[Relevant documents: Twentieth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Documents considered by the Committee on 19 November 2014, HC 219-xix, Chapter 2]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the fishing industry.
May I first express my delight in moving this motion and opening this debate, which is a great honour? I have participated in more fishing debates in 38 years than Britain has had quota cuts in its fishing catches, and I am afraid that it has always been a long-term rearguard action to prevent the decline of fishing. Such rearguard action has gone on ever since Prime Minister Ted Heath abandoned British fishing to the common fisheries policy. The fishing industry became, in the words of a Scottish Office Minister, “disposable”. Equal access to our common resource signalled a smaller and far less powerful British industry, and it inevitably precipitated endless haggling, with British Ministers fighting for our fishing.
We have had these annual debates, in which we always voice the problems of our fishing industry in different areas and try to incite Ministers to go away and fight for fishing. Ministers have said, for example, that they were going to fight for Britain in the December European Council meeting at Brussels and come back proclaiming victory—yet fishing continues to decline. They have not proclaimed a victory as complete as Ted Heath’s under the Maastricht treaty, which claimed game, set and match to Britain. That is a facetious point about Europe as an introduction to what I really want to say.
We have fought a rearguard action, which is now reaching its nadir. The forthcoming Council in December threatens a disaster for the industry because the conservation campaigners are proposing 40 quota cuts, with only 27 remaining stable or being increased. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has called this a “breathtaking galaxy of cuts”, which will decimate the industry, so we are at a turning-point because the cuts to quotas threaten the viability of the fishing industry, especially the English fishing industry. The Scottish industry is inevitably stronger because it is nearer the fishing grounds and is better protected by its Ministers and its Government than the English industry has been.
There is a particular threat to the south-west, which will suffer the brunt of the cuts. If the cuts go ahead, there will not be enough quota to maintain a viable, profitable fishing industry throughout the year, and the industry will be forced to reconstruct itself by means of bankruptcy rather than decommissioning, or any other sensible policy. What has happened to the Bristol channel is a standing warning of the fate that will overtake the industry if the cuts proceed. Endless cuts have led to minute quotas, forcing the big vessels out and tying up the smaller ones. Many fishermen have gone bankrupt, and the only processing factory in the area has closed down. The cuts pose a threat that what has happened to the Bristol channel will happen all over the country.
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady. That is the danger that I want to avoid. I am inciting the Minister to fight to protect the industry in order to prevent that eventuality, because what happened to the Bristol channel must not be allowed to happen to the rest of the country.
The prospects for the wider industry following the European Council meeting are gloomy indeed. The problems are compounded not just by cuts in the total allowable catches, but by the discard ban, which is to be introduced in two stages. That will be very messy and difficult. I believe that a discard ban is impossible unless every fishing vessel is equipped with closed-circuit television so that catches can be monitored. Alternatively, perhaps we could send unemployed Methodist Ministers to serve as observers on all the vessels—and Church of Scotland Ministers to serve on the Scottish vessels—to give us an honest account of what is going on.
I have long been an admirer of my hon. Friend, who is passionate about this subject. He has always said that it is possible for this country to have a healthy, vibrant fishing industry which also protects marine conservation and the environment. Will he reassert that view?
That is exactly right. That is what I want to achieve, as will emerge from my speech, whether it proves to be passionate, discursive or very boring.
As I have said, the problems caused by the cuts will be compounded by the discard ban, which will be unenforceable. Moreover, if fish are to be expensively dumped in landfill rather than being discarded at sea, we shall need more ports at which to land them, and we do not have those ports, because they are being closed. In Lowestoft, for instance, everything has closed down. That, in turn, will be compounded by the landing requirements, which have not yet been specified because of the process of co-decision making. All that is compounded further by the rush to marine conservation areas. Conservationists want 127 of them, which is just daft. It is excessive. Those conservation areas will create a patchwork quilt of different regulations and requirements in different parts of the North sea, with which the fishing industry will find it impossible to comply.
Why are we faced with all this? We are faced with it because the common fisheries policy was not revised in the way in which it should have been in the recent 20-year revision. That revision provided an opportunity for power to be transferred to the regions and the regional advisory councils, and for the industry to control its own fishing, policing itself and maintaining its own stability. However, Brussels would not give up control. The result is that the policy is still controlled by diktat from the top and is enforced in the different areas. It is still decided on quotas and, if we have quotas, we are going to get discards, because those in mixed fisheries will catch fish that are not on their quota, and what is going to happen to them? The more they cut quotas, the greater the discards. We will face that problem as a result of this Council.
The common fisheries policy has always been enforced through political imperative. In the past it was the political imperative of doling out paper fish to all the states in the EU. Each got a catch, and inevitably the result was overfishing, with fish created to please the politicians and to be given to national entities. The political imperative has now changed; it is now to propitiate the conservation lobby, which is playing far too big a part in policy decisions, as opposed to the interests and concerns of commercial fishing and having a viable fishing industry. The conservation lobby is playing a part because it is strong in the European Parliament, which is the home of playaway politics and funny politics of all kinds.
Clearly, the conservation lobby has been very persuasive in the European Parliament. That is a sad change. I remember that 10 years ago the World Wide Fund for Nature and the British fishing industry co-operated in developing a plan for fishing that would lead to investment and, therefore, build towards a sustainable fleet and a sustainable catch, which is what we needed. We did not get the investment money from Government, however, so the conservation groups have moved on and are now demanding the close-down of the commercial industry, or restrictions on it that are so great that it will be impossible for it to carry on.
The conservationists are painting a picture of our seas being fished out by rapacious overfishing. It takes no account of overfishing by other countries, however, because we cannot effectively control our own waters if they are subject to incursions by other fishing fleets, which ours are. That was the argument that we had about bass in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago. It was an argument about whether the leisure industry, the returns on which are compounded by including hotel bills and travel and all sorts of expenses, produces a bigger economic return than the commercial fishing of bass, and it left out the French rapacious overfishing of bass and took no account of the French decimation of the stock. Similarly, discussion of the shellfish—lobster and crab—fisheries off Yorkshire took no account of the smashing of the pots of Yorkshire fishermen by French trawlers, which has been taking place.
We cannot have the kind of conservation policy that the conservationists want unless we have national enforcement in national waters, because the nation state has that interest in conservation. If we have a collective policy in which other people cheat and are given excessive quotas, which they maintain and defend, it is difficult to do what the conservationists want, which is to let the stocks build up.
The aim has been to cut down on commercial fishing in order to build the stocks and support the small boat industry. I have in my hand one of the pamphlets, with a touching picture on the cover. It is entitled, “Championing coastal waters and communities”. Small boat fishing and commercial fishing are not necessarily at each other’s throats, however. Both are essential. Small boat fisheries do not go much more than 12 nautical miles out. They are not catching the kind of fish caught by commercial fisheries—high-volume, low-return fish such as herring. They are not supplying the markets in the same way as the commercial fishermen are, so while it is necessary to support the small boat industry and fishing communities, it is also necessary to support and maintain commercial fishing.
The conservationists are trying to create panic and a fear that we are going to decimate our waters and cut down on commercial fishing. They are being financed by American money: $50 million has been provided for campaigning by the Pew organisation, plus another grant from the Oak Foundation. That is why the campaign is so well-oiled, so vociferous and so effective. The British fishing industry does not have the resources to combat that kind of propaganda. The campaigners want to tie the industry down.
The conservationists have an admirable ideal, which I share. We have to achieve sustainable fishing with a fleet that is matched to the fishing opportunities, but we will not achieve that through the brutal enforcement of targets using excessive haste. A term much used by Grimsby fishermen is “festina lente”—take it slowly. I say to the conservationists, let us do this in rational, reasonable, slow steps. Or, as the Prime Minister would say, “Calm down, dears!” Fishing has changed. It is no longer done by the kind of rapacious privateers that we used to see. Stocks are building up, and fishing mortality has halved in the north Atlantic since 2000. The amount of discards has also been halved through technical conservation measures, which is the most effective way of doing that. We are also seeing the biomass building up, very slowly in some cases but very fast in others. Look at North sea plaice: it is now abundant, and the biomass is at its highest level ever. Five years ago, North sea plaice was a threatened species. So there can be a rapid turnaround, and that turnaround is now going on, so let us take it as it comes. Let us balance the cuts with the development of the stocks.
We need to have sustainable catches, but we also need a sustainable industry. That does not mean just the small boat industry; it involves the commercial fishing industry as well. Grimsby has moved from being the world’s premier fishing port. I used to boast about that when I was first elected, but it is not a consequence of my election that it has gone from that to having perhaps only 20 boats. However, some of those boats are doing a good commercial job. Some are catching flatfish, for example. Large, tied vessels are catching North sea plaice and maintaining continuity of supply to the market. We need to sustain both: the small boats and the large, commercial vessels.
If these cuts go ahead as prophesied, the effect will be to decimate the small boat industry. It will be more serious than the conservationists envisage. We need profitable companies and profitable small boats. So why rush into the measures proposed for this coming year? Let us postpone the multiple sustainable yield target. Ministers have the latitude to postpone it to 2020, rather than introducing it in 2015. I urge them to postpone it, to maintain catches without cuts and to bring in the discard ban slowly and more partially—species by species—rather than promptly and all at once. We should let the build-up of stocks continue, and match the effort to that rather than to some target ordained in advance that is perhaps unreachable by 2015.
I urge the Minister, as we always do on these occasions, to resist the scale of cuts that has been proposed. I urge him to proclaim the need for both a sustainable industry and for us to develop a system—unlike this dictatorial one of setting quotas from the top and then enforcing them on the British industry—that listens to fishing and to the regional advisory councils. They are the biggest advance, and a necessary one, in giving us regional control, regional targets and a regional management system. We need to involve the fishermen more in their research. We need to open up to the industry the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which is far too secretive and far too scientific. The industry knows where the fish are and ICES does not necessarily have the same scale of knowledge. We need to stop trying to bully the fishing industry to fit into someone else’s plans, be it those for political union or for a conservation heaven achieved overnight.
We need to help the fishing industry; let us not restructure it by bankruptcy. Fishing has an interest in having a sustainable catch and a sustainable industry, because that is the interest of future generations. If we destroy our interest—if we cut down fishing drastically now and stop the training, the family connections, the growth of communities dependent on fishing and the investment by companies that has gone on—we are not going to be able to restore the industry later. So let the industry get involved in the management of the stocks. Let us recognise that it has a future and work to preserve it. Let the industry develop in its own way, rather than imposing these excessive cuts on it.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is an absolute honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), who has represented fishermen across the UK in this House for, as he said, 38 years. At this time of year, we should remember the wives and families of those fishermen who have lost their lives, and I ask colleagues to join me in paying tribute to them today. I also wish to thank the maritime rescue services, particularly the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the coastguard, and to pay tribute to the work of the Fishermen’s Mission, Seafarers UK and other welfare services that provide for our fishermen. Indeed, I am throwing myself into the sea to raise money for the Fishermen’s Mission on 1 January, so please think of me.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Gentleman and I am so glad that he opened today’s debate. I wish to thank both him and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) for the way in which they have represented fishermen over so many years. Indeed, I have worked with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for many years, particularly while working on behalf of Save Britain’s Fish, and I still believe today that UK fishermen would be better off out of the disgraceful common fisheries policy—I have often referred to it as the completely foolish policy. I believe that his greatest achievement was to introduce the Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Amendment Bill. I believe that had it been successful, the fishing industry would not have declined as it has over the past decade.
I now wish to discuss the quota negotiations due to take place in a few days’ time. The European Commission proposals are not good news for fishermen in the south-west—area VII, as ICES referred to it—who will be hardest hit if maximum sustainable yield levels, which is the maximum catch that can be taken from a stock without threatening its future, are achieved by 2015. I urge the Minister to put the case to extend the end date to 2020. Fishermen’s organisations say that such a move would comply with the regulations but lessen the effect of the massive quota reductions, which, if implemented, would be disastrous for the south-west fleet.
Let us look at some of the reductions. The sole quota in particular is to be cut by 60% in area VII d when it was already cut by 18% last year. The haddock quota in areas VII b to k, which affects fishermen in the Minister’s own constituency, is to be cut by 45% when it was cut by 32% last year. Those are just some examples of the cuts.
Another anomaly is the data-limited method of assessment. When the science is not precise, an automatic reduction of 20% is proposed for some stocks. It is a ludicrous method, as the system has been closed since October and yet fishermen are seeing an abundance of skate and ray stock. The proposal to reduce the skate and ray quota by 20% is totally unacceptable, especially when the result is the closure of processing businesses and the loss of jobs.
I am pleased that agreement has now been reached on the 12-mile limit—the past agreement is to remain in place until December 2022. Our territorial waters were agreed in the London convention of 1969 and, according to the spirit of the agreement, access to the 12-mile limit for other nationals with historical rights was always intended to be temporary. Forty years on, we need to see an end to other nations’ access, because those original vessels are probably no longer fishing or even in existence. The six and 12-mile limits should be exclusive for British fishermen, and that would allow our Minister to introduce measures for the conservation of bass without accusations of discriminating against them. Other member states must agree to implement any measures at European level. If they do not, UK fishermen would be penalised while other member states’ fishermen could continue to fish and land bass. Such measures would support both the commercial and the recreational sea angling sectors.
On quota management by the Marine Management Organisation, 30 years ago, fishermen were consulted through area committees on the setting of UK quotas. Over the years, we have seen much of the management responsibility for quotas move to the producer organisations, with the MMO responsible for the under-10 metres and the non-sector vessels. I urge the Minister to demand a review of the MMO’s quota management system, because errors have been made recently, particularly in relation to skate and ray.
One of the great mistakes of the previous Administration was to put the MMO not down in Plymouth but in the north-east, because we have an enormous amount to add to all of this.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour across the Tamar that such a move would have created a lot of employment not only in his constituency but in mine, and it would have made use of those wonderful maritime institutions for which Plymouth is famous.
The Minister has a very hard task ahead of him in the forthcoming negotiations. I urge him to negotiate hard for UK fishermen, especially Cornish and south-west fishermen. If he feels that my 30 years of experience with the industry would be of any use, I would happily provide advice or even accompany him to Brussels. The least I can do for an industry that is so close to my heart is to offer it a future.
Order. I advise the House that there is no formal time limit, though an excellent example has just been set by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and if each Member confines himself or herself to no more than 10 minutes, everybody will be satisfied.
I join the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), and not only on his speech. This is the last fisheries debate for both of us, as we are standing down at the next election. He is way ahead of me in terms of years. We have run the fisheries group for a number of years, but he has had 38 years at the coalface. We have not always agreed, and some of his comments today emphasise some of the differences between us, but he has been a stalwart supporter of the fishing industry and of fishermen, and he should be congratulated on that.
I took part in my very first fisheries debate in 1987, the year I was elected. It is interesting to contrast the debates that we used to have in those days with those that we have now. At the time, the main issues included quota and supplies, but there was a much more local aspect to the debate. The common fisheries policy was part of the debate, and illegal “black” fishing was a major issue until fairly recently. The Minister has a much easier time today than he would have had in those days, because it used to be a Government debate. That is a major change for us. We have to fight to get time for this debate.
When the debate was held in Government time, the Minister opened. I cannot remember many Ministers who got away in less than three quarters of an hour, and many spoke for over an hour, because there were many more fishing communities at that time. Sadly, many communities have lost their fishing industry, but the Minister had to deal with biting questions, an example of which has just been provided by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, from every part of the country. He or—I am trying to remember whether we have ever had a female Fisheries Minister; I do not think we have—
The hon. Lady is right, but we have not had a dedicated female Fisheries Minister. I am not sure if that is a job for a woman, although the hon. Lady might reach that—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That was not a sexist remark; I know the fishing industry very well.
Things have moved on and today we will be discussing more or less the same things, but in different language. We will discuss the cod recovery plan, the maximum sustainable yield, discards, and of course quotas, scientific advice and the Fisheries Council, which meets later this month. Two issues that we certainly did not discuss in the 1980s was the power struggle between the Commission and the Parliament and the science, particularly the collection of data or failure to collect data. The hon. Lady referred to one example of that.
The structure of the debates in those days was different. As I said, they were introduced by the Minister. Another regular feature which I, for one, miss was the presence of the former Prime Minister, Ted Heath, at almost every debate that I ever attended. It might be thought that a former Prime Minister might have something better to do on a Thursday afternoon, but he was there for virtually all the debates that I was involved in. Of course, he had a reason. We heard something about that from my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. The accusation that Ted Heath had sold out the fishing industry when he took the UK into the then Common Market was made regularly, often from the Labour Benches—my hon. Friend was one of those who did so—and in the later Thatcher years from his own side. It was fascinating to see him doggedly defend himself and his own reputation, and I have to say that I admired him for the way he did so. He came out of these battles often looking much stronger.
I must also confess to a soft spot for Ted Heath. I remember as a very young MP being in the Lobby when everyone seemed to be voting on the same side, apart from two or three in the other Lobby, and I found myself crushed right up against him. I made the usual kind of comment of a naive newcomer to this place, saying, “In all the years I marched and protested against your Government, I never thought I would be standing side by side with you in the Lobby.” His response was, “Young man, this will happen twice in every Parliament, on pay and hanging.” I do not think many Prime Ministers or former Prime Ministers would say something like that nowadays. It endeared him to me, I have to say.
We have very few opportunities to debate the fishing industry and, because the focus of such a debate at this time is usually the December Council meeting, we do not spend much time considering other issues, such as safety, which I am particularly concerned about. I have raised the matter from time to time over the years along with other Members, but we have never really had a debate when we could focus on it properly. As this is my last contribution to a fisheries debate, and as I have a particular interest in safety in other areas, particularly in the North sea and the oil and gas industry, I would like to say a few words.
The fishing industry has the reputation of being the most dangerous industry in the UK. In 2008, the marine accident investigation branch published an analysis of UK fishing vessel safety between 1992 and 2006. In that period, there were 256 deaths, which is a staggering number in any industry. The report suggested that there were signs of improvement towards the end of that period, but that was also at a time when the number of vessels and those employed were declining rapidly. There were fewer fatalities, but the proportion of deaths, given the number employed in the industry, stayed roughly the same.
I have been going through the records, and since that report was published there have been a further 59 deaths. Last year, there seemed to be a significant improvement when only four deaths were recorded. I have not seen the official figures for 2014, but I have been able to trace at least 10 deaths in the fishing industry this year. They include five deaths on one vessel, the Ocean Way, earlier this year. In addition to the deaths, there have been a significant number of reportable injuries, many of them serious.
The marine accident investigation branch produced a thorough analysis of the situation, and the more one reads, the clearer it becomes that many of the deaths were avoidable. On the causes of death, for example, significant numbers of fishermen have fallen overboard. There is a generational culture in the industry where workers have refused to wear safety jackets, or other safety equipment, such as harnesses, even when they are on offer.
On most larger vessels, there is heavy machinery and gear on board. Many injuries sustained by fishermen are caused by accidents with this equipment, and given the size of some of the equipment, these are serious accidents. Safety could be improved in many other areas. For example, there are often fires on board ship, alcohol is an issue in a number of deaths, and the condition of some vessels is not good, mainly because of age and deterioration. That raises the question of whether surveys adequately identify serious deficiencies. In one case this year, two deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning because of failure properly to maintain and inspect a heater on the vessel.
The leaders of the industry are now well aware of the need to improve safety. For example, I am pleased that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has introduced a scheme that offers licence holders in Scotland free personal flotation devices. With the jackets, there is also an opportunity for a free instruction session. The evidence is that more fishermen will take the opportunity to have safety jackets, and that is an important step in improving the industry, but the condition of some vessels and proper attention to risk assessment and mitigation remains an issue.
Finally, I want to thank the industry organisations that I have been involved with over the years, particularly the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation—Bob Allan, Hamish Morrison and Bertie Armstrong were all chief executives during my time in Parliament—and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, where Barry Dees does sterling work for the English and Welsh side of the industry. Barry has excellent credentials, having been educated in Aberdeen, so I am particularly grateful to him. In recent years fish processing has taken over from catching in my constituency—very few of our registered vessels fish out of Aberdeen these days—so the processing industry has been important for me. The Aberdeen Fish Curers and Merchants Association, the industry body for the processing side, was run for many years by Robert Milne, although he has now retired and the organisation exists in a different form. I thank them all for their sterling work, particularly those who are in post now, because they have had to make that generational change, which I am sure will be discussed more later. They are key to the changes that the industry needs to make.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and my friends the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for helping to secure it. I also pay tribute to my friend the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), who has just spoken in his final annual fisheries debate. He has been a steadfast supporter of the industry in this place for almost four decades, and I wish him all the best as he leaves not for pastures new, but for fresh waters.
As we consider the future of the industry, my views are mixed. On the positive side, from the beginning of this year the new common fisheries policy is in place, which provides an opportunity for the industry and those who work in it to have a better future. Special thanks are due to the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who worked so hard to secure that deal. However, there is a great deal of work to do to secure that better future, both for the industry nationally and locally in Lowestoft in my constituency.
There are numerous hurdles to overcome. Achieving maximum sustainable yields by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest, will not be easy. Neither will the elimination of discards, for which it is vital that the Government work very closely with the industry to ensure a smooth transition. Improved nets and gearing, good use of the best science, such as that provided by CEFAS in my constituency, and such initiatives as “Fishing for the Markets” will be vital, but it will not be straightforward.
The forthcoming meeting of the Fisheries Council on 15 and 16 December presents the Minister with a real challenge. Some of the proposed total allowable catches, if implemented, will place some fleets at real risk of being unable to survive, and the current parlous state of bass stocks must be addressed urgently. I also urge the Minister to take steps to stop electric fishing by Dutch trawlers inside North sea special areas of conservation, particularly the Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton SAC and the north Norfolk SAC. That activity is potentially in breach of article 6 of the habitats directive in an area where the UK has environmental obligations.
The issue that I really want to home in on this morning is the reallocation of quota. The fleet in Lowestoft today is a pale shadow of what it used to be. It is an inshore fleet of under-10 metre boats. Their fishermen, like so many of their colleagues around the coast, get a raw deal. Altogether they comprise 77% of the UK fleet and employ over 65% of its total work force, yet they currently receive only 4% of the total quota available in the UK. Unless that problem is addressed, they will continue to dwindle, and that will be a real tragedy for so many communities.
What is good for the under-10s is largely good for the ports in which they are based. They deliver significant economic, environmental and cultural benefits for their communities, many of which are among the most deprived in the country. The income they generate stays largely in their communities and permeates down a supply chain that has been built up over many decades but has sadly been much eroded in recent years. That is very much the case in Lowestoft, where it is now a small industry, although the infrastructure is still there and, with the right policy framework, it could deliver a lot more for the area.
The reallocation of quota is not an easy task. Fishing communities around the UK have their own unique special interests which they rightly guard jealously and fight for vigorously. In some respects, the Government could not be blamed for taking one look at the problem, placing it in the “too difficult” category, and moving on to the next challenge. This would be completely wrong and a dereliction of duty. It is vitally important that they, and all of us, face up to this problem. Article 17 of the new common fisheries policy sets out the criteria that member states should follow in allocating fishing opportunity. If the Government pursue that course and take full account of economic, social and environmental considerations for local communities, many of the problems faced by the inshore fleet can be addressed.
At present, under-10 metre boats fishing along the Suffolk coast receive what one fisherman described to me as a “miserable share of catch quotas”. The under-10 metre fleet is allocated a very small percentage of the TAC decided at European level, which is then augmented by swaps organised by the Marine Management Organisation from the producer organisations. Without these swaps, the under-10 metre pool would not exist. The MMO allocates catch limits to each vessel on a month-by-month basis. Individual skippers will be unaware of what their respective catch limits are until the envelope drops on their doormat at the beginning of each month. In practice, vessels can often end up with high catch levels for one species when it is not available and low levels for others when they are abundant. Reallocations of quota are neither predictable nor permanent, and they invariably take place towards the end of the season. This month-to-month, hand-to-mouth approach is not conducive to building a sustainable business.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that intervention. I would say that there is certainly room for improvement. The way in which we collect the data needs to be addressed, and I will come to that in a moment.
The work of fishermen still fishing out of Lowestoft in the inshore fleet should be contrasted with that of the seven affiliated vessels of the Lowestoft Fish Producers’ Organisation, which are now controlled by fishing interests based in the Netherlands and in Aberdeen. These large vessels hold fixed quota allocations totalling 79,097 units, but their contribution to the local economy is limited. When they were based in Lowestoft, they helped to sustain the smaller boats. Their departure has partly contributed to the collapse of the port as the capital of fishing in the southern North sea, and has exacerbated still further the decline of the inshore fleet. Across the UK, Dutch-controlled vessels fishing British quota boast a total annual turnover of £48 million, yet only 1% of the fish they catch is landed in the UK.
Article 17 provides the cornerstone for a root and branch reform to address these inequities and to ensure that economic, social and environmental benefits accrue to local communities. The judgment in the High Court in July 2013 in the case that some producer organisations brought against the Secretary of State for carrying out a very modest redistribution of unused quota—the case was dismissed—provides helpful guidance as to how we can move forward. Mr Justice Cranston was sympathetic to the view that fishing quotas and the fixed quota allocation system should always be considered against the backdrop, and based on the principle, that fish are a public resource. This dates back to Magna Carta. He also expressed the opinion that the producer organisations and their members have no proprietary interest in the fishing stock itself and that fixed quota allocations give no right to any specific amount of fishing stock in advance of the annual ministerial decisions on quota that will take place later this month.
There is a need for more information and a better understanding of what is happening in the industry. The fixed quota allocation register first published last December is a welcome step forward, but more information is required on how much quota is held by non-working fisherman, and on quota transactions. The current trading system is complex and opaque. This information will show who benefits from the nation’s fish resources and whether they are providing maximum economic and social benefit to their local communities. This is the first necessary step to the introduction of a new, fairer quota allocation system.
There is also a need to gain a full understanding of the under 10-metre fleet as to what percentage of those licence holders in receipt of monthly catch limits are active and how many may have made no or minimal landings in the past six to 12 months, and if not, why not.
Personally I would not want to be partisan, but mistakes were made during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
There is a need to establish how much of the under 10-metre fleet quota is gifted by the producer organisations and what the effect would be if those so-called gifts were withheld. It is wrong that one sector of the industry is so dependent on another for its very existence. With that information to hand, the Government could put a fairer system in place whereby the inshore fleet has proper representation on advisory councils; skippers of inshore boats obtain an increase in their monthly catch limits and are no longer beholden to the POs or dependent on hand-outs for their very existence; and quota is held by active fishermen who bring real benefit to their local communities, not by foreign vessels that turn out once a year or by inactive fishermen—slipper skippers—who hold quota as an investment and a trading commodity.
Conservative Members are committed to a referendum in 2017 on the UK’s future membership of the EU and a renegotiation of the terms of our membership beforehand. In those negotiations, the reclaiming of our territorial waters in the 6 to 12 nautical mile area should be a priority demand. The current system is unworkable and unfair, and that reclamation would allow the Government to put in place measures that properly protect fish stocks and the marine environment and give priority access to local fishermen who depend on those waters for their survival.
Much has been achieved in the past four and a half years in putting in place policies that will enable the industry to move forward and have a better future. However, the actual delivery is yet to come. It is complicated and a real challenge, but we need to get on with it, as time is very much of the essence. We are very much at the 59th minute of the 23rd hour.
In years gone by in Lowestoft, it was possible to cross the water from one side of the Hamilton dock to the other from boat to boat. Today the dock is virtually empty of fishing boats. However, if we put in place the right system of management, fishing will be able to play an important role in the future not only of Lowestoft, but of many other communities all around these four nations.
May I first congratulate all four of the Members who have spoken so far, whose wisdom and knowledge I cannot equal? I agree with almost everything that has been said. I do not represent a fishing area—Luton is about as far as it is possible to get from the oceans around our coasts—but I am nevertheless concerned about the marine ecosystem. I want to be able to continue to consume fish, and I am also concerned about the British fishing industry and the fishermen who work in it. I have spoken in probably most of the debates on fishing since I entered this House some 18 years ago. I am also a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, where I regularly speak up for fishing interests, sometimes to the amusement of my colleagues because Luton does not have its own fishing fleet.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) talked about the common fisheries policy and what needs to be done for the future. I have said, and I say again, that I really believe that we must seek the abolition of the common fisheries policy for the long-term sustainability of fishing around our coasts, and for fishing stocks and the ecosystem. We will not solve all the problems until the common fisheries policy is got rid of, and until not just the 6-mile and 12-mile limits but the 50% limit and 200-mile limits are re-established. The only way to protect fishing in our seas is to return to those historical fishing limits, with countries maintaining and controlling their own fishing waters—way out to sea—around their coasts, and with every vessel being monitored and every catch landed in each country being measured. The only time that foreign vessels should be able to enter and fish in such areas is when they are under licence, on a vessel-by-vessel basis.
The only thing I remember from a briefing by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation before a previous debate on fishing is that one of its spokesmen pointed out, in relation to conserving the herring stock so that there was a long-term future for the industry, “You do need to manage the North sea as a whole, because the herring do not recognise national boundaries.”
Indeed. The point has often been made in such debates that fish have a habit of swimming between different areas of the sea. Nevertheless, Norway has not been a member of the European Union or of the common fisheries policy, but it has managed the stocks around its coast. Even though fish swim, there are greater concentrations of them where they are properly protected and managed in national waters. My own view is that when countries are responsible for managing their own waters, they seek to make sure that their fish stocks are sustained, but if they can just fish willy-nilly in other countries’ seas, they do not have that sense of responsibility and will not husband fish stocks even around their own coast.
Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that Norway has to enter into negotiations with the EU? As he says, fish do not swim under water with little flags saying that they belong to a certain part of the North sea or any other sea, so Norway’s situation is not quite as clear cut as he suggests.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. That has been pointed out to me before, when I have made the same argument, and it is true that Norway has an arrangement with the European Union. Nevertheless, if countries maintain their fish stocks—especially with the 50% limit, rather than just the 6-mile and 12-mile limits—and husband and manage them properly around national coasts, they get a concentration of fish stocks in those areas. I must say that if I were a fish and more likely to be caught in one area than in another, I would swim to the area where I was less likely to be caught, but that is just an aside.
The only way to guarantee that countries are responsible when it comes to fishing is to ensure that they manage their own waters and can restrain other countries from fishing in them. That is absolutely basic. As I say, I have made this point on many occasions. I am not an enthusiast for the European Union in general, but if there is one area of the EU that is dafter than any other it is the common fisheries policy.
The hon. Lady, who speaks so well on these matters, has made exactly the point I was about to make. For me, when the Prime Minister—it may be a Labour one—comes back with a new deal, the first thing I will want to see is the abolition of the common fisheries policy. If that is not in the deal, I have to say that I will not vote for the deal because it is so absolutely fundamental. One way to achieve that is to speak in this Chamber, as I do, and I hope that people in the European Union—in the bureaucracy in Brussels—are listening. If they are, they will know that if we get more exercised about these matters over time, we will in the end tell the European Union, if we are not agreed, that we are seeking to withdraw from the CFP unilaterally. I say that here as a warning for the longer term. I am sure that many people would agree with us on these matters.
I think I have made my point. I am not an expert in the sense that my hon. Friends are experts—they have made some very important and more detailed points about what is now happening—but, in the longer term, I believe that the common fisheries policy must be ended and that countries must be made responsible for their own fishing waters, with every vessel monitored and licensed. If foreign fishing vessels want to fish in our waters or our vessels want to fish in those of other countries, they must be individually licensed vessel by vessel, and both what they are fishing and where they land their stocks must be monitored.
It has been a great privilege to listen to the speeches of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). Like the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), I cannot possibly emulate the extraordinary accumulated knowledge of the previous speakers.
On 12 October, as I sat in my office in this place, a bomb was dropped on the northern Devon fishery. The Marine Management Organisation announced that the entire fishery would have to cease fishing for ray. Ray accounts for 60% of the landings in the northern Devon fishery. The fishery supports about 100 fishermen and their boats, and 650 fish processors. The industry is worth about £100 million per year. Local authorities together with local enterprise organisations clubbed together over several years and, some years ago, invested more than £2 million in a new fishing dock and quay so that fish processing could take place in Appledore. But at one stroke of the pen, the livelihoods of those people were wiped out.
Last weekend, Mr Tony Rutherford, the boss of the Bideford Fisheries, came to see me. He is always a cheerful chap, as northern Devon fishermen seem to be, and on this occasion he was looking for a silver lining. It is hard to find one, however, when someone wakes up one morning to the sound of a letter dropping through their letterbox or of an e-mail arriving on their terminal saying that they no longer have a business.
That situation cannot continue. I was shocked. I am a lawyer and I have no sea in my veins—I get seasick in the bath—but the truth is that, when I started to look at the reasons why this extraordinary situation had arisen, I was shocked. For example, I found out that the MMO had traded away more than 100 tonnes of ray earlier this year. Just a few months later, three months before the end of the season, it told my fishermen and the northern Devon fishery that they could not fish for ray.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the MMO seems to lack the expertise for quota management that it used to have? Will he join me in calling on the Minister to ensure that adequate quota management measures are put in place for under-10 metre and non-sector vessels?
Not at all. My hon. Friend has every right—probably a greater right than me—to make such a point, given her experience.
As I started to look into this question, simply applying such intellect and abilities as I have, I could not believe the absurdity of the system we are operating. I was contacted by several marine experts from Plymouth and the south-west who had worked with the MMO. They did not want to be named—that is perfectly understandable—but they told me their experiences of looking at the data. Frankly, if it had been done by an accountant, the accounts would not be signed off. The quality of the information, the timeliness, or lack of it, of the data processing—none of those things has been done adequately or robustly enough to make any proper statistical judgments about what is swimming in the seas or what quota has been exhausted. We are doing no more than informed guessing, and on the strength of that we are playing with the lives and livelihoods of decent men and women up and down the country.
Northern Devon fishery is a fine fishery that has pioneered conservation for many years. The island of Lundy, as many hon. Members will know, lies in my constituency and within the fishery. For many years the fishermen have agreed to no-take zones, and to allow the area to lie fallow for certain periods of the year. Around the country and the world that fishery has been praised as highly responsible and one that—if any deserve the name—warrants the description “sustainable fishery”.
Ray is abundant in the northern Devon fishery and the Bristol channel. When the stroke of the pen came down, the Cornish fisheries association still had 100 tonnes of its quota left uncaught. How can that be right? How can guessing about over-fishing in one area of England mean that fishermen in the northern Devon fishery—where ray is abundant and makes up 60% of the take, and where people have worked night and day to ensure its sustainability—should find themselves with nothing to catch and literally nothing to put on the table the following week for their families? It is criminal!
As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said, we sometimes sit here and say, “It’s too difficult” and move on. However, occasions such as this are opportunities for Members of the House at least to put on record our forlorn and probably vain protest against the bureaucratic juggernaut that seems to be for ever steamrolling over common sense in its absurd and surreal way. If I sound indignant, it is because I have had to see so many fishermen in recent weeks, and I feel profoundly indignant on their behalf. They have no quota for sole or spurdog; they can catch a tiny amount of plaice, and their cod quota could be caught in a single day. How are they supposed to survive?
I believe, as does my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, that the time has come—I am addressing the Minister directly—to examine and review whether the MMO is fit for purpose and how its data processing is conducted. Has the Minister been to its offices and looked at its techniques and methods? Will he get a grip on that organisation, which has lost the trust of the fishing industry from top to bottom? If the information I have received from well-placed and expert sources is correct, something is gravely wrong with the system of examination, data processing and monitoring. I hear stories of data being processed weeks if not months late, and of inadequate or inefficient data processing. Those stories reach the fishermen I represent. If their livelihoods are to be in the hands of those people—a few months ago around 100 tonnes of ray were traded away and now fishermen have been told they cannot catch any more—the Government must be sure on their behalf that the MMO is doing its job properly.
Speaking directly to the Minister, for whom I have great fondness and regard, it is time for us to get a grip on the MMO and go in there, find out what it is doing, and insist on seeing exactly how it is processing the data. We must put experts in there to see whether the MMO will bear up to scrutiny as it should. If we do not do that, the continuing spiralling loss of confidence among the fishermen we represent will continue, and it will be fully justified.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I commend the excellent speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), and thank them for their work throughout their years in this House on behalf of the fishing industry. As they have acknowledged, this will be their last fisheries debate, although the rest of us are hoping that that will not be the case for us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North said, I look forward to this issue being discussed in Government time and not at the behest or whim of the Backbench Business Committee. It is too important a subject not to have a place in Government time if the Government believe the fishing industry to be important.
I want to touch on three things: first, my local fishing community; secondly, matters relating to North Shields fishing port; and thirdly I will mention some concerns that fishermen have raised with me. My local fishing community does not need to be reminded of how dangerous an occupation fishing can be. In North Shields this year we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the sinking of fishing vessel Gaul, which involved great loss of life. On 8 February 1974 the Gaul sank with the loss of 36 crew, including six from the North Shields area. It had previously sailed out of the Tyne as the Ranger Castor, and earlier this year a plaque was placed on the site where it berthed, bearing the names of those who lost their lives: John O’Brien, James Wales, James Woodhouse, Neil Petersen, James Mclellan and Ronald Bowles. I pay respect to them, and also to their families who over the years have persevered in their quest to find out what happened on that tragic day.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North reminded us, last month the Ocean Way, a vessel registered at Fraserburgh, sailed out of the Tyne and was lost some 100 miles off the Farne Islands, with the loss of a local skipper and two Filipino crew. We owe a great deal to the rescue services that work on our behalf, and I commend the Fishermen’s Mission, which plays an important role in local communities on such occasions. Although land based, I also congratulate the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
It is a pleasure to do that. That respect is something we all share and exists in fishing communities, whoever they send to the House to represent them.
North Shields fishing port is one of the most important ports on the east coast—certainly the most important port between the Humber and the border—and its regeneration over the years is taking shape with good-quality houses and some excellent restaurants. However, it is still a working fishing port that is responsible for hundreds of local jobs, and boats come from all over the United Kingdom to use its facilities, particularly the fish market.
There is a constant need for regeneration and renewal in such a historical place. The Western Quay regeneration is complete, but work needs to be done on the fish quay where fish are landed. I know from experience that schemes require the involvement of all sorts of different bodies, including the fish quay company, the local authority, the MMO and the Port of Tyne—it previously would have involved the development agency. European funding plays an important part, too.
I therefore have two questions for the Minister. First, in the past, regeneration has been agreed by all parties—until the question of money is raised, when they look out of the window or stare at their shoes. I am not asking the Minister for money. I am asking for a commitment on behalf of all the Government agencies that might be involved to use their good offices—and resources, if they have them—to ensure that that regeneration goes ahead. If it does not, the industry in the area could be in trouble.
Secondly, will the Minister confirm that the European Commission has launched a major investigation into previous funding in the region because of issues of governance? Is it true that the Commission has refused to sign off the €464 million for the region? What are the implications for schemes such as the fish quay at North Shields?
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has raised that issue, because it is potentially important to the fishing industry. I met the Business Secretary on the subject a few days ago. There is an urgency to Ministers’ devising a mechanism that is acceptable to the European Commission to enable us to access funds that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can access.
My understanding of the question of governance is that there is a problem predominantly in the local enterprise partnership, which needs to get a grip. It needs to give the necessary guarantees not just for the funding that has already been promised, but for future schemes, which I have mentioned. I hope the Government address that urgently.
I associate myself with the comments on the severity of cuts in general made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby in his typically powerful speech, but I want to concentrate my final remarks on the question of the landing obligation, or the discard ban, which is due to be brought in for pelagics at the beginning of next year, which is just a few weeks away, and for other fisheries in 2016.
Putting aside for a moment the question of quotas, which I know created the issue in the first place, there are problems with the implementation of the discard ban. To be honest, most if not all hon. Members in the Chamber signed up to it as a good idea to a greater or lesser extent, but now implementation is starting, the fishermen are beginning to realise how difficult it will be. It will be particularly difficult for small ports, but not so much for North Shields, which I believe will be able to cope. There is an urgency for small ports, and if it cannot be addressed, we should not go down the route of implementing the ban in the way in which it has been planned.
There are issues about waste going into landfill sites and an argument about what otherwise might have gone into marine ecosystems. As has been said previously, there are particular concerns about mixed fisheries. The north-east needs its mixed fisheries, and therefore that needs to be addressed. We need to learn lessons from countries such as Norway, and we need to consider phasing in. If that is not possible, the Minister needs to tell us why and to reassure fishermen on the implementation of the scheme.
In my experience, limited as it is in this matter in the House, changes in the fishing industry have been best when the scientists and the environmental lobby, but most importantly the fishermen, are signed up. When the environmental lobby is so powerful, we should remind ourselves that the most important environmentalists are the fishermen. They depend on the environment for their living. That has probably been passed down from generation to generation. We must ensure that, when new policies are implemented, the fishermen are part of the decision, and that, as far as possible, they can be reassured.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) and I sat on the Backbench Business Committee when we gave permission for the debate. We did exactly the right thing. I think I got into some trouble for voicing my support and he duly told me off.
As hon. Members may know, I represent Plymouth, which has a global reputation for marine science engineering and research. That includes not only the Royal Navy, which is an incredibly important part of that reputation, but the university, which specialises in marine biological research. I recently hosted a reception on the Terrace for the university, which had done a lot of research with Interreg on the importance of marine activity to the industry.
The Plymouth Marine Laboratory is in my constituency. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to go there to meet some of my great scientists. He kindly came to see Interfish, a big fish producer in my constituency, in the summer, and I would be grateful if he came to meet PML, which has done a significant amount of work on climate change and provided a lot of evidence.
Because PML is such a good scientific base, as a compromise, there is a minor MMO sub-office. As my hon. Friend may be aware, I am keen for it to come to Plymouth.
Plymouth also has the Marine Biological Association, which was set up in 1884 by Sir Andrew Huxley, specifically to have the big debate of the day on whether we could overfish waters around our country. This is the first opportunity I have had to express my gratitude to the Government for giving the MBA a royal charter in 2013. It is incredibly proud of that.
During the course of working for the debate, I visited Plymouth Trawlers, an established agency in my constituency based down towards the Barbican. I spoke to Dave Cuthbert, who has a wonderful e-mail address—it starts with “Davethefish”. He said that the coming of the December Council and the proposed cuts in skates and rays of 20% will create a major problem. It is exactly the same problem that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) described so precisely and so well. Dave the Fish said:
“Rays have been cut in quota for the last 3 years based on the fact that it is data deficient and automatically cut by 20%”.
Will the Minister propose that that cut does not go ahead? Dave the Fish says that the Minister will probably say that the automatic cut is recommended by ICES. However, if we are cutting in such a way and no longer taking notice of historical data—I understand that that is in article 17 of the latest common fisheries policy reform—what is the basis for the quota? I do not understand it. We either rely on the data available when the scientists have done their work, or go back to historical data. I have concerns about the historical data, because not all fish behave in the same manner over time.
The Minister will no doubt come back and give the standard reply that Dave the Fish has seen on a couple of letters—the letters state that the Government are “already compliant with their approach to quota allocation”. My friend Dave the Fish found those letters difficult to understand.
Dave the Fish points out that, under the fixed quota allocation, the same suspects have the same quota year on year to maintain stability. Nothing has changed, and large companies are buying every scrap of quota that becomes available. My hon. Friend the Minister may be aware that there are a large amount of boats under 10 metres in my constituency and they are most certainly feeling the effects of that. Indeed, during the course of my visit to the trawler company and the Plymouth fish market—the first electronic market in the whole of the south-west—I was stunned by the level of scepticism from the fishermen and those in the trade. I should be grateful if the Minister would look at how that might work.
I have always been incredibly keen to ensure that we have a significant amount of data before decisions are made on marine conservation areas. Such decisions must be evidence-based. The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) rightly said that support must come not only from scientists but fishermen too. This issue relates to the whole of the fishing industry, and that includes people’s livelihoods. On my visit, I spoke to people about the scallop industry, which I understand is the third-largest part of the fishing industry. They complained that the hand picking of scallops was not subject to the same regulation as commercial operations. It seems to be a bit of a mess.
My hon. Friend the Minister will be delighted to know that I have volunteered—I take on board all the incredibly important safety issues— to go out early in the new year on another fishing boat. I am afraid that the last time I went I was sick seven times. The awful smell of diesel and fish—a rather nasty cocktail—was combined with the boat going backwards and forwards and up and down, while I looked at the horizon. I am afraid to say that the only way I could get any kind of surety back into my being was to go and stand outside and enjoy the whistling rain and the enormous amount of coldness. I am quite fearful about doing this, but I am as determined as I was last time around not to say, “I’m a wimp and I need to go back.”
A daily and salient reminder of the importance of safety in the fishing industry is the wall in the Barbican that is plastered with signs paying tribute to those who have died while fishing at sea. It would be very helpful if the Minister could supply the relevant historic data. I wish him the best of luck in his discussions with our European Council colleagues in the very near future.
I am delighted to be called in this debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), I do not have a fishing community in my constituency. We have anglers, as opposed to fishermen, on the River Forth.
I want to speak in this debate for two reasons. First, fishing communities need advocates from outside their communities too, no matter how fantastic the contributions have been from hon. Members across the House. We need to re-establish the connection between our fishing industry and fishing communities, and the wider population. Frankly, fish do not come pre-packed in Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, Lidl and so on—I do not want to get into trouble with anybody for not mentioning a particular supermarket. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) reminds me that we used to see fish on fishmongers’ slates. That is not necessarily the case nowadays.
Secondly, I have a family interest in fishing that I would like to put on the record. My son is a fisherman. He fishes out of a very small island community that is represented by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who is not in his place today. The community has a significant inshore fishing industry. I echo the comments by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) that we sometimes forget just how dangerous it can be. It is not a very high-profile industry in the media, but the concern, when seeing spouses or children going out to fish, is real for many families. My son will be mortified that I have mentioned my particular concern in public, but sometimes we have to say these things.
I want to concentrate on the structure of the industry. Before I do so, however, I echo the comments that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall made at the beginning of her speech. We owe a debt of gratitude to the mechanisms that support both the onshore and offshore industries. I listened yesterday to a spokesperson for the Barra lifeboat. I understand from the log I have just read that it was called out yesterday and faced 14 metre waves. It is very difficult for us sitting here today to contemplate what 14 metre waves look like. The volunteers of the RNLI, men and women, deserve our thanks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) alluded to the structure of the industry. There is, without doubt, a major issue relating to the balance of quotas. I recognise that we need large fishing vessels, but we need to remember that the quota system was set in the 1980s, when the overall contribution to landings by small fishing boats was underestimated.
I was coming on to that exact point. Considering the balance in the industry is not about undermining the contribution of one, or ignoring the contribution of the other. The hon. Lady makes a valuable point.
The quotas were set 25 to 30 years ago, and there has been a decreasing allocation for small inshore fishing vessels. The 5,000 small vessels, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) highlighted, currently have only 4% of the quota. It is increasingly difficult for inshore fishermen to make their small businesses—for that is what they are—viable, but they are part of the supply chain and they bring money into local communities.
I do not accept everything that Greenpeace says, but it is worth highlighting the article alluded to by the hon. Member for Waveney. A large Dutch ship, the Cornelis Vrolijk, flies a British flag—my understanding is that one can get a British flag by registering and paying £111—and currently takes up an enormous proportion of the UK quota. All of the 34,000-tonne ship’s landings go to Holland. Nothing goes to any UK port. The implications for the local economy, the processing industry and so on cannot be underestimated.
I understand that one of the criteria for registering for a British flag is that an economic link with Britain be demonstrated. Will the Minister explain the economic link between the large vessels that are scooping up—legitimately—their quotas and Britain, which allows those vessels to fly a British flag without landing in Britain? What efforts will he make to rebalance the quota allocation? What engagement has he had with inshore fisherman? Can the UK take that process forward unilaterally or does it have to be part of a wider engagement within the EU?
It has been suggested, and I have seen nothing to the contrary, that the fishing industry will be represented at the Fisheries Council by the 7th Baron De Mauley. As Scottish National Members know, although I agree with their party on some areas, I have difficulties with some of its policies. However, I find it astonishing that this year’s fisheries discussions are not being led by the most experienced Fisheries Minister in Europe, the current Scottish Fisheries Minister. I do not know why that has happened. I do not know why the noble Lord De Mauley has been hauled in—an appropriate phrase, given that we are talking about fishing—to these discussions. Why should fishermen have confidence in somebody with no apparent connection with the fishing industry?
I think the right hon. Lady is labouring under some confusion. I will be at the December Fisheries Council next week, representing the interests of the whole UK. The purpose of this debate is for me, as UK Minister, to receive representations from Members throughout the UK. One major problem with being represented by the Scottish Fisheries Minister is that he would not be here, at this Dispatch Box, to take representations from across the UK.
I do not know how accountable an unelected Member of the House of Lords can be. However, does the right hon. Lady share my concern that the issue—for once—is not that he is unelected, but the effectiveness of his contribution and his lack of experience to represent the industry? It is a bit like playing the sub and keeping the star striker on the bench.
When he winds up the debate, I hope the Minister will clarify the situation. Will the noble Lord be part of the discussions? Will the Minister be leading the delegation? I know he has great experience of, and takes a great interest in, the fishing industry, but in some circumstances it would be appropriate for a Scottish Fisheries Minister to represent the UK. The Minister has to prove that a Scottish Fisheries Minister cannot represent the views of the whole UK industry. Under the Labour Administration in Holyrood and here, the Scottish Fisheries Minister occasionally led those discussions. In the interests of mature partnership within the UK, and given the significant interest of the Scottish fishing industry in these discussions, he should tell us why the lead is not being taken by the Scottish Fisheries Minister. There might be a straightforward answer, but I think we need to be more mature in the way we co-operate across these islands in representing the UK in these discussions.
I will not be here, but I hope the next time we have a fisheries debate in this Chamber, it will be in Government time. It should not be the subject of a Backbench Business Committee decision, although the Committee has always been very supportive of holding this debate. The fishing industry is too important for the Government not to take responsibility for holding the debate in their own time.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), although I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will resist her suggestion that the Scottish Minister should represent the whole UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) knows, that would certainly be an issue in our part of the world. Under the principle of relative stability, areas south of the Scottish border have had a difficult deal for decades, and it would be remiss of us to present the UK case as if it were primarily a Scottish issue.
To clarify, to report back to the House, someone has to be a Member of Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for us to be represented by a Member of the Scottish Parliament, who could not report back to the Chamber, would be quite inappropriate?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, although I think this is a bit of a sideshow. Given that the Minister will be representing the UK, I do not know why we have had this rather unnecessary skirmish.
In my short contribution, I do not want to repeat many of the issues that other Members have articulated extremely well; there is much consensus, and I want only to repeat some of the themes. I think we all supported the reforms to the common fisheries policy in 2011 and the principles promoted in those reforms, but the situation now indicates that some of those principles are unravelling to the detriment of the fishing industry. That is the issue I primarily wish to address today.
In my opening remarks, I should also reflect on the enormous contribution that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) has made to fisheries debates over many years. We have agreed on much, but we have disagreed occasionally. Certainly, as I indicated to him the other day, I strongly disagreed when he decided to change his name by deed poll from “Haddock” back to “Mitchell”. It was a great disappointment, but I shall forgive him.
It is also appropriate that we reflect on the risks taken by those who work so hard to put fish on our tables. I engage in these fisheries debates every year, but when I reflect on my earliest days in the House, I remember that when I arrived here in 1997 we lost seven fishermen to the sea: three fishermen died when the Gorah Lass sank in St Ives bay early that year, and when the beam trawler Margaretha Maria went down we lost four members of our local community. If it was not already evident, that brought home to me how much of a risk these men were taking to ply their trade. Safety within the industry has improved, and as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) said, the statistics suggest that we are not losing as many lives in the industry as in the past. Nevertheless, it is an extremely hazardous profession and the risks remain high.
I agree with the sentiment of what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said about marine conservation zones, but I believe that we should be doing precisely what the Government are doing and rolling out marine conservations zones. I served on the Committee for the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which introduced MCZs. I encouraged the then Government to adopt the amendments that I was attempting to introduce at that time, which were to the effect that the designation of the marine conservation zones should be based on science alone, but that the conservation plans for the zones should be subject to wider consultation. Unfortunately, it is the other way round in the Act, with consultation taking place before designation, and then no obligation to conduct consultation over the management plans. I am pleased that the Government are now taking note of the views of the industry and other stakeholders in the rolling-out of marine conservation plans and I think that is the right way forward. We must also ensure that the fishing industry is viewed as a major and very significant stakeholder and that we marry the interests of marine ecology with the sustainability of the fishing industry for the future.
I mentioned that I was pleased with the outcome of the common fisheries policy reform because of its emphasis on management for the long term. I and many others have campaigned for many years for more power to go to regional management. The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) mentioned the issue of a ban on discards, and I expressed my concern about implementation because of the difficulty of distinguishing between intended and unintended overcatch in the fish quota.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that the Government are phasing this in next year in respect of the pelagic sector and in the demersal sector thereafter. Lessons certainly need to be learned during the roll-out of the discard ban, particularly at the early stages, and we then need to adjust the method of implementing the discard ban in the light of those lessons.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall made an excellent speech and she was absolutely right about the implementation of the minimum sustainable yield targets. If the purpose of the 2011 reforms was to manage for the long term, one of the disbenefits stemming from implementation of the MSY proposals is that it is resulting across many sectors in significant short-termism, creating shocks within the industry, all of which are contributing to an environment that makes it much more difficult, in my view, to advance sustainable fishing. Management conservation has thus become much more difficult. The Minister will be aware of concerns not just about the many sectors already mentioned, but about the western waters area VII crab sector. The clunky and short-term approach is having a seriously detrimental impact on that sector in my part of the world.
I conclude, as I am keen to stick to the time limits, by wishing the Minister well in the forthcoming European Council discussions. I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall about the importance of fighting to continue and to strengthen the protection of our 6 to 12-mile zones and of strengthening the role of regional management—an issue that we have not emphasised enough in these discussions. Many methods by which we can resolve the difficulties identified today involve making more decisions locally ourselves within the regional structure.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). This afternoon, in common with others, I want to open my remarks by remembering all those lost at sea in the last year, and in particular by paying my respects to James Noble, the skipper of the Fraserburgh-registered Ocean Way, and crew members Jhunitzo Antonio and Michael PulPul who were all lost off the coast of Northumberland just a few weeks ago. My thoughts are with their families, friends, and the surviving crew members, and all those who have lost loved ones in this most dangerous working environment. In common with others, too, I would like to pay tribute to the men and women of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, who voluntarily risk their own lives to save others, to our coastguards, and of course to the Fishermen’s Mission and other welfare organisations that do so much to support our fishing communities.
I would also like to put on record my thanks to the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) for all the work they have done as chair and secretary of the all-party group on fisheries. Even though we have not always agreed, it has been a pleasure working with them on behalf of our fishing and processing sectors, and as they both step down from Parliament next year, I wish them the very best for whatever comes next.
This time last year I highlighted some of the challenges we face in relation to the implementation of the landing obligation. Those problems have not diminished over the last 12 months; they have become more pressing, as the discard ban comes into effect for our pelagic fleet in the next three weeks. The pelagic sector has not had an easy run in recent years. Although we saw some progress in resolving the protracted mackerel dispute with Iceland and Faroe earlier this year, the trade sanctions imposed on the EU by Russia in response to the political situation in Ukraine have hit our pelagic exports disproportionately hard, and I know that the Scottish Government and indeed the UK moved very quickly to help the industry identify and develop new export markets. Although our mackerel saw a 9% fall in value last year, it remains our most valuable stock, and it supports hundreds of onshore jobs in my constituency in addition to those at sea.
Arguably, implementing the landing obligation should be easier for the pelagic fleet than anyone else because of the nature of the stock and the fact that there will not be much by-catch, but I understand that there are still contradictory regulations in force, and these regulatory inconsistencies do not look like they will be ironed out in time for the first phase of the landing obligation on 1 January. I understand that the so called “omnibus process” has been stuck in co-decision-making, and it would be helpful to get an update from the Government on where that has got to today.
Now, we could say that the sky is not going to fall in because the revised regulations are not fully signed and sealed, but I think it sends the wrong signal to our fishermen and undermines the discard ban before it has even got under way. That undermining of confidence is also relevant to the issue I raised with the Minister earlier this morning about enforcement and the lack of a consistent compliance regime that applies to all vessels fishing in our waters. It would be wholly unacceptable for our boats to be working to one set of rules, and third party states fishing in our waters to be subject to another—potentially less stringent—set of rules.
I was pleased to hear from the Minister this morning that some progress was made on this issue at the recent EU-Norway talks, and I hope he will take the opportunity today to spell out the detail and clarify whether it will actually deliver the level playing field that the industry is demanding.
The problems with implementing the landing obligation will get more acute when it is introduced for the demersal fleet in 2016, which is probably the source of the greatest concern. Progress has, I think, been pitifully slow over the last year, and time to develop workable solutions is now running out. It is going to be a whole lot more complicated to implement a discard ban for the whitefish fleet simply because it is a mixed fishery, and our fishermen are working in a context of quota shortages, choke species, lack of flexibility and a system of single species quotas that is simply no longer fit for purpose.
I raised the issue of choke species at the last fisheries debate, and the situation has not really changed. A good example that Peterhead fishermen have raised with me is saithe. They are seeing a lot of it, they do not have much quota for it, and it is low value, with no big market, but it is also quite a big fish, so selective gear is not going to help. What do they do? They cannot land it; they cannot discard it. Will they have to stop fishing for everything else? That would cripple the industry—and very quickly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) has on previous occasions raised similar concerns about dogfish on the west coast of Scotland, with the one difference that there might actually be a market for that. If we are to have any hope of making this landing obligation workable, we absolutely need to move away from single species quotas. We need flexibility between adjoining ICES areas where there is evidence that it is the same stock, and that an appropriate quota is available. After speaking to industry leaders yesterday, I wonder whether we really need to look at some sort of phasing-in, because this process is not currently on track. I will be interested to hear the Government’s perspective on that.
I have focused on the landing obligation because it will present serious challenges to the industry a year from now if we do not get it right. We need to be absolutely clear about the fact that discarding is a symptom of poor fisheries management. It is not the fault of the fishermen, and it needs to end. We are in danger of making parts of our fleet unviable, with untold consequences for our processors, our supply chains, our exports and our fishing-dependent communities, such as those that I represent. Discarding has been caused by poor political decisions, not by fishermen, and it is incumbent on us to find solutions to it that are workable and do not jeopardise people’s livelihoods.
Let me end by saying a little about the December Council, and emphasising to the Minister that there must be no cuts in effort for the Scottish fleet next year. I hope he will assure me that the Government will make that a priority in the negotiations. I am very glad to learn that he will be at the Council meeting; given the severity of the issues affecting the south-west of England, it would be a dereliction of duty if he were not there. However, I fear that the spirit of the 2012 concordat with the Scottish Government has been lost in DEFRA’s revolving doors over the last couple of years, because it is not working as it should. Given that 87% of the United Kingdom’s key stocks are landed in Scotland from Scottish vessels, we ought to recognise that Scotland has an important interest. The Government need to work with their counterparts in Edinburgh—and, indeed, in other parts of the United Kingdom—to make the concordat operate much better than it is operating now.
I will not, because Members behind me who represent big fishing interests are waiting to speak, and the hon. Lady had a fair amount of time in which to do so.
Our fishermen do a difficult and dangerous job in circumstances that are quite challenging enough without our making them worse. We need a workable discard ban, and we need it very quickly. This is the biggest challenge that the Scottish industry is currently facing, and Ministers have an opportunity to step up to it.
I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) for the way in which they have represented their constituents and the work that they have done for the fishing industry—the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will, of course, also be remembered for the wonderful photographs that he has taken over the years—and I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). She is an expert on these matters, and it was her family who made the supreme sacrifice.
I was impressed by the oratory of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), who is no longer in the Chamber. He is a wonderful advocate for the fishing industry. As I listened to him, I thought that if I myself ever needed an advocate, he would be my first choice, because I am sure that he could persuade any judge that I was innocent.
I am a lover of fish. I eat them, and I keep them in various tanks in my office. We are always celebrating births—one of our guppies recently had about 250 babies —but, unfortunately, I must report to the House that we have suffered a fatality. I am thinking of calling for counselling to cheer up the members of my team.
My constituency is a coastal community. Relatively few of the 646 Members of Parliament represent areas where there are fishermen; if there had been more of us, perhaps we would have been more effective in achieving what we did achieve, although I think that so far this has been a first-class debate. Fishing is a significant source of employment in my constituency, and it makes a significant contribution to our local economy. I wholeheartedly support the fishermen whom I represent, and I am frustrated by the fact that they hit a brick wall every time they express their concerns and make first-hand observations to the authorities.
My local branch of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations recently met representatives of the Marine Management Organisation, the Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, the Environment Agency, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Thames Estuary Partnership, London Gateway, the Port of London Authority, and many other bodies. The meeting, which took place on 25 September, left my local fishermen completely confused and frustrated, as all those bodies seemed to be passing the buck and denying their regulatory roles and responsibilities.
Let me now briefly outline the three issues that concern me: environmental damage, dredging, and the unreasonable and harmful regulation from Brussels. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) mentioned the referendum.
First, I want to say something about the 1970s and the neighbouring council of Basildon, the area that I represented between 1983 and 1997. Following the passage of the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972, Pitsea became one of the country’s largest hazardous waste dumps. Some Members may recall the tragedy that occurred in 1975, when a lorry driver was killed by poisonous fumes at the Pitsea dump. The fumes had been caused by the mixing of his load of toxic waste with another chemical. During my time as Member of Parliament for Basildon I had a very good relationship with Cleanaway Ltd, which ran the site, but some of my local fishermen believe that the creation of the toxic waste dump in Pitsea was based on a flawed assumption. It was assumed that Pitsea lay over an impermeable clay bowl, into which chemicals could be safely poured, but it now appears that it was a clay wedge rather than a clay bowl, sloping down into the Thames estuary.
I appreciate that the concerns about toxic waste are based on suspicion and anecdotal evidence, but it is important for them to be taken seriously. It is unacceptable to fob off the representatives of an important industry that employs 13,000 people across the country and provides up to 20% of the employment in some of our coastal communities. It is difficult to say whether those concerns are exaggerated, but they are the genuine concerns of my local fishermen, and they should be listened to.
Before I make my remarks about dredging, which is my second point, let me make clear that I do not want the PR person from the company that I shall name to make a phone call to my office next week to be rude and try to shut me up. That is not the way to lobby Members of Parliament. If constituents have concerns, I for one will raise them, without being contacted by a PR company.
May I take up the hon. Gentleman’s point about not shutting up voices? Will he join me in congratulating both the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations on all that they have done to inform Ministers and other Members of Parliament of the needs of fishermen? Their voices should be heard and understood in our debates.
I certainly do congratulate them. They do not fall into the category that I am about to share with the House.
There has been dredging in the Thames estuary by DP World and the London Gateway project. I appreciate the contribution that dredging makes to our economy and the employment that it produces, but there are fears that dredging may be causing the decline of certain species of fish. Fishermen in Southend West are mainly concerned about the disappearing stocks of Dover sole, smelt and cod. Local fishermen may not have the specialist equipment or the advanced measuring methods that are required for official investigation, but they do have years, if not generations, of experience of catching fish, and I trust them when they say that stocks are being reduced. I have been told that before dredging began in our area, a fair haul would be between 100 and 200 sole, whereas now it is just three or four. That is absolutely ridiculous.
There is also empirical evidence to suggest that the disappearance of sole, smelt and cod coincides with dredging. It seems that only the area close to the London Gateway project is affected, as stocks of fish in other areas have not suffered. That area includes Kentish Knock, near Clacton, and the area north of the Gunfleet sands. My local fishermen's hands-on experience leads them to believe that dredging is a real problem. They say that the continued vibration caused by the dredging in our area has caused the geological movement of liquid from under the ground. The liquid may be coming from toxic waste dumps such as the one that I mentioned earlier. Again, that is just an assumption, but it ought to be taken seriously. I think that there should be independent research on this matter, involving the fishermen themselves. Such research would, I believe. give us an answer to the question of the link between the effects of dredging and the declining stocks of certain fish.
DP World is a listed company trading on both the Dubai and London stock exchanges. It has 60 terminals all around the world and a revenue of over £3 billion. My local fishermen, on the other hand, only ever wanted to catch fish. They depend on the fish to feed them. Something needs to be done to ensure some fairness in this conflict of interests.
I shall end on the European Union and some advice to the Minister, whether or not he wants it. The fishermen complain about the latest proposed regulation coming from Brussels. It shows how out of touch the European regulators are. There is absolutely no way that the one-size-fits-all regulation practised by Brussels will ever work. My local fishermen are frustrated by the senseless ban from the EU on skate and ray fishery, introduced because of the alleged overfishing. This ban came into force in October and there are fears that it will make many businesses across the UK unviable.
My local fishermen know at first hand that some species of skate fish, such as the Thornback ray, are in fact the only species that do not appear to be affected in the Thames estuary. Numbers of skate in our area are so high that the fishermen in my constituency have had catches of half a tonne for a day’s fishing. The proposed 20% cut in the quotas for some types of fish for 2015 will be detrimental to the fishing industry in our country and we need to ensure that this is reversed. Fishermen report that the numbers of Thornback ray are at an all-time high and they struggle to understand why they are being penalised for the alleged overfishing, according to the rules set by EU decision makers who have no experience whatsoever of local fishing.
The full driftnet ban proposed by the EU is another piece of legislation that our local fishermen find frustrating. Driftnet is a method used to catch many species around our shores and it is probably one of the most environmentally friendly methods of fishing. The EU’s motivation in introducing such a ban is that there is a problem, but only off the coast of Italy, with swordfish, tuna, turtles, and dolphins accidentally being caught in driftnets. These are not common in our waters, so this just goes to prove how out-of-touch Brussels is putting our fishermen out of business for no reason.
When many years ago I met Commissioner Emma Bonino, I took her a bunch of red roses and planted a kiss on her cheek. It did not get me anywhere, so I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will use charm more effectively than I did, and I hope that if my party—the Conservative party—wins the next election and there is a referendum, fishing quotas will be at the heart of the renegotiation. I wish the Minister well in his meeting next week, and I hope that, as a tribute to the hon. Members for Aberdeen North and for Great Grimsby, we achieve what we have all gathered in the Chamber to achieve: fairness for the fishermen and fisherwomen.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess). He has been a Member of this House since 1983, which is a remarkable achievement of longevity, and longevity has been a theme of today’s debate—both the importance of longevity in the fishing industry and the longevity of some of my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), in standing up for the fishing industry. I have not been a Member of this House as long as they have, but I hope I can follow in their footsteps—although I do not have their wisdom and experience—by trying to do my best for the fishing industry in Hartlepool.
The fishing industry in Hartlepool is not a staple industry, as it is in some other constituencies, but, returning to the theme of longevity, it spans over 800 years. Generations of Hartlepool families have eked out a living—and they have often just eked out a living—by farming the seas and wanting to pass on their business to the next generation, but during my time in the House, and well before, that has been made increasingly difficult. It is not getting any easier for my constituents to be part of the fishing industry.
We have had an excellent debate, and I want to single out the contribution of the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Our constituencies share similar characteristics. Hartlepool’s fishing fleet, like his, is now composed almost exclusively of the inshore under-10 metre fleet.
I have asked my fishermen what their main concerns are and what they would like to be highlighted to the House and to the Minister this afternoon, and—as we have heard many times in this debate—they said that the quota levels have been a perennial problem for the under-10 metre fleet for many years. Whiting quota has been cut by about 18% this year, and my fishermen tell me that adverse weather conditions in the North sea have pulled some of the larger boats inshore, putting even further pressure on the small fleet. What will the Minister do to address the points about quotas when he goes to Europe on Monday and Tuesday? Will he call for additional support to be given in respect of The Hague preference?
The hon. Lady has great wisdom and experience in this matter and makes a very good point, and she is absolutely right. The fishermen in the under-10 metre fleet in my patch will not be able to go further afield. They are tied—quite rightly—to the Hartlepool area and will not go much beyond it.
Discards have been mentioned a number of times. I think the whole House will agree that they are a scandal on economic and ecological grounds. We have all seen the pictures of good, mature, dead cod being thrown back into the sea. That is an absolute disgrace and a reflection of the fact that the rules the fishing industry has to operate under are dysfunctional.
Phil Walsh, a fisherman in my constituency, sent me an article from the ex-editor of Fishing News, Tim Oliver, which quoted an EU fisheries official stating:
“High levels of discarding are a persistent problem in this area, both in the whitefish and the flatfish fisheries. Accordingly, scientific advice calls for significant TAC cuts e.g. for cod and haddock.”
I had to reread that several times. That does not make sense to me or my fishermen constituents. How can it be right that higher discards result in lower quotas? Do increased discards not indicate that stocks, certainly in the North sea, are increasing?
Are discards not a vivid and tragic illustration that the policy on quotas simply is not working? Nobody wants the seas farmed extensively in the short term at the expense of long-term sustainability. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) made that incredibly important point. Generations of Hartlepool fishermen certainly do not want to do that, but I do not see how the current situation is helping the industry. The discard ban is also pushing further consolidation of quotas into the hands of ever fewer and ever larger operators, making it ever more difficult for the under-10 metre fleet to sustain a viable business model.
What are the Government going to do to ensure that they meet the requirements of article 17 of the reformed common fisheries policy, which the hon. Member for Waveney mentioned, and which requires member states to use transparent and objective criteria, including those of an environmental, social and economic nature, when allocating fishing opportunities? Article 17 should move the quota system away from a method based on what was caught before and away from a system that disproportionately favours those who caught the most in the past. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) on the Front Bench says from a sedentary position, it should be based on science. My constituents want me to press the Minister on this fundamental matter that greatly affects their livelihoods, so how will his Government implement article 17?
Fishermen in Hartlepool also make a practical point in that the Marine Management Organisation needs to improve its reporting systems to ensure that there is minimal delay in quota managers getting landings data from the ports. My fishermen report that there have sometimes been significant delays caused by poor reporting lines, which have led to the failures to allocate the available quota for the under-10 metre fleet. That, in turn, has meant that fishermen in Hartlepool have not been able to keep their boats at sea fishing throughout the year. The lack of a prompt reporting line has endangered the economic viability and livelihoods of fishermen in Hartlepool, and that cannot be acceptable. This is something that could be changed for the better, and I hope the Minister will act on those concerns.
While the Minister is considering that matter, I hope he will also address a further concern. My constituents would like a great deal more clarity from DEFRA on what quota, including any uplifts, is going to be available under the demersal discard ban. Fishermen are telling me that this lack of information is preventing any sort of longer-term business planning. We need to look at the way in which the common fisheries policy and the annual quota have worked. I have made the point in the House before that the annual quota is detrimental to the long-term sustainability of the industry, causing fishermen to work in a knee-jerk, short-termist way. For many of the fishermen in Hartlepool whose fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and even great-great-grandfathers farmed the North sea, that seems a ridiculous way to ensure that the industry is sustainable over the long term. What will the Minister do to address this matter and move us away from the short-term approach towards a much more long-term, sustainable and ultimately viable industry?
I am very proud to represent in Parliament a town that has had fishing in its blood for more than 800 years. However, thanks to the treacherous nature of the North sea, it is a tough and dangerous living, and because of regulations and the short-term and often contrary approach of European policy, it is being made tougher. I want to see the Hartlepool fishing industry sustained for generations yet to come, but it has been stated loud and clear today that that will be achieved only if the Government recognise the concerns and act to ensure that there will be stock, a viable business model and a livelihood for Hartlepool fishermen for decades to come.
It is a pleasure to follow that eloquent contribution from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). Like others, I should like to start by paying tribute to all those fishermen who put their lives on the line to put food on the nation’s plate. No one knows more about the ultimate price that fishing families pay than my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and I pay tribute to all that she has done in working for safety at sea. I cannot miss this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who worked at the Brixham maritime rescue co-ordination centre in my constituency, which has now sadly closed. I call on the Minister to do everything he can to ensure that response times and safety are maintained following the sad loss of the centre.
I pay tribute to everyone who contributes to helping to keep fishermen safe at sea, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the National Coastwatch Institution. I also pay tribute to all those who support those organisations, particularly the Fishermen’s Mission, which has played an extraordinarily important role in supporting those in Brixham and other communities who have been affected by the winter storms. The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) referred to 14-metre waves. It is worth pausing to consider that 14 metres is higher than the top of the Public Gallery. Our fishermen go out to sea in quite extraordinary conditions, and we need to do everything we can to support them. Who could forget Fishstock in my constituency? I pay tribute to all those who made it happen, including Jim Portus, who led that venture. Who could forget the contribution made at Fishstock by the Fishwives Choir? I urge everyone to go out and buy their album to support the organisations that keep our fishermen safe at sea.
I want to talk briefly about crab fisheries. The Minister will be aware of the many historical injustices that have occurred in the crab fisheries sector, and the effect that they are having. We know, for example, that just under 2 million kilowatt days were allocated to the French, while only 545 were allocated to the UK. On top of that, there have been further sudden and drastic reductions that will have a devastating effect. The ports of Salcombe and Dartmouth in my constituency support 30 fishing families, and we know that every job at sea supports five jobs on land. Just one business in Salcombe, Favis, brings in a £2 million turnover to the local economy. The devastating impact on the local economy of the provision that I have mentioned is profound.
Is it not time, also, to look at the dangerous knock-on effects of the kilowatt days restrictions? Fishermen are dangerously having to cram all their work into short time frames, for example. Regarding the artificial cut-off time of midnight, can we not at least have some flexibility, and a recognition that a 24-hour period at sea is dependent on tides, not on an arbitrary midnight cut-off? I hope that the Minister will be able to address that point. Can we also have more support regarding swaps? Rather than having swaps negotiated by the industry at great expense, could that work be done on the industry’s behalf?
On a brighter note, I would like to thank the Minister for the support provided after last winter’s storms that allowed compensation packages to extend to static fishermen, and for cutting the bureaucracy from a level that I would describe as overwhelming to one that was merely impenetrable and excessive. That was a great help.
I shall not repeat the many points that have been made today about bass fisheries. That topic was also covered extensively in an earlier debate. I would simply reiterate that imposing a total allowable catch—TAC—quota limit involving further restrictions just will not work. We have already seen the historical injustices that resulted from a unilateral decision by the UK to ban pair-trawling, even though no such ban was extended to French pair-trawling. The irony is that French pair-trawling has continued in British waters, even though UK fishermen are banned from doing it here.
Yes, absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point.
We are all calling on the Minister not to penalise sport fishermen. Sport fishing is very important to my constituency because it attracts a large number of tourist visitors. Having a one fish-bag limit is illogical when the vast majority of mortality is a result of pair-trawling carried out by the French. I hope that he will hold his ground on that issue and press for a size limit so that the fish can at least spawn. That is a much more sensible way of trying to turn around the bass fishery.
I also want to mention demersal skates and rays. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) made an extraordinarily eloquent contribution, and I will simply state my support for everything he said rather than repeating it. I will expand on one point, however. I have spoken to fisheries scientists and I understand that one of the problems is that skates and rays are all lumped together as one. We know that some species might be quite rare, but as we have heard from the hon. Member for Hartlepool and others, some are not rare at all and, in my patch, the fishermen just cannot avoid catching them. The situation is completely illogical. Would it not be better to support fisheries scientists to work on board our fishing vessels to assist in clearly differentiating the species by practical means, so that they can be returned to the sea?
The irony is that a total discard ban will have many unintended consequences if it is not imposed in a nuanced way. We know that many skates and rays will survive if returned to the sea. Paradoxically, we would be changing from a system in which fish were discarded at sea and might have survived to one in which they are discarded on land. That is entirely illogical. Will the Minister address that point and assure the House that he will press for a nuanced application of the ban in relation to skates and rays? The measures will have a profound effect on the fishermen in my constituency.
A constant theme of this afternoon’s debate has been the lack of data and the effect that poor data have on our fishing communities. I urge the Minister to look closely at the effect on our plaice fisheries. Plaice have benefited in many ways from some of the sole restrictions, but we need to examine the way in which the quotas are being applied. For example, he will know that in some fisheries the areas D and E are accounted together but recorded separately. May I urge him to support at least the status quo in this and other areas and not a cut, as we need to increase the limits for sole?
We need to take a scientifically led approach, but we cannot do so if further drastic cuts are made to our science base. In the Minister’s discussions, will he insist that funding for our fisheries scientists comes directly from the EU, rather than from local budgets? That would be a very good use of resources. As we move towards landing everything that is caught, the collection of data will become easier, but there will be a considerable delay—an unnecessary one in the case of demersal species. In the meantime we face even more gaps in the data, and if further missing data results in an automatic 20% cut, that is unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will strongly press that point when he goes to the European Council.
Finally, let me deal with the issue of the MMO, as looking at what has happened there provides a heart-sink moment. I can only reinforce the points made so eloquently by so many Members. It is unacceptable that fishermen are paying the price for the incompetence of others; in other sectors that would result in compensation, but it is not resulting in compensation for our industry. We are talking about bankruptcies and the loss of an industry that will not return. What is the Minister going to do to get a grip of the situation and make sure that that does not happen again? The “Have Your Say” panels were heralded by the MMO on 5 November—five weeks ago—but we are still waiting to hear the details. Perhaps he could also set that out in this answer.
Looking further afield, has the Minister seen the article published in PLOS ONE yesterday by Marcus Eriksen and others, which referred to the 5 trillion pieces of plastic now floating on the surface of our seas? It particularly deals with the effect of microplastics—very small particles that attract organic chemicals to their surface and enter the food chain. It is sobering to remember that the great Pacific garbage patch of swirling eddy current is now larger than Texas, and it is just one of many. We have to deal not only with microplastics but with larger plastics, which are so dangerous to cetaceans and turtles. Is that actually going to register on the agenda at some point? Perhaps it is not for the forthcoming Council meeting, but the article is an important publication and I hope the Minister will read it.
I wish the Minister success in the Council negotiations. I heard his predecessor say that the collective noun for fisheries Ministers is “an exhaustion”. It is worth being exhausted and I hope that this Minister will spare no effort in exhaustion on behalf of our fishing communities, many of which I am proud to represent. I wish him well.
I realise that time is now short, so I will try to keep my comments brief. Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) in their last fisheries debate. Both have been stalwarts of all the fisheries debates that have taken place since I entered the House. I particularly wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North, simply because of the help and support he has given me as a constituency MP with the fishing interests, particularly in the processing sector. Whenever I have been at a loss as to how to proceed with a case, he has been there with guidance and advice. He has done a huge amount of work on behalf of a particular group of processors who feel that they have been hard done by in the past because of the prevalence of black fish and the consequences it had on the industry, which he mentioned in his speech.
I will confine my remarks to the processing side because, as my hon. Friend said, very few boats are coming out of Aberdeen harbour these days. The fish market is in his constituency, just over the border and a stone’s throw from mine, but a vibrant processing industry remains in Aberdeen. In the north-east of Scotland the industry is worth £500 million a year, so it is still a big, important industry and it has not been completely overtaken by oil and gas, although that is perhaps what we talk about more in this Chamber. The processors feel a wee bit aggrieved, because they feel that they get left out in a lot of these discussions—this afternoon’s debate has been almost wholly about the catching side. They think that is perhaps because the catching sector has a much more effective lobby, and that is true in respect of the information I received for this afternoon’s debate. The processors also feel that they are not always listened to, but they are an important part of the sector.
The sustainability of the processors’ business is dependent on what the catching side does. They tell me that fishing is about hunting a raw material, and for processors that means spikes and troughs in their business, depending on the fish that have been landed. As their business comes in fits and starts, it is difficult for them to sustain their business throughout the low times. Strange things happen in the industry as a result of unintended consequences. For instance, if Scottish haddock is expensive, as it often is, it goes for fishmeal and the consumer gets the cheaper Norwegian and Icelandic haddock, all of which are bigger and are processed and cut to look like Scottish haddock. That cannot right, but obviously the supermarkets are looking for the cheapest raw material they can buy in order to sell it. The Government and the Scottish Government need to look at that problem.
The processors also tell me that there is an imbalance in the industry. They have lobbied Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, but they feel he is not listening and that they are somehow the poor relation when it comes to any decisions taken on the fishing industry. They also feel that they face a different problem relating to EU policy—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) will be delighted to hear about yet another thing he can beat the EU around the head with. It has been brought about because of the horsemeat scandal and the labelling. The processors tell me that the labelling that the EU hopes to impose on the industry will simply not be workable, because it will require them to segregate the different fish, and that will bring their production to a halt. Let me explain how that would happen.
A big processor does not buy its raw materials from a single source and it might make 20 to 30 purchases from 15 to 20 boats. From the scientific point of view, the vessels and the area of the sea that the catch comes from is important, but for processors to have to say which fish came from which purchase and from which boat is just too difficult—it is nonsensical. Their fear is that jobs could be lost as a result. They will continue to adopt, as they have managed to do over the years in the face of a lot of fairly cheap imports. That is still the case, because the supermarkets are putting pressure on the prices. If the supermarkets want breaded haddock, they want it at the cheapest price and they do not care whether it is Norwegian haddock or the much superior Scottish haddock. In this case, the cheapest is not the best.
As I say, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby and for Aberdeen North. They say that it is their last fisheries debate, but I hope that it is not mine, and a number of hon. Members might feel the same. Our future is in the hands of our electors, but I hope that on fishing they feel that we have represented them well in Parliament this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I always seem to be the tail-end Charlies in these debates in the House. Like other Members, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) for the advice that he has given to me on the fishing industry. I also wish to thank him, on behalf of many families in Fleetwood, for the work that he and the late Mark Hamer did in fighting for proper compensation. They owe him a great debt of gratitude, and I am glad to have put that on the record.
I will try not to repeat what others have said, but I should like to touch on the matter of quotas. Although I am no expert on fishing, I, like other Members, have found that fishermen tend to be extremely generous with their advice, and I am most grateful to them for that. In particular, I thank Steve Welsh for all his help.
In the 1970s, something like 9,000 people worked in the fishing industry in Fleetwood, 8,000 of whom have now gone. When the Prime Minister renegotiates terms with Europe in the next Conservative Government, he must ensure that there is something on the common fisheries policy. If he does not, we do not need a crystal ball to know how the people in Fleetwood will vote when it comes to a European referendum.
Steve Welsh goes out to sea in one of the three remaining over-10 metre boats. He is concerned about the constant expansion of wind farms in the Irish sea. I encourage people to stand on Fleetwood front, as they will see lovely views of the Lake district, but in the past, they would also have been able to see the Isle of Man. But now between us and the Isle of Man is an array of wind farms. I do not know whether anybody has produced any studies on the impact of those wind farms on marine life. Perhaps the Minister could tell us if he knows of any, because all I have seen are contradictory views. Obviously, the wind farms have reduced our fishing grounds, but they are also posing a threat to both fishermen and ferries.
The other issue raised by Members, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), is that of quotas. I will not repeat what has been said, but let me mention William Bamber, William McGough, John Worthington and Rod Collinson, who are the under-10 metre fishermen in Fleetwood. Their livelihood in winter depends on hauling in the skate and the ray. As Members have so eloquently put it, what happened in October has had a dramatic impact on the few fishermen in Fleetwood.
We have heard about the science behind the quotas, but, like other hon. Members, I really do not understand where the figures come from. Funnily enough, the fishermen say that the skate is plentiful. They say that the measurements have been cut down. We only have their subjective analysis of what is going on and they say that there is no problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) said, rather than having a regional policy towards quotas, we use a one-size-fits-all policy. Will the Minister comment further on that?
Let me give a practical example now. One fisherman arranged a meeting with the Marine Management Organisation. Funnily enough, I had been trying to arrange such a meeting myself, but all I got was its staff asking my staff, “Why does an MP want to meet us?” I will continue to pursue that. The fisherman met the staff. He said, “Why can’t the under-10 metre boats have the logbooks that the other fishermen have?” The MMO said to him, “There’s nothing against you having a log, but we are not giving you one.” He was making a practical suggestion to improve what was going on and was simply turned down by the bureaucrats saying, “Logs are not for the under-10 metre boats, so we can’t give you one.” How crazy is that? Fishermen in our most sustainable fleet—the under-10 metre boats—are offering to help out by providing evidence that the Minister needs when he goes to his meetings. Like other Members, they do not want to see any cut in the quota. They want to challenge the fact that the under-10 metre boats have only 4% of the quota. The fishermen’s livelihood in winter is based around hauling in skate and ray, and at the moment that has gone. Soon there will be nothing left in the docks of Fleetwood.
Let me finish on a far more positive point. I know that this is not in the Minister’s area, but we still have fish processing in Fleetwood. We have 600 jobs in 29 companies in Fleetwood scattered around the docks. Some are based in 19th-century buildings. Tonnes of shellfish and fish come into Fleetwood nightly by truck, and are dealt with by our workers. It is a credit to them that their skills are still used to support a work force of 600.
There is one company that is trying to expand, but it is being held back by its premises, which are old-fashioned and do not meet the standards on which supermarkets insist for fish processing. An application has gone in to the Minister with responsibility for regional growth funds. I know that it is not the Minister’s area, but I assume that with this holy grail that we all want of Government singing from the same hymn sheet, he might be willing to have a word with the Department for Communities and Local Government about this application to build a centralised fish park in Fleetwood.
We want a modern building to house and sustain all the existing businesses, with a potential to increase employment by 25%. That bid is currently with the regional growth fund, and I am asking the Minister for his support. It has the support of Wyre district council, the county council, the Member of Parliament and all the businesses that flourish around fish processing in Fleetwood. It would be the new Billingsgate for the north, and possibly a great tourist attraction, as it would be displaying the traditional skills from which Fleetwood has benefited. Those skills have enabled the area to survive the depredations to the sea-going fleet. Such a development would put Fleetwood back on the map as a major centre of the fish industry.
I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) for introducing this debate. I understand that he has taken part in 38 years of fishing debates in this House, so we will miss him when he is gone. Obviously, he has seen 38 years of change. The debates 38 years ago were probably good and positive, but today they are more negative as we see the effects of the bureaucracy in Europe.
I represent a constituency with a rich fishing industry. Portavogie is one of the villages that I represent. It used to have a vibrant industry, with 120 boats coming into the harbour. Now we have between 70 and 75, a third of which are boats of 10 metres and under. Again, we have seen changes in the fishing industry.
As we all know, fishermen do not have a nine-to-five job. Their work is dependent on the weather conditions and the seasons, which determine whether they can catch a certain type of fish. Last weekend, the film “The Perfect Storm” was on TV with its haunting tune, as was the series the “Deadliest Catch”. Those programmes underline the danger that our fishermen face whenever they go fishing. The fishermen are also dependent on EU fishing regulations.
Last week, we had a debate in Westminster Hall on the management of the UK bass stocks. The Minister was present. As we heard, the big danger for bass stocks at the moment is the fact that they are being fished as soon as they leave the nurseries at just six and seven years old. In his response, the Minister said that he would look at that issue. We hope that he can give us some reassurance on that matter.
At the end of October, the European Commission published its proposals for total allowable catches and for the fishing effort both for stocks managed exclusively by the EU and for stocks managed with third countries such as Norway or through the regional fisheries management organisations across the world’s oceans. For many stocks, more selective fishing techniques are urgently needed, so that young fish are not caught before they can reproduce and replenish the fish stocks. That is particularly urgent for fish in the Celtic sea and the western waters, where big efforts are needed to implement the selectivity measures advised by scientists. That will also help our fishing sector comply with the obligation to land all catches as of next year and to become more profitable in the medium term.
That is all very commendable, but it puts the pressure on. We need to bear in mind the introduction of the EU’s landing obligation on demersal fisheries from 1 January 2016. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) asked about that, and other Members have spoken about it. It almost crept up on us, and all of a sudden its implications for the fishing industry are real and will have a great impact upon us in Northern Ireland. That is because the TAC set for 2015 will become the benchmark from which quotas should be uplifted in 2016 to reflect the landing obligation. Therefore the figures for Scotland from 1 January 2015 will have an impact on the rest of us elsewhere.
Not only is the situation with cod in the Irish sea critical, but the situation with nephrops is no better. Nephrops is by far the most important stock in our fishing industry, which makes it vital to the local processing sector as well. In recent years the UK and Ireland have successfully made the case that the TAC must be uplifted above the “sum of the science” to account for consistent undershoots in the TAC. I was recently heartened to learn that the Irish Minister shares the same priorities for the Irish sea as I understand we shall shortly hear from the Minister.
As we look forward to next week’s negotiations, I am heartened that the priorities of the two member states with the biggest stake in the Irish sea fisheries are aligned—in other words, they are working together. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to hear that even during preliminary discussions with the Commission, the Commission continues to scorn the UK and Ireland’s arguments on some of these TAC issues. The threat remains that Irish sea priorities might fall in the face of the Commission’s intransigence. May I respectfully remind the Minister about the priority of decentralisation or regionalisation? Where does the Commission’s position fit into that policy in the face of a unified approach by the two most important regional member states in the Irish sea? Again, I would welcome the Minister’s observations on that.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) referred to the European Union and the referendum. It will be interesting to see how much effort is made in the Brussels talks to court us in relation to quotas and to ensure that we have pre-eminence in the discussion of these matters. In December 2012, it was argued that reducing the TAC to the levels of the ICES advice would be unnecessarily restrictive for countries with full quota uptake, such as Ireland and the UK, and could lead to under- exploitation of sustainably fished stocks. I shall not baffle the House with figures, but a comparison of the percentages that were allowed and then reduced makes it clear that, given the reduced landings from the area and improved cumulative science, we should be aiming for a slightly increase in the nephrops total allowable catch in 2015. That is the bottom line, and we hope the Minister will be able to deliver on that.
There is no directed fishery for Irish sea cod. This year, for a very short season, two vessels were involved in a fishery, under scientific investigation—the scientists are always there—during the early autumn of 2014. Unsurprisingly, during the rest of the year, these vessels fish for nephrops. So far, as I am sure the Minister is aware, the results seem to show that there is a good cod spawning stock biomass in the Irish sea, which augurs well for the future. However, the Commission has proposed a cut in TAC of 20% in line with the cod recovery plan. It is difficult to understand why, with signs of growth and bigger and better cod in the Irish sea, more restrictions are imposed.
This further reduction is likely to mean higher discards, even if the nephrops fleet lands less than 1.5% cod. Growing recognition abounds that with the significant reduction in fishing effort and fishing mortality in Irish sea cod, there must be additional factors at play with this stock. Although restrictions are necessary for the future of the fishing industry, I hope the Minister will give some thought to the cod TAC. The Commission has so far chosen not to make any proposal for effort reductions. Again, I should like to hear the Minister’s views on that.
In practice, the effort reductions have had little impact on the nephrops fleet as Northern Ireland has made full use of the facility to buy back all the effort we need through the adoption of highly selective fishing gears. In these circumstances, it is no wonder that for the past two winters fishermen have had to resort to accessing hardship funds from Government and elsewhere. Although it is a devolved matter, the Minister will be aware that hardship funds have been given to our fishing fleet primarily because it has had some hard seasons, and periods when it has been unable to fish at all. Last year there was such a period from mid-September to February. It was exceptionally difficult and if the hardship fund had not been available, the fishermen would have been in deep trouble.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister responsible for fisheries in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill? I understand that those talks have not yet taken place. Have there been any discussions with the fishing organisations—Dick James from the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation, Alan McCulla from the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, and Mark Palmer who represents the under-10 metre boats in Portavogie and in Kilkeel and Ardglass? Those three organisations have a lot of knowledge, and they are concerned that their opinion has not been sought by the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland, so I would be keen to hear the Minister’s views.
I am delighted that we are having this debate today. The Minister will represent the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We wish him well in Brussels. Being a glass-half-full person, I hope his discussions will be beneficial for the United Kingdom and will ensure that our fishermen do not have to access hardship funds through no choice of their own, but instead can fish the Irish sea and the seas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, which was a Government debate and is now a Backbench Business debate. I join other Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell). The second election campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby in May 1979 was my first election campaign as a party worker.
I take this opportunity to add my tribute to the bravery of our fishermen and those who have lost their lives in an incredibly difficult and dangerous line of work, as numerous Members have said today. The men who work out at sea take huge risks, and too many of them and their families pay the ultimate price.
We all appreciate just how important the fishing industry is to our country, but it is especially important to many of our coastal towns, so let me be clear. We in the Labour party believe that developing and maintaining sustainable fish stocks is not just essential for the marine environment, but is vital for the long-term health of our fishing industry. Labour believes that fishing is a public good which should be treated as such. That means that the Government have an important role in protecting the sustainability of both our fishing industry and the marine environment. We cannot divorce the economy from the environment and nowhere is that clearer than with fishing. Let me demonstrate the point: show me a series of declining fish stocks, and I will show you a declining coastal town.
I grew up in Grimsby, as many people in this Chamber know. As a girl, I witnessed a bustling fishing port—the biggest in the world at that time—and I clearly remember being taken down to the dockside by my father. I remember the numerous trawlers, the sense of busyness, the sense of pride of workers doing something they knew was incredibly important. But I remember, too, the decline as the years of plenty were replaced by years of what looked like famine. The devastation that it wreaked, both economically and socially, was vivid, with areas around the docks, such as East Marsh, suffering disastrous consequences. To this day, East Marsh, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby knows, is one of the most deprived wards in the country. Gone with the fish are many of the food processing plants that lined Ladysmith road when I was young. Findus has gone. Birds Eye has gone, no longer anchored by the town’s status as one of the greatest food towns in Europe.
As the daughter of a former Grimsby fisherman and someone who grew up in a coastal area, therefore, I fully realise the economic importance of activities related to the sea, fishing being a key aspect of all that. I absolutely believe that we need to learn our lessons. We need to understand that sustainable stocks go hand in hand with sustainable fishing and sustainable coastal communities.
The British fishing fleet is now much diminished, but it is still an important source of economic activity and contributes many millions to the UK economy. In 2013, it still directly employed some 12,000 people with a fleet of 6,400 vessels, and it landed some 600,000 tonnes of fish, at a value of more than £700 million. Plymouth, for example, is one of the largest fishing ports in the country—Brixham being the biggest— landing annually some 11.6 million tonnes of fish worth in excess of £13.5 million. It is not enough to reiterate the facts and figures. We need to secure our fishing industry by ensuring its sustainability, and we need to do that by respecting the fact that our fishing stocks are not just there to be plundered without any regard for their long-term survival. We need a plan to deliver both environmental and commercial fishing success.
Of course, the most important tool at our disposal in developing and maintaining sustainable stocks is science—good, credible data that is rigorously collected and rigorously analysed to underpin good decision making. Without good science, it will be very difficult to achieve our goal of securing a long-term fishing industry that is sustainable both economically and environmentally, and an industry that can continue to support our vital coastal communities. So my first question to the Minister today is: how confident is he that the UK can contribute robust scientific data to the European debate about sustainable fishing stocks? Will the Minister inform the House about the impact of Government cuts on the resources available to develop a more robust scientific base to fisheries policy?
If science is key to securing sustainability, we must also fully understand the importance of strengthening the contribution made to the industry by low-impact fishing practices, which are good not only for the environment but for the long-term interests of our industry. As was evidenced in the debate about sea bass last week, we know that our hard-pressed coastal communities secure significant economic benefit from fishing practices that are also less damaging to the environment. As I pointed out, some 884,000 sea anglers in England directly contribute some £1.23 billion to the UK economy. Their activities support a £2.1 billion contribution to the UK economy and 23,600 jobs, so we need to ensure that our plan, working in concert with our EU colleagues, takes account of the need to deliver more low impact fishing practices, and that is the proper context for any debate about quota distribution.
What then, is the Government’s approach to this issue? How prepared are the Government to incentivise the industry to make the switch to more sustainable practices? How hard are the Government prepared to argue in Europe for the conservation measures necessary to deliver sustainable stocks, particularly in relation to action to protect those all-important nursery areas and the spawning areas? How prepared are the Government to use Labour’s Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and the marine conservation zones enabled by that legislation, to help to deliver industrial and environmental sustainability? Labour is proud of its record on marine protection. Our Act offers a positive way forward, as it makes possible conservation measures, not just in relation to the nought to 6-mile limit but in relation to the 6 to 12-mile limit, because of course it gives the Marine Management Organisation the power to deliver new byelaws that relate not just to UK fishing vessels but to the vessels of all member states that have fishing rights in our waters.
Labour is not just proud of its record; we are clear about our support for continued membership of the EU and the need for positive engagement with it. This is particularly important to fishing. The EU represents the world’s largest maritime territory and is key to delivering a sustainable future. Rather than turning our back on it, as some hon. Members would have us do, we need to be taking our arguments into Europe, making the case for meaningful implementation of fisheries reform, in order to deliver thriving fish stocks and thriving fishing communities. Is the Minister committed to meaningful engagement with our partners in the EU or would he take the route suggested by some of his colleagues and prefer to shout from the sidelines? Reform of the common fisheries policy must bring with it a determination to deliver on the key changes, which as we all know are primarily focused on more regionalisation of decision making, a requirement for quotas based on maximum sustainable yield by 2015 and a ban on discards.
Maximum sustainable yields, as has been illustrated in the debate today, are a key tool for delivering a sustainable fishing future. They offer a way forward both in terms of recovering over-exploited stocks and securing their long-term future. However, it is also right that maximum sustainable yields be based on good science and good quality data, and that these data be correctly applied in the decision making process. This means adopting an approach that is rigorous but pragmatic; 2015 should be the assumed date for implementation of maximum sustainable yields, but we need to recognise that where the case is made scientifically for extending the time available to reach maximum sustainable yields, we should do so.
Fishermen and environmentalists alike are keenly interested in this aspect of CFP and they deserve to know where the Government have got to in terms of implementation. So, will the Minister update the House on how he plans to approach the implementation of maximum sustainable yields? Transparency is the key. Where the 2015 deadline is supported by the Government, give us the evidence for the decision. Where flexibility on maximum sustainable yields is supported by the Government, again, give us the supporting evidence. Our hard-pressed fishing communities and those who are passionate about our marine environment deserve nothing less.
Finally, there is the issue of discards. We know that the deadlines for implementation vary from 2015 for pelagic fisheries to 2016 to 2019 for demersal fisheries. We know that we need to deliver on this principle if we are to make real progress towards a sustainable fishing future, albeit we have had the demand and the argument made today for a more pragmatic approach to implementation. But we know too that, badly implemented, we run the risk of seeing quotas increased for those vessels that practise or have practised discarding, while those vessels that fish more selectively and hence more sustainably risk having their quotas cut in order to achieve maximum sustainable yields. Is the Minister prepared to argue for measures designed to avoid this undesirable and perverse consequence? Is he prepared to make the case for the adoption of more selective fishing practices by those vessels benefiting from quota uplift? In other words, is he determined to ensure that we do not sacrifice the principle of sustainability in an attempt to compensate those who have traditionally indulged in discarding? What will he do to ensure that the integrity of the ban is maintained?
We believe that the interests of the marine environment go hand in hand with the best interests of the fishing industry and of our hard-pressed coastal communities. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) pointed out, we need to develop stronger partnerships with the fishing industry to shape the transition to that more sustainable future. More than anything, we need to be able to use good scientific data to underpin our approach to delivering that future. I await the Minister’s responses to the questions raised with interest and once again thank the sponsoring Members for today’s debate.
I congratulate hon. Members and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries on securing the debate and on obtaining the support of the Backbench Business Committee for it. I also acknowledge, as a number of other hon. Members have, the commitment to the fisheries debate over many years of the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran). Once again, it has been a spirited debate with many questions, and I will try to cover as many of those as I can.
First, it is important to take this opportunity to remember the eight men who lost their lives at sea during the past year in incidents involving five vessels—the Eshcol, the Diamond, the Ronan Orla, the Barnacle 3 and the Ocean Way. The contribution from the hon. Member for Aberdeen North about the importance of improving safety at sea was particularly powerful. We all recognise the difficult and dangerous work that fishermen do to bring food to our tables, and I know that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to those men and offering sincere condolences to all the families and friends who have suffered loss.
Many important points have been raised in today’s debate, and I shall try to cover as many as I can. This year’s December Fisheries Council will be particularly challenging, with Commission proposals for reductions in the quotas of most stocks, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out. However, I aim to negotiate a fair and balanced package of fishing opportunities for our fishermen. The quotas set should be consistent with our objectives: they should be based on the best available scientific advice; they should aim to achieve maximum sustainable yield where possible; and they should help the industry with the transition to the discard ban.
I will carry on, because I want to cover as many of the points that have been raised as possible, including many that she raised.
In the run-up to the December Council, we have already secured successful outcomes in three major international negotiations on fishing opportunities this year. The outcome of the EU-Norway talks last week was particularly encouraging. The agreed increases in quotas—5% for North sea cod and 7% for haddock and plaice—show the benefits of responsible management. Some difficult decisions taken in previous years are now starting to pay dividends for the fishing industry in the North sea.
I am also pleased that the EU secured a three-party north-east Atlantic mackerel agreement last month. That sustainable agreement will bring around £250 million to the UK. The EU also successfully negotiated an agreement with the Faroes this week. The result is a very good one for the UK, providing our fishermen with opportunities to catch a number of species in Faroese waters, including 817 tonnes of cod and haddock and 696 tonnes of saithe.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), mentioned crab allocations in the south-west. I can confirm that just today a swap agreement has been secured with Irish producer organisations that will enable our very important crab fishery in the far south-west to remain open until the end of the year.
However, I recognise that there are challenges in other areas, particularly the south-west, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, and I have taken those into account when deciding our negotiating position. Let us be clear that we cannot increase quotas if the science does not support it. I do not believe that to do so would be in the long-term interests of our fishermen; if we fish unsustainably, we simply rob them of their tomorrow. If we want a long-term, viable industry, we must fish sustainably. However, while having science as our guiding principle, we have to ensure that we use the best and most up-to-date science available and take decisions that are right for the fish stocks and right for the fishing fleets that depend on them.
Last Thursday I had a meeting with Commissioner Vella in Brussels to begin the negotiating process for the December Council. I made a number of key points on the science. First, we should use the most recent data available where they are relevant. In the south-west, in particular, there is a lot of evidence of a late recruitment of haddock this summer, which we want to be taken into account in the December Council. Secondly, when it comes to data-limited stocks, we oppose simply having an automatic, precautionary approach. We believe that we should make the best possible judgment with the data we have, rather than having arbitrary cuts, and we have made that point already to the Commission. Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby highlighted, it is important to have what we call mixed fisheries analysis. There is no point in dramatically cutting the quota for one species if it is in a mixed fishery, because fishermen cannot avoid it and will therefore end up having to discard it. Finally, we want to ensure that account is taken of the increased use of more selective gears.
I particularly welcome the progress that has been made so far in implementing the reformed common fisheries policy, especially in advancing regional fisheries management. The first part of the discard ban for the pelagic fisheries will come into force on 1 January 2015. That is a significant milestone in the new CFP. The new rules that will implement it were developed not in Brussels, but by regional groups of member states working together. I think that the new regionalised approach, as the hon. Member for St Ives noted, is working well. Rather than having top-down decisions from the Commission that the Council of Ministers must then try to mitigate and argue over, we are getting a multilateral agreement where member states with a shared interest in a fishery work through their differences and then take the solution to the Commission. We will shortly begin the work to prepare for the demersal discard ban in January 2016. The regional groups will meet early next summer to take those discussions forward, and in the next year we will issue a consultation to the industry so that we can take on board its views.
I know that fisheries closures have been a prominent issue this year, particularly in the Bristol channel. As a number of Members have pointed out, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) made a forceful intervention in that regard. The point I would make is that the closures are a last-resort mechanism used to protect the long-term future of the fisheries industry. He asked whether I have raised the matter with the Marine Management Organisation. I can confirm that after he raised it with me a month ago I had a meeting with the MMO to explore exactly what went wrong. It is going to set up a panel, which will include fisheries leaders. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes asked why that had not yet progressed. It has been in transition to a new chief executive, but John Tuckett is now in place. I will take up the issue with him, because I want us to learn lessons.
We must also recognise—I went through a number of these issues with the MMO—that managing quotas is a difficult task. The reality is that last year we had a very bad winter, so fishermen could not get out and catch their quotas. We then had an incredibly good summer, so the under-10 fleet, in particular, managed to catch its quota much more quickly than it normally does. Indeed, this is the first year we have had a problem with skate and ray quotas. In defence of the MMO, had it intervened earlier, that would have restricted the amount of quota that fishermen could fish over the summer. There is a fixed amount of quota, and we could not allow them to overfish it. I am sure that there are fishermen who would have said, “Now you’re making me go out and fish in November and December, but I could have caught the quota in the summer.” These are not easy issues.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon pointed out that the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation still had 100 tonnes of ray quota at the point at which the closure took place and wondered why that was. It turned out, when the figures came through, that 100 tonnes of quota were needed to cover overfishing that had already taken place in other parts of the fleet. He also mentioned a transfer that was agreed by the MMO from a Scottish producer organisation. We will want to look at that, but it has to be said that that was held by a Scottish producer organisation, not one in the west country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) proposed the idea of having compulsory log books for the under-10 fleet, which would obviously improve the speed at which we can get the data, but I am not sure that it would be universally popular with the under-10s. The reason we do not require them to have compulsory electronic log books is that they claim it would be disproportionate to the impact they have.
I will move on to some of the other points that were raised.
I want to carry on, because there are many questions that I want to answer in the time available.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby said that ICES advice is sometimes behind that which we can get from fishermen. We have a mixture of information and data that will inform the recommendations for the December Council, as well as work done by the Endeavour, a fantastic survey vessel run by CEFAS that goes to the same areas each year in order to get reliable data. We also sometimes put observers on fishing vessels so that we can look at the actual catch they are getting in practice.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether it would be possible to delay implementation of MSY. The regulation requires us to implement it where possible in 2015 and everywhere by 2020, and that is exactly what we will do. We will implement it where we can by 2015. Where we cannot implement it, because the science does not allow us to, there is the possibility to delay until 2020.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) talked about haddock in the Celtic sea. There is a big cut of over 40% proposed for that. We are doing two things in that regard. In the summer I visited the fishing vessel of David Stevens in Newlyn, who has been doing some fantastic work, together with the MMO and CEFAS, on using more selective gears. That scientific advice has now been validated by the EU’s science committee, and we will be using it next week in the December Council. We also want to make more use of the most recent recruitment data.
My hon. Friend mentioned the approach to data-limited stocks. As I said, we believe that we should make the best use we can of the data. That will be particularly important for some species in the far south-west, notably monkfish, megrim and sole. In parts of the south-west, a roll-over is proposed, but there are some quite big proposed cuts in sole in the Bristol channel, and we shall be trying to mitigate some of the impacts of that.
My hon. Friend mentioned CFP reform and whether we could remove access to our fleet. However, the UK also benefits from access in the 6 to 12-mile zone of countries such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland, and many of these agreements even pre-date the CFP, so the matter is not quite that straightforward.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted the issue of nephrops. I met Northern Ireland fisheries representatives earlier this week, and I am meeting them again later today, so they are been well represented. Back in October, at one of our stakeholder meetings, I met Michelle O’Neill from the Northern Ireland Administration, and she will be present at the December Council next week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and several others mentioned issues relating to the under-10 metre fleet. We are going to realign quotas, permanently, and that will give a significant uplift in quota to the under-10 fleet. We are about to put out a consultation on removing latent capacity from boats that have not been fishing. About half of them have not carried out any fishing activity at all, and we need to deal with that. A pilot has been run in Ramsgate to look at whether we could give longer-term quotas to some of the under-10 metre fleet. Earlier this year we consulted on whether the under-10 metre would want to leave the pool altogether and have the certainty of an annual quota. The fleet’s reaction to that proposal was mixed, and we have not yet made any final decisions on it. When we get into the new discard ban regime, there will be the potential for a quota uplift. We are looking at whether we can reflect the importance of the under- 10 metre fleet in making those decisions.
The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) asked about the impact on ports and how they will cope with the discard ban. Two weeks ago, I met a whole load of representatives from the ports and we discussed some of these issues. We do have processing capacity to deal with some of the undersized fish, but there is often a logistical issue in transporting them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) invited me to the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. I attended a reception that the laboratory held a month ago, and I would be more than happy to visit it. DEFRA very much welcomes our partnership with it.
The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) referred to the role of the Scottish Government. I ought to explain what happens at the December Council. I think that we engage with the devolved Assemblies more than any other Department, and we recognise that every part of the UK has an important fisheries industry. At the Council, Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Fisheries Minister, attends all the meetings where we decide our negotiating strategy, all the bilateral meetings that we have with other Ministers, and the trilateral meeting that we have with the presidency and the Commission. We talk regularly about the position that we take as and when we change things. All the devolved Administrations are fully engaged in the approach that we take to the December Council.
I want to carry on because I am conscious of the time.
The hon. Member for St Ives asked about the roll-out of the discard ban. I think that fishermen sometimes forget about the various elements, and flexibilities, in the discard ban. If there is high survivability, fish can be put back. There is inter-species flexibility whereby someone who has, for instance, a lot of cod that they do not have quota for can count it as haddock. We start with the fish that define the fishery and finish with the smaller species. There is a de minimis exemption for people who cannot avoid doing anything else. We can borrow and bank quota from one year to the next.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) talked about the omnibus regulation. The legal position is clear: the new regulations take precedence over previous ones. The omnibus regulation was supposed to deal with that. As she said, there has been a bit of a problem in getting agreement between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, and that is now at the stage of trialogues.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) asked about The Hague preference. We plan to invoke that in the usual way. We have also secured extra whiting from Norway through the EU-Norway deal. In recent years, we have diverted an extra 300 tonnes specifically to the north-east. The quota uplift that he mentioned will be finally decided in the December Council.
I hope that I have covered as many of the issues raised by hon. Members as possible. As I said, this is a challenging December Council. These meetings have a habit of going late into the night, although last year’s was an unusual exception. There are many challenging issues to address. I hope that I have managed to assure hon. Members that I am fully conscious of their concerns and will be going there to get the best possible deal we can for our fishing industry in the context of the science.
My colleagues and I were extremely grateful to secure this important debate and to have time made available for it in the Chamber. I thank those from across the parties who worked, through the Backbench Business Committee, to secure it. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), who have made major contributions to the fishing industry, and to fishing debates in this Chamber, over very many years. Their loss will be greatly felt in these debates in future, and I want to put that on the record.
We have had a very productive, sometimes passionate debate across a range of issues to do with fisheries in all the various fishing ports represented by Members right across the United Kingdom. This is all about sustaining the fishing industry offshore and onshore, because both are interlinked and both make a major contribution to our own local economies. Many Members referred to the problems associated with landing obligations. I hope that during his negotiations the Minister will be able to apply pressure to ensure that the amendments proposed last week by an MEP from Northern Ireland are eventually implemented, because they will ease the impact of the discard ban and allow a greater level of flexibility.
In my constituency, I have two fishing ports—Ardglass and Kilkeel. At the end of October, I was very grateful to the Minister for visiting to examine the work of the offshore fleet and the onshore industries. I well recall that we were picking prawns or trying to do some redress work to the prawns after they had been fished. In those two areas, fishing is at the heart of the local food industry and crucial to the local economy.
We pay tribute to those who continue to risk their own safety every time they go out on a fishing boat. We must protect their right to make a living, because they do it in some of the most challenging weather conditions. The weather can have an impact on the number of days that they can go out to sea. I know from my own local experience that the Fishermen’s Mission played a major role in trying to secure and provide the necessary financial help to beleaguered fishermen.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who has a particular expertise in the fishing industry and serves with me on the EFRA Committee. She knows full well the risks that are associated with the fishing industry, and we all empathise with her in her loss.
I thank all Members who have spoken with such clarity, sense and purpose about the need to safeguard our fishing industry across these islands. There are different factors, considerations and emphases in each fishery. There are issues to do with the MMO, maximum sustainable yield, the reallocation of quotas, and The Hague preference. However, a strong common thread unites us all in our desire to maintain a strong, sustainable fishery and to ensure that we get a positive outcome from the Minister’s negotiations next week.
I was very much taken by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) said in pointing out that there must be collaboration between fishermen and those involved in the science. In my experience and that of the fishermen I work with, it is clear that the fishermen themselves know much more about what is in the sea than the scientists do. That has been borne out by today’s comments by many Members from various parties. Too often the fishermen are not listened to. My message on behalf of all Members who have spoken is: please listen to what the fishermen have to say about the impact of the current climate on fishing. A compelling case has been made.
As other Members have said, the industry has done a lot to improve gear practices and techniques to meet new regulations and limits. That has been the case in my own constituency and across Northern Ireland. The industry deserves credit for that. The Minister has seen for himself examples of those gears, which have been very much in the vanguard of the fishing industry and are innovative. Just as in previous years, fishing negotiations are vital in securing the future course of the industry.
On the challenges faced in Northern Ireland, nephrops, which are so vital to the industry, remain the primary focus of our attention. I am glad that the Minister referred to that. The catch limit for the species was announced after the Commission published its total allowable catches on 28 October, as there was a delay in making sufficient stock data available. Once again, there is a significant cut in the TAC limit for nephrops. The TAC limits for area VII nephrops have previously—this happened last year—been increased in response to Spain and France underutilising quotas, which protects countries such as the UK and Ireland with a full quota intake. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the priorities of the UK, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government have been aligned on what is best in quota requirements for a sustainable fishery in the Irish sea. I hope that will continue and that the Minister’s colleagues in other countries will listen to that in the negotiations. The same logic should apply this year, as the proposed cut in nephrops would be extremely damaging. I urge the Minister to take that on board and share the message at the meeting.
There remains no directed Irish sea cod fishery, and the industry, with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, continues to work positively in that area and agreed to relaunch the fisheries science partnership early in 2015. It will also begin a large-scale cod-tagging project and re-evaluate the assessment model of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, to make the best possible assessment of cod stock levels. It is hoped that the Commission, as indicated, will not pursue further effort reductions, in order to allow a focus on more important issues related to quota limits. I would like clarification in writing from the Minister as to why a cut to the TAC limit has been proposed when the Commission seems to have paused the long-term cod plan by not determinedly pursuing further reductions in efforts or days at sea. The TAC limit will simply lead to more unnecessary discards as part of the nephrop by-catch.
Thankfully, previous effort reduction has had a limited impact on the nephrop fleet, as Northern Ireland has made full use of the facility to buy back all the effort we need through the adoption of highly selective gears. However, it must be noted that the gear modifications have in many cases led to a loss of valuable white fish by-catch, putting further pressure on fleets. I mentioned discards earlier, and they have been at the centre of the reform of the common fisheries policy.
If there is one message that the Minister can take with him to Brussels next week it is that those Members who have spoken today clearly want to see proper regionalisation and decentralisation underpinning a sustainable fishery. If that can be done, we would be very pleased.
Once again, I thank all Members who have spoken. I wish the Minister a fair wind—to use a nautical phrase—in his negotiations. We look forward to a successful outcome, notwithstanding the challenges he faces in negotiating on behalf of our fishermen, including on the issue of landing obligations for pelagic and demersal fishermen, the whole area of discards and the need for further decentralisation.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the fishing industry.