ensure the highest levels of environmental protection and sustainable food production for our country.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for highlighting this important issue. For many years now, the common fisheries policy has blighted coastal towns such as those in my constituency around Morecambe. It might surprise hon. Members to know that, although I represent a seaside resort and coastal town, I have learned from recent discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that I represent very few fishermen. But let us be clear: my predecessors would have been able to say that they represented hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of them. This illustrates the economic decimation of fishing that this policy has created, and, even in communities like mine, it has been accepted. For years we complained, in my view rightly, but our complaints fell on deaf ears in Brussels and we lost this important form of employment. We have now accepted this and moved on.
However, my hon. Friend raises the important environmental issue that remains outstanding. It would be quite wrong to empty our coastal waters of fish because of these quotas. It is so sad to see fishermen throwing tonnes of fish into the sea because it is illegal to land them under EU rules. I do not blame the fishermen themselves; they are trying to make a living against a difficult backdrop. I blame the common fisheries policy and the European Commission. It is hard for me to believe that the Commission is ignorant of the environmental vandalism that it has unleashed on our waters. The fact is that it does not even care.
Given that the EU does not want to make the situation better, it must fall to us in this country to do something about it. We must demand a significant reform or, better still, the scrapping of the common fisheries policy. Call me old fashioned, but I would like to go back to the time when only British and Irish vessels could fish in the Irish box. When that rule was abolished, Spanish industrial trawlers mounted their ruinous campaign against our fishing stocks—a campaign that has arguably moved to the coast of Africa and ruined the livelihoods of fishermen in places such as Somalia. Many believe that that has turned Somali sailors to piracy.
In summary, my view remains that the British fishing fleet has been treated badly. My community has lost an important industry, but we must not allow fish stocks to be destroyed for future generations. I was proud to sign the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, and I am delighted that this has become a debate for the whole House to participate in. My sincere hope is that we stop this great environmental crime before its effect cannot be undone.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for seeking this debate and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is important for me to speak in it because the future of the fishing industry is of crucial importance to Lowestoft in my constituency, where fishing has a long and proud record.
Last October, I secured an Adjournment debate on the future of the inshore fishing fleet on these coasts. The crisis facing the industry at that time and the solutions remain the same, so I will not repeat them, as they are on the record. There have, however, been four significant developments since last October.
First, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign has brought into the nation’s living rooms the scandal and obscenity of discards. As a result, our inboxes have been full. The nation has spoken; it will no longer put up with this practice.
Secondly, it is clear from her speech on 1 March that Commissioner Maria Damanaki understands the problem and appreciates that drastic action is required. She said:
“Let’s be honest, if we continue this it is like treating a serious illness with aspirin”.
There will be vested interests opposed to the commissioner as she seeks to reform the common fisheries policy next year. Our Members of the European Parliament need to give her the support she needs and deserves.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the fisheries Minister has launched his own consultation on the future management of the domestic fisheries in England. This contains some positive proposals. It is encouraging that DEFRA appears to accept that fishing stocks are a national resource and that no third parties have acquired any proprietorial rights.
The final development since last autumn is that the Lowestoft industry continues to decline. The fishermen are allowed to catch fewer fish; they have extra costs to bear; and it is an increasingly difficult struggle for them to carry on. Only last month, the Europa café in the fish market, which has served breakfasts to fishermen for decades, was forced to close due to a continuing decline in business.
It feels as if an ambulance is now on the way, but I worry about whether the patient will be alive when it reaches the scene of the accident. The sands of time are running out for Lowestoft fishermen. I support the motion. It is important that none of us sits back and rests until a fishing regime that has almost destroyed the British fishing industry is itself discarded and thrown overboard.
The hon. Gentleman will have to finish his speech at half-past 5.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to speak in this debate; I could not get out of the Finance (No. 3) Bill Committee until 4 o’clock. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing the debate and I also pay tribute to a great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who has huge experience of the fishing industry. She has been able to return to the House in hugely difficult circumstances; our hearts very much go out to her.
My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said that he had talked about this issue back in 1999. I was then fighting for the Conservative party, while he was fighting for another party. I recall saying to him afterwards, “Do see the light; come over to the Conservative party.” I do not know whether it was all due to me, but he obviously did see the light and came over to the true cause.
I was elected to the European Parliament and sat on its Fisheries Committee for some 10 years. In all that time, I opposed the common fisheries policy. Let me explain why. The CFP is a little bit like communism: it is a wonderful idea in principle, but in practice it just does not work, as I shall explain. If we have a common resource in Europe, every country thinks that some animals are more equal than others and are entitled to a greater proportion of the fish.
I will name some of those countries. Spain is one of them; it goes all around the world looking for fish, fishing off Africa and goodness knows where, causing an awful lot of problems. We must face up to the reality. We need our fishermen to be able to sign up to a policy to get rid of discards and to manage fisheries. If they believe that managing their fisheries sustainably will provide the fish for them to catch, they will sign up to it. I am sure that that is very much what the Minister will be aiming for. However, if a common fisheries policy means that we sustain our fish stocks but some other nation then comes in and steals them, will we be inclined to adopt such conservation measures?
Fishermen have to go out to sea and deal with the vagaries of the weather, and then they have to deal with the vagaries of the common fisheries policy. There is, for instance, the nonsense of “quota species”, which means that those who catch too many of a particular species must throw healthy fish overboard. When big boats throw discards into the sea, they often putrefy on the sea bed, which can have huge consequences.
We must take a sensible attitude, and I am delighted that the Government are doing so. Now is the time to say to fishermen, “Let us have a look at the way in which you fish. Let us ensure that when you bring your fish back, you are able to sell it.” Many Members have made the point that we need to eat more species of fish in this country, but there is another point to be made, and I have made it in the House before. During the period of the common fisheries policy, much money has been wasted when boats have been decommissioned and new boats have been built with larger engines that may enable more fish to be caught. When fish are landed that are not fit for human consumption, they can be made into fishmeal and fed to farmed fish. That may not save a vast amount of money, but it will give fishermen some incentive to land those fish.
Another point that has been made today is that until we stop discarding fish, the scientists will not know what is actually being caught, so we will not know what the stocks are. That is a central part of the argument for the banning of discards.
I also think that the argument between large and small boats must be settled. We cannot allow big companies to buy up huge amounts of quota and then force out many small fishermen. Those fishermen must have a livelihood. We must face up to the reality: it is a case of the haves and have nots, when what we want are sustainable fisheries.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not, because I have not much time left.
I have had 10 years’ experience in Europe, where many warm words have been spoken by commissioners in the past about discards. There have been improvements such as the provision of better fishing tackle and Project 50% in Devon, but the Commission and Europe must be driven hard to make absolutely certain that we secure change—that we stop discarding fish, and all the fish that are landed are either eaten by humans or made into fishmeal to feed farmed fish.
There is a limited resource of fish in the world—there are no two ways about it—and we are consuming more fish than are being bred in the seas. If we do not act, we will destroy our own resource and our own ecosystem. I wish the Minister great success in Brussels. He must take not only his briefcase but a handbag and a concrete block, because he will need them when he is negotiating. It is necessary to negotiate very hard in Europe in order to get anywhere. I look forward to the Minister’s coming back with everything that we want.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on his great efforts and the fine words with which he opened the debate, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on its wisdom in granting such an important debate. It has reflected the huge interest shown by the more than 674,000 people who have already signed the Fish Fight petition, and the others in our country who want to see a radical change to the EU common fisheries policy.
Labour Members recognise the strong consensus, both in today’s debate and in the wider Fish Fight campaign, that now is the time for EU fisheries Ministers to turn fine declarations of intent into a clear programme for change. The common fisheries policy must be made fit to meet the challenges of protecting the biodiversity of our seas and oceans, placing the sustainability of the fishing industry on a long-term footing, and securing greater regional management of EU fisheries waters, and we must introduce an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries, to tackle the root causes of the immoral waste of fish currently discarded at sea.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, one of the problems with the CFP is that nobody is in charge, so there is horse trading between competing interests. Unless that changes and somebody is put in charge—as is the case in Norway, Iceland and the Faroes—the problem will not go away. Unless the introduction of regional management leads to such problems being addressed, we will be in exactly the same mess as we have been under the CFP.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The UK and other states that are in favour of reform must build alliances—such as with the southern European countries, who have in the past been resistant to change—so that there is genuine momentum and a sense that reform is being, and will continue to be, pursued by all 27 member states. In 2009, Scottish fishing vessels discarded almost 28,000 tonnes of fish, representing a quarter of the entire whitefish catch in Scotland. That demonstrates the seriousness of the need for reform.
I commend the contributions to the debate of my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who have over the years been consistent in their trenchant critiques of the CFP. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby has also been a huge champion of the fishing industry in his years as a Member of this House. I also commend the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), who referred to the need for the introduction of long-term quotas, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who talked about the need for fish stock sustainability, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who talked passionately about the need for an ecosystem approach to fisheries.
It was particularly good to see the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) in the Chamber, and to hear her speaking with such passion and authority about this subject, to which her community and family have contributed so much. I also commend the remarks of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who talked about the need for catch quotas, the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who referred to the need for a package of reforms and a framework of change, and the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid). They referred to the social and economic importance of the fisheries in their communities, and the moral imperative for action that this time will result in reform. They put their arguments with great vigour and force.
Global fish and seafood consumption is increasing. The US consumes almost five times more fish than a century ago, and China is consuming almost five times more seafood than in the 1960s. It has been estimated that capture fisheries contribute up to $240 billion per year to global output in direct and indirect economic benefits. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation found in its report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010”, that the fishing industry supports the livelihoods of about 540 million people, or 8% of the world population. Yet concerns about biodiversity and the condition of our marine environment have grown. OCEAN2012 has estimated that half of the fish consumed in the EU comes from waters outside the EU, through distant-water fleets and a growing reliance on imports.
In 2004 the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that discards amounted to 7.3 million tonnes or 8% of total global fish catches, although on another definition of by-catch, it might involve in excess of 20 million tonnes per year. At last June’s EU Fisheries Council, Commissioner Damanaki set out the case for the most sweeping changes to the CFP since its inception. Those changes were based on an assessment that the current system, as last reformed in 2002, was top-down, short-termist in its effects on the fishing industry and weak in its protection of at-risk species. In particular, the system of total allowable catches, which was introduced in 1983 for each commercial species of fish and which was subdivided into quotas for individual member states, has proven grossly inadequate. It led in 2008 to the permitted TACs being on average 48% higher than scientifically assessed sustainable levels.
The CFP is also unresponsive to changes in fisheries practice, because it is linked to the relative proportions of species fished as long ago as the 1970s. In mixed fisheries it is hugely wasteful and leads to the discarding of unacceptable levels of whitefish in order to comply with the quota rules after one species quota has already been exhausted. Across the EU, nearly half the whitefish and up to 70% of flatfish are discarded. Recently, and particularly in her statement this March, Commissioner Damanaki has pursued a new settlement that will build upon catch-quota trials that have proven successful in substantially reducing discard levels in Scotland and Denmark among pelagic fisheries. There is also the prospect of an extension to other fisheries, including demersal mixed fisheries, in the second year of any new CFP.
The Opposition welcome the lead that successive Governments and devolved Administrations have provided in extending the use of longer-term catch quotas and supporting the stronger involvement of fishing communities in the management of quotas and fisheries waters. However, we believe that a stronger impetus is required to deal with the root cause of the scandal of discarded fish and by-catch: the delay in the introduction of an EU-wide ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The Commission has established that 88% of EU fisheries stocks are being fished beyond sustainable levels, and that 30% are near to collapse. The introduction of ecosystem management in this cycle of CFP reform is obligatory under the EU’s integrated maritime policy and is strongly linked to the marine strategy framework directive’s overarching commitment to the achievement of good environmental status. It is strongly supported by the Commission’s green paper on CFP reform, and has proven successful elsewhere in restoring fishing stocks in large-scale fisheries in California, the north-east of the United States and parts of Australia.
The introduction of ecosystem management would balance environmental, social and economic concerns and involve a range of policy changes, including the introduction of financial incentives to reduce the pressure on stocks of species nearing over-exploitation; further action on ocean acidification, which particularly threatens shellfish stocks; the regional management of fisheries waters; fishing area closures; the incentivisation of new technology to monitor what is being taken from the sea and landed on fishing boats; and the use of more selective nets and fishing gear to reduce levels of by-catch of younger fish and other species. The multiple small trawl nets now used to catch prawns in the North Sea, for instance, have led to a 50% reduction in discarded fish.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North pointed out, in Norway the use of minimum catch sizes has proven successful in reducing levels of discards and fishing of undersized or juvenile fish. However, OCEAN2012 has recommended an alternative approach: the introduction of a minimum marketing size that would still constitute a strong disincentive for the sale of juvenile fish. It also raises the significance of applying new bans on discards and by-catch to EU fishing fleets operating in third countries or distant-water fisheries.
Key to the success of such a system of fisheries management would be the greater involvement of the fishing industry in devising such schemes at a regional level and reporting on their effectiveness and compliance, together with improved monitoring of ports. As well as a prohibition on discards at EU level, however, over-fishing must be addressed. Simply permitting all caught fish to be landed and sold without proper enforcement may lead to the catching of undersized fish, with the further depletion of fish species that could thereby emerge. In the past, however, with cod, fisheries closures have led to displacement of fishing to adjacent areas, so any successful package of fisheries closures this time would require the active involvement of the fishing industry. There is support across many member states for the principle of introducing rights-based management of fisheries as a means of tackling overcapacity, although there is understandable hesitation about introducing a scheme of individually transferable quota rights that could see large-scale companies exert excessive dominance over the market.
Does the shadow spokesperson share my concern that the privatisation of our seas through individual transferable quotas would inevitably over time lead to concentration and consolidation in the industry in such a way as to undermine these efforts in the longer term and hugely damage fishing communities?
There is a real danger of that occurring, which is why I would refer the hon. Lady to the speech given by Commissioner Damanaki in Berlin in March. She reflected on and took on board the concerns that the hon. Lady has expressed and we wait to see how they will be phased into the reform proposals that are to be discussed in July.
The EU needs a common fisheries policy and it requires one that meets that challenges that the present policy has failed so abjectly to address. With a strong motion passed by this House today, concerted action by the European Commission and member state Governments, we can turn intentions into deeds worthy of the cause raised in the Fish Fight campaign. Let us work for an ecosystem approach to fisheries, let us introduce a regionalised structure to the common fisheries policy, let us establish long-term catch quotas, and let us provide incentives for new nets and new technologies. By those means, we will tackle the root causes and end the scandal of discarded fish that has so appalled so many people in this country.
I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), who speaks for the Opposition, for continuing the bipartisan approach on these matters. The relationship is challenging but it is vital that we continue what happened under the last Government and recognise that we are dealing with an industry in crisis and a marine environment that desperately needs the smack of firm decision making. It is great to have his support.
I welcome the debate and I believe that it firmly places the Backbench Business Committee in touch with issues that are of concern to our constituents. I welcome the contributions and hope to respond to many of the points later. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for the way in which he introduced the debate and I hope that we can all support the motion tonight.
The debate comes at a crucial time. The conscience of the nation has been moved by the sight of perfectly edible, quality fish being thrown into the sea, dead. That is an abomination in a hungry world, I am sure everyone agrees. That is the power of television. Most of us knew that it was happening, but few of us had seen it—it was happening over the horizon—but it has now been brought into people’s homes and they are outraged. What if half the lambs we slaughter in this country had been dumped on the side of the road? There would have been riots on the street. Now people know what is happening and that is a tribute to those who brought the matter of discards to the public consciousness.
The debate also comes at a crucial time because there is a window of opportunity to reform the common fisheries policy. I have been a Minister for only a year, but my assessment of the art of government is that one needs to know the difference between what one wants to change but cannot and what one wants to change and can, and to focus one’s energies on the latter. If I focused my energies on the former I might satisfy some of the hon. Gentlemen who have contributed today, but I would not deal with the problem that faces our marine environment, our fishermen and the coastal communities they support.
I might not be a rabid Eurosceptic, but I am no friend of the common fisheries policy. However, it is not the fact that it is common that is the problem—it is the policy that is wrong. As we have heard—the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) made this point very well—fish do not respect lines on maps. Many of the stocks that our fishermen exploit spend part of their lives in other countries’ waters. Our fishermen have always fished in other countries’ waters in the same way as other countries’ fishermen had historic rights to fish in our waters before our accession to the European Economic Community in 1972. I could spend a lot of time discussing that, but I was 11 when it happened and I prefer to deal with the here and now—with what I can do and what we can achieve.
A point that has been made by several hon. Members on both sides of the House is that we have to look at this issue in terms of an ecosystem approach. Whether we were in the EU or not and whether we were in the CFP or not, we would need a shared legal framework to manage our fish stocks. Our focus should be on getting the common framework right, which means getting rid of unnecessary and over-detailed regulation and managing stocks on a regional or sea-basin basis. It means giving fishermen clear entitlements to fish stocks and giving them a stake in the long-term health of those stocks.
Will the Minister give way?
I am quite pressed for time and the hon. Gentleman has had quite a lot of air time, but if there is time later I am sure that the House would be delighted to hear him make his point again.
Getting the common framework right means integrating fisheries management with other marine environmental policies and applying the same principles of the sustainable use of marine resources both within and outside EU waters. Of course, it also means making sure that we have a reformed CFP that does all it can to eradicate discards. I welcome the fact that the EU Fisheries Commissioner sees this issue as a top priority, as I think she does. I make that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). At the meeting I attended on 1 March, the commissioner said that her predecessor had had a similar meeting five years previously at which everyone around the table had said how outraged they were with the process and nothing happened. I am not prepared to allow my successor to be here saying that something needs to be done in five years’ time. Something does need to be done and I am committed to working with the Commission and other member states to achieve discard-free fisheries.
Let me make a few things clear. The outrage that people feel about discards is shared by the Government and Members on both sides of the House. Our actions are not prompted by the Fish Fight campaign, but they are enhanced by it and we welcome it wholeheartedly. We are tackling this issue through the reform of the CFP, but we are not waiting for that reform. As has been said, important progress has been made with catch quotas, and the trials that were instigated by the previous Government have been extended by us. The hostility of fishermen to having cameras on their boats has been largely negated and they are now queuing up to get into these schemes. Hostility from other member states for that method of fishing management has largely disappeared and we have signed a declaration with the Governments of France, Germany and Denmark to see that that is introduced. Project 50% has also brought huge benefits in reducing discards.
I want to see a high-level objective of working towards discard-free fisheries in the new CFP with member states accountable and responsible for working to achieve that, managing what is caught rather than what is landed. There is a lot of focus on imposing a ban on fishermen discarding at sea. I can support a ban and I will be pushing for one—it is semantics whether we talk about an end to discards or a ban—but only if it is backed by genuinely effective, enforceable and affordable measures that encourage fishermen to be more selective about what they catch. That is crucial, and that point has been made by many hon. Members today. The last thing we want is to transfer a waste problem at sea so that it becomes a waste issue on land. How horrendous it would be to bury fish because there was no market for them, or simply to ban the symptom of the problem, rather than the cause, criminalising fishermen in the process. We must remember that a ban would be wrong for some species that can be returned to the sea alive. I pay tribute to the Members who tabled the motion for being willing to change it, and I make the point that sharks, skate and rays, many of which are critically endangered in EU waters, can often survive after being caught, as can many species of shellfish.
As well as providing fishermen with mechanisms to reduce discards we are tackling the problem in the UK through our Fishing for the Markets project, and several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), spoke about the 54% of discards for which there is no market. The project seeks to find markets, which is extremely important.
In the few minutes remaining, I shall turn to some of the points that have been made this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park made a very good speech in introducing the debate, and he mentioned the importance of a regionalised approach, which is absolutely key. In discussing ecosystems, we are talking about a sea basin approach—in some cases it is more local—in which we can manage fish. People talk about an abundance of fish at certain times of the year, but they may not be abundant if there is not co-ordinated action, which is why an ecosystem-based approach is important.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) made a familiar speech, and the points that he made were eloquently countered by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and by my hon. Friends. I pay particular tribute, as I did this morning, to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who made a courageous and powerful speech. I give her this absolute, determined pledge. I want the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to be a beacon of how to do marine conservation. I want people around the world to come and see how we do things in this country. I am grateful for the commitment that fishers, all users of the marine environment and everyone who cares about it have shown in operating through that bottom-up approach.
I am not saying that everyone is going to be happy, but I will work night and day to make sure that what we achieve recognises the importance of socio-economic activities—there could be unintended consequences if we do not do so—and the fact that if fishing is displaced to other areas it could be damaging. I am therefore determined to make this work. I want to make absolutely certain that we do not lose our derogation, and my understanding from the Commission is that that will not happen.
I place huge weight on our under-10 metre consultation. I am passionate about the fact that the inshore fleet does a great deal for coastal communities and social life in coastal Britain, and I want it to have a sustainable future. Sustainability is as important for fish stocks as it is for jobs onshore, and I will work hard to make sure that our proposals are workable.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), who made a thoughtful contribution. I shall grasp his thread of optimism, as I like what he said about multi-annual plans. I want to be the last Minister who has to go through that ridiculous charade every December in which we sit through the night negotiating. I am delighted that we achieved a relatively good result last December and that the Government, working with the devolved Governments, argued on the basis of sustainability on every occasion. However, it is an absurd system. Multi-annual plans take power away from politicians, which is why some countries do not want to lose the present system—they like the patronage it gives them. I want to work on multi-annual plans and end the horse trading that we have to go through.
I am conscious of time, so I shall pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), whom I refer to the WWF/Industry Alliance, which builds on the Fish Fight campaign by taking the fight to my fellow Ministers in Europe, knocking on their door and saying that it wants change.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) also made a good speech. I refer him to the work of the Princes international sustainability fund, which currently values the north Atlantic tuna fishery at $70 million. If it was fished sustainably, it would be valued at $310 million, a massive increase. It is only by understanding that kind of difference in valuing our fish, rather than valuing them dead as we do at the moment, and valuing the potential social and economic impact that we will bring about that huge benefit. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) for mentioning the Trevose box. He is right to point out that fishermen do so much to address sustainability themselves.
I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park a few minutes to respond to the debate and so will conclude my remarks. The Government share the priorities expressed by the motion. I can reassure the House that those will remain at the heart of our thinking as we press strongly for a reformed CFP and continue to address discarding in the UK fleet. I am fully behind the intentions of the motion, although I am not sure that it reflects the full scope of the Government’s ambitions for CFP reform. We have an intensive diplomatic effort ahead to negotiate the reform we need, and we must get the detailed measures right, including those on discards. We can do that only by working with our fishing industry to develop effective measures. I welcome the tabling of the motion and the spotlight that the Fish Fight campaign has shone on the current CFP’s failings at a time when we have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to overcome them.
I start by again thanking the Backbench Business Committee for making this debate possible. We have heard some superb contributions from Members across the House, and every speech added something unique, which was very important. I also want to thank the shadow Minister and the Minister for their supportive comments and for staying throughout the entire debate, taking notes furiously and responding to the various points that were made. That is not always the case in such debates, so I appreciate it.
I wish to offer particular thanks to the Fish Fight campaign, which was mentioned again and again throughout the debate. There is a direct link between its campaign outside Parliament and this motion in Parliament. It is a perfect example of hundreds of thousands of people mobilising their representatives in Parliament and moving an issue that not many people find interesting to the top of the political agenda, for now at least. I pay tribute to those campaigners, who have done a superb job. The debate probably would not be happening, and certainly not with such a motion, without their involvement.
The motion is ambitious. I will not repeat all the arguments used at the beginning of the debate because I will run out of time, and kill the motion myself in doing so. If it is passed with the support of the House, which I think it will be, we will see an absolute commitment to ending discards and a new regulatory regime that recognises the difference between small, traditional fishermen and their industrial competitors. Crucially, we will see the beginning of a process in which we will regain control over those crucial 12 sovereign miles. In my view, nothing is possible without that. It is a central part of the motion. I once again thank the House and the Backbench Business Committee.
Does the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) wish to move her amendments? No? We shall therefore decide on the motion before the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the Fish Fight campaign; and calls on the Government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, end discards in relation to all fish and shellfish with derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding, require that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels by 2015, ensure the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in decision-making processes and enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters, taking into particular account vessel size and environmental impact.