Thursday 3 December 2015
[Mr David Nuttall in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered fisheries policy.
First, I thank the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for making the case for this debate to the Backbench Business Committee. She is a strong voice for her fishing industry. I thank the Committee for allowing time for this debate, although it would have been good if we could have held it in the main Chamber, as we usually do.
I ask Members to spare a moment to pay tribute to those brave fishermen and women who put to sea, sometimes in the most dangerous conditions, to bring a fry to our table. I would also like the House to remember those who, over the past year, paid the ultimate price in the course of their daily work and did not return to their families. My heart goes out to their loved ones. From my own experience, I know how they feel. I also pay tribute to all the maritime rescue services, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard and the National Coastwatch Institution, and those maritime charities that help our seafarers and fishermen in times of need, including the Fishermen’s Mission.
I have been involved in fishing for many years. As an observer of—and, since 2010, a participant in—these debates, I have noticed that we hear the same message each year from all over the UK: fishermen are struggling to survive and the fleet is getting smaller. While no one would question the need to manage our fish stocks responsibly, the system of management first introduced in 1983—the total allowable catch and quotas system—has been an absolute disaster for fish stocks, fishermen and the UK industry. Various tweaks and changes over the years have made things no more credible.
The European Commission’s proposals this year seem to fly in the face of the sensible conservation of some stocks in the south-west. One example is Dover sole in area VIIe. A 44% TAC increase is advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, but article 4 of Council of the European Union regulation No. 509/2007 limits any increase or reduction of that stock to 15%, because that stock is subject to a management plan. That flies in the face of the demersal landing obligation. We would need an uplift of around 30%, or to have fishermen tied to the quay, if we were to take account of the ICES advice. In the light of the introduction in 2016 of the demersal landing obligation for Dover sole, among other stocks, there can be no justification for restricting the TAC increase to the 15% laid down in the regulation. I urge the Minister to make that point to the Fisheries Council in a couple of weeks.
I also ask the Minister to look at channel plaice in areas VIId and VIIe. In area VIIe—the western channel part of the stock—the advice corresponds to a 20% increase in catches because of growing biomass, which is well above the maximum sustainable yield, and falling fishing mortality. Area VIId, which is the eastern channel part of the stock, is similarly growing in biomass, with fishing mortality falling steadily over years. Under the maximum sustainable yield approach, the increase in catches could be up to 202%—yes, 202%—with biomass falling by just 4%. The Commission very recently agreed an in-year increase in the 2015 TAC for the stock, which provided the UK with an immediate 30% increase for the final quarter. Given the impending introduction of the demersal landing obligation, I hope the Minister supported the French in their endeavours to maximise the increase in the TAC and quota for plaice in areas VIId and VIIe in 2016. Indeed, I hope he may have some good news on the stock.
I am also looking for reassurance from the Minister that he will totally oppose the Commission’s proposal to reduce the TAC for haddock in area VIIa by 52%, given that ICES has advised that it could be increased by 400%. Turning to other stocks in area VII, there is no new advice for pollock, and the advice for monk is the same as last year, but the Commission have proposed a cut in pollock of 20% and in monk of 11.9%. I urge the Minister to secure at least a roll-over of the TAC from last year.
Given how the Commission puts the proposals in place, I wonder whether the Minister, who I know is hard-working, is being constrained by the European legislation under which he has to operate. In October 2014, he said on his web blog:
“Another feature of the reform is that there will be a ban on discarding healthy fish back into the sea. Instead, we will help fishermen manage the realities of the marine environment allowing flexibilities between the quotas they have. So if a fisherman catches more haddock than he expected, rather than having to throw the catch overboard, he can count it against quotas he has for other species, like whiting or cod, so that he can land the fish he has caught. He will also be able to borrow some quota from the following year if needed and there will be an uplift in the amount that he can catch to take account of the fact that fish are no longer being discarded.”
Is he prepared to share with us today the precise size of that uplift for each species? Furthermore, is it right to encourage year-on-year borrowing? Could that not result in next year’s quota being used up prematurely?
Sea bass is a concern for my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who has not been able to get to this debate because of other duties. On 30 March last year, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations published an article on its website that stated:
“The Federation accepts that some remedial measures are inevitable, although we do not agree that the 80% reduction in fishing mortality, suggested by an MSY approach, would be deliverable, necessary or appropriate. We support a balanced package of measures, including all fisheries which impact the bass stocks, applied in a fair and proportionate way.”
The Commission’s factsheet said:
“Sea bass is a special case: real management measures for sea bass were only put in place in January 2015 and catch limits were only put in place in June 2015. The Commission is therefore building on the measures taken in 2015 to halt the dramatic decline in this important stock. Today’s proposal includes a complete fishing ban for commercial vessels and recreational anglers in the first half of 2016. For the second half of 2016, the Commission is proposing a monthly one tonne catch limit”—
that almost halves the quota for my Looe fishermen—
“and a one fish bag limit for recreational anglers.”
The Minister confirmed in a recent answer to my written parliamentary question that the UK response to those proposals is being considered in advance of negotiations at the December Fisheries Council meeting. Can he share with the House today what that response will be?
Finally, I wish the Minister well in his negotiations. I know he will do his best for Cornish and UK fishermen. However, having seen the industry suffer under the common fisheries policy, first as someone connected with the industry and, from 2010, as a Member of Parliament, I have to say that enough is enough. On the 12-mile limit, there is a case for ending access rights. We see from the regulations that France has access to 15 areas in UK territorial waters. Ireland has access to two areas, Germany to six, the Netherlands to three and Belgium to five for a variety of species. The UK gains access to two areas in German waters and one area in French waters. This is not fair.
My hon. Friend has anticipated the point that I will end with.
My hon. Friend the Minister was the Conservative party’s head of press when Michael Howard said:
“From a British perspective, the Common Fisheries Policy has been a failure: it has led simultaneously to the dwindling of fish stocks and the near-destruction of the British fishing industry.”
He went on to say:
“That which no one owns, no one will care for. The first step towards regenerating fisheries as a renewable resource is to establish the concept of ownership. That is why an incoming Conservative government will immediately negotiate to restore national control over British fishing grounds, out to 200 miles or the median line as allowed under maritime law, with sensible bilateral deals and recognition of the historic rights of other nations.”
The shadow Minister at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), drew up a Conservative party Green Paper of more than 30 pages, entitled “Consultation on a National Policy on Fisheries Management in UK Waters”, dated January 2005.
A recent debate in Westminster Hall demonstrated cross-party support for fisheries to be included in the EU renegotiations being carried out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I know that it is not in the Minister’s gift to deliver a promise of national control today, but would he make a simple request on behalf of Cornish and British fishermen, and ask the Prime Minister to make this inclusion in his negotiations? It is not a case of fish knowing no boundaries, but more that, as his then boss said,
“That which no one owns, no one will care for.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) to his new role. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for the debate, but not for granting this venue. In my view, debates of such importance should be on the Floor of the House. In my constituency—indeed, in the north-east as a whole—the fishing industry is still a significant employer. It also remains the most dangerous peacetime occupation, an unfortunate fact that we reflect upon each year in our annual service for lost fishermen and seafarers. I hope that in future years the venue will reflect the industry’s importance, even if it means having a debate in Government time.
I wish to raise three points; I make no apology for their being local to my constituency. The first concerns the difficulties that fishermen are currently having where they depend upon the nephrops fishery—prawns to the rest of us—particularly in the Farne Deeps, which is a critical fishing ground for local fishermen, particularly for the under-10 metre boats. I understand that stocks in the Farne Deeps are under a great deal of pressure. Local fishermen talk about boats coming from other parts of the United Kingdom, including from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Before I cause a stir, this is not a geographical or even a national point, it is about the size of the boats that are coming and the amount of stock that they are able to take. My guess is that they have been displaced from their traditional fishing grounds, or that they have diversified into prawn fishery.
The danger level for the Farne Deeps is being reached. ICES would say that the stocks are at least heading towards being unsustainable, even if they are appropriate at present. If the answer is a reduction in catch, which some are talking about, then unless the issue of access is dealt with, that will not support the local fishermen I am here to speak on behalf of. The options that the Minister has suggested to me that his officials are looking at have been met with scepticism by local fishermen. Why does he appear to have rejected measures that would limit access to the Farne Deeps?
The prawn fishery is key for North Shields fishermen, and those fishermen and the fleet are key to the success of the port. The port is key to the successful regeneration of the coast, and regeneration of the coast is key to the local economy. So this is of the utmost importance to my constituency and the fishermen in it. What can the Minister say to reassure them? What does he believe will come out of the Fisheries Council that might reduce pressure on areas such as the Farne Deeps and at the same time support the livelihoods of local fishermen? Will he, for example press for low-impact boats to have priority access to coastal waters under article 17? That is my first set of questions.
My second set of questions is about the salmon fishery and the future of the relatively few driftnet licences that remain. There are at present only 11 licences left. They are few in number, but very important to the local families who still hold them. The fishermen who have licences not only take salmon but play a part in renewing the salmon stock. It is a sustainable fishery. The salmon summit met on 19 November, and I look forward to the outcome, but why did pressure from me and others have to be applied before fishermen themselves were invited? The list of invitees that I saw was so weighted in favour of groups that want to get rid of those few licences that it looks like the end of the fishery is in sight. Does the Minister at least accept that it looks like vested interests are playing a part in driving policy towards the end of the licences as soon as possible? Why is this sustainable heritage fishery being kept in Ministers’ sights when it is exactly the sort of sustainable local fishery we should be looking to support?
I have raised my third point in a slightly different form in previous debates. It concerns the regeneration of North Shields port and the much-needed urgent quay renewal project. I understand that the European fisheries fund is being replaced with the European maritime and fisheries fund, but that grants from the new fund might be capped. The new arrangements might work against investing in port infrastructure, particularly in small ports such as North Shields, which might prove to be the big losers, yet those are precisely the ports that are struggling with the implementation of the discard ban. Can the Minister clarify whether the EMFF is on track to replace the EFF? If it is, can he reassure me and my local fishermen that it will not work to the detriment of North Shields, where regeneration is vital if we are to safeguard the future of the fishing industry?
It is a pleasure to serve under your expert chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who spoke on a complex subject with her customary expertise and set out the difficulties faced by the fisheries industry. I join her in paying tribute to our fishermen, who put their lives on the line by taking to sea to put food on our plates. Likewise, I pay tribute to all those in the rescue services and those who raise money for charitable causes throughout our fishing industry and beyond.
I have the great honour of representing Brixham, Dartmouth and Salcombe. The fishing industry’s contribution to our local economy cannot be overestimated. Brixham lands the highest-value catch in England, and has added an extraordinary amount to our economy. Although the catch has increased by 5% since last year— largely because this year we have not had the appalling winter storms that we suffered in 2014—we still have not recovered to the level we were at five years ago, and much of the uplift in fishermen’s income has come because of factors such as falling oil prices, rather than because the challenges they face at sea are being addressed.
It is not just the fishermen themselves who contribute to our local economy; the wider industry on land does too. There is not only the processing sector but the engineers, electricians, painters, riggers and marine scientists, so the impact on our wider economy cannot be overestimated. It is not just about the value of the catch, which this year alone was £21.441 million; we need to bear in mind the effect across the wider economy rather than focus only on the fishing industry.
I do not want to repeat the points about the quotas that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall made so eloquently, but will the Minister bear in mind the fact that in a mixed fishery the implementation of the discard ban has unintended consequences? Everyone recognises that there can be no morality in discarding perfectly good dead fish at sea. We have to be careful that implementing the policy does not just equate to discarding on land, and that discarding does not continue in the run-up to the introduction of the total ban.
In our mixed fisheries, particularly where species are recovering, if changes along the lines of those that my hon. Friend suggested are not made, we will see considerable, completely wasteful discarding this year. Will the Minister look into that? I hope that he will make the point very strongly that if we expect our fishermen to support changes that sometimes demand reductions in catches, we expect the same rigour to be applied when there is a clear increase in biomass and a compelling case to send things in the other direction. My hon. Friend’s point about the arbitrary 15% limit on the maximum uplift is right—surely that is wholly unacceptable. Will the Minister set out the points he will make at the Fisheries Council to try to get things to work in the other direction?
We should be going further on the issue of bass. No one in this Chamber is unconcerned about bass stocks. Although it was difficult for some sectors, the important change that was made to bring to an end pair trawling and increase the minimum landing size has received widespread support. Nevertheless, closing the fishery entirely for six months appears draconian, and it will have huge unintended consequences for other species. Fishermen will be forced to switch their effort to other species, and we are likely to see an increase in wreck netting, for example. There are also implications for the spawning stock of fish such as pollock.
We need to look at the bigger picture. Fishermen make a strong case that we risk seeing the destruction of our sustainable under-10 metre fleet, which includes many rod-and-line fishermen who face becoming entirely unsustainable. That case has been put forcibly by a number of fishermen from the under-10 metre fleet. Rather than agreeing to conditions that will effectively put them out of business forever, will the Minister consider asking whether we can have a little more time to see the impact of important measures that have not yet been given a chance to take effect? Might there be a compromise that addresses the fact that such fishermen will be changing their effort?
We must also consider the fact that some fishermen in small vessels will be put at personal risk if they are driven further out to sea in dangerous conditions in order to sustain a livelihood. Will the Minister give us more detail about the measures he is going to put in place? The difficulty in trying to impose a one fish per angler bag limit on recreational anglers is that it is likely to be ignored. We want to carry recreational anglers with us. We must at least ask how the limit is going to be policed, because it is not clear at the moment.
On the science of our seas, we all know that we are in challenging times financially, but the importance of good science to guide the decisions made in Europe cannot be overstated. Will the Minister set out what he is doing to support the science behind our fisheries to ensure that future decisions are based on the best possible science?
My hon. Friend is spot on about the importance of science. Hidden away in last week’s autumn statement was the announcement of a significant £5 million investment in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is the marine science arm of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to be spent on refurbishing its premises in Lowestoft. That will give it the opportunity to work up exciting plans to carry forward its great work.
I am delighted to hear that that is happening in my hon. Friend’s area. We would like to see that kind of investment around the UK, and we would like more scientists out on boats with our fishermen to collect the evidence that they need in real time. We should focus on basic marine science as well. My hon. Friend will know, for example, that the AstraZeneca premises in my constituency were taken over by Plymouth University. I hope that there will be a strong focus on everything we can do to improve our knowledge of marine science.
I know that many Members wish to speak, so I will bring my remarks to a close. I say again that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will stress as firmly as he can that in a mixed fishery, particularly as biomass is increasing, the proposed quotas will not save a single fish unless we see the right level of uplift for some species. The fish will still be discarded at sea, perfectly healthy to eat, but dead. No one in this Chamber or beyond would support that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing this debate, and I endorse the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) that this subject really belongs in the main Chamber. The fishing industry matters for all our coastal and island communities and deserves that degree of respect. I hope it will receive it in years to come.
I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall when she spoke of the current EU renegotiations as a missed opportunity to reopen discussions on the common fisheries policy. There was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to atone for the sins of his political ancestors, if I may put it that way, and it would be an eminently achievable objective, because I do not think the common fisheries policy, as it stands, has many friends, even in Brussels. We can all see the damage that it has done to our respective countries and industries. We have the opportunity to reboot it.
Indeed it would. For that reason, I intend to keep making the case, and I do not doubt that the hon. Lady will, too. This case is best made in this House, as is generally the case—I speak as a Member who represents a fishing community—to ensure it is made in the broadest possible way. By and large, there is not a great deal of difference between the parties on fisheries policy. We all face the same challenges in our communities. For that reason, it will be easy to build a cross-party consensus.
I want to dwell on two areas today. I understand—perhaps the Minister will deal with this in his remarks—that the EU-Norway negotiations are proceeding fairly well. It looks as though they will produce quota uplifts for most species, with a significant—and worrying for my constituency—exception for mackerel and blue whiting. That exception will be even more significant in the discussions that are about to start in Copenhagen between the European Union and the Faroe Islands. I hope the Minister will take that point away and pursue it vigorously with the EU negotiators in those discussions. There is grave concern in the pelagic industry about the way in which the 2014 deal between the EU and the Faroe Islands is being allowed to operate.
As hon. Members are doubtless aware, the deal was designed to allow EU vessels some access to Faroese waters. In return, Faroese vessels can catch a proportion of their mackerel and blue whiting in EU waters. The deal was met with substantial scepticism in my constituency and by the pelagic fleet in Shetland, in particular. They have gone along with it and have done their best to make it work, but with every week and month that passes it becomes more apparent that the deal requires urgent review.
The recent Seafish study shows that this year the Faroese have overcaught their entitlement of mackerel by 1,400 tonnes, but there have been no boats catching mackerel or blue whiting in the Faroese waters. Surely, it is possible to do this without threatening the access of EU vessels to Faroese waters. Essentially, the Faroese were given an inch in 2014, since which time they have taken a mile. The deal looks more and more unbalanced with every day that passes. It requires urgent attention from Britain and the EU.
The other matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister and of those in the devolved Administrations, because it is of significance to them, is the implementation of the demersal discard ban, which is due to come into force at the beginning of the year. We always knew that the demersal ban would be tricky.
The right hon. Gentleman probably has the same concerns as I do about the lack of port infrastructure for the discard ban, which will affect some boats. Has he encountered that issue in Orkney and Shetland?
It is very much an issue that we have encountered, especially in Shetland. The real difficulty is that until we have the discard ban, we will not know exactly what we are dealing with, in terms of stocks and the infrastructure that will be needed. However, all the indications are that it will be substantial. The Government have a role, because the way in which the discard ban is implemented is down to the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the other devolved Administrations. I say to the Minister, as I say to others, that there is a real need for much greater flexibility, especially in the early years, until we see exactly what we are dealing with and how it will work.
But no doubt issues will come down the track shortly thereafter. Flexibility in the implementation is needed. The indication is that the approach of the fisheries departments in Edinburgh and elsewhere is too prescriptive and does not allow the flexibility that is needed.
I bring to the House’s attention the recent report from Seafish entitled “Landing Obligation Economic Impact Assessment, Interim Report Two”—a snappy title—from August. I will read it into the record, because it should concern every representative of a fishing community. It states:
“Even considering the benefit of the most generously defined policy levers”—
that is, flexibilities and exemptions—
“the analysis shows that a significant volume and value of quota could remain uncaught as a result of the landing obligation.”
The worst-case scenario is that,
“In 2019...the fleet segments in Scotland would catch and land 51% (£99.9 million) of the value”
of the total allowable catch. Essentially, that would leave 49% of the catch unaccounted for, uncaught and unlanded. No fishing fleet can cope with a cut of that significance. That is the worst-case scenario and worst-case scenarios need not happen, but it is a warning. That is what the Scottish fishing fleets face at the moment. Unless we have the necessary flexibility, something that was brought in with good intentions could have serious and profound unintended consequences.
I hope that Ministers here and elsewhere will heed these warnings and act on them. It comes down to a basic principle that we have spoken about over the years: when it comes to fisheries management, the people who need to be listened to first are the fishermen. We will be watching to see whether the Minister and his counterpart in Edinburgh, Richard Lochhead, are prepared to do that. It will be obvious to all if they are not.
I apologise. I thank the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for opening the debate. Once again, all Members will congratulate the House of Commons Library on its excellent publication.
The Prime Minister recently wrote a letter setting out the areas in which he is seeking to reform our membership of the European Union. The second of the four areas in what everyone is now calling the Tusk letter is competitiveness. In that section, he called for a target to cut the total burden on business and he sought to boost the competiveness and productivity of the European Union and drive growth and jobs for all—all very good, laudable aims. However, he missed the opportunity to raise the question of the damaging common fisheries policy and, for that matter, the common agricultural policy.
Later in that letter, the Prime Minister highlighted the fact that the United Kingdom is the European Union’s second-largest economy and the fifth biggest in the world. He could also have noted that, until relatively recently, Britain had claims to 80% of Europe’s fishing waters and that, in some estimates, British waters enclose up to 80% of western Europe’s fish.
It cannot be underestimated how wrong it is that, despite all the reforms of the CFP—every 10 years we have a new cycle of reforms—43% of the UK’s quota is bought by foreign-owned vessels. The UK was allocated just 30% of the EU quota for fishing ground stocks that occur in UK waters. The United Nations convention mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall states that the usual limit is 200 miles or the median line, but our membership of the EU has reduced those rights to just 12 miles.
I am here to discuss the problems in my constituency, where Ramsgate is the focus for local fishermen. In 2013, those fishermen implemented a pilot community quota group that provided 26% more quota to small boat—under 10 metres—fishermen and helped to reduce discards. It was deemed a great success by DEFRA at the time, but it has not been taken any further. Failing the extension of such local measures, which are in the Minister’s sphere of influence, local fishermen with whom I have spoken feel that we sincerely need to re-establish the principle of British fishermen in British waters.
Reports suggest that two thirds of the seafood consumed in Britain is now imported. Although that partly represents our evolving tastes and demand, it is also about supply. Last year, imports of fish and fish preparations fell by 3% to 721,000 tonnes, while exports increased by 10% to 499,000 tonnes. The main imports were cod, tuna, shrimp and prawns, and the main exports were salmon, mackerel and herring. By and large, we export what we catch and import what we eat. If we had a fairer share of the fish in the seas around this island nation, once described as an island of coal surrounded by a sea of fish, we would surely be a net exporter, not a net importer.
Over 78% of vessels in the UK fishing fleet are under 10 metres, such as those that operate out of Ramsgate and other ports in the constituencies of Members around the room. Shellfish is increasing in importance in the catch of those vessels, now representing 80%. The increase in relatively high-value shellfish catches has arisen because there is little else for boats to do, Ramsgate has seen a particular increase in whelks. The more than fivefold growth in shellfish landings since 1960 is explained by much, if not all, shellfish being outside of quota stocks.
The fish in our own seas are no more of a common resource to which all members of the EU should have equal and free access than the sunshine enjoyed by member states in the Mediterranean. If we really want to boost competitiveness, as so well described in the Tusk letter, and to drive our need for growth and jobs for all, we need to take back responsibility for managing our own fishing fleets and conserving our own fish stocks, but that is perhaps wishful thinking. Let’s get back down to brass tacks: we are where we currently are.
The brass tacks in Ramsgate are that we now have just 25 under-10 metre vessels, representing just 20 full-time employees and a landed value of just £1.5 million. With the value added in other local jobs, we can perhaps double the employment figure and the value to the local economy. The under-10s fleet is environmentally sustainable and well supported by organisations such as Greenpeace, which currently has legal action under way. The vessels have a low impact on local stocks and provide a greater opportunity for local job creation than industrial fishing. Article 17 of the common fisheries policy includes the right to earn a living, but that right is simply fantasy in Ramsgate. The article also allows Ministers to devise mechanisms to ensure that distributions to coastal and inshore fishermen are right and fair, and the modern CFP is meant to incentivise sustainable fishing that benefits local coastal economies.
My fishing community faces problems on four fronts. First, members will be aware of the massive expansion in offshore wind in that part of Kent and the substantial dredging for operations in London. It would be fair to say that fishermen in Ramsgate are operating in a new building site, which causes them particular problems.
Secondly, the six-month precautionary ban on bass that is proposed by the European Commission for January to June next year will be simply devastating.
My hon. Friend raises a wider point about the validity of the current scientific data, which often falls far behind the reality on the ground. To get back to bass, it is a key catch during a tough period for the industry. My fishermen need 300 kg a month simply to survive, but that will be taken away from them.
The third problem, which I have spent much time discussing with the Minister when we meet in corridors, is the nonsensical situation of the quotas for skates and rays. The classification used under the CFP is far too broad. The precautionary quota reduction of recent years now means that my boats are allowed only 275 kg a month on average, which is barely enough to pay for fuel. However, local fishermen are reporting an abundance of thornback ray. They are almost like paving slabs on the bottom of the sea, but the fishermen are unable to catch this valuable and well-loved fish. The science is once more well out of step with reality. With the extra £5 million that is available, I ask the Minister for an urgent review by CEFAS, so that we can see what the reality is, particularly for thornbacks, which should fall outside of quotas under any reasonable expectation.
Another issue that I have never managed to get to the bottom of is the apparent lack of mackerel allocation in the southern North sea or zone IVc. I hope the Minister will be able to explain that this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made a good point that the discarding of good fish in a hungry world is frankly unacceptable. The ban on pelagic discards, which is not particularly relevant to my fishermen, is already in place, but the demersal discard ban coming in from next year will cause particular difficulties. Like much of the CFP, the ban is ill thought out, particularly for smaller ports and the under-10 metre fleet. There is no capability in Ramsgate for the sale, distribution or disposal of potential discards. We do not have agricultural product or food producers on hand ready to take away discards for other use. The ban will simply lead to an additional cost in an already struggling fishing community. I am, however, aware of the de minimis and survivability exemptions.
The reality of life for Ramsgate fishermen is truly dire. A living is impossible. Too many fishermen are now lone working, with the dangers that that brings. Low fuel prices are perhaps one of the few saving graces in the industry at the moment. Most fishermen have to supplement their income with part-time work, and there are no new entrants into the industry locally. I therefore want to appeal to the Minister as he goes off to the meeting on 15 December. I want him to utilise his powers of flexibility for quota allocation, so that the under-10 fleet gets its fair share. I want him to push for a special category for thornback rays that is outside of the quotas, because the facts differ from the science. The category of skates and rays is too broad, covering more than 40 species. I would like to see a ban on the truly appalling pulse beaming, which has become factory fishing of the wrong type. I will certainly ask the Prime Minister to secure the return of fisheries policy to the UK as part of the EU renegotiation.
I wish the Minister well on 15 December and I look forward to his answers this afternoon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Nuttall. Thank you for the opportunity to speak in the debate.
One thing that strikes me about fishing debates is the passion people have for the subject, and the way in which they fight for their constituencies. We have already had excellent contributions from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I await with interest the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), who was of great help as I tried to get my head around the language and terminology of the fishing industry. Having worked in telecoms, I am used to acronyms, but I have had to learn a whole new set of them.
Fishing is an important contributor to the UK economy, and especially to Scotland’s, but it remains an inherently dangerous way to earn a living, and many sacrifices have been made to the sea. Few other jobs require those involved to brave the full force of the elements when they can be at their most terrifying. Only this week in Scotland we were reminded of that by the marine accident investigation branch report on the death of a fisherman from the Beryl who went overboard off Shetland in February.
Many brave efforts are of course made to protect and save those who are constantly in peril, and I express our gratitude to the officials, coastguards and volunteers of organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Fishermen’s Mission, which provide rescue and support. Their job is vital and selfless, and we must thank them for it.
I have already alluded to the fact that fishing is of major importance to Scotland. We have only 8.4% of the UK population, but land around two thirds of the total UK catch at our ports. The Scottish fishing zone accounts by weight for 80% of landings of key stocks. The fishing industry is an important contributor to the economy of my constituency, so it is very much an activity taking place on my doorstep.
At this time of year, our attention turns to the annual fisheries round in Brussels, which always acts to concentrate minds. There is some good news to report. Scientific advice from ICES for 2016 has now been released, and it incorporates joint science and industry data on many of Scotland’s key fish stocks. For white fish in particular, it paints a promising picture. North sea cod appears to have turned a corner, and there was a recommended increase in quota of 15%. Other rises to be recommended include one of 56% for haddock, 20% for monkfish, 26% for megrim, 20% for Rockall haddock and 6% for northern hake. On the west coast there is a recommended rise of 15% for nephrops, although disappointing recommendations include an advised reduction of 26% for North sea nephrops and 10% for North sea whiting. The Scottish Government in particular are fully aware of the challenges to do with such stocks and will be seeking to mitigate them in future negotiations.
The launch of the ban on discards for white fish and prawn stocks next year will prove to be nothing less than a milestone for the fishing industry in Scotland. As we have heard, there is widespread concern about the practical implementation of the discard ban in our mixed fisheries; that poses real challenges, so I am pleased about the agreement on phasing in the landing obligation from the start of next year. On discards in general, I am pleased that in Scotland we are already making sound progress, with combined discards of North sea cod, haddock and whiting falling from 40% of the catch to only 18% in the six years to 2014. There is more to do, but we should be pleased with the results so far. They are the outcome of pioneering conservation measures devised with the fishing industry.
It is good to hear the hon. Gentleman send a message to the Minister that Scottish white fish vessels that target cod and haddock are doing well. Has the hon. Gentleman had the same message from those vessels that at times come down as far as area VII? There we see a proposed cut in the TAC of 27.1% for haddock, for which we already have a minuscule quota, at only 8% of the European TAC or thereabouts, and a 29.6% cut for cod, for which we have about 10% of the EU TAC. Has he had that message from the Scottish vessels that come to the south-west?
The hon. Lady has a level of knowledge to which I aspire. There are some definite challenges in different areas, but the danger is that we always see the negative side. We should also look at the positive impact. Fish stocks are recovering in certain areas, but we should never be complacent about the challenges that she expresses so well.
It is encouraging to see more young skippers being attracted to fishing, because they represent the future of the sector. We have to recognise in some areas the economic hurdle to getting involved. We now have the European Commission’s initial draft of its proposals for fishing opportunities during 2016, which includes quotas for stocks exclusively managed by the EU. At this stage, the proposals largely follow scientific advice and reflect the Commission’s drive towards achieving MSY by 2020 at the latest. There are still gaps relating to stocks for which the quota depends on negotiations with third countries such as Norway, the Faroe Islands and other coastal states. Talks between the EU and Norway should conclude tomorrow. There are other gaps, too, but talks, as is usual at this point in the cycle, are under way and progressing.
The final package of quota will be agreed at the December Fisheries Council, at which key goals for Scotland will include continuing the effort freeze in all sea areas and working to dismantle the discredited cod recovery plan. We will also seek to conclude discussions establishing a new flexibility provision for haddock and securing increased flexibility for monkfish. In addition, we shall seek a more proportionate response to the challenging advice on herring in the west of Scotland fishery, and to overturn the zero-catch recommendation. We want recognition that that fishery is sustainable, and to secure a TAC that allows fishing to take place while supporting the Pelagic Advisory Council’s rebuilding plan. We hope that the Minister will be supportive of that.
Some of the issues that I am raising are not exclusively Scottish. There are challenges, in particular with western herring, for Northern Ireland’s fishermen, as well as for England’s. That leads me on to the wider pelagic issues. The discard ban that came into force at the beginning of the year does not seem to have caused any significant problems in the sector, which is encouraging. Economically, the mackerel catch is the most important pelagic catch, and the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association reports that the stock is in good health. It is disappointing, though, that Norway will have access to the benefit of reduced-tariff mackerel exports to the EU and an increase in the herring tonnage, which will make worse an already difficult marketing environment. Furthermore, the fact that this week’s mackerel talks in London closed without agreement, leaving Iceland and Russia outwith the arrangement, is clearly a source of disappointment. It is likely to lead to overfishing, and that will impact on all of us.
We must remember that the onshore part of the fishing sector is important as well, in particular in Scotland, where processing plays an extremely important role in places such as Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Shetland. Disappointingly, we have seen some job losses in the processing sector, but north-east Scotland is now the most important seafood processing centre in the UK. More than 70 companies employ nearly 4,000 people and deal with not only cod and haddock, but pelagic fish, shellfish and, of course, farmed salmon. We must not lose sight of that important part of the industry, and its value both economically and to the consumer in the wider food chain.
We also need to continue our strong focus on sustainability. Of Scotland’s 12 key commercial stocks, eight have already met the maximum sustainable yield target. That is commendable. Scotland has led the way in developing innovative conservation measures, and it is vital that we continue to develop approaches to fisheries management that incentivise behaviour that brings social, economic and environmental benefits.
As far as the CFP is concerned, the Scottish National party has been sceptical about its effectiveness over the past 40 years, though we are not alone in that. However, even the policy’s fiercest critics should acknowledge that the last round of reforms represent a substantial step forward in terms of regionalising the CFP and bringing key stakeholders to the table.
I may be a new boy, but the hon. Lady cannot trip me up so easily. No, it has not changed. I am sure that, over the coming months, we will have considerable debate on this. In fact, I see fellow members of the European Scrutiny Committee here who do not share all of my views. The EU’s role in fishing will be a key part of that debate. In this debate, it is important to focus on our own interests and regional interests, because a wider discussion will follow.
The reality is, if we gave notice that we as a nation wanted to withdraw from the common fisheries policy, we might be thrown out of the EU. I tested that with a member of UKRep, the UK Permanent Representation to the European Union. It is a bit of a contradiction to be in favour of the EU but want to get out of the CFP.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution; I always enjoy them. [Interruption.] I am still to develop that skill. We are at a point where the issue is not whether we should be in or out of the CFP, but how we can make it better, more effective and work for all our communities. I look forward to sparring with him when we come to the EU debate.
The hon. Gentleman is making compelling points. Does he not agree that if we are to have areas of compromise, it would be best to ensure greater devolution under the CFP, so that we had continued membership of the European Union while enjoying the benefits of greater decision making in relation to quotas?
What the hon. Lady said is what I should have said. I thank her for that most excellent intervention—I shall endeavour to visit Hansard and memorise it for next time. I am surprised we got this far without that coming up, but I notice one or two Eurosceptics in the Chamber. The important point to make is that, all along, the SNP has championed the regional approach to fisheries, and we will continue to do so. The system is not perfect, but we shall work hard to make it better.
There is another important point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) was going to raise, but unfortunately he cannot be here today. There are real problems recruiting local crews to work on boats, on the west coast in particular. For some time that has been addressed by employing staff, notably from the Philippines, who have a specific employment classification. Without them, some boats simply would not be able to put to sea. We already see the impact of that.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Irish Government have just announced that they will give up to 500 permits for such fishermen, and will guarantee that those who come from outside the European economic area will be given the minimum wage? Should the Westminster Government not do that as well?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. His example shows that where there is political will, a solution can be found. The Government’s clear focus is on reducing immigration numbers, which is why they are starting to clamp down on those personnel, but the important classification of international seafarers is notably different. The answer given to many skippers—to look to recruit from eastern Europe—will make things worse. Next Wednesday, a number of us are attending a meeting with the Minister for Immigration. I ask the Minister present today to speak in support of this endeavour to ensure that we keep our boats in the water.
Finally, I was disappointed not to see sea fish levies in the Smith commission proposals. I encourage the Minister to look at how the issue could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a matter of urgency. There has been some discussion, but I would welcome his input and support for that. That would address the bewildering and anomalous situation whereby Scottish levy money is used to promote Norwegian fish in the UK market.
I will not, if the hon. Lady does not mind. I would like to finish, because I am conscious of time. Our approach to this year’s talks will be dictated by numerous fundamental principles, which include respecting science, stock sustainability, and protecting the socioeconomic wellbeing of the industry and the communities that depend on it.
We also aim to continue pursuing our commitment to achieving discard-free fisheries, and opposing the “use it or lose it” strategy of automatic cuts for data-limited stocks. There is a lot to do, but I am confident that we are on the right path. Credible, sensible and practical monitoring, along with a robust defence of our fishing and processing industries, is the best way to effect positive change and achieve the long-term sustainability of the catch. If we do that, we will ensure that our fishing communities in Scotland and throughout the UK not only survive, but prosper.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing the debate.
Last month, I attended the annual festival of the sea service at Christ church in Lowestoft, which is the most easterly church in the UK. That was an opportunity to acknowledge and thank fishermen and their families. When we eat our meals, we should not forget the risks that they take to put fish on our plates. We should also acknowledge, as many Members have, the work that the RNLI, the Fishermen’s Mission and other support groups do around the coast of these islands. Our coast is one of the British Isles’ main assets, but at times it can be unforgiving.
Our current fisheries policy is set out in the CFP, which was reformed in 2014. The reforms consisted of three parts: first, a legally binding commitment to fish at sustainable levels; secondly, more local decision making; and thirdly, the phased ban of discards. If those policies are implemented, they can bring significant benefits to the coastal communities we represent. I represent the port of Lowestoft, which was once the fishing capital of the southern North sea.
I used to know Lowestoft well in my youth—[Interruption.] It was a long time ago. When I was a youth we used to go to Lowestoft, where there were many fishing boats. Would the hon. Gentleman like to contrast the number of fishing boats in Lowestoft now with 50 years ago?
Indeed I would. Although the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back to his youth as being a long time ago, he must have extremely good eyesight, because he has read what I was coming on to.
In days gone by—I will not say anything about the hon. Gentleman’s youth—it was possible to cross from one side of Hamilton dock in Lowestoft to the other by walking from boat to boat. Today, that same dock is virtually empty of fishing boats. The trawlers that underpinned the industry have gone. The vessels in the Lowestoft Fish Producers’ Organisation are now largely based in the Netherlands. Their fixed quota allocation of 79,000 units is landed elsewhere, not in Lowestoft. The industry that remains in Lowestoft is an under-10 metre inshore fleet of 10 to 12 vessels.
When we have debated this subject previously, I have been pretty pessimistic and said, “Time is of the essence. We’re at one minute to midnight. We have very limited time to save the industry in Lowestoft.” Today, I am more optimistic. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, although I am conscious that it might be an oncoming train. I believe there is a real future for the industry in Lowestoft, and not only because of the announcement about CEFAS that I mentioned.
We can build a new, 21st-century fishing industry in Lowestoft. The future of the port is beginning to become clear: it is a sustainable and exciting future, involving offshore wind and fishing working together. Two weeks ago, it was announced that the construction base and the operations and maintenance base for the East Anglia One offshore wind farm would be in the port of Lowestoft. It has also been announced that the construction base for the Galloper offshore wind farm will be in Lowestoft.
The fishing industry, through Associated British Ports and other interested parties, is now providing us with the opportunity to work together to invest in the fish market and to secure a long-term future for fishing in the port. My vision is of an inshore fleet of approximately 25 boats that can help to underpin the processing businesses and smokehouses that remain in the town to this day. It will not be easy to achieve that vision, and I will outline the five challenges we need to address in order to deliver that goal.
First, the Government need to honour the legally binding commitment in article 17 of the reformed CFP to encourage sustainable fishing that has the least possible impact on the marine environment and that maximises economic and social returns to coastal communities such as Lowestoft.
Does my hon. Friend agree that to have a productive and healthy fish market, we need not only the quality of supply from the inshore fleet but also the quantity of supply from the larger offshore vessels? We must never forget that one complements the other.
That is a point well made. The nature of the fish market has probably changed over the years, in that it is no longer only about the merchants in it; we must bring the public into the fish market as well.
There are opportunities to address the article 17 commitment on sustainable fishing. Research carried out by the New Economics Foundation shows that coastal communities can derive significant social benefits from having an active port with fishing vessels. That, in turn, can play a significant role in revitalising and regenerating the towns and villages all around the British coast that we represent, therefore achieving the goal we so often talk about of rebalancing the economy.
The second challenge is the elephant in the room: quotas. We need to ensure that the inshore fleet has a realistic quota available to it. I covered that issue in quite a lot of detail in the debate we had in this Chamber in September, so I will not go into the same detail again, other than to repeat that the under-10s have been treated poorly in the past. I compare them to Oliver Twist in the workhouse, holding out their bowl for more fish, only to be denied it by an overbearing Mr Bumble. That still applies.
I acknowledge the work that the Minister is doing in top-slicing 25% of the quota uplift in England and allocating it to the under-10s, but much more is needed. The industry also needs to play its role in keeping accurate records, so that we avoid the problem the under-10s had in the 1990s when they were not keeping those records. That is one reason why they have had such a poor result in the past.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend was around the fleet at the time, but it was not a question of the fishermen not keeping those records; they were not required to keep the records according to EU legislation. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—the equivalent of DEFRA at the time—estimated their catches.
I thank my hon. Friend for correcting me; she has far more historical knowledge than I do. That tells us that fishermen must not rely on others to do the hard work and the recording, they must do it themselves. The Marine Management Organisation is doing a sampling project at the moment, carried out by CEFAS, to address that particular problem.
The third challenge is the discards ban. It is right that we eliminate discards, but for the inshore fleet the road to doing so will not be an easy one along which to travel. We have heard from around the coast that port infrastructure needs to be significantly upgraded so that we can address that problem. There is real concern that the discard ban could yet bankrupt many inshore interests if not carried out properly.
To be fair to the Minister and his officials, I know that they have been working with the sector, through Jerry Percy of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, to develop a workable approach to implementing the new rules. That approach must meet the spirit and requirements of the new legislation, but we must ensure that it does not have grave unintended consequences. The MMO needs to take a pragmatic and sensible approach to implementing the legislation and must not be over-zealous.
A similarly pragmatic approach is required for the management of sea bass stocks, which are particularly important for smaller coastal fleets. As we have heard, the current proposals present real challenges. I direct the Minister to the detailed proposals from the Low Impact Fishers of Europe organisation—LIFE—which I believe would safeguard the interests of both bass as a stock and fishermen. I urge the Minister and his European colleagues to look at those proposals closely.
My final point, which has been touched upon, is the massive increase we have seen in electric pulse fishing, particularly by Dutch vessels. There are major concerns about the impact that that is having. It is estimated that 105 such vessels are currently charging around the North sea, using a system that is causing significant damage to fish stocks and leaving fish to die on the seabed. We are transferring discarding from taking place on land to taking place at the bottom of the sea, which flies in the face of everything the Government and responsible British fishermen seek to achieve. I urge the Minister to halt that practice, at least until full scientific research has been carried out, hopefully by CEFAS.
Significant challenges remain, but my tone has changed from being pessimistic about the future of the Lowestoft industry to being more optimistic. I acknowledge that significant hurdles remain along the way. There will be plenty of shouting and plenty of banging of tables, as there always is in fishing, but I believe that together, fishermen, their representatives, scientists, the Government, the managing organisations, the European Union, MPs and MEPs can deliver an exciting future. It will be very different from what took place in the past, and we must do our best to ensure that it is sustainable, that we do not just move from boom to bust, and that it provides those working in the industry with an opportunity to earn a wage that reflects the risks that they take—both the risks in investing in their businesses, and the risks to their very lives by going to sea.
It is always a pleasure to speak on anything to do with fishing, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate—or as we call her, the Member for down south, for her politics. We were pleased to go along with the hon. Lady and Members of the Scottish National party to present our case for this debate at the Backbench Business Committee. Of course, my opinion on Europe and the EU is very different from that of my other three colleagues who were there, but I would like to ask some questions along those lines, as it is important to do so.
First, I want to thank some people who have given us background information. In particular, I mention Alan McCulla from the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, who is here in the Gallery today. I also mention Dick James from the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation and Mark Palmer from the Northern Ireland Trawlermen’s Trading Company. Those are three people and three organisations that have given me some information on this matter.
Once again, loathed diktats from Brussels are making our fishermen’s lives much harder than they should be. First, there were the illogical quotas, on which we have all commented. Then there were the Spanish fishing fleets—the modern-day armada—robbing fish from our seas, and now we have a new threat in the form of the EU landing obligation. Although the delegation who went to the Backbench Business Committee have different opinions on Europe, we are united on how we can help our fishing industry across all the regions of the United Kingdom. Perhaps some of those hon. Members will swallow their anti-Europe rhetoric and accept that we need to work together on addressing these issues.
Fisheries up and down our United Kingdom need to be on a sustainable footing—that is so important. Fishing lobbies from across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which incorporates all those and many more, have contacted me and others in this House, saying that the EU landing obligation was an issue that continually raised its head. I understand that it is not the aim of the new landing obligation to be of harm to the fishing industry; rather it has ended up bad for fishermen because of the way in which the EU has gone about the obligation. When it comes to addressing that issue, hopefully the shadow Minister and the Minister will be able to indicate how best we can help our fishing sectors, given the way in which the EU has gone about those obligations.
On Saturday week I will be at my advice centre in Portavogie, where fishermen will come and tell me about all these things, including the landing obligation. Looking at Portavogie as an example of one of the fishing villages that I represent, there was once a vast and vibrant sector there, with 130 boats at one time, but that is now down to 70, which indicates where things are going. The landings, by the way, are pretty much the same as they were, so the gap has been filled. However, although we used to have four fishing factories to process the landings, now we only have one small one. Some have moved to Kilkeel, and I am pleased that they have been retained and that at least one of the villages has benefited.
According to the NFFO:
“The most serious aspect of the landings obligation is its potential to ‘choke’ mixed fisheries; meaning that the exhaustion of one…quota would require vessels to tie up for the rest of the year, foregoing their main economic quotas.”
That could be absolutely disastrous for the men and women whose livelihood comes from fishing, but we have yet to hear any suggestion of EU research into how to avoid that, let alone mitigate it altogether.
It is critical that the concerns of fishermen up and down this nation are addressed in respect of the landing obligation, as we do not want to see good, honest, hard-working people falling on hard times as a result of red tape and bureaucracy. Just to reiterate, the views that I have contributed were expressed to me by not just one individual, or by one individual organisation, but by a large number of different individuals and different groups from all across our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, many of whom I am sure have never met, but who all have the same concerns and feel the same pain. I presume that some have contacted Members of Parliament who are here as well. The main concern of the people affected was not about moving toward a sustainable fishing system for the United Kingdom; we would be hard pushed to find anyone who disagrees with doing that. Their concern was that they were not being included in decisions that matter to them—decisions they care about, and which potentially have a huge impact on their lives.
We can lead by example in Parliament by listening to those in the fishing industry—as we all do, and we reflect those viewpoints in this Chamber in today’s debate—and by consulting them when deciding how best to regulate our fishing industry. We do not need the top-down diktats that we have seen in this well-intended yet hated EU landing obligation. We need to do things differently, recognising that those who ultimately know best about our fishing industry are from the fishing industry itself.
Let me come back to a point referred to by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) about Filipino fishermen. The men in the fishing sector in the village of Portavogie—and the hon. Member for South Down could refer to her two fishing ports—want to have Filipino fishermen. And do you know why? Because they are dependable. There was a tradition of service in the boats in the fishing fleets in Portavogie, but that is not there any more. Next week, we have the opportunity to meet the Minister and we have to express these concerns. We cannot ignore the fact that the Republic of Ireland has taken a step in that direction, and next week that must be part of our attempts to persuade the Minister of the merits of our case.
The NFFO has issued a bleak warning about what may happen if we continue to do things as they are currently being done. It stated:
“The EU’s blundering policy, supported it has to be said, by UK fisheries ministers, has the capacity to derail our fisheries and put us back decades if not handled very sensitively from here on in.”
That must be addressed—if that is not a wake-up call, what is? In the future, the approach to these issues should be to include fishermen and the organisations that represent them at the heart of such legislation, whether it is sovereign legislation or imposed on us from Brussels—good old Brussels. Well, Brussels sprouts are good.
I want to mention one final quote that illustrates just how illogical the bureaucratic EU diktat on landings is. If it were true that the EU and the Council of Ministers routinely set quotas that are unsustainable, it is a little difficult to explain how our fisheries are doing so well. At the annual “State of the Stocks” meeting in Brussels, the chairman of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advisory committee, Eskild Kirkegaard—it is hard to get my tongue around that; I imagine it does not sound right in my Ulster-Scots accent—said, importantly:
“Over the last ten to fifteen years, we have seen a general decline in fishing mortality in the Northeast Atlantic and the Baltic Sea…For the majority of stocks, it has been observed that fishing mortality has decreased to a level consistent with Maximum Sustainable Yield…meaning levels that are not only sustainable but will also deliver high long term yields.”
It is clear from that statement by that knowledgeable person, who is chairman of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advisory committee, through the EU, that there is a sustainable industry out there. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) referred to positivity—let us breathe the positivity into this debate and make sure that we get the return, which is very important.
To refer to my constituency of Strangford, fishermen from the Irish sea and from the boats of Portavogie tell me that they have never seen the abundance of cod in the Irish sea that they have been seeing in recent times. Although the fishermen see that every week, the scientists who advise Europe do not see it, so we need to address that issue. We need to ensure that the quotas are right. The Minister knows about getting the quotas right for the prawn industry. That is very important; it is now the backbone of the industry in Portavogie and of the fishing fleets. When it comes to addressing those issues, let us have some reality from Europe in relation to a sustainable fishing industry and the fish that we have in the sea—the cod and the prawns.
I can only hope that hon. Members have taken note of these very important issues, that in the future fishermen and their organisations have a proper say in what affects them, and that fishermen from the villages of Kilkeel and Ardglass in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down and from the village of Portavogie in my constituency are afforded an integral role in deciding the best way forward for the industry. After all, who knows the industry better than the fishermen themselves? I wish the Minister every success. I place it on the record that he has done well for us in the past few years and we look forward to his doing well—no pressure—for us again this year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is always an assiduous attender of these debates and takes his parliamentary duties extremely seriously. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and I particularly thank the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for securing an important debate that I think should be taking place on the Floor of the House.
I have tried to attend fisheries debates every year since I became a Member of the House and have tried to represent the interests of the fishermen in Hartlepool. The fishing industry in my constituency is perhaps not a staple part of the local economy as it is in other constituencies, but the key point is that generations of Hartlepool families, going back at least 800 years, have carved out a hard living in the dangerous and often unforgiving North sea. Bluntly, I find it very difficult to understand the conditions in which these brave men and, often, women serve: wet, cold, often dark, treacherous, freezing and far too often fatal.
[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. Will he acknowledge that a commercial fisherman often also has to be an accountant, an engineer, a mathematician, a fisheries scientist and a gear mender? There are masses of qualities and areas of expertise that these hard-working fishermen need before they go to sea.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. With regard to the point about being an accountant, I should declare my interest: I am a chartered accountant. If any fishermen want my services, I will be more than happy to provide them for a reasonable fee. But there is an important point, which is that fishing is a dangerous profession. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) made an important point about a service that happens in North Shields. The same service happens annually in my own constituency, organised by the Mission to Seafarers for the Tees and Hartlepool, whose headquarters are on Seal Sands Road. There is a nice connection there, because it is a delight to be able to say that it is in the constituency of my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). It is a delight to see him serving on the Front Bench in this debate.
As I said, in my time in the House I have tried to reflect the concerns and issues of Hartlepool fishermen. The fishing fleet in my constituency consists predominantly, if not exclusively, of under-10 metre boats. The fishermen have expressed the same issues to me year in, year out, and I have raised them in these fisheries debates year in, year out. They have struggled with persistent problems: the quotas for under-10 metre boats and how those quotas are being squeezed by the bigger boats; unlicensed fishing; discards; and how to ensure that there is sustainable stock that allows for the maximum yield. However, what is really frustrating is that the issues that I raised in these debates on behalf of Hartlepool fishermen a decade ago remain concerns that threaten the livelihoods of people in my constituency today, such as Phil and Marty Walsh. Those problems pose—I am not being melodramatic—an existential threat to the Hartlepool and UK fishing industry.
I want to put some figures on that—perhaps I am comfortable about doing that, being a chartered accountant. People might think that an awful lot of money is involved, but in 2014, according to figures from the Marine Management Organisation, under-10 metre boats in Hartlepool landed fish with a value of just over £69,000. That is spread over a number of boats—a number of small businesses—in my constituency, so it is clear that the fishermen are hardly getting fat on the proceeds of their trade. It is a harsh climate—often literally, but also financially. The fishermen have to pay fixed costs such as insurance, without any guarantee of whether conditions will allow them to go out to fish. That is coupled with the fact that the revenue arising from their endeavours is low and often precarious.
I have raised the matter repeatedly in the House, and other hon. Members have done so far more eloquently than I can. The quota system is unfair—it favours large producer organisations at the expense of smaller boats. The quota allocations for 2015 show that although the under-10 metre fleet makes up 77% or 78% of England’s fleet—a fact mentioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay)—it was allocated only 3.2% of the quota. To add insult to injury, the producer organisations often do not use all the quota allocated to them. That suggests to me that the market is distorted and failing, and that smaller boats should be given a larger allocation.
I believe that the Minister is sympathetic to that point. I know that he is certainly very knowledgeable in this area, and I commend the work that he has done in the past two or three years. I am not telling him anything that he is not aware of or that I have not mentioned time and again in previous fisheries debates. He has recently committed to ring-fencing for small boats the first 100 tonnes of quota uplift, followed by an additional 10% or 15% of all available uplifts. That is a welcome step, but can he go further? Will he safeguard the interests of the under-10 metre fleet in Hartlepool and elsewhere?
In last year’s debate, I mentioned how the discards policy, although incredibly welcome and entirely sensible, is consolidating further market power in the hands of producer organisations at the expense of smaller players. I asked the Minister what the Government were doing to ensure that they met the requirements of article 17 of the reformed CFP, which requires member states to use transparent and objective criteria, including of an environmental, social and economic nature, when allocating fishing opportunities. Article 17 should move the quota system away from a methodology based on what was caught before and a system that disproportionately favours those who caught the most in the past. Those points are identical to the ones that I raised last year, but the question remains.
Several hon. Members have mentioned Greenpeace. Let me quote what Greenpeace has argued, which I think is striking:
“The government is currently starving our local, low impact fleet of fishing quota, sending some of them to bankruptcy or food banks. Meanwhile just one Dutch controlled vessel continues to get a mammoth amount of fishing quota because the system of allocating quota hasn’t changed since the 1990s. This is despite the fundamental change in the CFP that says that fishing quota should be used to incentivise sustainable fishing and benefit coastal economies. So it’s not just blatantly unfair, it’s also unlawful.”
We need to change that.
Actually, if the hon. Gentleman had attended the last-but-one meeting of the all-party group on fisheries, he would have heard the other side of the argument. He might like to look at the very short film on the all-party group’s website that counters some of the mis-messaging from Greenpeace, because it puts the point of view of that large Dutch vessel. I think that the hon. Gentleman would be better advised to hear the other side of the argument before using Greenpeace’s complete propaganda.
Well, I do feel disciplined, Mr Crausby; I feel chastised, and I will certainly look at the film that the hon. Lady mentions. The point about Greenpeace is important, because the Minister is obviously aware of the judicial review that it has brought about on the grounds that the Government have not fully and properly implemented article 17. I understand that a verdict is imminent. It could even come this side of Christmas, and I know that the Minister, in responding to the debate, will be hindered in what he can say.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge, though, that there is a value attached to these quotas, and that there should be full compensation if they are removed unilaterally? As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) said, we need to recognise that the bulk of the fish on our plates must come from the large fleet.
The hon. Lady makes a really important point. This is not an easy matter to solve, and successive Governments have struggled with it, although the Minister has gone some way towards addressing it. The hon. Lady is right that the quota allocation has a value and can be classed as an asset on the balance sheet, so there would need to be some sort of legal compensation if it changed. I fully recognise that it is a complex issue, but I am trying to represent my constituents, who are suffering deeply because the allocation of quota is incredibly unfair.
The hon. Gentleman is making his point extremely well, and we represent very similar constituencies with the same issue. However, I want to question what he said about quota being an asset on the balance sheet. Lord Justice Cranston, in his judgment in summer 2013, said that fish was a public resource, not an asset for any company to own.
But the producer organisations can often lease quota and put the lease and the future revenue streams on the balance sheet, so, in that regard, quota can be seen as an asset.
What can the Minister say about making sure we fully implement article 17? Despite the complexities and confusions, which I fully recognise, can he do anything to increase the quota for the under-10 metre fleet? Will he commit to ensuring that under-10 metre fleet representatives have a place at the table when decisions are made on fishing at national and EU level?
I started by saying that the fishing industry in Hartlepool is more than 800 years old. It is a tough way to make a living, and it is made tougher by the restrictions and market distortions that are in place. As I said, the arguments I have set out are not new, and I have raised them time and again in fisheries debates. None the less, will the Minister do all he can following this annual debate to ensure that firm and tangible action is taken, and taken now, to ensure that this 800-year-old heritage industry, which, crucially, provides the livelihood of fishermen in Hartlepool, is not lost to history in the next few months or years?
Order. I want to call the Front-Bench speakers at about 3.50 pm, so that I can give Margaret Ritchie time to wind up. Four or five Members are standing, so if they can keep their contributions to less than 10 minutes, we should just about fit all them in.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I thank the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and others for securing the debate.
I am lucky enough to serve what I would argue is the most beautiful constituency in the country, but it is also the one with the longest coastline. It therefore has a large number of fishing ports, including larger ones, such as Mallaig and Ullapool, and some very small ones. I want to raise an important constituency matter, and I would like the Minister with responsibility for fisheries to discuss with the Secretary of State for Defence the issues that I will raise, because they run across both their portfolios.
The North West Inshore Fisheries Group has made representations to me and the Secretary of State for Defence about the consultation on the proposals, published on 30 September 2015, to extend the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre range and to introduce new byelaws. Like me, the NWIFG fully accepts that measures need to be expedited in the interests of national security, and that a suitable operational area is required for the secure deployment of acoustic and other test equipment, which the Ministry of Defence has used in this area for many years. I stress that I fully support BUTEC operating in the area, but that must be done on a sustainable basis, and it must take the local fishing community’s interests into account.
Given the significant scale of the proposed area extension and the associated restrictions, more could and should have been done to liaise with fishing and other interests. A full socioeconomic and environmental impact assessment should have been carried out before the consultation proposals were made public. A number of Members have mentioned the value of the fish landings in their areas, and analysis carried out over a three-month period in the area I am talking about—the fishing grounds at the edge of the existing MOD range—showed that just seven vessels landed 28 tonnes of nephrops with a value of £271,000. Those seven vessels are a tiny proportion of the fleet in the area, and I should add that the value of the nephrops catch there is approximately three times the national average—this is the most important area for nephrops in the whole of western Scotland, so it is an area of some importance for us all.
The fact that there has been little liaison with the industry is important, given the assurances given in an Adjournment debate that I secured on 23 June. The Minister for Defence Procurement said:
“I want to ensure that full and proper discussions are held with representatives of the local fishing communities, which we will start shortly, in advance of the byelaw consultation. The aim of these talks will be to investigate what options might be available that would allow some fishing to take place at certain times within the revised water space—much as happens at present in part of the area other than that which is completely prohibited, which the fishing communities are well accustomed to.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 863.]
Local fishermen’s attempts to engage in constructive dialogue with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and QinetiQ to get information about the plans and about the reasons behind the extent of the proposed extension were largely unsuccessful. The one meeting that did take place, with representatives of the North West Responsible Fishing Association, did not provide sufficient detail to enable the association to assess the proposals’ implications for local fisheries and communities. Those were not the proper and full discussions that the Minister for Defence Procurement promised in the House on 23 June, and that must be corrected.
The NWRFA, which is a member of the NWIFG, represents 70-plus fishing vessels in the area of Skye and Lochalsh and constitutes approximately 60% of the fishing fleet registered in the Portree fisheries district. Of the 70-plus vessels represented by the NWRFA, 25 fish directly in the Inner Sound area, and the majority are directly affected by the BUTEC proposal, so this is no small matter.
The one public meeting that was held, in Kyleakin on 13 November, did provide some useful information, but there was insufficient time for that information to be reflected in responses before the original consultation deadline of 18 November. We appreciate the short extension until 30 November, but the consultation period was still well short of the standard 90 days generally allowed by other Departments. Scotland has just come through a consultation on marine protected areas, which has taken some months and involved a full public consultation. Why are my constituents not afforded the same rights when the Ministry of Defence wants to come in and make changes? Forty-nine days is not sufficient time to allow for a detailed economic impact assessment of the loss of vessel earnings if the inner sea area of the BUTEC range is more than doubled, as is proposed in the new byelaws.
Thanks to support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, a Government agency, the NWIFG has commissioned a short economic impact assessment to provide a clearer understanding of the proposals’ implications. Significant work is required to compile information that adequately reflects the complex interrelationship between the various issues—fishing activities, the displacement of activities impacting on wider areas beyond the BUTEC range and the repercussions for onshore businesses and support services that are reliant on fisheries, secondary employment and so on. It was not possible to prepare a substantive report of that kind before the consultation deadline of 30 November. The draft report is due in the third week of December. The need for such an economic assessment was discussed at the public meeting, and there was consensus that it needed to be done well, even if that went beyond the deadline I mentioned, which has now passed.
With the NWIFG, I have requested that a period of at least three months be allowed following the publication of the full socioeconomic impact assessment, to allow sufficient time for consideration of its findings. We have also requested that a working group be set up to facilitate constructive dialogue, and that it include representatives from the local fishing industry, the Ministry of Defence, QinetiQ and other relevant stakeholders. The group could consider the implications of any economic and environmental impact reports and discuss possible options in relation to the size or location of any restricted areas required for BUTEC’s activities. It is not good enough for the Ministry of Defence to complete its consultation, as it has done, for the Minister then to rule, and for the fishing communities in my constituency to be put at risk. There must be proper consultation.
The BUTEC range is in the inner sound of Raasay, in the middle of some of Scotland’s most valuable and intensively used inshore fishing grounds. The new draft byelaw proposes an extended inner sea area of 53.9 sq km, which would more than double the area in which fishing by any method is prohibited at all times, and reduce the fishable area in the creel-only zone by 11%. Based on information on fishing areas collected during the ScotMap exercise and fisheries officers’ local knowledge, it is estimated that at least 23 creel fishing vessels could be directly affected and no longer able to deploy a proportion of their gear where they do now; some vessels will be affected more than others.
These are all small, locally based vessels with limited range and very few, if any, options to relocate to fish elsewhere. It is therefore highly likely that the proposed extension of the inner sea area would displace creel fishing effort on to adjacent grounds, with concomitant impacts on others fishing in the area, particularly in the creel-only zone. Displaced fishing effort might result in an additional loss of catch in the adjacent area. Those involved in the fishery advise that it will exacerbate gear conflict on what are already crowded fishing grounds targeting nephrops.
I want to deal briefly with the consultation process. There are discrepancies in latitudes and longitudes of range boundaries published in MOD consultation documents. The consultation document does not sufficiently explain the reasons for selection of the boundary areas indicated, and whether any alternative areas could and should be considered. As part of the proposed working group discussions, the NWIFG requests further consideration of whether all fishing activity must be excluded from the entire expanded inner sea area, and whether continued activity may be possible, even for part of the year, or around areas with creel-friendly hydrophones. None of that has been addressed to date. Much of the proposed expansion is into the only designated creel area on the Scottish coastline. Further discussion is requested on potential for a cap or limit on the number of days that the outer sea would be closed to fishing activity. Presently, the outer sea area is open to fishing activity all the time.
Fishermen would like the current arrangement to continue, and would like assurances from the MOD and QinetiQ that the outer sea area will not be closed more regularly if the BUTEC range expands and operates under the new proposed byelaws. The MOD and QinetiQ are requested to provide a protocol for closure of the outer sea area; input should be sought from the fishing industry and sufficient forward notice and details of the closure period should be provided. We all have to work together. If the outer sea area is closed and fishing gear must be removed, fishermen will need sufficient notice to get access to their gear and move it, prior to closure. Most fishing vessels that would be displaced from the expanded BUTEC range will not be able to continue fishing with the same effect elsewhere, because the surrounding waters are already fully exploited with fishing activity. Displaced vessels may need to be scaled down, with respect to both vessel size and amount of gear, and in some instances vessels may be forced to stop fishing entirely.
If fishing vessels are forced out of operation, fishermen and their families will suffer directly through loss of jobs, and there will also be indirect negative impacts downstream—for processors, restaurants and the local service industry. Creel fishing represents a significant economic activity in the highlands; the vast majority of fishing vessels working within the inner sound are full-time operators, not part-time or hobby fishermen. A typical creel vessel in the Skye and Lochalsh area employs two to three people—and only local people. In addition, many fishing businesses have been passed down through families, and will be inherited by the next generation. If the BUTEC range expands, a wider negative ripple effect will be felt by the community; that will include the many issues associated with elevated unemployment, and insufficient opportunities for alternative employment in the area. Ultimately, loss of local fishing jobs could result in depopulation—something that we are all too familiar with—which would have a negative impact on schools, other local enterprises’ income, and service provision. I therefore appeal to the Minister to talk to the Secretary of State for Defence and come up with something respectful to local fishing interests, as well as the interests of the MOD.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I want to echo the comments that colleagues have made about the Fishermen’s Mission, the RNLI and all the other support organisations that help fishing communities and do such good work. I also want to thank the Minister, because a couple of months ago, he met some of my constituents, and constituents of my Conservative neighbour, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). They were deeply grateful for his time, and I was impressed by the extent of his understanding in that conversation. I cannot say that I followed it with the same degree of expertise.
There have been some excellent contributions in the debate, and there is a great depth of knowledge of the industry in the Chamber. There are many different elements to the industry. For example, Great Grimsby recently held the world seafood congress; visitors came from across the world to discuss, celebrate and support the fishing industry’s future success and sustainability. The organisers are to be congratulated because the event put the focus on the fishing industry as well as on my town and its historical relationship to that industry.
I want to keep my speech quite contemporary and short, and to focus on the issues raised by constituents of mine employed in fisheries, and on how the industry can grow and continue to be successful. Many in the fishing industry to whom I have spoken believe the discards ban to be the most significant change to the common fisheries policy since its inception. The vast majority of the industry of course agrees with the principle of the ban, but there is a lot of concern, as has been discussed. There are many reasons for that, but the common theme is uncertainty. Under the landing obligation, ports are responsible for facilitating the landing of discards. At this point, though, before the ban comes in on 1 January, ports are unaware of what weight will need to be landed. Is the Minister confident that ports will be adequately prepared for the periods in the year in which discards will be high? What support are the Government offering to ports in this first year, when the level of discards is unknown?
There is also the issue of costs for landing, and on-costs. First, can the Minister confirm that fishermen will be expected to cover those costs—or will ports be asked to take the burden of the costs of the policy? Has the Minister fully considered transportation? It is assumed that the majority of discards will go to fish meal, but I understand that there are only two mainland fish meal plants in the UK—one in Aberdeen and, luckily for businesses in my constituency, one in Grimsby. The cost of transportation from areas in Wales or the south of England is likely to exceed the value of the fish being transported.
The chief executive of my local fish merchants association has raised with me the issue of the fuel surcharge, and how it particularly affects small seafood companies across the UK. The reason for a surcharge is clear, but there is a concern that it is being used to generate extra profits for distribution firms, rather than only to cover the fluctuating cost of fuel. For example, one local refrigerated transport company charges almost double the surcharge of that charged by a competitor. That suggests that some firms are not sharing the savings from low oil prices across the local economy. In a reply to my predecessor before the election, the former Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury suggested referring that complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority. Does the Minister agree with my constituent that that is harming small seafood firms? Does he believe that it is worthy of a Government referral to the CMA?
Looking to the future, we need to ensure that a career in fisheries is an attractive option for young people. The industry workforce is ageing, and that is cause for concern for the industry in the long term. There is a risk that the skills held by the current workforce will be lost.
Any assistance given to rejuvenate and revitalise the fishing industry, and to bring younger people into it, is of course to be welcomed. In addition to having such training directly related to fishing, it would be great if it were expanded into all areas of the industry. A low wage and an insecure job will not attract many young people when they consider what to do on leaving education.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the future of the industry and the risk of low pay. In my constituency, fishermen working on the River Dee are really struggling to make a living because of decisions being made on quotas by Natural Resources Wales. As those fishermen are based on the English side of the river, they are struggling to get their voices heard. Does my hon. Friend agree that since so many fishing areas cross boundaries, it is important that the developing devolution agenda ensures that there is a mechanism for all voices to be heard?
If true devolution is to be delivered properly, it is essential that all communities feel they have an influence over matters that are of particular importance to them. My hon. Friend makes an important point about a matter that I was unaware of.
The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) may have partly addressed this question, but I want to ask the Minister how he plans to attract more young people to the industry. It seems to me that the industry needs a proper strategy to secure its long-term future. I may well already have the answer.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about how to discourage the consumption of unhealthy food and drink, prompted by proposals to introduce a sugar tax. Should we also promote healthy foods such as seafood? Has the Minister had any meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has responsibility for public health, to discuss that? Haddock, in particular, is a healthy and environmentally sustainable food, and stocks have increased in recent years. Greater demand for British seafood would also help to revitalise parts of the industry that need investment to improve their working environment, such as the wonderful traditional, bespoke smokehouses in Grimsby docks.
I will finish on a rather cheeky point. I have somewhat foolishly agreed to run the London marathon. [Laughter.] I know. I would like to take the opportunity—excuse the puns—to cast my net wide and ask all hon. Members who have attended and participated in the debate to throw me a line and donate, because I will be running for the cause of the Fishermen’s Mission. I say that I will be running, but I am not sure whether that will be the case. If all the participants in this debate were to donate £20, I would be well on my way.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I shall be considerably less than 10 minutes, I hope. It is something of an embarrassment that I speak from a non-fishing constituency; the fishing fleet of Luton North is not large. On the other hand, I have spoken in fishing debates many times, and on every occasion I have spoken about the nonsense that is the common fisheries policy. I have consistently argued for the abandonment of the CFP, or the UK’s unilateral withdrawal from it, which would allow us to re-establish the limit of 200 miles, or 50%, for Great Britain and, I would hope, the British Isles in general.
I applaud the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who put in her own very fine words what I am saying, and the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), who spoke in similar terms. If we withdrew from the CFP and permitted only UK fishing vessels to fish in our home waters—with possible licensing for a small number of foreign vessels, where appropriate, on an individual and carefully monitored basis—I think we would see a massive revival of the British fishing industry and of fish stocks across our waters. If all member states and, indeed, all nations operated under similar arrangements, they would all have a powerful vested interest in managing and monitoring their own stocks and fisheries. There would surely be plenty of fish for all British fishermen working under such arrangements, and stocks would be sustained at appropriate levels for the long term.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Government of Guernsey, which is not in the CFP. They showed me what could be done if we managed our own fishing stocks. They have their own 12-mile limit, and they are not governed by the CFP quota limits. They manage their fishing stocks extremely well. They are, in microcosm, what we could become. They are concerned that the British Government might give away control of their fishing areas to the CFP, and they have asked me to urge the Minister to take note of their case and be sympathetic to them. They manage the number and sizes of their boats very carefully. All the fishermen involved make a good living and fish stocks remain buoyant, if that is not a contradiction in terms. That is what we should become, with our 200-mile limit.
The representatives from Guernsey contrasted their experience with that of Jersey, which has seen its fish stocks disappear because it does not have the same control over its own fishing grounds. We should give notice now of withdrawal from the CFP and make Britain another Norway—another Guernsey writ large. The CFP has been a disaster, and it should be abandoned. That would be to the benefit of all fishing nations in the European Union, not just to us.
The appalling insanity of discards has been the most grotesque feature of the CFP. Discards are supposedly being phased out, but they continue for the time being. The excellent Library note on this topic states that according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report published in February 2012, in European fisheries, 1.7 million tonnes of fish were discarded annually, with some discards being up to 90% of catches. That is a complete nonsense. It will be to the benefit of us all—not just fishing fleets, the fishing industry and people who fish, but the whole country—and our diets if we maintain good fish stocks and a healthy fishing industry. As a great lover of fish, I hope that we will do so.
It is good to speak in this debate, and I may now have a few extra minutes available. As a new member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, like the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), I have a lot of terminology to use. Despite the fact that I have been in the agri-food industry for some 35 years—if it comes to beef, lamb or pork I could probably hold my own—in relation to fisheries I am dependent on my Northern Ireland colleagues to keep me right on much of the terminology.
In recent days, I strayed into the hon. Lady’s constituency to visit one of the ports in Kilkeel. It was an interesting visit. Although some of the facts shocked me, I was greatly encouraged by the vibrancy and positive attitude of many who were employed around the harbour. I met trawler owners, fishermen, marine engineers and boat builders, all of whom see a future for themselves with the industry. The blue, marine-based economy of Kilkeel is developing, and it is an honour to give them some level of recognition today. I heard about the challenges that are of great interest to the fishermen, and the rising barriers that are being faced in the industry.
In terms of the recent reform of the common fisheries policy, promises of decentralisation have failed to deliver much, albeit we are only two years into a 10-year programme. Industry representatives voiced their growing frustration with the advisory council, and the feeling that they are being disfranchised by the system. Will the Minister give his opinion, if he dares, on how to encourage our most important fishing stakeholders to continue active participation in the advisory council?
During my visit to Kilkeel harbour, I received a presentation about the development of the fishing industry in the 32 years since the creation of the common fisheries policy. It was interesting to see how the industry had changed from a profitable, mixed fisheries approach to one that had been struggling with dependence on a single species—nephrops or prawns. Now, thanks to the leadership shown by the industry, many are trying to turn the corner and redevelop the mixed fisheries model that has been so successful in the past, albeit with little help from the European Union.
On 10 November, the European Commission proposed its fishing opportunities in the Atlantic and in the North sea for 2016. The numbers for the aforementioned stocks were published by the Commission last Thursday and did not make good reading. Depending on how we interpret the Commission’s proposal for area VII prawns, it advocates a 10% or 17% cut for the stock. For Irish sea haddock, the proposal is for a 52% reduction in the next year’s total allowable catch. If the proposals were based on rational arguments they might carry some more credibility, but the fact is that, despite the promises of the reformed common fisheries policy, the Commission continues with its outdated approach to the annual negotiations by turning out numbers that have absolutely no basis in reality.
Will the Minister explain how the Commission justifies a proposed 52% cut in the Irish sea haddock quota when scientists state that, year on year, there has been an increase of some 400% in the number of those fish in the Irish sea? I hope he agrees that Northern Ireland’s fishermen have made tremendous sacrifices over the past few years to comply with EU regulations. The use of highly selective fishing gear, a reduction in the size of the fleet and a range of other measures have combined to reduce fishing effort in the Irish sea by around half.
Fish stocks, including the iconic cod, are showing encouraging signs of recovery. Local fishermen want to return to a mixed fishery form of management—a goal that the Commission claimed to share. However, the annual debacle that surrounds the EU’s December Fisheries Council really calls into question any confidence in the Commission’s ability to effectively remain in control of our fisheries. With that in mind, I ask the Minister to aim to secure a deal for the Irish sea when he goes to Brussels in a few days for the annual quota negotiations. The deal should recognise the socio-economic dominance of the prawn sector and the realistic goal, based upon fisheries science, of re-creating a mixed fishery with haddock at its core.
I would like to take a few minutes briefly to discuss the issue of recruitment and current crew shortages—a subject that has been touched on. When I spoke to a number of people in the Kilkeel harbour area, including in businesses owned by fishermen, it was made clear that there is a major difficulty in recruiting local staff or workers for the boats. I think we have a meeting with the Immigration Minister next Wednesday to discuss trying to get permits to allow some people from outside the EU to come to work on the fishing boats because young people do not believe that there is a future within the industry that can sustain long-term salaries for them.
A company in the Kilkeel area, called Sea Source, has recently run courses for young people and has tried to encourage them. On one occasion, the chief executive met one of the young men who had been on the course. He was working in a car-wash. When he was asked why he was working in a car-wash after getting top marks on the course, he simply said that he did not believe that the industry and life on a fishing boat could sustain his life—marriage, buying a house and even just a full-time salary. Those are issues that we greatly need to address.
I wish the Minister every success over the next few days. I do not envy his job. He has done a sterling job since he became Minister of State and I know that he has the industry at heart, but it is vital that we get a common-sense approach. There is a good future for the industry and the industry will acknowledge that, but there must be a common-sense approach, so that everyone can get a livelihood.
We have had an extremely wide-ranging debate this afternoon. Several Members have opened their remarks by paying tribute to our coastguards, and to the work of the RNLI and the Fishermen’s Mission. I echo that and express my thanks to the men and women who crew our lifeboats in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Macduff in my constituency. They are volunteers who risk their lives in all weathers to keep others safe. I thank many more besides, who work onshore for the wellbeing and welfare of our fishing communities.
I take a keen interest in this debate every year, as an MP representing two of the three largest fishing ports in the UK—Peterhead and Fraserburgh—and some of Europe’s most fishing-dependent communities, and given the crucial importance of the annual December talks not only to the fishing industry, but to the onshore processors, retailers and suppliers that depend on it. I am disappointed, therefore, like the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), that we find ourselves here in Westminster Hall once again debating this crucial industry in Back-Bench time, rather than in the main Chamber. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating this time. I particularly thank the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for securing the debate.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that helpful point, which I hope is noted across the House.
For the Scottish fleet, this year the EU-Norway negotiations are at least as important as the December Council—arguably more so—and they are going on as we speak. There are science-based recommendations for substantial increases in some of our most important jointly managed stocks, including cod, haddock, herring and plaice, which offer substantial reward to our fleet for their conservation efforts. We need to work towards a fair and balanced exchange with Norway that takes account of our present and future needs.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), among others, talked about the implementation of the discard ban. Members will know that in previous years that has been the key focus of our fisheries debates, particularly the challenges of making a discard ban workable in a mixed fishery when there is a strong likelihood that vessels will pick up by-catch of species for which they do not hold enough quota. That issue has not gone away. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that such a lot is at stake in the Norwegian talks. It is extremely important that we do not trade away stocks now that could become “choke” species in the next few years as the landing obligation is phased in for jointly managed stocks. The Government need to think ahead about the longer-term challenge. I hope the Minister takes that point on board.
On the wider issue of discards, it is important to reiterate that, for the Scottish fleet, discarding has not just stabilised over the past few years, but in many fisheries has actively substantially reduced as a result of conservation measures. I am glad that the practical concerns about the landing obligation in relation to the demersal fleet have been heard, and that it is being phased in gradually starting in January, but I am conscious of the need for ongoing flexibilities.
I hope the Minister can address the issues raised by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and clarify where the responsibility will rest for the disposal of unwanted, unmarketable fish landed under the discard ban. There has been some debate and confusion about that and it would be immensely helpful if the Minister would set out his interpretation of the regulations.
On the December Council, I am really quite surprised that no one has yet mentioned the ruling earlier this week of the European Court of Justice regarding the stand-off between the European Council on one hand, and the Commission and Parliament on the other. That has some implications for our fleet. It is critical that fishing does not, once again, become a political football in the turf war between those institutions any more than it has already.
When the Council took the entirely sensible and responsible decision a few years back to depart from the cod recovery plan and place a freeze on effort, they did so on conservation grounds and on the basis of sound scientific advice. The cod recovery plan was proving to be counterproductive, undermining its own environmental objectives and, at the same time, putting untold pressure on ordinary fishermen and communities. The decision to abandon the cod recovery plan has been wholly vindicated, regardless of the procedural issues it has raised, by the fact that we now have healthy cod stocks, and that the intended target has been achieved through an alternative approach. There is agreement from all the North sea EU member states that the cod recovery plan needs to be repealed before cod is brought into the landing obligation. I would welcome the Minister’s assurance that he will press for that as a priority. The bottom line is that there is no need for further effort cuts when cod stocks are recovering so strongly in the North sea.
There has been a fair bit of debate this afternoon about renegotiating the CFP, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that the UK Government could make progress on that with better hope of a positive outcome than on many of their other demands. I would welcome the Minister’s assessment of his prospects for pushing CFP renegotiation up the political agenda over the next few weeks.
Thank you very much, Mr Crausby. I want to pick up on the important points raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on the EU-Faroes deal. Between us, we represent the bulk of the UK’s pelagic fleet, and I fully appreciate his frustration about Faroese access to EU waters, given the experiences of recent years and the sacrifices that our pelagic fleet has made to secure a compromise to end the stand-off on mackerel. However, it is important to remember that during those years of deadlock there were also significant adverse impacts on those parts of our white-fish fleet that historically have fished in Faroese waters. Reciprocal access to Faroese waters is extremely valuable to our demersal fleet, not least because it gives them effort refuge. Although I would strongly resist any further Faroese incursions into our waters, we need a balanced outcome that recognises the needs of every part of the fleet, including our white-fish fleet, and that is fair and workable for all parties.
Another key issue currently affecting the pelagic sector is the proposed zero TAC for west of Scotland herring, which was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
I am keen to address the important point raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, with which I am in substantial agreement. Everyone here today is committed to the long-term sustainability of the marine environment, our fishing industry and our coastal communities, and to the sustainable harvesting of this precious food resource. It follows from that that we are committed to basing TACs on the best available scientific evidence. However, there is wide acknowledgment that the evidence on herring in area VIa is partial and inconsistent and does not accurately reflect what is likely to be happening in the whole area, which is ultimately a somewhat arbitrary set of lines drawn on a map. I accept the need for a precautionary approach and the need to consider clearer evidence, but that needs to be proportionate. We need an allocation that allows fishing to take place in support of the Pelagic Advisory Council plan that is already in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) mentioned the MOD consultation on the BUTEC range, which could potentially affect a large number of fishing vessels in the area. The inner sound of Raasay is home to some of Scotland’s most valuable inshore fishing grounds, and the nephrops creel fishery alone supports 54 vessels and is worth nearly £3.5 million to the fairly fragile local rural economy. I hope the Minister has listened to him and will undertake to make representations to his ministerial colleagues in the MOD.
On the subject of Government Departments that intersect with fisheries, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, the hon. Member for Strangford and other Members from Northern Ireland and parts of the west coast of Scotland have raised concerns about the way in which UK Border Force appears to have changed its approach to international seafarers who crew fishing vessels in our fleet. That issue affects my constituency, too, although the issues on the east coast and the west coast are somewhat different because of their geography. The boats are mostly fishing outside the 12-mile zone, and these seafarers are immensely valued by the skippers and are impossible to replace in the current context, so it is important to understand that they are not immigrants; they are contract workers who do not settle here. They are mariners whose main base is still in their home country. The industry is keen to clarify and regularise their status, so that they can continue to run their businesses effectively. I hope the Minister will help us to explain to his colleagues in the Home Office the value that those seafarers bring to the industry and to our wider economy.
The fishing industry is extremely important to Scotland’s economy. It contributes more than £500 million a year in revenues and sustains many coastal communities. Sea fish are not only important to our economy and exports; they are a key sustainable healthy food source, and we must continue to work with the industry to protect our marine environment. Harvesting this renewable resource in a long-term sustainable way is in the interests of everyone, including the fishing industry, and no one recognises that better than those who work on our seas. We recognise that we have some way to go on making the discard ban fully workable, and flexibility will be essential, but we are seeing the tangible results of conservation measures. It is crucial that our fishing industry derives concrete benefits from its efforts.
The passion and commitment we have heard from Members on both sides of the Chamber today, and the wide range of issues that have been raised, illustrates the importance of the industry to our coastal communities. The viability of the industry depends on the political decisions made in the next few days, so I urge the Minister to pick up the points made by Members on both sides of the Chamber this afternoon. I wish him well for the negotiations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I begin by congratulating the hon. Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on leading the charge by securing this debate. Colleagues from both Government and Opposition parties have made a number of excellent points, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute further on some of those matters, albeit not on the Floor of the House.
I am also grateful to the many organisations and individuals, some of them with clearly conflicting interests and views, who have taken the time to brief me since I took over this portfolio just a few weeks ago. I add my tributes to the people who work in our fishing industry, and particularly to those we see on television fighting tremendous waves offshore, to those who have died for their industry and to the voluntary organisations that provide such a tremendous service on our seas.
The annual meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place in a little under a fortnight’s time, and it is a key event in the marine calendar. We must make it clear what is in the UK’s best interests when the all-important fishing quotas are examined and agreed by member states. With the changes made to the common fisheries policy in recent years and the continuing assessment of their impact, it is right that we review and understand the issues ahead of the Council’s meeting and make sure that the Minister knows what we, and the communities we represent, believe he should be doing in the best interests of both the industry and the marine environment.
Various Members have spoken about the agreement to reform the policy, and I will speak about discards in a little more detail. It is estimated that discards previously accounted for 23% of all EU catches, or about 1.7 million tonnes of fish, annually. Some fisheries, however, experience a staggeringly high discard rate of up to 90% of catches, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) highlighted. The European Commission has rightly described the practice as “unethical” and identified the problem as
“a substantial waste of natural resources”.
We have heard how, on 1 January 2015, the phased introduction of a landing obligation got under way in an effort to address such waste by outlawing the discarding of fish for all pelagic fisheries. Discard bans for all other species, and all EU fisheries, are due to be phased in over the coming years, beginning in less than a month’s time on 1 January 2016.
That element of the reformed common fisheries policy undoubtedly provides us with a real opportunity to promote the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and the viability of the fishing industry. However, I am aware that the imminent expansion poses a number of challenges, not least because demersal species are largely caught in mixed fisheries. Regrettably, it is highly likely that the next chapter will see additional bycatch and make this phasing in of the landing obligation more complex to implement and monitor than the ban on discards of pelagic species. Although there are various exemptions to mitigate that likelihood, what additional measures will the Government introduce to incentivise the increased use of selective fishing methods, so that we can minimise bycatch and enhance sustainability as the landing obligation is gradually introduced for demersal species? What assessment has the Minister made of the number of fleets that have already adopted more selective measures and, more importantly, the number that have not?
Although the intentions behind a discard ban—to reduce the wasting of our fisheries’ resources and to drive improvements in environmental performance—are welcome, the change to allow the proportion of the total allowable catch originally held back to cover discards to be added to fishing quotas is anticipated to result in an increase in fishing quotas—the so-called “quota uplift.” Although uplift itself should not increase fishing mortality beyond recommended levels, that conclusion is built on an assumption that estimations of discarding are both accurate and verifiable. Were fishing fleets to receive quota uplift and yet continue to discard or high-grade illegally, fishing mortality could rapidly rise beyond sustainable levels and undermine recent improvements.
A report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature suggests that equipping and installing all fishing vessels in the over-10 metre UK fleet with remote electronic monitoring camera systems and undertaking to review 8% of video footage could cost less than is currently spent on traditional monitoring options in the UK, which account for only 0.1% of the hours fished by the fleet. I therefore challenge the Minister to outline what safeguards he will be seeking on EU-wide monitoring to ensure compliance with the new rules and a level playing field for all member states. I would also be grateful if he told us what thought has been given to providing enhanced monitoring at sea, whether remotely by CCTV or on board by scientific observers, and what plans he has for developing a risk-based approach to monitoring through the development of catch profiles.
On a related theme, it is notable that the reformed policy establishes that decision making in areas such as fixing fishing opportunities must be guided by scientific advice on maximum sustainable yield, a theme raised in some detail by the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), among others. The central aim, as we know, is to implement sustainable management of fisheries while allowing the highest rate of extraction at which stocks can be fished without risking depletion and jeopardising future catches. That is the view of the conservationists and the industry, but I am aware that there are different views on the accuracy of the science, with some arguing for increased rather than decreased quotas.
Overfishing, as we know, is proven to be bad for fish stocks and has negative knock-on consequences for the fishing industry that relies on them and the communities supported by the sector, so the science must be accurate and verifiable. There is all the more reason for it to be so when we consider the October decision of the Fisheries Council to set total allowable catches for 2016 in the Baltic sea that exceed scientific advice in a majority of cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), speaking in the fisheries debate last year, affirmed 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.”—[Official Report, 11 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1047.]
I reiterate that sentiment, and I highlight again the need to develop stronger partnerships with the fishing industry to shape the transition to a more sustainable future.
We already know of the increase in marine conservation zones around our coast. Again, co-operative work is needed to ensure that we can conserve while allowing the fishing industry to exist alongside conservation. I am clear that we will arrive at that future only when we heed the scientific advice available and exploit it to develop policies firmly grounded in evidence. While Ministers in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council continue to set limits each December that outstrip the recommendations of so-called experts, despite a commitment to end overfishing by 2020 in the worst-case scenario, that future still appears some way off.
Of the total allowable catches announced for 2014, for instance, 31 of 69 stocks, or 45%, were fished above scientific advice. The UK is a prime offender, having been placed at the top of the EU overfishing league table for 2015 by the New Economics Foundation. I hope the Minister will therefore commit to seeking agreement on fishing limits that do not exceed those levels when he attends the Council meeting in Brussels in 10 days’ time or so, rather than accepting higher limits that risk more severe cuts in the run-up to 2020.
The situation is all the more pressing given that, as the Marine Conservation Society tells me, most stocks in the EU are data-poor. Almost two thirds of demersal stocks in the North sea alone are estimated to be data-deficient, ahead of the implementation of the landing obligation on 1 January. I also hope that the Minister will support a risk-based approach to the management of such data-deficient species in the short term and push for those species to be made a priority for research and assessment. Delaying that process means delaying the benefits of sustainable fishing. If the outcomes of the Council meeting show a lack of ambition similar to last year’s, it will unnecessarily interrupt progress.
We have heard in the debate about the recruitment challenges facing boat owners and their desire to recruit more non-EU workers within a regulated scheme to enforce minimum standards on service, pay and treatment. I am hopeful that the Minister will respond to that in co-operation with his Home Office colleagues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and others mentioned, it is sad that so many of today’s young people who might have been mariners two generations ago now shun the sea, preferring a more family-friendly lifestyle. Perhaps if the earning power of past days returned, attitudes might be different and more young people would move into the fishing industry.
Although our industry still supports a huge number of jobs in our coastal communities, those opportunities risk becoming unsustainable as long as small vessels have disproportionately restricted access to the UK’s quota. Many Members have raised that issue in the debate, including my north-east neighbours, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). I look forward to hearing the Minister address Members’ challenging and serious questions on that issue.
I know that Greenpeace is not the flavour of the month for some Members here, but it calculates that small-scale vessels represent more than three quarters of the total UK fleet but have access to just 4% of the UK quota. The remaining 96% is held by larger-scale interests. I am sure the Minister knows that the right decisions at the Council are required to support our coastal fishermen and the communities and jobs that they sustain, but I hope to hear also that he will use the power in his gift to give a fairer deal to smaller boats and open up wider access to the UK’s fishing quota.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this debate. In particular, I congratulate the members of the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries on securing this debate from the Backbench Business Committee. I note that the House has adjourned, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) pointed out. I hope that in future years, we can hold this debate where it belongs: on the Floor of the House.
I begin by recognising those who, sadly, paid the ultimate price and lost their lives while fishing this year. It is an incredibly dangerous occupation; this year, no fewer than 11 fishermen lost their lives in accidents at sea, a number slightly higher than in previous years. As many hon. Members have said, our thoughts are with the families of those killed. It is a dangerous occupation, and fishermen put their lives at risk to bring food to our table. In that regard, I acknowledge my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) who, as we all know, has personal experience of that, and so will feel particularly strongly for the families affected.
I will say a little bit about the reforms to the common fisheries policy. As I have said in similar debates, the reality is that no man-made system of administration will ever be perfect for the management of fisheries. The marine environment is incredibly complex—thousands of different species interact with one another in mixed fisheries—and no administrative legal regulation will ever be perfect, but the test that we should set ourselves is whether our changes and reforms are moving us significantly in the right direction. I contend that they are, and that the latest CFP reform—my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), took a leading role in the negotiations—is a step in the right direction.
We have achieved a number of things in the latest reform, which is now being implemented. The first is regional decision making. Nation states sit around a table to agree multilaterally how they should deal with the issue of discards and implement multi-annual plans. The role of the Commission, rather than dictating from the centre, is effectively to sign off and agree those management plans put together by member states. To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, that is because everybody has a stake in the fishery—those countries have a shared interest in responsible management—and it is the right thing to do.
Secondly, we have introduced the discipline of a discard ban, which is important. Discarding is a shameful practice that has continued over many decades—a couple of years ago I was reading a book written by George Orwell in 1942, which talked about the scandal of fish being discarded back into the sea—so the discipline of a discard ban is important.
We will only make a discard ban work in practice as well as in theory if we have as many flexibilities as are necessary to make it work. Despite the concerns that fishermen have expressed, which I hear, there are many flexibilities in this policy. For instance, there is the ability to bank and borrow quota, so if someone does not use all their quota in one year they can roll it over to the next. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall pointed out that we cannot allow that flexibility to exhaust the following year’s quota, which is why there are limits of around 10%.
There is also the ability to have inter-species flexibility, so that if someone catches over their quota on one species but still has quota for another species, they could count one species against the other. We will probably need some sort of exchange system, so that we have the right values of fish; otherwise, there could be unintended consequences. Nevertheless, that is a second important flexibility. There is also a survivability exemption. With certain flatfish species that are caught by certain nets, if they are juvenile and undersize but would survive, it is not good to land them; it is good to put them back in the water and give them time to grow. If all else fails, there is a de minimis exemption. If someone has tried everything else in the book, and nothing can prevent some level of discarding, that de minimis exemption enables some discarding to continue, but in strictly limited circumstances.
With all these flexibilities, the discipline of fishing sustainably, and—as the shadow Minister pointed out—the aim and policy of getting to maximum sustainable yield this year where possible, and everywhere by 2020, we have started to make progress. For instance, as recently as 2009, only about five quota species were being fished sustainably. We are now up to 32 species being fished at maximum sustainable yield, which is up from 26 last year. Also, the stock trends in many areas are moving in the right direction, so there has been some good progress on MSY.
The advantage of fishing sustainably is that fishermen can then catch more fish. That is a very important point, which we must keep stressing. Pulling belts in and showing some restraint today, provided that we are not discarding those fish, means that tomorrow, next year and the year after we should have more fish. I think we are starting to see that come through in the advice from ICES.
Only a few hon. Members touched on the situation in the North sea, but I will highlight it, because it is very positive for most stocks. There is always a danger in these debates that we focus on things that are difficult and challenging, and fail to recognise success. However, with cod, for instance, there is a recommendation for a 15% increase in the total allowable catch. There are also recommendations for a 30% increase in the TAC for North sea haddock, a 16% increase for herring, a 15% increase for plaice and a 20% increase for monkfish in some areas. We are seeing some really positive results in the North sea, and that is partly a consequence of our fishing sustainably there in recent years.
I acknowledge the success in the North sea, but the UK share of the North sea TAC is considerably more than it is in area VII. Only 8% or 10% of the cod and haddock are in area VII to begin with, so any cut would have a disproportionate effect on fishermen in the south-west.
My hon. Friend highlights an important point. In the Celtic sea, depending on which area we look at, the French and the Irish have the majority of stock, particularly of haddock. She is right about that; I think that the figure I saw was more than 80%. However, to make a slightly different point, a cut there has a disproportionate effect on the French and Irish, because they have a larger starting base, and if it is a stock that we never had much of in the first place, a cut does not matter as much. Nevertheless, I understand her point, and we should probably have a fairer share of that stock.
I also recognise that the news is not universally good. Yet again, for the third year running that I have been Minister—and it was the case for some years before that, too—there is some very challenging science for the Irish sea in particular, which I will return to later. As the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) pointed out, dramatic cuts are being proposed for haddock; we will try to get the cuts to VIIa haddock reduced, and to get something that we regard as more proportionate. There is also very challenging advice on plaice.
In the Celtic sea, things are a little more mixed. Once again, we got challenging advice, as we expected, on cod and haddock, with cuts of 30% and 27% respectively being recommended. In previous years, we carried out what we call mixed fishery analysis on those stocks, to ensure that we were not disproportionately cutting something to the point that we end up having to discard it in a mixed fishery. Those figures are more closely aligned this year than last year, so the mixed fishery analysis is probably less likely to help us as an argument this time around. Nevertheless, we will make that analysis, and will work with the French and the Irish, who have a shared interest in that stock.
There are positives as well, not least VIId and VIIe plaice in the channel. The ICES recommendation, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall pointed out, is for a 125% increase. Western channel sole is recommended for a 15% increase, due to the management plan, which I will come back to. Also, the scientific advice on skates and rays, despite the fact that they are regarded as a data-limited stock, and despite the complications that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) highlighted, points towards a 40% increase in the quota.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous), pointed out the importance of reliable science, and I absolutely agree with them. As I said at the start, no system will ever be perfect; the science will never be perfect. There will always be evidence gaps, and however much scientists try to model things to make the science as up-to-date as possible, there will always be instances in which the science is not quite right. Nevertheless, it is still right to take the science as our starting-point in negotiations.
We are improving the science that we have. Last year, we had enough science and enough evidence to carry out an MSY assessment on 46 stocks, and that number is now up to 62. We are getting better each year at moving stocks away from the data-limited category, and at getting reliable science, so that we can set accurate MSY assessments. Those assessments will be absolutely crucial if we are to get to MSY on all quota species by 2020.
May I pay tribute to the fantastic work that the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science does in Lowestoft? I should add that Lowestoft is the right place for CEFAS to be located. We have given a vote of confidence in CEFAS and its future by making available money to upgrade its laboratories. I visited CEFAS last year and I was incredibly impressed by the work that it does on Endeavour, the vessel there. I also pay tribute to the great work that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has done to lobby in the interests of CEFAS when it comes to investment.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), asked about port capacity and how we will deal with discards that are landed. I can confirm that we have a group of people working with industry on this issue. There is a ports group that deals with officials in my Department. I had a meeting with, and an update from, one such official at the beginning of this week, and we believe that we are making good progress in addressing people’s concerns.
I will make a few points about that. The first thing to note is that just as we are phasing in an approach to achieve MSY on stocks, so too we are phasing in the landing obligation on fish species. We are starting in quite a modest way with some of the larger species that define a fishery. This year, we are considering haddock in the North sea, and whiting, sole and nephrops in Ireland, but in the Celtic sea we are mainly looking at hake and Dover sole. In each area, we have typically picked only two or three species to which the discard ban applies this year, and our assessment so far is that the amount of additional fish that will be landed and that will not be sold into the human food chain is actually negligible. We do not believe that that is a challenge that will present itself this year, as some people do.
Longer term, a number of options are available. We will make available grants to those ports that want to have quayside facilities to manage undersized fish that is landed. We will make funding available to support fishermen in investing in even more selective fishing gear, so that they do not catch and land undersize fish in the first place. For those who do not want to invest in such quayside facilities, there are enterprising companies—one of them is based in Great Grimsby—that have surplus processing capacity. Already, they are running a network of lorries around the country, collecting offal from fish processing factories and turning it into fishmeal. We believe that in many instances—this is already being investigated—they will be able to expand their network to consider taking undersize fish to that processing capacity. Yes, there will be challenges, but I come back to what I said at the beginning: the policy will never be perfect and will always present challenges. The question is whether we are moving in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall raised the issue of the Commission’s proposal for a 125% increase in channel plaice in areas VIId and VIIe. The Commission proposal is looking at something more around 63% as a recommendation. That is partly because, on the basis of strong science, we secured an in-year increase in 2015, and the Commission is starting to take that into account. Nevertheless, things are positive for plaice in the channel.
My hon. Friend also mentioned Dover sole. She is right that the management plan limits that to a 15% increase, despite the science advising a 44% increase. We will be looking closely to see whether we can improve that. As a general rule, we are a bit sceptical of management plans. In a reformed CFP, we believe that clear criteria are needed around the discard plan and quotas, with all the flexibilities that I described.
Thank you, Mr Crausby. I will make sure that there is.
The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) mentioned the Farne Deeps. I have a meeting with officials tomorrow to discuss the challenge there. He also mentioned salmon, and I attended the summit. I pay tribute to some of the work done by the fishermen with their nets, and the progress made, but the salmon stock is in a dire state. We need to protect all the salmon as they come into our waters, and that is why we are looking at catch-and-release schemes for anglers, improving fish passes and water quality, and removing net gear. We are also looking at options to buy out some licences to secure early closure.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) mentioned the EU-Norway deal, which is incredibly important to his constituents. We made good progress and managed to get the proposed TAC reduction there down to 15%; the original proposal had been much higher. It has been more challenging to get an agreement on blue whiting. Looking at zonal attachment, we believe that we have a strong case for a higher share of the quota, but it has been hard to get agreement. As the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) said, we were not able to get Iceland and Russia at the table for an agreement on that. We had issues with Iceland seeking access to our waters as the quid pro quo for coming on board, and we were not able to agree to that. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet mentioned skates and rays.
Thank you very much, Mr Crausby. I am afraid I have not managed to get to the other points, but I make one final point before wrapping up, relating to the under-10 metre quota. We are rebalancing the quota. We have made it clear that 25% of the uplift will go to the under-10s. We are doing that by giving the first 100 tonnes to the under-10s, and 10% thereafter. That will mean that next year, for instance, much of the inshore fleet will have a substantial increase in the amount of mackerel they have. There will probably be a trebling of the amount of mackerel, which they will then be able to trade as currency.[Official Report, 14 December 2015, Vol. 603, c. 1-2MC.]
In view of your guidance, Mr Crausby, I will conclude my speech earlier than would be the norm. Normally, those winding up the debate get a couple of minutes, but I conclude very briefly by saying that at the next EU negotiation—some have said that we should seek to repatriate this matter—there is a case for looking at the whole issue of relative stability. It is too early to decide what our negotiating position would be, but I am open to suggestions from Members.
I thank everyone who participated in the debate. Seventeen Members, including the Front Benchers, made contributions, representing the needs of their constituents. Front Benchers from the SNP, the Opposition and the Government responded to the debate. We all know that the fishing industry presents many risks and challenges to those directly employed in it, but there is no doubt that the offshore and inshore fishing industry contributes an enormous amount to all our local economies, whether in Britain or Northern Ireland.
In the next few weeks, the Minister will make direct representations as part of the negotiations in relation to total allowable catch. I hope that he will ensure that none of our industries in our fishing villages—I think of Ardglass and Kilkeel in my constituency—and none of the people involved in them will be imperilled by any downturn in any fish quota species, or by the discard ban, the landing obligation or any of those issues.
Other issues raised today by Members include crewing. We will discuss that directly with a Home Office Minister next week, but it is important that we obtain proper regulations to ensure that our fleets can operate, day to day. Many fleets would be tied up if we did not have the support of the Filipino fishermen. We in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland have a unique position on that, because we have an impediment with the restricted inlets and fjords and the geography. That means that the 12-mile limit and all that has to be looked at. We have to adopt a common-sense approach.
The common fisheries policy has recently undergone several key reforms, including: a phased ban on discarding fish, effective for pelagic as of last year and demersal as of this coming January; a legally binding commitment to fishing at sustainable levels; and increasingly decentralised decision making. Political points were made about repatriating powers from the European Union in relation to that, but I do not agree with them. We would like the Minister to write back to us on the European Court of Justice decision this week on the cod plan. Those of us who represent fishing constituencies need that issue addressed. Running alongside that is the need, whether we represent constituencies in the devolved regions or in England and Wales, for the ongoing infrastructure investment to meet the requirements of the landing obligation and the discard ban. More investment will be required for that ongoing modernisation.
We wish the Minister well in the negotiations in the next two weeks. We hope that he can achieve an upturn in the quota allocations for all the significant fish species. If I may be a little local, area VIIa needs an upturn in the quotas for haddock, nephrops and cod. My colleagues across the UK also need that, because fishing is central to the growth and productivity of all our local economies. The fishing industry, whether offshore or inshore, fuels both those interconnected factors. I think the Minister may have wanted to comment on cod.
I would like to deal with a couple of the points that the hon. Lady raised. I sadly did not get a chance to speak about nephrops in my speech, but the proposal is for an 18% reduction. In previous years, we have been successful in getting the proposal substantially down. Last year, we even got an increase in the TAC.
On the institutional impasse and the ECJ decision this week, the judges have predictably come down on the side of the Commission and the Council, but it is one of those matters where we won on the substance, if not the technical legal issue. That was recognised by the Court, which made it clear that nothing will be done until at least 2017. That gives us a year to accommodate the viewpoint of the European Parliament, and to ensure that in future it has the correct viewpoint.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).