Thursday 6 December 2012
[Katy Clark in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Richard Benyon.)
It is a pleasure to hold this debate under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. The fishing industry remains one of the most important industries in this country. For the past two years, when I have had the opportunity to debate this subject, I have usually opened with a comment about the fact that we are not in the main Chamber, which was where we normally used to hold the annual fisheries debate. However, this is the biggest turnout for a fisheries debate that I can remember for a long time, so maybe there is something to Westminster Hall.
The industry is important. According to Seafish’s industry figures for 2011, purchases of seafood totalled £5.6 billion and seafood products £2.9 billion. There were 644 registered vessels, 60% of them under 10 metres, and 12,400 fishermen across the country. It is a substantial industry.
At this time of year, we normally talk about the year gone by and the prospects for the European Fisheries Council. I hope that the Minister will bring us up to date about where we are on the various issues. I will cover a number of them. The Fisheries Council is key to the industry and its prospects for the next year. We had hoped that by this stage the Fisheries Council would be the last of its kind, because the common fisheries policy reforms would be in place, but it looks as though the reforms will be delayed.
In the discussions that I and others have had with industry bodies, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations have both made it clear to us that they are pleased that stocks seem to be improving, which should lead to improved quotas. There is one major area of concern: the cod quota. The cod recovery plan, based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, requires a 20% reduction in the total allowable catch. Cod stocks have improved significantly, and the application of a 20% cut could be damaging, in the industry’s view. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations believe strongly that that reduction should not be applied, partly because the most likely outcome, given that we use mixed-species fishing, is that there will be substantially more discards. Dealing with one problem will lead to another problem. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view.
The other issue concerning both bodies is the process. There have always been difficulties with European bureaucracy, but just yesterday the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation made a public statement about what it described as a
“power struggle between the Council of European Fisheries Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament”.
It suggests that the struggle for control is creating
“a logjam in…effective decision-making”
as the players dispute
“who has the ultimate power to decide upon fishing opportunity, in particular relating to effort or days-at-sea.”
We all know that the annual Fisheries Council discussions and its processes are problematic enough in a normal year without such games. If the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s complaint is accurate, it adds more strength to the argument that those decisions should be devolved and taken away from the Fisheries Council. Does the Minister share the view of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation? If so, what impact, if any, is it likely to have on the Fisheries Council decisions on 20 December? I would also like to hear his views on the industry position and the prospects for a favourable outcome if the improvement in stocks is shown.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He makes the point that we must get away from central management of the fisheries. It is crucial that regional management is finally delivered so that those affected by decisions have a say in those decisions and a collective say for the fishing grounds affected.
I think that that is what everyone wants, and we hope that it is the direction in which the council is travelling, but an awful lot of discussions and debates need to be had in Europe before that is finally agreed.
Another major area of concern, not related directly to the Fisheries Council, is mackerel fishing by Iceland and the Faroes. Four years of negotiations by the EU and Norway have made very little headway. According to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, despite Iceland’s claim to be operating a sustainable fishery, the country’s yearly mackerel catch has increased from 363 tonnes in 2005 to 145,000 tonnes recently. That is an enormous leap. Apparently, Iceland’s claim is a 15% share of the overall north-east mackerel catch, but for the past three years, it has taken an allocation of about 24%. There is also some concern about positions taken by Iceland in particular in its relations with some UK fish processors. Colleagues with more direct involvement in that issue may discuss it, but can the Minister bring us up to date on negotiations with Iceland and the Faroes?
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to some Icelanders at a conference. It is clear that their fear that their seas may be plundered like ours through the common fisheries policy is a major reason why they resist joining the European Union.
I apologise, Ms Clark, but I have to chair a Bill Committee at 2 o’clock, so rather than make a speech, I can only intervene. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that fishermen in Leigh-on-Sea believe that the Marine Management Organisation has behaved absolutely disgracefully in not allowing vessels under 10 metres to catch a reasonable amount of fish?
I was not directly aware of that, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am sure that others will want to expand on it.
My first question to the Minister is this. In previous debates, he has mentioned that he proposes to publish a list of quota holders. We have been waiting for that list for some time. I would be interested and pleased to get an update on progress from him. In particular, what are the reasons for the delay?
Another important issue is health and safety in the fishing industry. Usually in these debates, we remember those who have lost their lives in the industry, which I am sad to say is still the least safe industry in the country in which to work. I have some figures from the Library, which I will mention later.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that remarks made last Friday during the passage of my private Member’s Bill—some Members said that it was not necessary to carry a VHF radio on a small boat—were not particularly responsible? The minimum safety aid that anybody can carry at sea is a VHF radio, if not a personal emergency position-indicating radio beacon.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Like the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), I need to leave shortly; I need to be in the main Chamber shortly for the second debate. On health and safety, we all recognise how dangerous a job it is out there on the open seas, but exploitation is occurring as well. I draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and other hon. Members the police operation in my area yesterday, which stretched into west Cumbria and up into the Aberdeen and Peterhead area. It looked like that was a result of illegal immigrants, and potentially even people trafficking. The police said yesterday in their second statement:
“Our primary objectives are to ensure the human rights of these workers are being respected and to gather evidence against those who may have been involved in their alleged exploitation.”
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that such activity does nothing for the good name of the fishing industry.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. He was good enough to tell me about that issue yesterday and I will refer to it at length later in my speech, but I thank him for that contribution.
Returning to the problem of safety in the North sea and the UK fishing industry, I have the most recent stats from the marine accident investigation branch for 2011, which show that there were 58 major injuries or fatalities in the industry, and eight of those were fatalities, so the rate is 7.5 per 1,000 people employed. It is more than twice the number of the next most dangerous industry, water and waste management, which has an accident rate of 3.3 per 1,000, and it is three and half times as many as the construction industry, which is often quoted as the most dangerous industry, with an accident rate of 2.2 per 1,000 people employed. All those figures are based on the Office for National Statistics business register and employment survey. According to the MAIB, the number of marine vessels lost was 24, which was a significant increase on the previous two years—in 2009, 15 were lost, while 14 were lost in 2010. Those are shocking figures.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the points that he is making. Does he agree that it is very important for Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to talk to Ministers in the Department for Transport, particularly in circumstances where the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is planning to close fishing vessel survey offices—for example, in Newlyn in my constituency —without consulting the fishing industry? It is important that there is consultation, as the industry wants to work with the regulators to ensure that safety in the industry is improved.
While the hon. Gentleman is on that issue, we should also look at the reorganisation of search and rescue helicopters. Fishermen in the North sea are extremely concerned that RAF Boulmer will no longer be a base under the current proposals, and they do not feel that they have been consulted about that either.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. In my constituency we have not only the fishing industry but the oil and gas industry, and the search and rescue helicopters were a key part of the safety programme. People are very concerned about what will replace them.
I return to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) about migrant workers. I raised the issue of migrant workers in the industry in the 2008 fisheries debate—I have probably been doing these debates for too long. [Interruption.] Was that a cheer or a boo? I am not sure. At the time, it seemed that the problem was limited to Northern Ireland and Scotland, and there were some shocking examples of how migrant labourers, mainly from south-east Asia, were being treated, particularly what they were being paid, the hours that they were working and the failure to provide adequate accommodation.
Matters came to a head when three south-east Asian fishermen died in a fire on a fishing boat in Fraserburgh. I received information from the International Transport Workers’ Federation that included the terms and conditions under which those individuals were employed, and I passed it on to the relevant authorities. Having raised that issue in the 2008 debate, I am pleased that action was taken by the then Minister at DEFRA, as well as by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in relation to the application of the minimum wage and the Home Office in relation to visa requirements. It took a co-ordinated approach, and at that time, it looked as though the problems had been resolved.
However, I noticed that on 28 November this year, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile)—I do not think he is here today—and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is present, raised similar problems in their constituencies with the Minister for Immigration during a debate in this Chamber. Just yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway said, Dumfries and Galloway police led what they described as a multi-agency operation as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of labour exploitation in the fishing industry. Over 150 personnel from the police and other agencies were involved in raids on businesses and residential premises, as well as fishing vessels in Annan, Silloth and Peterhead. Welfare and support arrangements have been provided for 17 foreign nationals who came to the UK from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to work in the fishing industry.
From those incidents, it seems that we are seeing the reintroduction of some very unpleasant practices in the industry, and I am concerned about that given my previous experiences. Obviously, there will be ongoing investigations into what will be a complex issue in Scotland, so I will say no more about those specific events. However, the fishing industry has suffered massive reputational damage recently, because of court cases involving illegal fishing in Scotland, and those latest events will not improve its image.
Cheap immigrant labour is hired to save money. The most important thing, in my view, is the need to examine the economics of the industry at every level. Fishing boats and gear are expensive, as are operating costs, wages, fuel, insurance and labour, and the acquisition of quota by purchase or lease is extremely expensive. The very nature of the industry means that there is uncertainty about catches, the quality of the catch and the price received for it. Add in the restrictions and a different kind of uncertainty caused by the common fisheries policy, limits on catches, days at sea, type of gear and so on, and a difficult situation is made much worse.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Although the fishing industry in my constituency has almost entirely disappeared, a lot of people’s jobs are still dependent on fishing in various ways, and many constituents are concerned about the issue for all sorts of reasons. As well as being concerned about the need for sustainable fisheries management within the European Union—it is good to see that we are perhaps moving in the right direction there—does my hon. Friend agree that the international dimension, beyond the EU, is also important in ensuring sustainable fisheries? The EU should ensure that its own fleets and policies, when directed further afield, even beyond Europe, act in a responsible and sustainable fashion.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who makes a point that I want to make myself. Some co-ordination in Government on safety, and on other matters, would be appropriate.
Some vessel owners do very well out of the fishing industry, but others struggle. For most it is feast or famine, and in recent years, famine has become much more prevalent. UK-based labour is more expensive, but it is also in short supply in many areas. In the north-east of Scotland, many men who would have gone in to the fishing industry have steadier, better-paid and safer jobs in the oil and gas industry. I urge the Minister to consider the issues that we are discussing and to work together with other relevant Departments and the devolved Administrations to look into these problems, and ensure that whatever has gone wrong is dealt with.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the introduction or the use of men from, in particular, the Philippines in the fishing industry. Surely one approach is for the Government to recognise their skills properly and allow them into the country with work visas. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the indigenous labour in the fishing industry often moves on to jobs in other sectors, such as cable-laying in the North sea.
I am not sure that that is the problem, because I know from previous involvement that part of the solution was to ensure that people who required transit visas—most of them are operating outside the 12-mile limit—obtained them, and a time limit was then put in place to ensure that the situation was not exploited. It is a serious, complex problem that requires proper consideration.
It is also worth pointing out that the industry will face new problems as we prepare for the possibility of a new common fisheries policy, with—we hope—much more local control and involvement. There could not be a better time to take a close look at the industry and help to shape it for the new challenges that it will face under a new CFP. At the same time, it would allow us to address the problems that have beset the industry for far too long—poor safety, illegal fishing and exploitation of foreign labour—and perhaps create an environment in which our young people can see opportunities for a good and stable career.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the Chair and to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and his hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) —she is also my hon. Friend on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—on securing the debate, but I echo his concerns that it is not taking place in the main Chamber. Given the level of debate and focus that the issue is achieving, I hope that we can return to the main Chamber in the future.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will feel that we are between two systems at the moment. I would welcome his views, given that he has just returned from one Fisheries Council and is about to go to another this month, on how the interim arrangements are working. I welcome what the Minister was able to share with the Select Committee yesterday as regards our inshore fishermen, whom a number of hon. Members here represent. In my constituency, just six families now sail three coble boats off Coble landing, at Filey. I hope that everyone will come to visit Filey to see what a tourist attraction it is. There is a real appetite for them to have more quota. I also welcome the Minister’s comments yesterday that shellfish across United Kingdom waters enjoy good health at this time.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution to the debate. What I am particularly keen to see, especially off the western approaches, where we have very mixed fisheries, is the operation of a better system of quotas, so that we do not throw away a lot of good, healthy cod just because it cannot be landed when it is already dead. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is working hard on discards, but where there is a mixed fishery, that is particularly difficult.
I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. I will come on to the issue that he raises.
The conclusions that we reached echo what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North. I welcome the fact that there is co-decision. Having spent 10 years as a Member of Parliament and five and a half years advising Members of the European Parliament, I think that it is important that Members of the European Parliament take their responsibilities seriously. I am alarmed at the way this is going. Obviously, it is possible that the proposals will not be adopted finally in their current form. The Minister may want to shed more light on that. Co-decision is welcome, provided that the three institutions—the Commission, the Council of Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament—take their responsibilities seriously.
Radical reform is needed. We need a new fisheries policy that will deliver for fishermen and coastal communities and for sustainable fishing in our waters. We want an end to the centralised micro-management from Brussels, which by any view has failed. I am very keen to see regionalisation. I do not wish to dance on the head of a pin. What we see from the Commission and what the Minister reported to us is very welcome indeed, but it must be deliverable. I shall say a few more words about that.
The end point that I would like to see would be member states, together with their own fisheries in those waters—for example, the North sea, the Irish sea and the Mediterranean—having a greater say over fisheries policies in their own waters. We must accept that there is no one size that fits all. There is an argument that the Commission should set high-level objectives only and leave regional groupings of member states and regional advisory councils to take the day-to-day decisions. I hope that the Minister will come forward with the register that he has promised us of who owns the quotas
I come now to the issue of discards. Where fish can be discarded at sea and where they have a high survival rate, we must welcome that as a sustainable form of fisheries management. I am concerned that we will swap discards at sea for discards on land. We need to know much more about what the discard policy is, how it will be achievable and the Minister’s reaction to our call for discarding to be slowed down and for us to rely on the science—the excellent work that ICES does. Perhaps a decision should be taken in a longer time frame. The date that we gave in the Select Committee report was 2020. That is something that the Minister may care to share with us.
I make a special plea for inshore fishermen in relation to the future policy. I have mentioned that. I would like to recognise and congratulate, because it is based in Copenhagen in my second homeland, ICES on the excellent work that it is doing. It is staggering that past fisheries reforms have proceeded on a base of inaccurate science. If we have learned anything, it is that we must proceed on a sound scientific basis, but we also need a workable legal basis. We heard yesterday in the Select Committee that a decision can be reached in two ways. One is that member states agree the regulation and introduce national legislation to give detailed effect to it. The other way is through a Commission regulation where Council members agree. I would like an assurance from the Minister that that will not enable the Commission to continue to give detailed directives on what the fishing regulations should be. To me, that would not be a step forward at all; it would be no advance whatever.
I was delighted that in the context of preparing our report, we had the opportunity to visit some fishermen in the small community of Gilleleje in northern Denmark, on the main island of Zealand. We saw the nets that they were preparing under an agreement that has been reached in their own waters, the Kattegat and Skagerrak, which are fished by Danish and Swedish fishermen only. They have reached a very positive decision about how the fish should be fished. The mesh sizes and all the other detailed analysis have been agreed by the fishermen and by their own Governments. Therefore, it is staggering to know from the Commission that that has not been given legal effect. If it is the model to be used going forward, we need to know from the Minister, from the Commission and from the other institutions involved that whatever emerges from regionalisation, it will be deliverable.
There is a groundswell of support for regionalisation. I was delighted when a Commission official told me in a recent meeting in Cyprus of fellow Chairs of Select Committees in other Parliaments that it is also being supported by Mediterranean countries. However, that will mean nothing if agreement cannot be reached and if it is not given legal effect, so what assurance can the Minister give us today that regionalisation will work and will deliver for UK sustainable fishing and for the fishermen and coastal communities that are so dependent on our fisheries?
What is the time frame? It is rather alarming that we may not reach a decision during the Irish presidency. It then goes to Lithuania, which will be presiding for the first time. After that, it is the Greeks—need I say more. I wish the Minister extremely well in his endeavours. I am sure that he has the full support of the House.
I thank the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and, in anticipation of her speech, the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), for bringing this debate to the House. It is a very important one for those of us who represent fishing villages. I represent the second largest working fishing village in the Province—Portavogie. This topic is close to my heart. My brother worked in the fishing industry and I have many friends who have done likewise. It is close to my heart and close to the hearts of those who are involved. In fact, it sometimes breaks our hearts when we hear what the fishermen have to go through and the trials that they have to deal with because of the onerous attentions of Europe. The film “The Perfect Storm” and the television programme “Deadliest Catch” come to mind. They tell the story of what the fishermen do, in film and documentary, showing its practical and physical nature. They put the dangers into perspective.
For the first time ever, I have been contacted by supermarkets that wish to have an input into the matter. They say:
“We share the view that the”
common fisheries policy
“is in need of radical reform and presents a vital opportunity to protect the marine environment by introducing responsible practices across the industry. We welcome the ban secured on discards although we believe…this must be accompanied by investment in the development of fishing methods and gear to enable a more effective catch. We also believe that it is essential to overhaul the current overcapacity policy as it not effective. We are of the view that reform of the CFP needs to take a long term approach, not only to ensure that fish stocks are maintained at a sustainable level, but also to provide protection for the environment and a viable future”—
a sustainable future—
“for UK fishermen and their communities.”
It shows how bad, or perhaps how good, things are when, for the first time, the supermarkets are crying out for reform of the common fisheries policy. It is an indication of where we are.
Of all the many issues brought to my attention, the most important is, as usual, nephrops. Why? Because it is the most important catch for my constituency. For 2013, the European Commission has proposed a cut in the total allowable catch of 3,183 tonnes, or 15%. It had proposed a cut in the TAC of 19%, and, in the end, a roll-over was achieved. I would like to put my thanks to the Minister on record. He is industrious on behalf of the fishing industry, and we support him. We know how hard he fights for us and we congratulate him on that. I ask him in advance for the roll-over to be achieved for this year as well. If it is achieved for nephrops, it will bring dividends for Portavogie and the whole of Northern Ireland. We need to reach a target for the Northern Ireland fishing industry, particularly because there will be serious economic consequences if we are not successful.
The Irish sea fishery has remained strong and the cod industry has recovered. A sentinel fishery plan was recently developed by fishermen and the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. The fishermen donated some of their quota, which was used to see whether the cod resources in the Irish sea were improving. The fact is that they are better. There is more cod in the Irish sea than there has been for umpteen years. I have seen photographs of the cod, and the size of some of them clearly indicates that the cod industry is on the turn. We need Brussels to fall in behind us and accept the scientific evidence. There are scientists who will be able to prove it.
There is a lot to do. As the Minister will be aware, the indications at the moment suggest a 25% cut in the cod TAC for the year coming and a 25% cut in effort. Why should that happen when the industry is clearly showing signs of re-emergence and could be sustainable? We have a meeting with him on 17 December prior to him going to Brussels, so we, and other representatives, will have another opportunity to reinforce that point. For Irish sea cod, it is important that there is a victory for pragmatism and realism over dogmatic adherence to a flawed formula, because that is exactly what it is.
The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries has come to some conclusions. Its previous conclusion, on a proposal for an amendment to a plan, took 14 agonising months, so is it any wonder that we are frustrated with Europe and are sitting here wondering what is going to happen next year to our fishing industry?
I wish to comment on the maximum sustainable yield, but I am conscious of the time and trying to get as many of my points into my speech as I can. The principle of MSY is understandably maintained, but it continues to be a source of frustration that when reference is made to the 2002 Johannesburg world summit declaration on it, two words, though critically important, are conveniently forgotten: “where possible”. In other words, we do not have to dogmatically and blindly follow the strategy, but do it where possible. We find that that is thrown aside and discarded.
Discard is one of the biggest issues. Other Members will speak of it and some have already. How far has the practical delivery of the policy been taken into consideration? In the latest draft of the European Parliament’s report into the new CFP, which will be voted on on 18 December, one amendment seems to inject some realism into the process. It recognises that some species have a high survival rate when they are discarded, so “discarding” should be allowed to continue for such species. It is a step towards answering the question: what is a discard? The industry does not for one second oppose a discard ban, but such a policy must reflect and consider the practical implications.
On fishing gear, assuming the entire EU fleet is managed at the same level as that of the UK, the size of a vessel or, within environmental considerations, the gear it uses to catch quotas should not matter. It should be left to the catchers, with member state Administrations, to decide the most efficient way to harvest the catch. I would be amazed if any member states supported the creation of yet more bureaucracy—as if they do not have enough of it.
The Minister had a chance to respond to a question on marine protected areas—or MPAs—at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions today. Some of us are concerned about how they will happen and their impact on the fishing industry. There seems to be a great zeal to include 50% of territorial waters in a network. I am not convinced that that is entirely practical or right. If I had had the chance to ask him a supplementary question, I would have asked what consideration had been given to the concerns of fishing organisations and the industry in the proposals.
I shall comment quickly on the fixed quota allocation. The CFP should not interfere with arrangements that have been successfully operating in member states, including the UK, for years. For example, in the UK, transferrable quotas—swapping and leasing—has helped to reduce discards; where trawler A catches more cod than it has a quota for, it can sometimes transfer cod to trawler B. There seem to be indications coming from Europe that it intends to stop that.
I support regionalisation and look forward to it coming to Northern Ireland. I hope that we can make it work: I believe we can. It will be a significant help for us and our industry. As I have told the Minister, we need to ensure that the decisions on the MPAs include protection for the fishing industry and the boats and for a sustainable industry in future. We will meet him on 17 December, before he goes to Brussels, and we will have an opportunity to put other proposals forward through Diane Dodds MEP and local representatives. I support the fishing industry, as I know the Minister does.
I pay special tribute to the families of all lost fishermen, the rescue services and the work of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.
I shall concentrate on area VII total allowable catches and quotas, because other hon. Members will speak about other areas. The proposed 15% increase for area VIIe Dover sole is welcome. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advised an increase of 23%, but the restriction in the Commission’s multi-annual management plan would not allow it. Plaice is responding well to the same regime, and although ICES advised an increase of 26%, the Commission has proposed an increase of only 6%, despite its regulation on plaice, on page 6 of the proposal, stating that Channel plaice can be raised by 18%. It seems bizarre.
The proposed cuts that will particularly affect south-west fleets in 2013 include: 20% cut to anglerfish; a 32% cut to northern hake; and a 20% cut to megrim. Part of the reason for that was Spain’s refusal to provide its commercial data. Why should all member states be penalised because of the irresponsible action of one member state? There is also a proposed cut of 55% to area VIIb-k haddock. A mass recruitment occurred in 2009, but the total allowable catch has not risen to reflect it. The Commission is proposing a further massive cut, which will result in a greater increase in discards of gadoids, which die anyway when they are discarded. The maximum sustainable yield has increased year on year.
Page 5 of the 2012 quota management rules states that the south-west mackerel handline quota is ring-fenced. Will the Minister reassure me and confirm that that will continue in 2013? Although some of the quota is unused and has recently been used for swaps, the security that the ring-fence provides the fishermen who use that traditional, environmentally friendly and sustainable method of capture must be maintained.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue—I, too, have written to the Minister about it—and I entirely agree with her. Does she share my concern that the proposal is being made under the noses of the fishermen, who are not being consulted at all about its potentially devastating impact?
I completely share my hon. Friend’s concerns.
On the CFP review of regional management, although a sea basin approach is welcome, we must all remember that it will be for a limited period, because article 6(1) of the new regulation states that Union vessels shall have equal access to waters and resources in all Union waters. In his bid to secure legitimate sea basin management, has the Minister explored the deletion of that article from the proposal?
On the 12-mile limit, I am delighted that the European Parliament and the Council have adopted a regulation to extend the arrangements for a further two years, thus avoiding a repetition of the situation that arose in January 1983 and the subsequent case of Regina v. Kirk in the European Court of Justice. The Labour party claimed in 2002 that it had secured a roll-over of the 12-mile limit, but that was untrue. According to article 100 of our act of accession, the original agreement referred to the position as on 31 January 1971. That position, which was set out in the London convention of 1964, remained until the present 2002 regulation, in which it was changed. Fishermen from specific member states are now allowed access to specific areas for specific stocks, as is set out in an annexe to the regulation. I hope that the Opposition will apologise to UK fishermen for that error.
The restriction of access to member states within a certain band could help our fishermen using small—under 10 metre—vessels, who are struggling with their quota share. Action on that matter was yet another failure by the Labour party. Please will the Minister take soundings over the next two years to secure a better deal on access to our 12-mile limit? Newer member states do not have such shared access.
I understand the industry’s concern about how a discard ban would affect it, but I believe that the discarding of marketable fish is a wicked waste of healthy protein. I have often raised the matter of small gurnards, which are fished off my constituency, and I am delighted to inform hon. Members that one of my fish merchants is now using them as an ingredient in the Lipsmacking Liskeard pies range. The fish version is the Shipwreck pie, which is quite delicious. I certainly recommend that hon. Members try it should they ever happen to be passing through Liskeard.
Some of my fishermen are very worried about the implications of marine protected areas. Although I acknowledge that Natura 2000 sites cannot take account of socio-economics, the MPAs that the Minister will designate under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 can do so. Will the Minister reassure me that any consultation on the selected sites, which he is due to announce, will allow leisure and commercial fishermen to put their case should they feel disadvantaged?
I want to mention an MPA that has been the subject of a case in the European Court of Justice relating to Spain and the southern Gibraltar waters. Having declared an MPA in the southern Gibraltar territorial waters, the UK registered it with the European Commission, but Spain has contested those waters. Indeed, Spain included them in its own, much larger MPA, which it has registered with the Commission.
My hon. Friend obviously speaks about this subject with a great deal of experience. She mentioned socio-economic considerations of marine conservation areas and marine protected areas. Does she agree that such areas also provide an opportunity for additional benefits, such as tourism? I am particularly thinking of the sinking of the Scylla near her constituency, and the economic benefits that that has brought.
One of our problems with the proposed MPA there is that a lot of dredged silt is being dumped in a disposal ground close to the Scylla. I know that the Minister has visited my constituency and seen that for himself.
The European Court of Justice has confirmed that the Spanish action was legal, but it should be noted that one of the judges on the appeal panel was a Spanish national. Although I do not expect the Minster to respond on that subject today, will he write to me to say what his Department or the Foreign Office now intends to do? I admire his work for our fishermen at this important time, but I fear the outcome will not be as positive as they want, or as they—let alone the fish stocks—deserve.
We are constrained by the principle of equal access to a common resource, but I want to remind the Minister of the words of some of his predecessors when they held shadow posts. In November 2002, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) told the House:
“We should follow the example of those countries that have had the courage to take control of their own fisheries policies.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2002; Vol. 394, c. 825.]
On 2 December 2004, the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who then held the shadow fisheries post, said:
“The CFP is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster. It is our clearly stated policy to leave the CFP and establish national and local control.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 836.]
He even published a Green Paper on how fisheries would be managed within the UK 200- mile limit or the median line. Finally, on 7 December 2005, he told the House that
“my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said that he ‘would reverse EU control of fisheries policy and withdraw from employment and social policies.’ On numerous occasions during the campaign, my hon. Friend stressed employment and social policies—and my word, fishing certainly comes into that category.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 888.]
If the Minister cannot secure real, permanent change to fisheries policy during the review of the CFP, will he takes steps to persuade my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to take back national control over our 200-mile limit? Indeed, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) could show him the way, through the Bill he presented some years ago, which British fishermen still applaud today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I echo other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing this debate.
I hope that you will not rule me out of order, Ms Clark, if I start by wishing my father, Mervyn Wright, a very happy 70th birthday today. He is not a fisherman, but he is my dad, so I wish him very many happy returns.
He does. The hon. Gentleman is quite right.
I want to concentrate on the concerns that fishermen in Hartlepool have about the future viability of their industry. My constituency has had a fishing industry for the best part of 800 years. Generations of Hartlepool families have farmed the seas, building up a knowledge of conditions, changes in stock levels and fish movements in the North sea that is second to none. As I think was said by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), that combination of local knowledge—as opposed to top-down bureaucracy—should be used, alongside technology and empirical evidence, to inform fisheries policy.
Hartlepool’s fishing fleet largely comprises vessels of under 10 metres. Fishermen in my constituency are rightly concerned that developments over the past few years are making it even more difficult for them to make a living from the seas. Their concerns are predominantly based on two factors: the specific make-up of their industry, particularly in relation to ownership, and the common fisheries policy, which is hindering the long-term sustainability of a vibrant fishing fleet.
On the make-up of the industry, boats of under 10 metres—as I have said, they comprise virtually the whole fishing fleet in Hartlepool—make up about 75% of the total fleet in the UK, but they are allowed to catch only about 4% of the annual quota. The rest of the quota is given to a small handful of large organisations. As in other industries, such as banking and energy, the actions of larger producers and powerful vested interests are distorting the dynamics of the industry and undermining the ability of Hartlepool fishermen to remain viable. Overfishing of the seas was not caused by the under 10-metre fleet, but the small proportion of the quota allocated to them is having a hugely disproportionate impact.
Hartlepool fishermen play by the rules; they farm the seas sustainably and think of the long term, because their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers fished in the North sea before them and they want their sons and daughters, their grandsons and great grandsons to follow them and do the same. They do not want to undermine the industry or the chances of the next generation. None the less, the nature of the industry and the punitive share of the quota allocated to them mean that they are, at the moment, barely scraping a living.
The Minister—who, to his credit, understands the industry—has looked at the matter of increasing the allocation of quotas to the smaller vessels. I appreciate the immense challenges and difficulties of that. For example, how do we take quotas from organisations that may have a legal right to them? That is of huge significance to the fishing fleet in my constituency. On the back of what the Chairman of the Select Committee said in her contribution, I ask the Minister to outline his current thinking on how we will push forward this agenda.
The second element that concerns my fishermen is the commons fisheries policy, which naturally dominates any debate of this nature. From listening to the contributions so far in this debate, I think that there is consensus that there will be no long-term future for our fishing industry if the CFP system continues to be a top-down, bureaucratic, clumsy, blunt and inefficient tool. For a policy that is supposed to stem from a long-term, sustainable view based on scientific evidence, it is remarkably short term in its scope, having the annual rigmarole of quota setting, which does nothing to embed long-term thinking into the industry.
On the back of what has been said about regionalism, on which there again seems to be a consensus, I am interested in the Minister’s view on multi-year agreements in which quotas can be set within a broad framework for a three-year period. Does the Minister agree that that would provide more certainty for the industry rather than this current annual negotiating round, which does not provide a long-term and sustainable view for the industry? Would it not be best for the EU to provide that longer-term objective for the sustainability of our fish stocks while allowing the manner of implementation to be devised and then adapted wherever possible at a regional and local level? Should not that be done at a much more localised level? That would allow people who have strong local knowledge, such as the fishermen in Hartlepool, to take a more flexible and adaptable approach, which in turn would sustain the economics of the industry while being sensitive to the environment and future fish stocks.
Do not the views of the hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) about the rogue behaviour of Spain in particular underline the problem of the common fisheries policy and the apparent weakness and failure of the European Union to have any control over what it does?
I have tried to speak in the annual fisheries debate to put forward the concerns of my constituents. I remember—it seems many years ago now—raising the concern that Spanish and French fishermen were, essentially, illegally operating in British waters, and that the level of enforcement was virtually non-existent. We need to have a more robust review of such practices.
Another blunt, clumsy and top-down initiative relates to the days at sea allocated to Hartlepool fishermen. The EU plans yet again to cut days at sea under the cod recovery plan, even though it has been estimated that cod stocks in the North sea have almost tripled in the past six or seven years. Does the Minister agree that we should avoid that somewhat simplistic tool of days at sea because it grossly distorts the economics of the industry and again embeds that short-term view? Should not we instead be thinking of a policy response that emphasises technological modifications to fishing gear, as well as making better use of technology and scientific evidence to see real-time closures of specific fishing areas in the North sea where stocks seem under threat?
In conclusion, Hartlepool has had a fishing industry for 800 years, providing a decent living for many generations of my constituents. The hard and dangerous nature of fishing the North sea has embedded itself into the culture and character of the Hartlepool people, making us who we are. The fishing industry in Hartlepool and across the North sea, and indeed around the UK waters, must be sustained for generations to come, and we must protect the stock for the long term and for the economic future of the fishermen who farm those stocks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark, and to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and congratulate his father on his birthday. I also congratulate Hartlepool on having a fishing fleet left. Unfortunately, precious few ships are left in Fleetwood, and much of our quota goes to the Anglo-Spanish fleets. To be fair though—this is part of the complexity of the industry in our region—much of our catch is hake, and I am told that there is no market for hake in Britain. The precious few boats that we have are under-10 metres. Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is not in his place, I want to thank the Minister for securing a deal that ensures that there are no cuts in the nephrops catch in the Irish sea, which has benefited the few boats that commercially fish from Fleetwood.
Let me now come on to another area of complexity in our industry. Despite the fact that we have very few ships—only two or three ships fish for nephrops—tons and tons of fish come into Fleetwood, by road, from across the United Kingdom to be processed by families who have been processing fish for years and who have developed their skills alongside the fishermen. Therefore, although we have seen this decline in actual catches on the dock in Fleetwood, we have extremely thriving fish processing businesses. Can we acquire any kind of support to modernise the premises from which those businesses operate so that they can gain further orders? At the moment, they are stuck in buildings constructed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, which supermarkets will not go near. It is down to the local and county councils to get some support for a new fish market for Fleetwood. That illustrates the complexity of the fishing industry: from the catch, to the processing and, most importantly, to the market in Britain. We have a simplified market in this country and we need to maintain it.
Fishing is still in the blood of Fleetwood, even though the main fishing fleet has gone, but the key point I want to make is about wind farms at sea. Many hon. Members have questioned, with my support, wind farms on land, but it is convenient to think that wind farms at sea cause no problems, are more viable and do not lead to complaints from local villagers and landowners about how they look. In February, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change opened two new wind farms in the Irish sea, Walney 1 and Walney 2, which I understand are the biggest in Britain, but are now to be extended by DONG Energy. At the same time, the Isle of Man, which is also positioned in the Irish sea and can be seen from Fleetwood on a clear day when it is not raining—
Indeed. There is a proposal for another wind farm to be built on the Isle of Man by Centrica. We have already lost our ferry from Fleetwood to Larne, and if the wind farms go ahead there would be no possibility of a ferry.
Furthermore, when we look for some solid science about the impact of wind farms on fishing grounds, we find much contradictory evidence. Fishermen tell me that they change the nature of what is there, and if that is so, can they get in to fish them anyway? Others say that they drive fish away. I can find no solid evidence—perhaps the Minister will point me to some research—about the impact of the creeping development of wind farms out at sea.
Another aspect of the complexity is the effect on fishermen of the cables that go out to the wind farms, which is often discounted. In about 50 years’ time, I imagine the whole Irish sea will be layered with endless cables like the London underground. There will have to be new transmitters for those cables that come out of the sea, and that will cause further problems for Lancaster and Fleetwood as a coastal constituency.
The few fishermen that are left in my area have raised with me the issue of compensation. Why must they negotiate single-handedly with giant companies, with no statutory system of compensation, and why is the compensation simply for disturbance? The fishermen are “disturbed” for good; there is no way back for them after those wind farms have been built.
Then there is the issue of community compensation. We have seen absolutely no community compensation in Fleetwood. Having spent years in local government negotiating section 106 planning agreements, I find it unbelievable that community compensation is being decided by the companies themselves, with people having to ask for something as if it were a charity involved. The company is judge and jury, deciding how much compensation it hands out.
I have great respect for the Minister, but I am aware that wind farms are a matter for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so I will finish my contribution on the point that other Members have made about the complications faced by fishermen in trying to deal with different Government Departments. They have to deal with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on fishing and marine conservation zones; with DECC on wind farms and cabling; and with the Department for Transport on shipping and ports. In all that confusion, the poor fishermen could end up spending week after week attending meetings about compensation on a particular matter, or asking, “Where is this new wind farm going to go?”, without actually doing the fishing that they want to do and are capable of doing.
I will finish by repeating a suggestion that I have made elsewhere, which may seem slightly out of bounds. Perhaps we could consider for the future a long-term reorganisation of Government and the creation of a “Secretary of State for British Seas and Coastal Communities”. If we were to do that, I suggest that my hon. Friend the Minister would make a really good Secretary of State.
Thank you, Ms Clark, for calling me to speak, and I congratulate the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing this debate.
I begin my remarks this afternoon by paying tribute to those killed or injured at sea in the fishing industry during the last 12 months, and I echo the sentiments that have been made by others about health and safety in the industry. Earlier this year, it was my privilege to present Royal Humane Society awards to four of my constituents—James Hendry, James McKay, Ewan Lambert and their skipper, James Buchan—from the Fraserburgh boat Renown, who showed exceptional courage and presence of mind in rescuing their crewmate, Billy Stephen, when he fell overboard off the coast of Norway last year. The ceremony at the Fishermen’s Mission building in Fraserburgh brought home once again the daily perils faced by our fishermen and put an all too human face on the dangers of fishing in a hostile marine environment. I pay tribute to those men today, and to all those who risk their lives at sea; to those who are serving in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution; to our coastguards; and to those in the Fishermen’s Mission charity, which provides so much support to families in our fishing communities.
Our debate this afternoon takes place against the backdrop of ongoing annual negotiations, and in the context of some very serious challenges facing all parts of the fishing industry. However, the debate is overshadowed by the ongoing legal wrangles over the cod recovery plan and the increasingly complicated and protracted negotiations over the failed common fisheries policy—and let us not forget the ongoing mackerel dispute.
I have always believed that fishing has the potential to be an inherently sustainable industry, whereby a renewable marine resource that provides us with healthy, nutritious food is harvested responsibly, creating jobs and supporting a vibrant economy. I believe that there is a commitment across this House and in all parts of the industry towards sustainability based on scientific evidence. However, sustainability is not just about our marine environment and fish stocks; it is also about the sustainability of our fishing industry and the coastal communities that depend on it. We must continue to build on the significant and steady progress that has been made in recent years to conserve stocks, harvest them sustainably and reduce discards, but we also have to tackle the intransigence of decision-making processes in the EU that do not have long-term sustainability at their heart.
Undoubtedly, the biggest threat to the sustainability of both our fish stocks and our fishing industry at the moment comes from the EU’s cod recovery plan, because of its impact on how we fish other stocks in a mixed fishery. There is a widespread recognition among scientists, fishermen and even members of the European Commission that the plan is seriously flawed and will not deliver its conservation objectives, but the review that was promised by the EU Commissioner for spring did not materialise until September, which means we could be well into next year before any changes to the plan come into effect.
There is now an unseemly squabble between different institutions in Europe about who has the right to propose amendments and technical conservation measures. So while the lawyers get rich, our whitefish fleet is left hanging, with our fishermen wondering how much fishing opportunity they will get next year and whether they can even stay in business.
Our fishermen have led the way in cod conservation. The cod stock in the North sea has more than doubled during the last six years and discard rates have halved in the past three years. That is substantial and significant progress—led, to a large extent, by the fishermen themselves—and we are seeing steady improvement in the cod stocks, and are on course to have a sustainable cod fishery in the North sea by 2015.
The proposal in the cod recovery plan to impose a 20% cut in the cod quota next year would be absolutely disastrous, both for fishermen and for conservation. It would actually increase discarding again, because the cod is recovering—it is ever more plentiful in the North sea—and in a mixed fishery it is increasingly hard to avoid cod by-catch. If fishermen have no quota to land that cod, it will end up back in the sea. That will make the catch quota scheme unviable and it will undermine the efforts to put the fishery on a sustainable footing.
A strong scientific case has been made for a roll-over of North sea cod quota this coming year, which would help conservation and continue the steady progress that has been made towards achieving recovery by 2015. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity today to set out what he sees as the prospect of getting a common-sense agreement on this issue in Europe, and offer assurances that this issue will be right at the top of his priority list in the negotiations.
In the very brief time available to me, I also want to address the vexed issue of mackerel. The greater part of the UK pelagic fleet is based in Fraserburgh and Peterhead; I think that the rest is based largely in Orkney and Shetland. Mackerel is—by a very considerable margin—our most valuable stock. The pelagic fishery directly supports not only fishermen but literally hundreds of jobs in my constituency, in processing, distribution, retail and other sectors. It also provides a whole range of indirect support to the local economy.
The dispute over mackerel has now been raging for more than four years. Back in 2005, Iceland caught only 363 tonnes of mackerel, but in 2012 it awarded itself a unilateral quota of 145,000 tonnes. We are now in a situation where Iceland is currently taking 22% of the total allowable catch recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and the Faroes are taking 23%. That is completely arbitrary, wholly disproportionate and absolutely unacceptable.
Overfishing by Iceland and the Faroes is damaging the mackerel stocks, and the ICES advice that was published in September recommends a 15% cut in the total allowable catch for next year. Meanwhile, the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation that our pelagic industry worked so hard to secure has been suspended, because of the irresponsible fishing by the Icelandic and Faroese. The Faroese have even been accused of inviting foreign boats into their waters to fish their self-awarded quota because they do not have the capacity to fish those quantities themselves.
The most bitter irony of this situation, which I can assure Members is not lost on fishermen in the north-east, is that the science suggests that the expansion of the mackerel stock into Icelandic and Faroese waters in recent years has largely been a consequence of the responsible fishing practices of the Scottish and Norwegian fleets. However, the European Commission now wants to impose a further cut in mackerel quota, over and above the 15% cut recommended by the ICES advice, to compensate for the overfishing by Iceland and the Faroes. In other words, the Commission is seriously proposing penalising our fishermen for fishing responsibly and sustainably, while in effect rewarding the bad behaviour of Iceland and the Faroes by letting them fish with impunity.
If we actively reward Iceland and the Faroes in that way for their unsustainable fishing, there is no incentive whatsoever for them to stop. There is no reason for them to come back to the negotiating table, and there is every reason for them to continue the destructive fishing practices that are causing real damage to the mackerel stocks and making a complete mockery of international conservation efforts.
This issue does not just affect the pelagic fleet. There is a detrimental knock-on impact on those whitefish vessels that historically have fished in Faroese waters; again, some of those vessels are from my own constituency. It puts more pressure on our west coast fishing grounds and it displaces efforts back into the North sea. It also has real implications for processors all down the east coast, as I am sure the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) will attest.
The European Commission has stalled repeatedly over trade sanctions on Iceland and the Faroes, and it is now asking our fishermen to pay the price. It is proposing a preposterous solution that will exacerbate the problem and not resolve it. I know that the Minister wants to see a resolution to this situation, but I impress on him the urgency of this matter and ask what action the Government now plan to take to bring Iceland and the Faroes back around the table.
Before I conclude, I quickly want to make a couple of points about regionalisation and the CFP reform process. I know that the Minister is as keen as I am to secure meaningful regionalisation in the negotiations. However, I have some very real concerns about some of the compromise amendments proposed by the European Parliament rapporteur. One of them would establish a centralised approach to the management of fishing concessions, which is far removed from the regionalisation agenda. Does the Minister agree that it is important that member states retain the competence to design their own systems, within the requirements of EU law? And will the Government press that point?
There is also a crazy amendment proposing a mandatory closure of 10% of member states’ territorial waters for at least five years. It is not based on science or any understanding of the marine ecosystem, but it could gain currency. Again, I seek the Minister’s assurance that he will oppose this amendment in the strongest terms.
Lastly, there is very strong language in the rapporteur’s text about reducing capacity. Does the Minister agree that capacity is a red herring and is not the issue? The issue is how much fish is actually caught, and what we really need is a well-managed system in which discards are minimised.
I am conscious that I only have a few seconds left to speak. I wish the Minister well in the negotiations, and I hope that he comes back with a good deal for our fishermen.
It is a pleasure to be called in the debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate.
Many Members here today wish to speak about the fishing industry because of constituency interests, so it could be asked: what am I, as a London MP, doing also asking questions? The answer is simple. Many of my constituents eat fish, just like the father of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright)—I, too, wish him a happy birthday. Also, as I grew up in Cornwall and around the coast, I am particularly interested in the sea. I challenge anyone here who has not done so to read Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us”, and to marvel at the majesty of the oceans, as described there. I also challenge anyone who disputes the environmental degradation of the sea to read one of Callum Roberts’s books, and to learn for themselves about the problems that the sea, the wider ecosystem and the environmental community face. I make no apology for drawing heavily on both those conservationists. I believe that my plagiarism is just a testament to their ideas—ideas that we, as decision makers, should consider.
I would like the Minister to consider several things as part of the UK’s fishing policy. I have some ideas that might increase the sustainability of fish stocks and the biodiversity of species, their habitats and changes in the food web structure on our coasts. I believe that we should reduce the amount of fishing. We cannot say that we were not warned about this issue many times, many years ago. As long ago as 1948, in his “Rational fishing of the cod of the North Sea”, Michael Graham noted that
“the properties of an over-fished stock are such that all attempts at improvement will be unsuccessful so long as there is not some limitation of the total fishing power expended per annum, involving fishing by all nations.”
Where there is no restriction on access, people will pile into the industry all the while there are profits to be made.
Having grown up in Cornwall and having conducted my PhD research on economic development in the county, I certainly agree. The local authority in Cornwall has a great role to play in that, but it is not currently doing so. Agriculture and fisheries are concerns in Cornwall, and those concerns are not being addressed, so I do agree with my hon. Friend.
Under the common fisheries policy, countries have had their access limited, but fishing capacity can still increase to excessive levels because of technological innovation. A decade ago it was estimated that the fishing fleet in the North sea was already 40% larger than was sustainable, so it is understandable that one of the CFP’s main thrusts is to decommission vessels. In October, I asked the Minister about the Government’s policy on the decommissioning of fishing vessels and he advised me that decommissioning was not a policy of this Government. It was, however, Government policy back in the 1930s, particularly regarding the herring fishing fleet.
I accept that decommissioning is not a panacea for the fishing industry’s problems. The first to sell up are usually those who have the worst fishing records and those with the oldest boats. In practical terms, the owners of the large fishing fleets will often sell their oldest vessels and put the money into buying new ships and fleets, and they will also put the money into fishing gear and electronics. That is, therefore, only one step that we should take, but I ask the Minister to consider it.
I also ask the Minister to consider the elimination of what I call risk-prone decision making. What I mean by that is that we should take elected politicians out of the decision-making process.
The Minister nods in approval, but I hope he understands my rationale.
The time scales of politics and fishery management are as distinct as beef and mackerel. The two things exist in completely different time frames. Ministers and politicians usually exist in very short time frames, and the decisions taken by fisheries Ministers are often not felt for at least five or 10 years, which is usually one or even two parliamentary terms and fisheries Ministers later. We have, therefore, Ministers who end up picking up the pieces of previous poor decisions.
I would also like to consider the elimination of catch quotas, and instead to implement controls on the amount of fishing. The intention would be to replace catch quotas with limits on fishing efforts that would help the fishing industry. Landing quotas do not stop fish being killed, legally at least. By limiting fishing effort, the Government can prevent fish stocks from being killed, and allow them to live longer and produce more offspring.
I do not want this to become a Cornish debate between Cornish Members, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to present a polarisation between fishermen and environmentalists he has perhaps misunderstood the issue. Increasingly these days fishermen are working with scientists, and the way forward is to encourage them to work together towards a sustainable fishing industry. It is not that fishermen want to fish the seas out; they are interested in a sustainable fishing industry for the future.
I am obviously giving that impression, but I can certainly reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is not my intention. I do not believe that that is what fishermen in this country do. Hopefully, I will provide that reassurance as I make several more points.
A fourth reform that I would like to see, and which has been mentioned already, is to require fishermen to keep what they catch, as occurs in countries such as Norway. We all agree that discarding fish is a tragic waste. Most of the fish that are caught are dead when they are returned to the sea, so even when we comply with quotas nothing is achieved, because all we do is throw back dead fish. For years, EU regulators insisted that vessels should throw back over-quotas because otherwise over-catching would be rewarded.
I believe, and I hope that this point provides some reassurance, that such a reform could be a powerful conservation measure. If we provide and enforce limits on fishing effort, the proposal will work, because different catches are worth different amounts, depending on size and on the species caught. Crews become more selective, choosing the target species that make them more money, and they also supply low-value catch species for other uses such as fishmeal or, as we have heard, stargazy pie. Methods that allow greater selectivity include modifying fishing gear and choosing fishing grounds more selectively, and the reform would become an economic incentive, achieved through best practice.
I would also like the Minister to consider requiring fishermen to use gear modified to reduce by-catch. For years, Government laboratories have shown that they have designed such gear, but experience shows that the industry is reluctant to change its gear because of the financial implications, and possibly because the new gear could reduce the total catch. The only way to enforce such a change would be through legislation.
I would also like the Minister to comment on banning or restricting the most damaging catching methods. Some fishing gear causes untold environmental damage. Bottom trawl nets crush and sever bottom-living species. Gear used to trawl in deep water is heavier than that used in shallower water. The heavy steel rollers on the ground rope and the 5-tonne plates that hold the net open cause irreparable damage but the practice does not have to be universally banned. Large expanses of shallow-water continental shelf are dominated by gravel, sand and mud, which is perfect for trawling, and repeated trawling actually favours some communities of animals and plants that are resilient to its effect. Farmers plough their fields, but not every single year, and the same could occur in parts of the ocean. I have no problem with trawling, but I believe that we should establish how often it can occur.
Finally, I would like the Minister to consider implementing extensive networks of marine reserves that are off limits to fishing. We have already heard one Member’s concerns about the economic conditions. Earlier today, I heard the Minister speak about the number of conservation areas that are being considered. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said that she would like to see those that are rejected replaced by others. I would like to see the number increased. The total number of 127 represents only 27% of the UK’s coastline. This could be an economic opportunity, rather than a problem for fishermen.
I am a great supporter of the fishing industry, and I want it to continue to be profitable, vibrant and safe. Many Members have mentioned the terrible health and safety record in the industry, which is due to the very dangerous nature of fishing. I would also like to see the opportunity to improve the fish stocks in this country, and we can do that unilaterally, away from the European Union and not as part of the CFP. I believe that it is possible to achieve those ends.
We should be grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving us this debate, although the fishing debates before previous December Fisheries Council meetings were always three-hour debates on the Floor of the House. I commend to the Minister the idea of going back to that. Rather than exhausting Back-Bench resources on providing our own debate, this debate should be on the Floor of the House.
I had hoped to be the first fisherman of England to speak, because the weight of the industry has drifted north to Scotland, but I have been preceded by the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw).
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood spoke of the quota hoppers in Fleetwood. Some years back I chaired the Fisheries Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Agriculture. We went to Vigo in Spain, and I was asked whether I would like to meet the chairman of the Fleetwood Fishing Vessel Owners Association, who was introduced to me and did not speak a word of English. As I spoke no Spanish, there was no meeting of minds on that occasion, but it indicates the extent to which quota hoppers have become important to the English industry.
This debate is part of a long war we have had to change the common fisheries policy, and in my case to scrap it. The Conservative party no longer adopts my position for some inexplicable reason, so we are talking about improving the common fisheries policy to make it more bearable because, frankly, it has not worked and is not working.
Making the common fisheries policy work will be very difficult, because the nation state is the conserver of its own fishing interests, and it has an interest in conservation to hand on its fishing industry. We are gradually reforming the CFP, but it is still a top-down operation—a Gosplan of the seas—rather than a locally controlled operation. That is why we need to move closer to regional control by strengthening the regional advisory councils, which are doing a good job. Some of the powers handled from Brussels, such as those on catch quotas, fishing methods and the closing and opening of grounds, should be exercised locally in the area concerned by the regional advisory council. We will have further complications now that there is co-decision making by the European Parliament, which means all sorts of political factors will intrude.
Absolutely. I assume the Minister to be superhuman, and that should be a central point of our negotiations. The intrusion of the European Parliament into co-decision making will make it much more difficult, because there will be all sorts of extraneous interests. It will be interesting to hear the views of Luxembourg on North sea cod quotas, but that is slightly irrelevant to our problem. A lot more conservation interests will intrude into what should basically be fishing decisions.
To make the common fisheries policy work effectively we have to hand more power down to the regional advisory councils, because they are more sensitive to the problems of their area. Those problems include the cod conservation plan, which will be difficult to manage. Frankly, the plan is not successful, but if we adhere to it, it will enforce cuts of some 20% in the total allowable catches, which is nearly impossible for the industry to bear. I hope the Minister will oppose that, because other states certainly will. We cannot preserve a plan that is not working effectively by accepting 20% cuts in the TACs. It is better to rely on scientific advice, which states that the stocks are, in the main, improving. Some of the scientific advice the Commission is getting is fallacious—it seems to me that we have fixed quotas on the basis of saying that there is no scientific advice on stocks such as cod west of Scotland and haddock, whiting and plaice in area VII. Those are all unnecessary because the scientific advice is available, and the stocks will bear increased catches. Let us not follow the EU cod plan, as the co-decision making may force us to do. That should go to the regional advisory council.
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]
The Government have been criticised for missing the 2012 deadline for designating 127 marine conservation areas, and I do not blame them for that. They are right to miss that deadline, and I am happy about it, because it is impossible to fix those areas without first agreeing a firm code of conduct, as the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has argued. I would not want the marine conservation areas to become yet another restriction on fishing quotas and catches, making the whole area a patchwork quilt of different requirements. We need a good, tough code of conduct before we define the areas.
Discards have been turned into a major issue by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall’s brilliant, entertaining film. He argues that the ban operates in Norway, but of course Norway does not have the same mixed fishing that we have, so it is easier to enforce discards. From talking to Norwegians, I know that the discard ban is not perfect; discards are still going on in Norwegian waters. The only way to approach this is as the industry has approached it. We have reduced discards by some 50% over 10 years, which can be done only through further measures on selective gear. We cannot have a total ban on discards without fitting every vessel with closed circuit television to see what they are catching and what is happening to it. Policing on that basis would be impossible. There may be a case for requiring everything to be landed and sold—not for landfill, which is silly, but at no great return to the skipper concerned. A total ban, as defined by the Commission, is going to be impossible for several years.
Finally, I do not want to approach the emotional relationship between Scotland and England on the mackerel situation—we have just been passing notes about that here. I can understand the anger of Scottish fishermen about Iceland and the Faroes—but I am more sympathetic to the Icelandic point of view than might be good for my health if I ever go to Scotland. First, for a long time Iceland and the Faroes were in a weak position in the negotiations on fixing the quotas, and their catches needed to be increased. Secondly, the stock is going north with global warming, so there are more mackerel in Icelandic waters for Iceland to catch. Thirdly, the situation is eventually going to be solved by negotiation, so let us get the negotiations, which broke off in October, going again. We should not impose sanctions, because Icelandic fish are our lifeblood in Grimsby. They are all that supplies the market. If the Minister goes along with a ban or some kind of discrimination against Iceland, I assure him that he will earn the long-term hatred of every fish and chip shop in the north of England, which is a great burden for anyone to face, so he should not support a ban.
I shall conclude—my time is nearly out anyway—by saying that the Minister has a difficult job, because he has to conciliate support from other areas that do not have the same interest in British fish stocks that we have. That is a process for the current negotiations and for the December Council. He also has to take a firm position on renegotiation to strengthen the British role, British catches and the British industry in the long-term definition of the common fisheries policy.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate. I apologise because I may have to leave early, before the Front Benchers sum up, to attend an evening event in my constituency.
My comments will be focused on the inshore fleet along the East Anglian coast. In some respects, at first glance, some might say that not a lot has happened in the industry since we debated the matter last year. Fishermen have struggled on with their daily lives, finding it increasingly difficult to make a living. In Lowestoft, in my constituency, more are giving up the struggle and selling their boats and the fleet shrinks still further, becoming a pale shadow of its former self. Away from the coast, however, a lot is happening, in Brussels and in the courtroom, which will determine whether there is a viable future for the inshore industry, albeit different from what it was in the past, or whether it will be just a fading memory, which we will only be reminded of in photographs and museums.
In Brussels, the review of the common fisheries policy is taking place. Commissioner Maria Damanaki has long recognised the failings of the CFP, a bankrupt policy that has devastated both fish stocks and fishing communities. There is too much bureaucracy, an over-centralised system and obscene levels of discards, which the public find abhorrent. The new CFP must satisfy three criteria: the need for local management by the people who know their fisheries best; a much simpler process; and a more sustainable system that protects fish stocks and provides fishermen with a realistic chance of earning a living, thereby encouraging young people to come into the industry.
There are signs that the Commission now appreciates the gravity of the problem and the need for action. There was a breakthrough in negotiations in June, at which I understand that the Minister played a part in knocking heads together.
Having studied the Commission’s proposals, which I will not go through in detail, I think that they appear to be a step in the right direction, but I am concerned. First, the Commission recognised the folly of and the devastation caused by the centralised system pursued over the past 30 years and proposes to replace it with a high-level framework. However, I am worried that this in itself will be too much of a straitjacket, too mandatory and too prescriptive. No two fisheries are the same across an area that extends from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean. As we are hearing today, fisheries around Britain are different in terms of catch and methods used.
Secondly, with regard to the Commission’s proposals for transferrable fishing concessions, I question, based on the UK’s experience with quotas, to which I shall refer later, whether a rights-based system is a sensible and sustainable way forward.
It is right that proposals are being brought forward for the elimination of discards. That will not be easy to achieve, as most of our fisheries, as we have heard, are mixed. There is a danger, as the Minister has said in the past, that any problem is transferred from sea to land. A lot of effort and innovative thinking is required. There is a need to engage with scientists, such as those at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in Lowestoft, to promote different types of fish for the dinner table and to modify gear.
I should be grateful if the Minister responded to the following point, even if I am not here when he does so. I understand that nine pilot projects were chosen to promote the use of new gear, but only one at Ramsgate is still running. I would welcome an explanation of that and of what happened to the other eight.
The elephant in the room is quota. To whom does it belong and who is responsible for its management? We have avoided this question for many years. However, we may get the answer next year, when a decision is reached on the judicial review taken out by the Aberdeen Fish Producers Organisation. The outcome of the case, in my view, will shape the future face of fishing communities in Britain for a generation. I commend the Minister on bringing the matter to a head, although I understand that he may not wish to say too much about the case or to express any opinion. I shall do this for him. It is vital that that PO’s case is not upheld. It should be determined that fish stock is a national asset that should be managed on behalf of the nation and not treated as a commodity to be sold off to the highest bidder.
Any future quota management system must satisfy three criteria. Proper records need to be kept—we have not done that for many years—there must be complete transparency, and fishing rights should only be awarded to those who fish.
The inshore fleet—the under-10s—must be given a fair deal. Its problem is that although it comprises nearly 90% of the UK fleet, fishes sustainably and provides real value for the communities where its fishermen live, it receives little quota. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposes a modest increase, but the problem faced by the under-10s is that they will be required to produce details of their past catch quotas. They are being asked to produce records that invariably they do not have and which they were never told that they would need.
I urge the Minister to review the position. I commend the work of Jerry Percy of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, who has worked tirelessly to promote the cause of the under-10 fishermen, who are dispersed around the country. At present, he is considering the creation of a separate producers organisation for the under-10s, taking the view that if you can’t beat them, join them. That is a sensible course to pursue. Fishermen, who, like dairy farmers, find themselves at the mercy of large processors and food stores in respect of negotiations, need to strengthen their position in the food chain. I urge the Minister to find the necessary funding to support this initiative to help get it off the ground. Perhaps the European maritime and fisheries fund could be used.
At times, the Minister must feel that we all have it in for him. I think that I speak for all hon. Members in this Chamber when I say that we do not. I applaud him for the work that he is doing. The problem is that he has arrived on the scene when the British inshore fleet is in crisis and is a small remnant of an industry that brought jobs and prosperity to ports such as Lowestoft. The glory days will not return, but there is an opportunity to build a new, different industry, where those who fish sustainably have a viable future and where we bring an end to unsustainable fishing practices that do so much to damage our marine environment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I will not speak for long, because much of what I wished to say has been said by other hon. Members who are much more knowledgeable and expert in these matters than me.
There are endless problems with fish stocks, overfishing, discards, rogue behaviour by other states, and so on, and at the root of those is the common fisheries policy. I applaud the Minister for doing his best in difficult circumstances and I believe that he sympathises with our case—he goes to Brussels to negotiate on our behalf—but we must give him more stiffening than that. As I suggested in the main Chamber previously, we must say that if we cannot get the CFP abolished, we will give notice that at a point, perhaps three years hence, we will withdraw from it and re-establish our 200-mile, or median-line, limit and manage our fish stocks. As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) rightly says, fish stocks should be regarded as a national asset, not something to be plundered by all and sundry in an unregulated way.
I have called for the abolition of the common fisheries policy. We ought to keep on saying this, because although we have won the argument, we have not won the victory as yet.
There is a logic, which Norway exhibits, that if a country has its own fish stocks and fishing area, it can monitor and control it. Every fishing vessel and catch in Norwegian waters is monitored. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) tells me that there are some discards, by and large the Norwegians are against discards. When we are short of fish, and stocks are being depleted, what a nonsense policy it is that we are throwing away dead fish, all to reinforce some idea of a market.
We ought to follow Norway’s lead and re-establish our own national fishing waters and other countries should do that as well. It is nonsense that land-locked countries that have no interest in North sea and Irish sea fishing can vote freely on what happens to the common fisheries policy. I understand that the European Commission will not even allow bilateral agreements between neighbouring countries to control their fishing, because that looks like undermining the freedom for everybody to pillage those fishing stocks as and when they are able to do so.
I want to reinforce the arguments in favour of abolishing the common fisheries policy and moving towards a world in which each country controls its own fishing area, up to the 200-mile, or median-line, limit. If the Spanish wish to overfish their seas, they can, but they will learn in time that it is foolish to do so. Newfoundland fished out all the stocks around its coasts, which was a disaster, and Spain should learn from its mistakes. We would not make the same mistake; I think we would behave much more responsibly, and so would many other countries. However, only when countries are responsible for their own fishing stocks will they behave responsibly.
As I say, I support those who call for the abolition of the common fisheries policy, and I want to reinforce the Minister’s negotiating strength in Brussels. I also suggest that we give notice that, in time, we will withdraw from the common fisheries policy if it is not abolished.
Thank you very much, Mr Brady. Oh golly, where do I start? I am the chair of the all-party group on angling. Previously, that role was performed by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who is well known for his short speeches, and if he had been here today, I suspect he might have said, “If not now, when can I go fishing?” That is what he and I like to do, and we like to do a lot of it.
I want to concentrate briefly on chalk streams, which are a unique ecosystem. Some 80% of all the chalk stream habitat in the world is in Britain, and 60% of that is in the south. We are very keen to spend vast amounts on climate change mitigation, which is perfectly sensible, but at the same time, we have a unique habitat in our backyard, and it appears that, in the short term at least, we are not prepared to protect it in the same way.
As of Monday morning, I shall be at a hotel in Stockbridge chairing something called the Chalkstream summit. Those of us involved started off by inviting 30 people to it, because we thought it would be a niche issue, and that we would get some interest from riparian owners, managers and so forth. However, the numbers rose to 40 and then to 60, and we now have more than 100 organisations represented at the summit—there is huge interest. Unfortunately, the Minister can no longer, for perfectly understandable reasons, make it to the summit, and we are grateful to him for getting another Minister to come along.
The nub of the concern of those involved in the summit is the draft Water Bill. The White Paper was full of good intentions, particularly about abstraction, but the draft Bill does not, thus far, contain adequate measures to change the extraction environment in the south. It has no proposals for large-scale reform of the current abstraction scheme or means by which that could happen, and it does not tackle the current, unsustainable abstraction, risking further environmental damage.
Let me put the situation in context. A gentleman called Howard Taylor, who runs the Testwood fishery at the bottom of the Test, wrote to me, saying:
“Testwood is facing this pending abstraction by Southern Water and the installation of a pipeline over to Otterbourne as they are no longer allowed to abstract from the Itchen due to its SPA”—
special protection area—
Southern water are about to invest over £50m at the Testwood pumping station and pipeline and will be legally able to abstract under the historic licence…This investment will enable them to abstract up to the licence maxima of 136 mega litres/day! At present the plant is only capable of 60 to 70 mega litres/day.”
That will mean that, at certain times, 65% of all the water in the Test might be being abstracted. There is a failsafe built in, which states that the minimum residual flow must be 1 cumec—roughly equivalent to 91 megalitres. In the summer, at their lowest, the upper reaches of the tiny River Wylie in Wiltshire flow at 2 cumecs. Can hon. Members imagine what we are doing to this incredibly important environmental asset?
I know the Government take this issue seriously. Their catchment plans are good, as are many of the intentions announced in the water White Paper, but time is running out. We had a near disaster this summer, but we were rescued at the end by the rain goddess—the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman)—but it was too close for comfort. I recognise that sustainable economic growth in the south is necessary, and that that relies on good supplies of water, but that requires sustainable water supplies—we cannot have one without the other. We can have sustainable economic growth if we have sustainable water supplies and, as a consequence of that, a sustainable environment.
Will we honestly look ourselves happily in the eye in 20 years’ time if an ecosystem that we have absolute and direct control over in this country has been destroyed? Surely not. It is time for DEFRA to lay out concrete proposals. The water White Paper’s promises on abstraction regimes must be delivered, and we must know exactly how and when that will happen. There must reform of abstraction licences and strategic management of water resources. We need to build storage facilities in the south; if we do not, we will run out of water.
The new Angling Trust has surveyed 29,000 people, and it has found that up to 4 million people have gone fishing in the last two years, with many more interested in taking up the sport. Fishing generates £3.5 billion a year for the economy and employs 37,000 people. While the debate may be more generally about fisheries in coastal waters, angling is extremely important to this country. It involves a large group of people and is a very valuable industry, so I know the Government will be keen to look carefully at the interests of those involved.
I will try to keep my remarks brief. I see my five minutes not as a target to aim for but as the amount of time I have to get a number of issues out.
I want to pick up on a few issues relating to the west coast of Scotland, and particularly the Hebrides. My constituency is the longest in the UK, and it has a very large coastline. Prawn fisheries are very important, and we welcome next year’s 18% increase in the nephrop quota. We also welcome the management of effort, and we feel that the kilowatt-days should not be reduced. However, we are in favour of more effective stock conservation controls. The best method at the moment is controlling fishing days per month; at about 16 days, that has worked quite effectively since August, and it could perhaps rise to 18 days next summer. The 12-day plan for January seemed to be acceptable all round to my fishermen, and the approach has had a steadying effect for them as well as securing onshore jobs that depend on the fishing industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the shellfish stock that is fished off the Outer Hebrides—lobster, crab, langoustine and prawns—are among the best in Europe? However, there is no sustainable infrastructure to take them down to the mainland British market, and much of the catch from his islands goes to the Spanish market, which is causing uncertainty at the moment.
The right hon. Lady is very well versed in the fisheries in my constituency, and I should tell Members that her son, Paul, fishes from my island and fishes very well, and has done so for a number of years. She makes an absolutely great point about the abundance and wealth of great food that comes from the west of the Hebrides. That is not properly appreciated in the UK, and that food often goes to markets in France and Spain.
At this point, I should point out that there is a big infrastructure behind that industry, and there are lorries transporting the shellfish. Tragically, about a month ago, a young man from my island, Michael MacNeil, who had taken shellfish to France, was killed coming back along the road from Bordeaux to Angoulême with his empty lorry. It was a very sad day for the island and for the wider fishing community, which he knew very well.
I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to the issue of non-targeted dogfish, or spurdog. I should probably declare an interest, because I fished it as a targeted species in 1995, so I am perhaps partly responsible for its ensuing difficulties. They regularly appear in the Minches every winter, and they are worth about £60 a box. Sometimes on a tour, a boat can dump up to 10 to 15 boxes of these good, healthy fish because there is no quota to land them. If the boat did not have to dump them, they could be worth about £600 to £900, which could give the boat a good extra margin. The fish could be sold as rock salmon, as they used to be in a number of places, rather than, unfortunately, ending up on the rocks. I hope I am not making that plea in vain, because in the past, I have raised the issue of haddock in a debate such as this.
The hon. Gentleman is aware, no doubt, that those fish are extremely slow-growing. They do not reach sexual maturity until their teens and there are two years of pregnancy. With a falling quota there is clearly a need to manage things with intelligence and skill. We need to be concentrating on much more selective gear, to avoid catching them as by-catch.
The hon. Gentleman is correct, and fishermen do their best to avoid them, because they are a nuisance for them. However, it is heartbreaking to throw healthy fish back into the sea dead. We had a similar situation with haddock in the Minches during the cod recovery plan, a couple of years ago, which ironically meant haddock being dumped, reducing the amount going to market. Then demand was inevitably placed on cod, which was nonsensical. The good news was that after that period, and the resulting outcry, the haddock quota was increased by 200%. I look forward to similar action on dogfish. Landing it should be allowed, with the safeguard that it is non-targeted by-catch; the fish are being caught anyway. A distinction should be made between catch and landing, which often do not marry up, because of dumping and discounts. If we took a fuller approach we would be better off economically, and fish would go to people’s plates, rather than being dead at the bottom of the sea.
Another issue that has been raised in my community concerns some fishermen who want new boats. There are difficulties in making improvements in comfort and safety, but unless a vessel has a track record of fishing in a particular area they cannot get a boat. That is surely not sustainable in the long term. If that had been the policy in the 1920s we would still have people going out in sail boats. We are looking for basic common sense, so that things can change, and so that we can let communities be flexible and fishing fleets be renewed naturally over time.
The penultimate issue that my Hebridean fishing community of Na h-Eileanan an Iar would like me to raise is the introduction of a community quota for mackerel and herring, which swim in abundance in our waters. Originally herring were a staple of the Hebrides. There is a nice story of a Lewisman arriving a couple of centuries ago at university in Aberdeen. The lecturer brought him to the front of the lecture theatre and asked him to show his teeth to the then broken-toothed Aberdonians, and claimed that Donald had the teeth he did because he had been raised on herring and potatoes. Given that heritage, we would look for a quota of about 200 tonnes of each species to be locally managed for the local market and local consumption. The west coast herring quota is about 13,500 tonnes and the UK mackerel quota is 191,000 tonnes, and I do not think what I am asking for is unreasonable at all.
Communities should have a bigger stake. At the moment the UK pelagic sector is controlled by about 20 boats in Scotland, three in Northern Ireland and a small number in England. A healthy acquaintance with the culture of food is in danger of being lost. The issue is also about a sense of history, not to mention health, because the fish are rich in omega 3 oils. Two hundred tonnes is not an unreasonable amount to ask for, when we think of the amount of quota that there is. Also, we would need that much at £500 to £700 a tonne, because it would cost about £10,000 for a boat to be rigged out to be involved in a community pelagic quota. Such a step would demonstrate regional management at a local level, and would provide a crucial local say—as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith)—in the fisheries and the fish that swim abundantly around the Hebrides.
Finally, I ask that we treat with some disdain the ever-spawning bureaucratic output from the European Union, especially in connection with the sea. When ideas do not allow for consideration of economic impact, that surely explains much about why the EU is in its present situation. That is why we should, as the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, be well clear of the common fisheries policy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for obtaining the debate. It has taken place in the past in the main Chamber, and that would be a good idea in the future. Perhaps it could be held in Government time, which would also be of benefit. I pay tribute to those who risk, and sometimes give, their lives so that we can eat fish. Part of my family comes from the coal mining industry and I know what it is for people to work in occupations where there is great risk.
This is the fourth time that I have spoken in a fisheries debate, which is quite a good record for a landlocked Member of Parliament. I looked back at a speech I made some years ago, and themes I picked up then have been repeated by other hon. Members today. Progress has been made on some of them, and others await resolution. One theme was that, as with all food chains, we must get as much value as possible from the product. My hon. Friends the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made that point. It is not just the value of the catch that is important, but the value added to it by processing. Keeping that as local as possible, and marketing it well, is essential for the industry.
At the time of my earlier speech we were waiting for the draft of the Bill that is now the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We look forward to the designation of marine conservation areas. That raises huge issues for the fishing industry, but the industry is dependent, as everything else to do with the sea is, on areas where fish can spawn and, indeed, juveniles can be recruited without being fished out of existence. Everyone believes, I think, that the common fisheries policy is best delivered on a regional basis. So much work needs to be done: the control of fishing, quotas and effort—the time that vessels can be at sea—must be under the control of regional operators, although there should be a central overview.
In a previous debate I dealt with the technical measures to ensure that fishermen use gear that can minimise by-catch. I understand that the Scottish industry has spearheaded a range of conservation initiatives, including technical modifications to fishing gear and real-time area closures, which has reduced discards and aided fish stock recovery for a wide range of species. The European Marine and Fisheries Fund must support those moves.
I want to mention that my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and I believe action on technical measures and effort control needs to be piloted also in the under- 10 metre sector, which needs to prove that that approach is a more effective fisheries management tool than the current regime.
I thank my hon. Friend who is a champion of the under-10 metre operators. She makes a good point about how that sector, in particular, can reduce discards by improving gear.
I want to mention a few constituency issues, even though we are landlocked. Stephen Marsh-Smith runs the Wye and Usk Foundation, which has for a number of years been improving the quality of the environment in those fantastic salmon and trout rivers. He has done terrific work on the main rivers and, more particularly, on the tributaries. He has ensured that fish can have access to spawning areas high up on the tributaries where they have never had access before. When they get there, the spawning areas are of a very high standard, which means many more fry survive. The foundation sends a letter every month, and I received one about three weeks ago which said that despite a reasonable amount of rain there was still not enough water in the tributaries for fish to access their spawning areas. With the weather that we have had recently, the fish will now be able to obtain those areas and we look forward to a good spawning season.
The fishing industry is so important to the nation and coastal areas in particular. We look to the Minister to do all that he can in the negotiations he will be attending. It must be difficult for any industry that has to invest large amounts of money in vessels and gear to be dependent on year-by-year negotiations for its livelihood.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). I congratulate the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate. Like them, I have been engaged in debates on fisheries—primarily in the main Chamber, although sadly not on this occasion—for 15 years, although I know that the Member for Aberdeen North has done so for a great deal longer. I therefore approach the debate with a perspective of déjà vu, as we go over the same subjects time and again.
Last week, I met the chief executive and others from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations in Portcullis House. I asked him to reflect on the past decade or so and what is different now. Is it simply that we all trundle out each year and say the same things, then trundle back until next year, when we say the same things again? He said what I remember repeating some 10 or 15 years ago: the essential need for fishermen and scientists to work together a great deal more. When I was on the Select Committee on Agriculture, as it was then known, we went to Spain and saw the stark difference between how this country managed its fishing industry and how the Spanish managed theirs: instead of fishermen and scientists being at loggerheads as they were in this country, in Spain they were working together and ensuring that the fishery was evidence-based.
To take fisheries policy forward, there are a number of building blocks in terms of the powers in the UK and those we are trying to influence in Europe, as is repeated year on year. As I think we all agree, some of the blunt instruments that underlie the failed common fisheries policy need to be put aside and replaced by themes such as the essential importance of scientists and fishermen working closely together, regionalisation and, in my view, greater emphasis on closed-area satellite surveillance and other forms of enforcement to achieve the necessary progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), who is no longer in his place, proposed an alternative way forward that requires engagement with fishermen. I notice that he went out of his way, for one moment, to criticise Conservative-controlled Cornwall council and how it is managing fisheries. I have to say that I thoroughly endorse that sentiment.
Will my hon. Friend clarify his remarks and explain how Cornwall council is responsible for managing fisheries? The inshore fisheries and conservation authority may be responsible for managing fisheries eventually, but I know of no committee on Cornwall council at the moment with fisheries management powers.
I will gladly respond. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon made the remarks, and he was critical of the local authority. The IFCA is the level at which the local authority engages with fisheries, in particular on under-10s, but there are many other ways to influence fisheries in Cornwall, such as planning, transport and other council functions. I simply want to put on record which party leads that local authority.
A number of issues have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) raised the important issue of the mackerel quota and the risk of losing some of it, in the absence of any consultation with the industry. The mackerel hand-line sector has the lowest possible effect on the fishery—anything below size or over quota, because it is a pelagic fishery, gets thrown back and lives. It is the most primitive method of fishing, and it only has 0.83% of the total UK quota. The Marine Management Organisation is considering removing some of that quota because we have had a couple of years of low stocks in the area, not through overfishing but simply because migratory patterns change from time to time. In fact, the ability to switch that quota to cod and other species that are abundant in our waters is an important part of the method by which inshore fishermen manage their fishery. The Minister has had a letter from me on the subject, so I hope that he will consider it.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) mentioned the spurdog as a by-catch inshore. A number of fishermen in my constituency— I wrote to the Minister on behalf of Chris Bean of Helford, for example—have been affected in exactly the same way by the unavoidable by-catch of spurdog, for example. Working with scientists, we need to find ways to avoid those by-catches. If the fish are caught and not going to live, clearly there should be an agreeable method of landing them, if it were possible to distinguish between intended and unintended by-catch, which I know is an issue of which the Minister and others are seized.
On the annual round, the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation echoes many of the sentiments of the NFFO, because many of the country-wide issues also affect the country of Cornwall, but in spades. Cornwall has an ultra-mixed fishery, so evidence-based policy is fundamentally important in applying quota systems to it.
The Minister should also take into account recreational sea anglers, who are not properly represented and have no one to sponsor their activity, which is important to tourism. In that regard, Malcolm Gilbert and John Munday from my constituency have emphasised the need to ensure that we strike a balance in taking policy forward, not only in the IFCAs but throughout the industry.
I am proud to represent Brixham, which lands the highest value catch in England, worth £26 million. I am pleased that the Minister has already visited our fantastic new fish market, and I look forward to welcoming him back next year. He knows how important shellfish are to the industry locally, not only because 99% of scallops are landed for processing in the area, creating local jobs, but because the majority are then exported, adding significantly to our balance of payments.
Scallop fishermen, however, are under considerable pressure. They are regulated not by quotas, but by limitations to their effort through their kilowatt days at sea. They are therefore seeking an increase in the effort available to them in area VII and, as the Minister knows, the French have 5 million unused kilowatt days. Earlier this year some dangerous intimidation of Brixham fishermen occurred around the baie de Seine, arising from French grievance in relation to a closed season that our fishermen do not have to respect. It strikes us, therefore, that there is a lot of room for an arrangement of mutual benefit. I hope that in summing up the Minister will inform us of any progress.
In the next round of negotiations, will the Minister also make representations on behalf of Brixham scallop fishermen for an increase in their effort, which is vital to Brixham’s local economy? Many people will make the case that scallop dredging is too environmentally damaging. I receive letters and e-mails saying that we should abandon it in favour of diver-caught scallops, but they would then be wholly unaffordable for most people, and that would completely destroy an industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), who is no longer in his place, referred to the work of Callum Roberts. Anyone who has read his moving work, “The Unnatural History of the Sea”, will know that another way forward, which we are adopting, is to find areas of sanctuary.
In my area, there is a proposal for a large marine conservation zone of about 250 sq km, to be known as the Skerries. That will join a special area of conservation and will become a very large area. I welcome MCZs, but my concern is that we already have a successful inshore potting agreement in that area. Those who are part of the potting industry and use static gear in that area already operate in an environmentally sustainable way under that agreement. Understandably, they are worried about the impact. If it is too restrictive, and the area becomes a no-take zone, not only would that be unnecessary, it would destroy their industry. Will the Minister update those in my constituency who use static gear on the likely management arrangements in the proposed MCZ? The areas and their management will be announced next year.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. We all want scallop dredging to be removed from environmentally sensitive parts of the sea bed, but that should not be overly restrictive, and I agree that we do not want people to have a blanket idea that all scallop dredging is terrible if we want people to be able to afford scallops, and the industry to be maintained. My hon. Friend made the fantastic point that the issue is not just about conserving fish; it is about conserving our fishing communities, which are so vital in all coastal areas.
In closing, I pay tribute to Brixham coastguard, which is due to close, to its work on behalf of communities, and to all those whom they have helped to keep safe at sea.
This has been a fascinating debate, and I have little to add, particularly after my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) presented such a comprehensive set of issues that the under-10-metre fleet in particular must address. I would like to make two points. They have been made before, but I want to assert them on behalf of Ramsgate fishermen, and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), who unfortunately is not well today. We have similar and common issues.
First, Hastings and Ramsgate have put a proposal to the Minister for a non-sector sustainable fisheries pilot to include technical measures, effort control and a no-discard policy, reflecting the need for regional management and smaller fishermen’s concerns about the centralised, inaccurate and sometimes prescriptive quota system.
The second issue that we are concerned about, particularly in Ramsgate—it is welcome in many ways—is the offer by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set up an under-10s producer organisation. That is an important initiative to take forward. However, DEFRA must realise that the under-10s do not have the same organisational capacity, and it will be challenging for them to set up a sophisticated business organisation.
Without reducing the enthusiasm that under-10 fishermen have for the concept, DEFRA should put in place some business management support to put together the concept, and some support for the individuals who take on the leadership role, not as a professional job, unlike producer organisations today, but as part of running a small business. They take time out of that work, and I would like some support to ensure that the Minister’s vision and our enthusiasm for it becomes reality.
My last point, which hon. Members today have made, is that it is crucial that we bottom this out. Meetings that I have attended in Brussels reveal that Britain need not be so diffident about owning quota. The quota is owned by this country, not the people who have assumed rights and purchase.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that quota was provided to British fishermen free of charge, and that only the buying and selling of quota and the introduction of fixed quota allocation units has led us to the disastrous situation for the under-10-metre fleet?
I thank my hon. Friend who, as we all know, has huge experience in this area. I totally agree with her. We must rectify the situation. I have asked questions about this at meetings in Brussels, and was told that other countries do not have the same regime, and that the state owns the quota and distributes it to those who fish and those who are in the trade. I urge the Minister to use the precedent internationally and throughout Europe to ensure that he is successful in regaining control over that quota, and that it is used by those whose livelihoods depend on fishing.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Brady. I did a double take when I saw you there. You look very different from at the start of the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing this debate. I add my voice to those who complained that this debate is not taking place on the Floor of the House, although the quality of debate today has been no less than in years gone by. I thank all hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have spoken eloquently and are well informed about the fishing communities they represent.
I take this opportunity to echo the words of hon. Members who paid tribute to the bravery of our fishermen and those who lost their lives in an incredibly difficult and dangerous line of work. The men and women who work out at sea and in our ports take huge risks, and too many of them and their families pay the ultimate price.
There is clear cross-party consensus that radical reform of the common fisheries policy is needed, and I take this opportunity to commend the Minister on his attempts this year and before that to take forward proposals that will be of great advantage to the industry and our marine environment. On this issue, he is—although I am reluctant to admit it—doing a difficult job well, and he has the support of the Opposition in his continued efforts to secure real reform. The Labour Government fought for fisheries reform in Europe, and we were committed to a radical reform programme in our last manifesto. For the absence of doubt, that is the one that was so enthusiastically endorsed by the electorate.
A collaborative approach to fisheries management will be particularly important in ongoing efforts to eliminate discards. Discarding is a symptom of the poor management and practice of the current common fisheries policy. It is wasteful, undermines the sustainability of fish stocks, distorts scientific evidence, and deeply affects and frustrates our fishermen. Throwing good fish back into the sea is simply squandering a valuable natural resource, and is nothing short of immoral. In some fisheries, up to 60% of catches are discarded. Clearly, that cannot be allowed to continue.
Catch quota trials were introduced in 2011 to reduce discards of North sea cod. Cod in the North sea is recovering, but not as fast as prescribed in the EU cod management plan, so a 20% cut in total allowable catch is likely to be implemented under provisions in the management plan. The Opposition believe that such a cut would be counter-productive. Any reduction in total allowable catch for one species such as cod in a mixed fishery such as the North sea is likely to increase discards. However, any support for the status quo must be matched by increased commitments to selective fishing practices so that cod mortality continues to decrease to meet the plan’s target.
Much has been said about common fisheries policy reform. I know that time is short, so I will move on quickly to discuss a couple of issues related indirectly to the CFP. The continued overfishing of north-eastern Atlantic mackerel is another issue that must be resolved. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) for her comments on the issue. The Opposition call on the UK and Scottish Governments to continue to defend the fishing rights of UK fleets.
Labour supports the EU’s plans to ban imports of mackerel and other fish from Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The western mackerel fishery has traditionally been one of the most sustainable and well-managed fisheries in Europe, and the refusal of those island nations to take part in any sensible negotiations cannot be tolerated. Unfortunately, sanctions cannot be ruled out. I do not want to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), who is no longer in his seat, but he will always be assured a warm welcome in Scotland, despite his earlier comments. Although sanctions cannot be ruled out, we must rely on them only as a last resort that might not be avoidable.
We also want a rebalancing of the UK’s fishing quota system, to which a number of Members referred, particularly the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). We believe that a radical overhaul of how fishing quotas are allocated within the UK is needed.
That is a perfectly valid concern. I am sure that the Government and the fisheries producer organisations have made those calculations, although I do not have access to that information. It must be considered if we are to go down that road, and I am sure that we all hope that that solution—if it is a solution—can be avoided.
Smaller inland fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers, but they are restricted from catching more than 4% of the UK fishing quota.
The hon. Lady has made numerous interventions in this debate, and her contributions are welcome. I suggest that she has perhaps misjudged the nature of these debates. They are generally not used to score party political points. I will not follow her down that particular road.
Labour is committed to reforms that will tackle vested interests and reward those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. I have commended the fishing industry as a whole on advancements being made, but it is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry should have to survive on just 4% of the UK fishing quota. That view was supported, I am glad to say, in the sixth report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which recommended a one-off reallocation alongside moves to reallocate quota in-year.
To his credit, the Minister has attempted to reallocate a portion of the constantly underutilised quota, albeit a very small portion, to the under-10s. It is regrettable that the producer organisations have decided to take that decision to judicial review. If the Government’s decision is overturned, does the Minister agree that a vital national resource will be redefined as no more than a commodity, effectively privatising the seas and the fish stocks within it, and will he consider primary legislation to reverse that judgment if it comes? I accept that given the ongoing legal case, he might not want to comment explicitly on those matters, but it is useful to alert him that they will demand answers in the near future.
There is a fear that, as in other countries where a rights-based system has been introduced, the quota will end up in fewer and fewer hands. Our fisheries are a national resource, not a private one; it is the Government’s job to ensure they remain that way. From my previous job as railways Minister, I think that there is an analogy to be made with rail franchises. Rail franchises are given to private companies for a period of time, at the end of which an open competition is held, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to allow those franchises to be exploited by different private companies. However, during the whole of the franchise, the resource—passenger income—is the property of the Government.
With that in mind, can I press the Minister on when the Government will publish an up-to-date list of who currently owns the quota—essentially, the right to fish—in the UK? I fully accept that that comes under the headline “stuff Labour should have done when we were in government”, but that does not let the current Government off the hook, so to speak. The country has the right to know how much quota is owned and exploited by working fishermen and how much, if any, is owned by non-fishing interests.
Finally, another area of debate that needs to be addressed is subsidies and the European maritime and fisheries fund. The EMFF is a funding instrument intended to support the objectives of the reformed CFP from 2014 to 2020. In the past, several member states have benefited from EU financial assistance for the fishing sector without properly implementing and enforcing CFP rules. For example, a number of member states did not fulfil their reporting obligations under the data collection framework regulation, yet they continued to benefit from funding. Surely it is unacceptable that operators who engage in serious infringements can continue to benefit from EU financial assistance.
Does the Minister believe that access to EU funding under the EMFF should be conditional on compliance with and delivery of the reformed CFP and other EU marine legislation? I ask because the general approach outlined by the Council of Fisheries Ministers, on which he sits, overruled the EU Commission’s proposal to introduce clear language in article 12 to ensure that EU financial assistance is not permissible for operators who do not comply with the rules. If he agrees with my previous question, what steps is he taking to redress the change? Surely he does not believe that funding should still be available to operators who flout the CFP’s basic rules. If so, then why did he sign off on it?
That said, I share a lot of common ground with the Minister on the vast range of issues that we have heard today. Fishing is not a party political football, and I do not think that most in the House intend to treat it so. If he cannot answer all the questions raised by me and other hon. Members, I am sure that he will write to us with full answers.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) for his words of support for our general direction, and I accept the challenge put to me by him and others to justify our approach to the many issues covered by hon. Members during this debate. I will try to address as many of them as I can, but I start by commending the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie)—I look forward to hearing from the latter in a moment—on securing the debate. The attendance makes a good case for holding it in the main Chamber. We have had a lively debate, full of interesting and useful points.
I start, as numerous hon. Members have, by remembering the seven fishermen who have lost their lives this year while working at sea and in harbour. We must all remember the courage and sacrifice of fishermen, who put their lives in danger to provide us with the food we need. I know that the House will join me in remembering the bravery of our fishermen and the incredibly difficult and dangerous work that they do. I commend the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) on making the point about the fishermen in her constituency who acted so courageously.
Before I address some of the points that have been raised, in the short time that I have, I want to set the context of where we are with the common fisheries policy and the December round. I am encouraged that we secured agreement on key areas through the general approach agreed at the Council of Fisheries Ministers in June this year. This time last year in the fisheries debate, I did not share the optimism that that could be achieved, but I am very glad that we did achieve it.
Those key areas include ambitious deadlines to eliminate discards, with provisions that will secure a workable result and a sustainable solution for the fishing industry. The commitment to implement a landing obligation, with a provisional timetable, is a major step in the right direction. The UK has been leading the way in Europe, trialling schemes that tackle discards through managing fisheries based on what is caught, not what is landed. Pilots of fully documented fisheries have been very effective in reducing discards. Following the success of the pilots to date, the UK is seeking to continue the North sea cod scheme and the schemes in the western waters, and we wish to develop new schemes for plaice, haddock and saithe in the North sea. That will help us prepare for obligations to land all catches under a reformed common fisheries policy.
The general approach is also an important first step on the way to decentralising decision making and the current complex regulations. I look forward to giving more details of that as I address some of the points that have been raised, but the UK has taken a lead role in advocating regionalisation. We have been working with other member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission to build support for workable solutions. It is clear that proposals must enable nations fishing in the same sea area, often for the same fish, to come together and agree how best to manage their fisheries without the type of micro-management from Brussels that has been so roundly condemned today. We will continue to make the case for fundamental reform as discussions take place in the European Parliament next year.
It is with those longer-term goals in mind that I will go into discussions at the December Council, where fishing opportunities for 2013 will be decided. I will negotiate for a fair and balanced package of fishing opportunities. Fundamentally, I want quotas set on scientific evidence to ensure that we can achieve sustainable levels of fishing by 2015 where possible, while ensuring that discards are reduced.
At this point, I want to comment on cod. A recent report in a Sunday newspaper, which should have known better, said that there were only 100 adult cod left in the North sea. At some point later, they had the grace to print a correction, but the correct figure, as scientists in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and officials in my Department had been trying to explain to the journalist over the previous week, is 21 million adult cod in the North sea. It was a misrepresentation, and a failure in accuracy of reporting by a factor of 20,999,900, which must go down somewhere in the record books. One million tonnes of cod will be caught this year in the Barents sea and off north Norway. Cod is not a rare animal, but we have an important job to do to get it back to the levels that I know we can through proper management, and I will come on to the failures of the cod recovery plan later.
The UK, as a priority, will be seeking a way to ensure that days at sea remain at 2012 levels into 2013. We see that as vital to the recovery of cod stocks and to maintaining the viability of the UK fishing fleet. Those are two similar priorities for us. Everyone agrees that further cuts in days at sea cannot be justified, and they are being contemplated only as a result of the flawed cod recovery plan. Parallel to that is the Commission’s proposal for a 20% cut in North sea cod total allowable catch, even though the stock is growing and that cut would only lead to increased discards. The UK will be arguing strongly against both those cuts.
As we speak, the annual negotiations between the EU and Norway are ongoing in Bergen. They are always of vital importance to the UK, with jointly managed stocks such as North sea cod, whiting and haddock making up around 50% of the UK’s catch by value. It is therefore very important that we secure a good outcome from this year’s negotiation.
I share hon. Members’ concerns about the continued lack of agreement on the management of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock, which is the UK’s most important single fishery by value, worth around £200 million a year to the UK economy. The continued behaviour of the Faroe Islands and Iceland in fishing far in excess of their historical catch levels seriously risks the future sustainability of the fishery. It is essential that we reach a sharing arrangement quickly but that we do not agree to a deal at any costs. I am pleased that the EU sanctions regulation has now been published, as it provides the EU with much-needed powers to take action against countries threatening the health of our fish stocks.
I turn to some points that hon. Members have raised in this excellent debate. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North made the point that fish stocks are generally rising, and we need to show our appreciation for the efforts of fishermen who are taking initiatives with the support of Governments in the UK to ensure that the systems they use to catch fish are sustainable.
The hon. Gentleman raised a serious concern that we, too, have about institutional arguments in Brussels, and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan also made that point. I agree with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations that we do not want cod, the cod recovery plan, or fishing stocks in UK waters to be used as a totemic issue in a struggle between EU institutions. They are too important for that. We are talking about the sustainability of a stock that we want to recover, and about the livelihoods of fishermen and those onshore who support them. I can assure the hon. Member for Aberdeen North that I am standing side by side with Norway, and I met the Norwegian Minister yesterday on the issue of mackerel. I also recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman made—as other hon. Members did, including my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) and for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Glasgow South—about who owns quota. Who has fishing opportunity is a much better way of putting it, because I entirely agree with the points that were made that our fishing opportunity is a national resource. I assure hon. Members that we will be working extremely hard through next year and will deliver—I hope by this time next year—the details that people want to know about who has access to that national resource.
I appreciate the points raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North about safety, which is a major concern. In addition to the tragic deaths that we have recognised, there are still too many injuries on fishing vessels. I also understand the points that he made about migrant labour. I do not have time to go into that now, but I am keen to take it up with him.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton—and Filey—for what she said. Yes, we can get bedevilled by process, but we must keep our eye on what we are trying to achieve. I, too, welcome the fact that shellfish stocks around the UK have recently been given a thumbs-up by science and are in a healthy condition. I hope that more fishermen in her constituency and elsewhere are able to exploit that valuable stock and help our balance of payments, as well as our national diet.
The question of regionalisation was raised not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton but by my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for St Ives (Andrew George) and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), among others. Whether or not we are in the CFP—there has been some discussion about that—I strongly believe that we will always have to work with other countries on the management of our seas. We have to manage our oceans on an ecosystem basis, which means discussing them with all the countries that fish that sea basin. If we do not, we risk seeing stocks crash, because countries will exploit—within their 200-mile limit, their 12-mile limit, or wherever it is—a fish that may be there for a certain time in the life cycle but spawns elsewhere. That is why regionalisation is so important.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have a lot to get through. If I have time towards the end, I will give way.
Regionalisation should not mean a shift in power to the Commission, which was where we were before June. If all members in the sea basin area had not agreed, the Commission would have had greater powers to impose technical measures and I would still be sitting at 4 o’clock in the morning talking to an EU official about where an eliminator panel should sit in a net going out of Peterhead. That would be lunacy. We managed to change that to ensure that there will be co-decision if disagreement exists. I hope that when there is agreement, we can move forward and fishermen and local fisheries management will be at the heart of decision making.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for raising the issue of nephrops. I can confirm that at least a roll-over for nephrops in the Irish sea will be an important priority for us, and we will argue on the basis of sustainability.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall talks so much sense about fishing. I say to her and to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, who also talks sense, that the MMO has taken no decision on mackerel handline. That matter will be resolved after the December Council, but I can assure hon. Members that I understand the importance of that to the south-west fishery.
A lot of discussion has taken place about MPAs. Without the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, we would meet our 2016 target of having 25% of our inshore waters in properly managed marine protected areas, but as we roll out marine conservation zones under the Act, which will be thoughtful and ecologically coherent, Ministers will be able to consider the socio-economic factors of the impact that they will have. I know that that is of concern to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and others.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool made a good speech. I pass on my congratulations to his father on his birthday. The hon. Gentleman spoke about under-10 metre vessels, which are very important. Domestically, addressing the challenges facing the English under-10 metre fleet remains a key priority. Delivering effective change will not be easy, and there are some really difficult decisions. Hon. Members have alluded to disputes that may or may not exist and may or may not be resolved outside the courts. However, I assure the hon. Member for Hartlepool and others that my concern for the under-10 metre sector remains. I know that in some cases that fleet is hanging on by its fingernails. I have secured some extra quota for it, and we have the pilot in Ramsgate—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet for her efforts to secure that. There are seven vessels in it. That is not as many as I would have hoped, and there are a variety of reasons why we did not get more. However, I want to learn from that pilot and ensure that we provide support.
Through the CFP reform, we need to address a number of different things. The hon. Member for Hartlepool raised the issue of multi-annual plans, which I believe are very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said that he wanted to take politicians out of fisheries management. We will never quite do that, but I am entirely behind him, and multi-annual plans are one way of doing that. The absurd charade that I have to go through every December is an act of politics. Some Ministers use it as a form of patronage. Multi-annual plans based on pure science are in the interests of fishermen and the marine environment. They are a much better way to make progress. They take power away from the malign activities of some politicians. I can assure hon. Members that we argue our case on the basis of science and sustainability. That long-term view is right for the fishing industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made very powerful speeches. I assure them that I want to see under-10 metre vessels empowered by an organisation. We are supporting them as best we can to ensure that a producer organisation, which is the right way forward, does go ahead.
I want to address quickly my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) and say how much I regret that I cannot attend his conference on Monday. I want to get across, with all the vehemence at my disposal, the point that the draft Water Bill has a purpose, but what was in the water White Paper sets out clearly where we can get to. Legislation is not always the best way of delivering things, although we will need legislation to deal with over-abstraction, as there are 22,000 abstraction licences. I am quite optimistic about chalk streams. I think that we can get to where we need to be. I hope that the meeting on Monday is not channelled into a view that one piece of legislation is all that is needed to solve all our problems. We are dealing with over-abstraction now. We are implementing the water White Paper and we can, over the next few years, resolve many of the issues that he raises.
I have run out of time. Many other valid points were made by hon. Members who mind passionately about this issue, whether they come, like me, from a place that is about as far from the sea as it is possible to get in this country or whether they represent coastal communities. I can assure them that the value of this debate was in enabling these issues to be raised and in enabling me to say that my door is always open for these issues to be raised on behalf of them and their constituents. We will get the best deal that we can in December, based on a desire to see sustainable fisheries in the future.
I am pleased to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I am also delighted that the Minister is present, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris), the shadow Minister for fisheries.
I am delighted to have helped to secure the debate, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran). We can see just how important it was, following the very powerful and compelling arguments that have been made today. It was an excellent debate. A wide range of issues was raised, including regionalisation and nephrops. I welcome the fact that the Minister will exert his good influence at the negotiations to ensure that it is possible to get a roll-over for nephrops in the Irish sea. We raised the issues of the cod recovery plan, the exploitation of migrants, the quota holders, and health and safety—that is one of the most important things. It is important that we pay tribute to the bravery and courage of our fishermen, because there is a great element of risk in that profession and often the ordinary men and women on the street do not necessarily recognise that when they order fish in a restaurant or cook it in their kitchen. They do not think of the work and effort that have been invested and the risk that has been involved in providing the product that they buy in the supermarkets.
We have talked about the economics of the industry and the argument in relation to science and sustainability. We all believe that there need to be sustainable fisheries. There is the issue of discards. We talked about the very blunt instrument that the common fisheries policy is—how it is a top-down approach and we are looking for regionalisation and a bottom-up approach. As a Member of Parliament representing two fishing ports, Ardglass and Kilkeel, whose fishermen fish in the Irish sea, I believe that it is important that local people are part of the advisory council, along with those from the Republic of Ireland and the west of Scotland, who also fish in the Irish sea, because that local knowledge can bring considerable influence to bear on the future shape and management of that fishery. I would like to think that greater influence would be brought to bear at the level of the European Council of Ministers to ensure that there was understanding of the value and benefit of that.
The hon. Lady mentions the EU’s top-down approach to fisheries management. It takes no account—or never seems to take account—of the different types of fish, whether they be migratory fish, non-migratory fish or straddling stocks. It takes the same approach to each type of fish, which is probably part of the nub of the problem with the common fisheries policy. The fact that we have these types of fish is why we can have real-time closures for some areas and for particular species, but not for all species.
I thank the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), the Western Isles, for his intervention. [Interruption.] He is correcting my interpretation of his Gaelic, although I suppose I would be speaking in Gaeilge—in Irish.
There was reference to the misuse of mackerel by the Icelandic and Faroese, maximum sustainable yield, MPAs, TACs and quotas, and the need for a bottom-up approach.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) mentioned renewables and wind energy in the Irish sea. There will be even more wind turbines in the Irish sea, if DONG Energy, Centrica and First Flight Wind get their way. I hope that they bring a lot of sustainability. It is interesting that the fishing industry involved in the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation in Kilkeel is directly concerned in safeguarding those renewable operations and will gain financial assistance for the fishing industry from them. I see that as a benefit, but I also recognise that the cabling in the Irish sea, along with the MPAs, could interfere with fishing effort. I ask the Minister to take cognisance of that.
The abolition of the CFP was raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South indicated that fishing should not become a party political football. I was a little afraid that Euroscepticism was getting in the way of what the fishing industry needs. I hope that we get a properly reformed CFP that reflects the needs of the fishing industry throughout the UK and ensures not only a sustainable fishery, but one that brings benefit offshore and onshore and becomes profitable for all involved, whether fish producer, fisherman, those who are part of a fish producers’ organisation or those involved in fish processing.
I welcome the Minister’s intention to negotiate for a roll-over in the nephrops quota, but there is the whole other issue of the long-term plan for cod. The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries has acknowledged that the current plan is not working and that stakeholder and industry engagement is essential if a long-term solution is to be found. Obviously, the cod recovery plan has not worked and is not working, and something needs to be done. There is a view among local fishermen and fish producers’ organisations in Northern Ireland that to continue with a freeze on effort might not be a good idea, and it is important to look at that. Regionalisation in the CFP also needs to be explored.
I thank all who have contributed to the debate. We have sent a clear message to the Minister that we wish him well in his negotiations. Whether on the responsible reform of discards, developing a sustainable and economically viable quota system or dealing with regionalisation and the blunt instrument of the CFP, all of the 19 Members who contributed, as well as those who intervened, have spoken with a largely coherent voice, in a non-partisan way, which reflects the many shared interests in this area. We share many concerns. The Minister will have heard the clear interests of those in the devolved regions and, I hope, my argument that greater regionalisation is needed to sculpt a CFP sensitive to the specific concerns of fishermen who operate in the different waters throughout and around these islands.
I wish the Minister well in his negotiations, whether on CFP reform or TAC and the whole area of allocating and fixing quotas. We must remember not only the bands of fishermen and fish producers’ organisations, but those inshore, who sometimes feel that they do not always benefit from the producer organisations, because they are a small group. We must not forget that fishing should provide a sustainable future for our land and marine environment and all those who eke their living from it.
Before the hon. Lady concludes, as we have a couple of minutes left, may I make a point about marine protected areas? Under the two European designations, 23% of our inshore waters are protected under MPAs. I said that I thought that about 25% could be achieved by 2016, which is the date we want. We are not concerned with simply creating lines on maps or doing a numbers job. We want something meaningful.
Many hon. Members raised concerns about the impact of MPAs. We want the management to reflect the science on why the areas need protecting, which means that some activities will be prevented, but others, further up the water column or wherever, will be allowed. It is important. It is a complex area that is causing grave concern. I hope that we can develop ecological coherence around the UK; it was the thread that ran through the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 in England and Wales. I hope that we can work together to achieve that.
I thank the Minister for his helpful intervention. As he said, it is important that the needs and requirements of all those involved are reflected when the MPAs are drawn up, notwithstanding the difficulties, such as the wind energy proposals and the considerable cabling in, for example, the Irish sea. There are probably other proposals. I recall a meeting with the Minister 14 months ago, where the chief executive of the ANIFPO had a detailed, layered map to show the amount of activity in the Irish sea that could contribute to a reduction in fishing effort. The MPAs therefore need the best management.
In wishing the Minister well in his negotiations, we must not forget what other Members said about health and safety and the influence of the coast guard in safeguarding fishermen and marine and coastal communities. This was a general debate about fisheries, so some Members mentioned inland fisheries, angling and abstraction. With the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we are looking at the draft Water Bill. Yesterday, we looked—without prejudice, I should say—at the outcome of the report into it and the details on abstraction, about which we have talked to various Ministers. Decommissioning was also mentioned, but I thought that we had moved on from that, because it is about taking boats out of the fishing industry, which can be detrimental to financial outcomes.
In conclusion, I thank you, Mr Brady and all Members who contributed. I also thank the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South, and the Minister. I wish everybody well. We thank the fishing communities for their forbearance and endurance. I wish them well in the future, as we try to sculpt a common fisheries policy that reflects the needs of local fishing communities, without the top-down approach that has proved unworkable to date.
Question put and agreed to.