[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 15 and 29 November 2017, HC 489; Second Report of Session 2017-19 from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 12—Multiannual Plan for Demersal Fishing Stocks in the North Sea, HC 301-ii; Third report of Session 2017-19 from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 7—EU Fisheries Control, Chapter 28—Fisheries Discard Plans and Chapter 8—Fisheries catch quotas for 2018, HC 301-iii.]
Before I call the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) to move the motion, let me say that it will be obvious to the House that a great many Members wish to speak, and there is limited time, so there will be an immediate limit on Back-Bench speeches of five minutes after the hon. Lady’s speech.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK fishing industry.
It is a tradition that MPs debate the UK fishing industry at the beginning of December. Such debates give us the opportunity not only to raise matters relating to the UK industry as a whole, but to reflect on proposals for the following year’s total allowable catch, which are discussed at the December Council of Ministers. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this very important debate, and for holding it in the Chamber, because we have on occasions had this debate in Westminster Hall.
Fishing is a dangerous practice, and my thoughts are with the fishermen and their families who have suffered loss and injury during the past year. I thank those in the rescue services, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguards and National Coastwatch Institution volunteers, for their selfless service to sea rescue. I also thank the Fishermen’s Mission and the Apostleship of the Sea for their work to support fishermen and their families at times of hardship.
The result of the EU referendum was well received by our fisher folk. Whoever I speak to says that they view the future with optimism. Indeed, Toms boatyard in my constituency informs me that it has many orders for vessels on its books. We have heard the Minister and the Secretary of State confirm on numerous occasions that, at the end of March 2019, the UK will leave the common fisheries policy. As a result, the Minister will be able to make decisions about the marine environment and catches of species without attending the meeting in Brussels and haggling with 27 other member states.
Will the hon. Lady reaffirm that, on the day we leave the EU, there will be no more negotiations and no more trading off, and that we will be out of the common fisheries policy so that we can decide for ourselves how we co-operate with other countries over our fishing? Will we take back control of our fishing on the day we leave?
As far as I am aware, when we leave the EU, we leave the common fisheries policy.
The UK has given notice that it will withdraw from the 1964 London convention, which gave some nations restricted access to the 12-mile limit. The UK 200-mile or median line limit is prescribed in the Fisheries Limits Act 1976 but, once we leave, the rules for the management and conservation of fish stocks, and indeed the amount of fish that can be taken, will be governed by the UN convention on the law of the sea, particularly articles 61 to 63. There is a clear distinction between UNCLOS and the CFP in as much as the UK will be free from the principle of equal access to a common resource on which the CFP is based.
Does my hon. Friend accept that that will allow us to manage better our sea bass stocks for both commercial and recreational fishermen?
I thank my hon. Friend, who will be interested to know that I will come on to that point.
It might be worth considering UNCLOS in more detail. Article 61 says we must be responsible for setting conservation measures, taking account of the scientific information available. Such information often comes from the well-respected International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, with which the UK scientific body the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science works.
In short, article 62 states that the coastal state—in our case, the UK—shall set the amount of fish that can be taken in our exclusive economic zone and determine whether our fleet can catch it all. If it cannot, we can offer the surplus to other nations, which must comply with any conservation measures that we have set. Interestingly, paragraph 4(h) of article 62 says that the coastal state can set laws concerning
“the landing of all or any part of the catch by such vessels in the ports of the coastal State”.
It is worth noting that, in some instances, that could have a real economic benefit to the UK. Article 63 says that when a stock occurs in an adjacent EEZ, each coastal state shall work together to set conservation measures.
Zonal attachment is used by many nations to manage their fish stocks while ensuring economic benefit to the coastal state. A good example of zonal attachment is that of a farmer harvesting crops in his fields who does not invite his neighbours to come in and take those crops free of charge. According to a report by the University of the Highlands and Islands in 2016, EU boats overall landed 10 times more fish and shellfish—six times more by value—from the UK EEZ than UK boats did from the EU EEZ. For most individual member states, the imbalance was even greater. Iceland retains about 90% of the benefit from its fisheries in its attached zones, while the figure for Norway is 84%. In contrast, the UK secures a mere 40%, which can be attributed to the common fisheries policy. We give away—free to other nations—60% of the fish in our zone.
Has the Minister ensured that the historical catch data from all EU vessels that have fished in the UK EEZ has been collected? That could provide the basis for increased benefit in the UK zone once we leave the European Union. While any surplus quota that we are unable to utilise could be offered to other member states, meaning that some economic gain for the UK might be obtained, we must make sure that UK fishermen come first.
A significant central feature of moving towards fishing our zonally attached fish will be increased catching opportunity. Once achieved, that opens up the happy possibility of managing fisheries innovatively, looking to optimise benefit for our nation and its communities across the seafood supply chain. The range of options is huge, and can be properly discussed once the enabling opportunity is secured. In the words of Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation:
“don’t stress over choosing the wallpaper before we’ve bought the flat.”
Let me turn to effort control in place of quota. Under the CFP we have a management system that comprises quotas and effort control in the form of kilowatt days. Will the Minister confirm that once we withdraw from the CFP, he will move away from that confusing system of fisheries management and put in place a something simpler? Many fishermen I have spoken to are not in favour of a days-at-sea scheme, but that warrants further investigation. Has the Minister spoken to his counterpart in the Faroe Islands, which operate a days-at-sea system, to find out how their management system works? Has he asked for the views of CEFAS on the days-at-sea scheme versus the use of quota?
Many inshore fishermen have expressed concern about access to the UK’s six and 12-mile limit by other member states fishing for certain species. There appears to have been disproportionate access to those limits for more than 40 years, and that must stop. A lot of inshore vessels are unable to migrate and have found themselves competing with many larger vessels from other nations in the same waters. Will the Minister give due thought to exclusive access for small UK fishermen to our 12-mile limit when considering any post-CFP management regime?
Turning to this year’s Council of Ministers meeting, it appears that an uplift of total allowable catch is proposed for a number of species. As a consequence, the available quota for the UK fleet will increase. It is also heartening to know that the serious uplift of opportunities that arose from the EU-Norway talks has resulted in better quotas. However, in areas VIId and VIIe off the south-west coast, I am surprised that the quota for Dover sole has not followed ICES recommendations. The uplift of quota proposed by the Commission is less than scientists have suggested. The South West Fish Producers Organisation has also expressed concern about sprat stocks in that area.
ICES advice still points to the bass stock being outside safe biological limits—that issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker)—and I have two concerns about bass stock. My constituent, Mr Chris Newman, contacted me last August after hauling in his trawl to find around 1,000 kg of bass. The bass was in abundance at the time because it swims with mackerel, and I had already heard that there was an abundance of mackerel locally. Because of how bass management currently works, Mr Newman would have had to catch 33 tonnes of species to legally land his bass, so he ended up having to discard much of it. That is disgraceful, not only because he was denied around £10,000 of income, but because much of that bass would not have survived once it was discarded.
It has been reported on social media this week that another fisherman in Plymouth was denied a similar income because he had to discard bass that he was prevented from landing. When will the EU realise that fish cannot be told not to swim into a trawl? The Secretary of State has described EU bass management as a “blunt management system”. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that our post-CFP management of fisheries will be flexible enough to prevent such situations by invoking emergency measures?
Secondly with regard to bass, I want to make a point on behalf of recreational sea anglers. They have been allowed to keep a single bass from each year’s angling. It appears that, if implemented, the European Commission’s proposal for 2018 will prohibit a recreational hook-and-line bass angler from taking a single bass for the entire year for personal or family consumption. That is unacceptable and I ask the Minister to make representations at the Council of Ministers in support of those recreational fishers. A lot of young people go angling, and many of them would not recognise if they had a bass on the end of their line. How will we police that?
It is simply madness to suggest that someone in a west end restaurant can sit down to eat wild bass caught by a commercial fisherman, but that one of my hon. Friend’s constituents, or one of my constituents on a day out at the beach, cannot keep a single fish that they catch off the beach or on a boat. That is simply not tenable.
I take a different view. I think that there is a place for commercial fishermen and recreational sea anglers to work together with us. A lot of people who go into a restaurant and think they are buying British bass are actually ordering farmed bass that has been imported from abroad. We need to make sure that we have a flexible management system that accommodates everybody.
I would describe any possible transition period after March 2019 as a bridge. Nine months is all that is needed at the very most. Looking forward to December 2018, assuming that we get a satisfactory trade deal, will the Minister make it clear at the Fisheries Council negotiations that the UK will be introducing its own management system from 1 January 2020 at the very latest? After all, the necessary processes and coastal state arrangements already exist. We can ensure, from that date, that zonal attachment of fisheries will apply to the UK, as it does to many other nations around the world.
Many people have raised concerns about whether we could enforce any UK-set rules on fisheries, including on access. Will the Minister confirm that the UK already polices our 200-mile limit under the CFP using different tools? Fisheries protection vessels from the Royal Navy for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency are all at sea making sure that the rules are enforced. Other enforcement tools include the electronic vessel monitoring equipment on board many vessels and observation aircraft. The UK will continue to enforce any rules it sets after we leave the CFP, as we have done for years.
I would like to raise briefly the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and the Factortame case. Will the Minister confirm that we will be able to redo our economic links, unfettered by that EU ruling? Nobody else permits foreign rights to national resources and assets to the degree the UK was forced into.
Finally, fishermen have always felt that their industry was sacrificed when we joined the European Economic Community. It is therefore necessary that we have a separation of catching opportunity/access, and access to the EU market. Those are separate subjects. Norway never let them be mixed. Indeed, there is no international precedent or supporting economic reasoning for doing that. For example, if France wants to sell us its wine and cheese, it must buy our fish. That is common sense. Will the Minister confirm that he will not sacrifice access to fishing resources for access to markets in any negotiation?
I wish my hon. Friend the Minister well in his negotiation next week. I know that he, like me, knows how important fisheries are to our coastal communities and that, like me, he is optimistic for the opportunities our fishermen will have after we leave the common fisheries policy.
Order. As I said earlier, there will now be a time limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) about marine safety organisations and fishermen’s welfare organisations? I am thinking particularly of the Fishermen’s Mission, in a year which, thankfully, has been one of the better ones in terms of fatalities at sea.
I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to watch the wonderful BBC series “Blue Planet II”, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you have, you will have been inspired and moved by the wondrousness of our marine environment, but also by its vulnerability and fragility. While environmental degradation on land is visible to us—we see forests and species disappear, and we see desertification—what has been happening in our oceans for far too long has remained invisible to all except a dedicated band of marine scientists and divers, but now, thanks to that fantastic programme, it is there for all of us to see.
When my right hon. Friend watched that programme, was he as concerned as I was by the amount of plastic being ingested by some of the marine life that later goes into our food chain?
Indeed I was. Thankfully, plastics are one of the more visible aspects of marine pollution, because we see them washed up on our beaches and the Government are taking action, but a great deal else that goes on is still invisible.
There is another big difference between land-based and sea-based environmental degradation. The sea is a place where the ancient human activity of hunting and gathering continues, and continues apace. As has just been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), other human activity, such as the use of plastics, has its impacts, but much of it is invisible. Man-made climate change is leading to the warming and acidification of our oceans, with yet unknown consequences. It does not affect just marine life—including fish, as an edible resource—but the roles that the oceans themselves play in regulating our climate, our oxygen levels, and basically everything that makes human life on earth possible.
For most of human history, oceans and fish were simply plundered. That did not matter when there were relatively few human beings and fishing technology was relatively antiquated, but in the last 100 years or so, population growth and technological progress have completely changed that equation, with, in some instances, devastating consequences. We all know the story of the near eradication of bluefin tuna, turtles, cod off the north-east coast of the United States, and, in our own case, cod in the North sea. However, things have changed. Because of what was going on in the early noughties, politicians began to take notice and take action. There was collective endeavour, and it has worked. North sea cod has made a fantastic recovery, thanks to the difficult measures and decisions that I took as a fisheries Minister, which were massively criticised by the fishing industry at the time. There has even been progress on the high seas, which is much more difficult because of the lack of an international legal framework.
As anyone—I hope—can appreciate, managing our seas and fish stocks sustainably demands that countries work together. As has been said so often during our debates over the years, fish do not respect national borders; they swim about. Unlike the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, I have real concerns about the potential of Brexit to reverse the welcome progress that we have seen in the last 15 or 20 years. Let us be honest: the status quo is not a disaster. The hon. Lady herself spoke of recommendations for increased catches at this year’s meeting of the Council of Ministers. I wonder why that is the case. My local ports, Brixham and Plymouth, have just reported their best years in terms of the value of their catches. Species such as cuttlefish are doing incredibly well, and are being exported straight to markets in Italy, France and Spain. Our crab and lobster are also valuable exports.
Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously saying that British fishermen want to stay in the common fisheries policy?
Some do, but they tend to be quiet, because they are shouted down by Members of Parliament like the hon. Lady. If she has honest conversations with sensible fishermen who care about the long-term sustainability of their stocks, she will find that not all of them share her views, and it would be inaccurate to suggest that they do.
As I was saying, some of our most valuable catches—and we in the south-west have enjoyed a record year in that regard—are exported straight to the markets of the European Union, tariff-free, while we are in the common fisheries policy. As a nation, we also depend on imports for 80% of what we consume, because of our taste for cod and haddock. So what will happen in the event of a bad deal or no deal, in terms of tariffs on these vital exports and the vital imports on which our producing and processing sector depend, and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby will speak later?
The Brexiteers have sold the idea that if we leave the EU and unilaterally declare these marvellous limits, our fishers will suddenly get all these extra fish and massively increased quotas, our boats, which currently fish in other people’s waters, will be able to carry on regardless, and our vital exports will be completely unaffected. Like so many of the promises made by these modern-day wreckers, this is a cruel deception on our fishers and their communities. We need only look at the problems we have had this week with the Irish land border; imagine what will happen if, as the Brexiteers are proposing, the UK suddenly and unilaterally moves the international marine borders, and, in effect, declares fish wars on all our neighbours, excluding them from fishing grounds they have fished for hundreds of years and stealing the quota they consider legally theirs. It is a recipe for mayhem.
It is also a recipe for environmental disaster. We know from fisheries management all around the world that if international and supranational co-operation and collaboration break down, it is the fish and the marine environment that pay the price. The second cruel deception being played out is the suggestion that the Government are likely to make fisheries a priority. We need only look at our fishing industry’s value to our economy, compared with financial services, pharma and others. Are our Government honestly going to pick a political fight for fisheries, when all these other sectors are worth more to our economy? It is a cruel deception.
I have two further points. First, I ask the Minister to make bass a recreational stock, as Ireland has done, with huge success. I also ask the Minister to keep a place at that negotiating table, and when he goes to Brussels later this month, I ask him to stick with the science: stick with the evidence, and think about the fish and their future, and a healthy future for our fishing industry.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for initiating it. I know of her great experience in the fishing industry. As she, above all others, will know from her personal loss from fishing, safety at sea is paramount. I pay tribute to her.
We look forward to our very able Fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), going to the December Council and coming back full of fish, and making sure that we have sufficient quota for our fishermen, because there is the science now to be able to say that for most quotaed species there are enough there for our fishermen to catch.
I am amazed that the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is so pessimistic about the common fisheries policy. Whether we were a Brexiteer or a remainer, I think we can all accept that the one section of society that got well and truly stitched up when we first went into the Common Market was the fishing industry, because it put forward quotas that were reasonably accurate, while others put forward quotas that were not, and we landed up with a very small supply of what were potentially our own fish.
I completely agree: I think we were stuffed —is that parliamentary language?—when we joined. But I am not pessimistic about the common fisheries policy; I am realistic, and the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that in the last 15 to 20 years, since we undertook these reforms, the picture has been improving.
I accept that there have been improvements to the common fisheries policy, but there were many improvements to be made. We are getting on now to having discards banned from the common fisheries policy, which we as a nation can work on much better. We can also use a fishing management system similar to that of the Norwegians, where we can shut down an overfished area very quickly; they can do it within a day, whereas it is impossible to move that fast when there are 27 countries trying to come to an agreement. There are great opportunities to be had. There is no doubt—there are figures to prove it—that the European fishing vessels take from our waters some £530 million-worth of fish and we take about £110 million-worth of fish from their waters, so whichever way we look at it, there will be benefits for our fishermen.
As Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, will my hon. Friend look at the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) about making bass a recreational species only? Will he and his Committee look into that?
As Chairman of the Committee, I would be delighted to look at that. We look at all the evidence and look at exactly what can be done. There is a real place for recreational fishing, just as there is also very much a place for professional fishing. I would be very happy to look into that matter.
As part of the study that the hon. Gentleman has agreed to undertake, will he look at the value to coastal towns of recreational fishing? In 2012, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that it was £2 billion a year. My angling shops, my coastal bed and breakfasts and my hotels all benefit from bass fishing, but the moratorium on anglers taking sea bass is a disaster for coastal towns.
I actually believe that, as we come out of the common fisheries policy, there will be enough fish for everybody. If we manage the fish stocks much better, we will have every opportunity. We need to make much more of the fish that we catch, not only in the area of recreational fishing but in areas such as fish processing. I believe that we will have greater access to fish and be able to land much more of our fish on to our own shores, but when we do that, we must ensure that we process it and add value to it. We must also—dare I say it—say to all our population that we eat many types of fish when we go to the continent and to other parts of the world that we will not eat here. That is key, because we still have a huge market. Some 70% to 80% of the fish we land in the west of England is exported to France, Spain and across the rest of Europe. Those markets are very important, so we need to ensure that we get the fish, manage the fish stocks and market the fish.
On the question of Brexit and the common fisheries policy, we have a moment now, as we negotiate, when we have very positive cards in our hand. We can say to our neighbours, “There are historical arrangements that we will look at, but at the end of the day, you will fish the amount that we agree under our rules, and that is the way it will be.” If we are absolutely firm with them —I expect the Minister to be exactly that—we can get a reasonable deal with our neighbours. I think our neighbours will deal with us in a fair way on this issue because, to be absolutely blunt, they have two choices. They can have the fish under our rules or they will not have the fish at all.
I want to reinforce the point that we must not negotiate away our fisheries again. Our fishermen did not forgive us when we did that the first time round. If we do it a second time, they will never forgive us. This is not just about our fishermen and what percentage of the overall economic benefit comes from fish; it is also about what is morally right and wrong. This is something that we can now put right. I am convinced that this can work, with the right policies in place. I suspect that the Minister is minded to keep a lot of our existing systems of catching through quota in place. Let us have evolution, not a revolution.
On discards, let us ensure that we land everything that we catch, so that we know exactly what the stocks are. Let us also look at which types of fish will recover if we put them back into the sea. Let us have a smart system of managing our stocks. I believe that we will do well in the future. We can manage our fishing better, and we must ensure that we police our waters as we leave the common fisheries policy.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) to her role on the Front Bench. She will be a strong voice for fishing and fishing communities.
In view of the frankly ludicrously short time available for this debate, I intend to keep my remarks brief and my points very local. My first point is about the continued availability of funding for infrastructure repair. North Shields port is the premier fishing port on the east coast and the biggest prawn port in England, landing around £7 million-worth of catch every year and sustaining around 300 jobs, but a recent report on the condition of the quay found that between £6 million and £8 million is needed for infrastructure repair. On 1 December, the projection jetty—an important part of the port where many boats are moored—was closed, and there is a real dilemma for those who make repairs. Does the North Shields Fish Quay make a bid? As a private company, it would be able to access only 50% of the funding from the European maritime and fisheries funds. Does the Port of Tyne do it? It can potentially access more funding but, like most trust ports around the country, it is not a small or medium-sized enterprise, so it does not fit into that category. We are therefore left scratching our heads as to where the money will come from, and fishermen are being prevented from going about their daily business. I wrote to the Minister earlier this week, and I hope that he will read of our concerns and ask his Department or, perhaps, the Marine Management Organisation to look into them, because getting an outcome and finding funding is urgent. In life after the common fisheries policy, will resources for infrastructure funding remain in place as they are now, because it is important to ports such as North Shields?
As for what post-CFP will look like, different areas will have different priorities. As I have said, North Shields is the biggest prawn port and therefore has an inshore fleet and a 12-mile limit is crucial, but it would suffice. Frankly, a 200-mile exclusive economic zone really is not relevant when, I am told, perhaps only one or two foreign vessels a year may fish those areas. Local fishermen are not particular exercised about that. North Shields has the biggest prawn port exports, with 95% of the prawns being exported. They are not processed or frozen; there are five days between them being caught and being put on tables, which are usually in European Union member states. Lorries cannot afford to wait at a hard border, and we cannot afford to have tariffs. The MMO currently issues around 300 catch certificates a year for exports to non-EU countries. If a certificate is required for every single lorry that goes to France, Spain or Italy, an estimated 21,000 certificates would be necessary, which would be a disaster for North Shields. What is the point of catching all that fish if there are no accessible markets? What is the Minister’s plan? What arrangements will be in place after we exit the CFP?
As for the salmon drift net fishery, there are only about a dozen licences on the north-east coast. They are being phased out, and that decision is based on evidence that is at least questionable because some of our rivers in Northumberland have had salmon runs for the first time in many years. We were previously told that licences needed to be phased out because the EU wanted to make them part of the whole sustainability issue, but the pressure does not come from the EU; it comes from landowners who want to protect their fishing rights to ensure that they get their share of the catches, because it is a big business. Post-CFP, will the Minister stand up to the landowners’ lobby? The fishermen in the heritages fisheries have enormous respect for the environment and a fantastic record of restocking our rivers, and it is in the interests of the fisheries that the fishermen’s interests are looked after.
In the seconds I have remaining, I invite all Members to come to see our new memorial to fishermen lost at sea, Fiddler’s Green, which was unveiled in September by Julie Myhill, the partner of James Noble—the most recent fisherman to lose his life. It reminds us that fishing is a dangerous job, and every policy maker must have that at the forefront of their mind.
I am delighted to be called to speak in this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), my constituency neighbour, on securing the debate.
First and foremost, as we leave the European Union, there are massive opportunities for our fishing industry to establish itself once again as functioning, economic and viable. Repatriation of our historical territorial fishing areas will give coastal communities such as mine a completely new lease of life. The UK must ensure full and absolute control of the UK’s 200-mile territory, up to the median lines, with fishing opportunities, access and regulatory regimes controlled once again by the UK Government.
Many people may ask what that will look like. I have been slightly sceptical about the days-at-sea proposal since examining the trial initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) back in 2011. I had concerns about overfishing, about the targeting of species close to the shore and about a lack of scientific data against which to measure catches. However, I recently had a meeting with Fishing for Leave and saw its proposals for excluding travel time to fishing destinations, including net soak time to measure catch effort, and for recording scientific data on which to measure this resource. These proposals would end the senseless discards that we have seen under the failed quota system implemented by the European Union.
In my remaining time, I will address a specific proposal from ICES on fishing for the dicentrarchus labrax—the European sea bass—that has caused consternation among my recreational sea anglers and among sea anglers across the UK. Although I recognise its latest statistics on the continued decline in the biomass of the stock and further recognise that something needs to be done, it should not be done on the back of the rod-and-line angler. As a member of the all-party angling group and a champion of the sea bass in Parliament, I recently had the pleasure of leading a delegation to Cornwall to fish for bass. We were hosted by a chap called Nick, who runs a successful family business called Bass Go Deeper. We had a successful trip, and all the fish were returned to the sea—catch and release. Nick, like many other bass guides in Cornwall and other hook-and-line beach and cliff anglers, will no longer be able to fish if the ridiculous and draconian proposals from ICES are implemented.
The suggestion is that anglers will be able to catch fish for catch and release for only six months of the year. They will not be able to target bass at all for the other six months of the year. If the proposals are truly meant for conservation, the angler is once again being penalised by comparison with the hook-and-line commercial fisheries that can effectively land 4 tonnes of catch each.
Sport fishing in the UK is a lucrative and growing business. Businesses like Nick’s will go to the wall if these proposals are implemented. The recreational sea angling sector, which has had the least impact on fish mortality, will bear a disproportionate burden of last year’s negotiations, with a zero catch from January to June and a one-fish bag limit from July to September. The impact of recreational sea angling on bass stocks is negligible, which demonstrates that the problem does not rest with the sea angler. That is why I support the campaign of the Angling Trust, the Save Our Sea Bass campaign and the European Anglers Alliance to stop these completely unfair and unenforceable proposals. Banning the public from fishing for a species recreationally while letting commercial hook-and-line fisheries continue is unjust and cannot be allowed.
As the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) has already said, Ireland and America have both embraced a recreational bass fishery and are seen as premium sport fishery areas.
Catching a fish and keeping it for the pot is not a crime. Catching a fish and cooking it for dinner is one of the last great remaining hunter-gatherer pursuits in this country. The Minister should fight for anglers and oppose these ridiculous measures, which would sink a fine pursuit and a fledgling industry. There are thousands of anglers out there who are looking for his support this year.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this most important debate. I apologise to the House now, as I did to your predecessor in the Chair, for the fact that, unfortunately, I will not be here at the conclusion of the debate. I am very aware that I will shortly be travelling towards Storm Caroline, and it is worth pausing for a second, as we debate in the relative calm of Westminster on a Thursday afternoon, to reflect that many of the fishermen in my constituency will be at sea in those conditions. It is worth remembering that they do a very difficult job in very dangerous circumstances, which is why we should be grateful to them for the work they do and to organisations such as the Coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Fishermen’s Mission and others that do so much to support them.
It strikes me that this may be a small piece of history, as this is perhaps the last of these fisheries debates we will have in their current form. This time next year, we will be looking towards the final Fisheries Council in which we will part of the EU, which brings me to my first ask. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Shetland Fisherman’s Association have both made it clear that they see it as obvious that for the first three months of 2019 we will remain part of the common fisheries policy but thereafter they seek bridging arrangements that will take them to end of the year, so that they might honour the arrangements that are made at the December Fisheries Council next year. That would then be the point at which we would properly exit the CFP. There is an elegant simplicity to that arrangement, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the approach the Government will seek to pursue.
Fisheries management cannot continue as part of the CFP during any transitional period that follows after the end of March 2019 for one simple reason: we will not have a seat at the table when the decisions are made at the December Fisheries Council. I put that point to the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions earlier this year, but she was less than clear in her answer—I realise that she perhaps does not have the background in fisheries of the Minister at the Dispatch Box today. I hope that he can confirm that that is the position and the Government will not leave us in a situation where our fishing industry is left having to abide by rules and decisions of which we have had no part in the making.
As the Shetland Fishermen’s Association put it to me in its briefing for today,
“water and markets don’t mix”.
By that, it makes the point that the fishing industry and the fishing rights should not be traded off against other sectors. When it comes to the negotiations around our departure, will the Minister confirm that he will do as I have urged him on other occasions and ring-fence the fishing industry? There are plenty of good historical reasons why that should be done. No other coastal state is forced to trade access to waters for access to markets, and I say to the Minister that the fishermen in my constituency would see any arrangement of that sort as nothing short of a betrayal of the undertakings given to them at the time when they voted in the EU referendum.
Of course we will remain subject to a variety of different concerns as the Brexit process continues. We need to address the question of markets, because we can catch as many fish as we like but we have to be able to sell them to somewhere, so we will take a close interest in that part of the negotiations. We also need to address the issue of employment for crew members, some of whom come from within the EU, with many then working in the processing sector. That is where certainty needs to be given to the industry as early as possible. It simply is not going to work if we are left in the same position with crew members coming from outside the UK as we are currently left with visas for fishing crew coming from outwith the EU.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing it. I associate myself with pretty much all of her comments, particularly those on the emergency and rescue services, which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) also mentioned.
I want to express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for his guarantee during Scottish questions yesterday that when we leave the EU we will leave the common fisheries policy. In turn, I want to be as helpful as possible to Ministers, but I am sure that the Minister will understand that I cannot and will not vote for any fisheries Bill or Brexit deal that does not advance the interests of the fishermen in my constituency.
I will talk more about Brexit later, because first I want to discuss a matter that needs urgent attention and about which we have already spoken to the Immigration Minister—namely, non-European economic area crew on the Scottish fleet. We are not talking about unskilled labour, which is often the perception; we are talking about fishermen who are experienced and qualified professionals. Like farming, with which I grew up, I think that fishing is a trade for which people need passion to make a real go of it. Also like farming, I think that it is something that people need to be born into. It is certainly something that many fishermen are born into, whether they happen to have been born in the coastal communities of Peterhead, Fraserburgh or Macduff in my constituency or, indeed, in the Philippines or further afield.
The industry recognises the need for a transition, so that it can be sustainable with regard to local labour, but that will take time, mainly because we need to undo the decades of damage done by top-down EU policies such as the CFP. It would be helpful and welcome if the Government would start by at least recognising the Scottish fleet’s need for non-EEA crew.
Of course, the Scottish fishing industry will be affected by Brexit. It is important that we agree how fisheries will be manged when we leave the CFP, and we will have those discussions when the fisheries Bill reaches the House. In the meantime, the key focus must be that we do take back control.
The Brexit negotiations are not the final negotiation for fishing. When we leave the EU, the United Kingdom will become an independent coastal state, so we must start thinking like one in our approach to future Brexit negotiations and in our annual negotiations with the other coastal states. As has been said, the December 2018 deal will apply to the UK only up until the end of March 2019. Like others, I am in favour of going into the 2018 discussions willing to accept a nine-month bridge to the end of 2019, but only if our own requirements are met. In the Brexit negotiations, we must not bargain away any concession of access to our waters. We are not talking about building a wall in the sea to keep out all foreign boats, but if we cannot restrict access to our waters and our demands are not met, we will end up with the weakest bargaining power of any independent state.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has mentioned the importance of zonal attachment. Aligning our fishing opportunities with zonal attachment involves two things—an increase of net inward quota exchanges, which we can negotiate annually, and making adjustments to the fixed quota shares, which is a longer-term process—but we cannot insist on either of them without being able to offer in return quota that the EU wants and periodic access to our waters. I reiterate that that access must be in our control and must not be traded away during Brexit negotiations.
Finally, in the short time I have left, I want to address devolution. I agree that those closest to the resource must have the most say and influence. We need grassroots policy making, not a top-down system like the CFP. I seek an assurance from the Minister that a UK framework, which is universally recognised as being required, will be developed between Westminster and the devolved Administrations and, more importantly, with the involvement of the relevant fish producer organisations.
We have heard many times this afternoon about the importance of the fishing industry and the role it plays in the economic life of our coastal communities, including my Argyll and Bute constituency, where the industry—including the hugely significant shellfish industry—is one of the mainstays of our local economy. So I have a keen interest in the health and wellbeing and sustainability of the fishing industry and the seas that provide some of the finest seafood in the world.
It is easy to talk about the Scottish fishing industry as though it is one entity, but of course there are vast differences between the west and east coasts of Scotland. I want to highlight some of the challenges facing boat owners and skippers on the west coast.
What I am about to say will come as no great surprise, I suspect, as it is an issue that I have raised several times in my two and a half years in this place. I seek a relaxation of the Home Office rules to allow non-EEA crew members to work on vessels operating inside the 12-mile limit on the west coast. Unlike the east coast, where 12 miles is 12 miles, for the west coast’s islands and coastline, the 12 miles extends a vast distance out into the Atlantic—a distance that few inshore vessels can or will travel before reaching international waters. All vessels inside that limit have to be crewed by UK or EU citizens. In the current climate, recruiting EU nationals to crew the boats is becoming increasingly problematic. More than ever, we need to employ non-EEA crew to fill the gap.
In 2015 and again in 2016, I joined a delegation of Northern Irish and west of Scotland boat owners, skippers, fish processors and Members to the Home Office to ask it to relax the ban on international seafarers being permitted to work in west coast Scottish waters. On both occasions, our appeals were rejected. We were told, “Use EU or UK crew.”
I am now hearing from skippers in Oban, including Jonathan McAllister, that because of Brexit and the reluctance of EU nationals to commit to working on the boats, an already dire recruitment situation is in danger of becoming catastrophic. He and many of his colleagues are now seriously contemplating walking away from the industry.
I understand that a more constructive meeting was recently held with the Home Office. I sincerely hope that the Minister for Immigration gave a flicker of encouragement that a solution could be found; otherwise the west of Scotland fishing community will be facing the perfect storm, being unable to attract our valued EU citizens because of Brexit, while being barred from recruiting international seafarers from non-EEA countries.
I cannot overstate just how serious the recruitment problems are on the west coast. Just as we need EU nationals to work in our schools, our hospitals, our high-tech industries and our fields, so we need them to work on our seas. We also need those highly trained, professional non-EEA international seafarers to fill the gaps in our fishing fleet. I hope that the Minister does what his predecessors singularly failed to do and comes up with a long-lasting solution to the problems on the west coast.
We have heard much about the deficiencies of the common fisheries policy. I will not defend the CFP, but the SNP has for the past 40 years been resolute in its criticism of it. I think it right to say that the SNP has been the only party that has been consistently and vocally opposed to the CFP. When back in 1983 the poster girl for the Brexiteers, Margaret Thatcher, was helping to create the CFP, it was left to Donald Stewart, the leader of the SNP, to speak against it. I can understand why that history makes Conservative Members uncomfortable.
I look forward to the day when an independent Scotland, as a member of the European Union, is able to help to shape a common fisheries policy that works for Scotland and all our neighbours.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing this debate.
Although we have such an event each December, this particular debate stands apart from those that have been held in the past 40 years. These debates normally focus on putting steel in the Minister’s backbone ahead of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. This year, as well as having that immediate task to perform, the Minister and the Secretary of State have before them a great opportunity, with the White Paper and the fishing Bill, to reset the framework within which this great industry operates. This provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rejuvenate the East Anglian fishing industry, with Lowestoft in my constituency at its hub.
Lowestoft used to be the fishing capital of the southern North sea, but it has lost this title over the past 40 years, and East Anglia currently derives very little economic benefit from the fish stocks on its own doorstep, which are among the richest in Europe. The fisheries Bill must provide the policy framework within which the East Anglian industry can be revitalised. That means East Anglian boats having fair and equitable access to fisheries in all UK waters, but particularly the southern North sea. It requires supporting local infrastructure to be developed so that local communities and local people fully benefit from the fish that are landed in their ports. It needs a fisheries management system to be put in place in which local fishermen, scientists and the authorities collaborate in overseeing fisheries—a system that not only provides those working in the industry with a reasonable living, but ensures that the fisheries are passed on to the next generation in a better state.
At present, the East Anglian fleet is largely made up of under-10 metre boats that have access to a limited amount of fish to catch. This inequity and imbalance must be addressed. With the EU fleet today taking around four times more fish from UK waters than UK vessels take from EU waters, our departure from the EU means that it is likely that more fish will be available for UK fishermen to catch. But that will be of no benefit if we retain the existing system of allocation. The inshore fleet—the under-10s—need a fairer and larger slice of the cake. If the quota system is to be retained, there must be a significant reallocation.
It has been suggested that producer organisations will have a key role to play. If this is to be the case, the system needs to be reconstituted, as the Lowestoft PO has only six vessels, none of which lands fish in Lowestoft. There is some debate as to whether we should move to a new system of effort control, based on days at sea. If this is to be looked at again, Lowestoft could be a suitable pilot with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in the town, monitoring its impact.
To ensure that local people and businesses benefit from more fish being landed in Lowestoft than in other East Anglian ports, it is necessary to upgrade the local supporting infrastructure. This means safe berths and better landing points, and modern markets and upgraded freezer facilities. It involves strengthening the supply chain and providing new job opportunities for boat builders, repairers, chandlers, engineers, smokeries, merchants and mongers. June Mummery and Paul Lines, representing the local industry, have already met the Minister to outline their plans for securing this investment. I anticipate that it will be worked up locally in the coming months, and I will keep the Minister informed of progress, and seek his guidance and assistance where necessary.
The current fisheries management system must be overhauled. We must move away from the current policing system to a collaborative approach involving fishermen, authorities and scientists. With CEFAS in Lowestoft, there is the potential to put in place on the East Anglian coast a new science-based, sustainable fishing system that can be an exemplar—a system that can be operated around the world and play an important role in sustaining the blue planet for the next generation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing the debate and on her excellent work with the all-party fisheries group, of which she is chairman. I also echo her sentiments about the Fishermen’s Mission and its continued good work supporting fishermen and their families and local communities, particularly those in my constituency.
I do not want to leave out my hon. Friend—the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn)—who is the joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary group.
A rare moment of cross-party agreement around fisheries. I thank the hon. Lady for those comments.
Today, I want to focus my remarks primarily on the processing side of the fisheries industry. However, before I get on to that, I want to mention the case of a former fisherman from my constituency. In the debate last year, I raised the case of James Greene, and the issue of fishermen missing out on their pensions unjustly, with subsequent Governments failing to properly compensate them for that. Sadly, James Greene passed away last year, but his widow is still waiting for his full entitlement from the fishermen’s compensation scheme. The ship he worked on for 20 years was wrongly omitted from the scheme’s list of eligible vessels. That list has been corrected, but the payments owed to James have still not been made in full.
I have been dealing with this matter through the parliamentary ombudsman, but the most recent correspondence I have had sight of says:
“The matters you have raised are not new as they were not in the scope of the investigation. We did not look at the department’s decision to pay for work on the Thessalonian at the reduced second scheme rate even though it had mistakenly been excluded under the first scheme…As the Ombudsman has already given this matter her personal attention earlier this year and with no new information provided, we would not look at this matter again.”
That is extremely disappointing. For the sake of his widow, for just £3,000—that is all we are talking about—and for the peace of mind of those at the Great Grimsby Association of Fishermen and Trawlermen, who have been fighting for decades for justice, will the Minister please meet me to see whether there is anything more that can be done to bring this matter to a satisfactory close?
The demise of the fishing industry since its peak in the middle of the 20th century has hit my town particularly hard. What we have seen in Grimsby is the transformation of the sector. While catching has severely diminished, in the way the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) discussed, we are now a hub for the processing, manufacturing, and packaging side of things. We have 75 food sites within a radius of a couple of miles, employing 5,000 people in landing the fish, selling it, smoking it or turning it into fish cakes.
This is necessarily an international industry. The fish caught off our coasts are often not the kind that people in Britain want to eat. Depending on where a catch is landed, the fish that ends up in Grimsby may have crossed the borders of three or four countries on its way to us. Some 270 tonnes of imported fish passes through our market every week, and these are perishable goods. Anything that makes trading harder could compromise the viability of the main source of employment in my constituency.
Do those potential obstacles to the frictionless trade my hon. Friend talks about include the loss of regulatory alignment, which is the topic of the week?
Yes. I will come on to regulatory alignment and the variance thereof.
I want to talk briefly about Norway, because it has been mentioned in the debate, and it is often cited as an example of how Britain’s fisheries sector could thrive outside the common fisheries policy. However, what is not mentioned is the effect Norway’s position has had on its seafood processing sector. By opting out of the CFP, Norway has had to accept losing market access in fisheries. According to the CBI, this trade-off has seen the majority of its seafood processing sector relocate to the EU, with Britain being a substantial winner from that situation. Under that agreement, Norway can sell fresh fish to EU countries with a minimal 2% tariff, but with 13% on processed fish.
Similarly, while we can currently buy fish from Norway and Iceland tariff-free, that may not be the case in just over a year’s time. The Minister must fight to ensure that this is not the outcome waiting for Britain after we leave the EU. It would be absolutely catastrophic for jobs and industry in Grimsby.
And it would mean more expensive fish and chips.
And more expensive fish and chips, as my right hon. Friend says.
I met the Minister with a delegation from Grimsby’s seafood processing sector last month to discuss ways to ensure that our ports and industry could continue to grow post Brexit, so I recognise that this issue is on his agenda. However, perhaps he could just update the House on what work he is doing to prepare the sector for the changes coming down the line.
The fishing industry in my area, the south-west of Scotland, is very much lobster and langoustine-based. Eighty-six per cent. of that goes to Europe, so my industry would be decimated if we had barriers.
I thank the hon. Lady for sharing that point. It just goes to show how important it is, in all areas of the country and in all our coastal communities, that every effort is made to make sure that our local communities do not suffer as the outcome of Brexit becomes ever clearer.
About one in five of the industry’s skilled workforce comes from overseas. Training needs to be much more widely available if freedom of movement is no longer going to apply to this country after we leave the European Union. With that in mind, I invite the Minister to visit the fantastic Modal Training facility in my constituency, which provides training for maritime, port and marine workers. I hope that he will take me up on that offer to see the modern training methods that are being used to maintain these essential maritime skills.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). I am delighted that we were able to secure this debate through my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).
Fishing is perhaps the oldest industry in all the south-west and it is deeply ingrained in the culture and heritage of my west Cornwall and Isles of Scilly constituency. Fishing and its supporting industries provide high-quality, skilled jobs that offer year-round employment—a vital factor in a part of the country where seasonal work often dominates.
EU fisheries policies have often seemed to ride rough-shod over the interests of the UK fishing fleet. That is perhaps why fishermen were one of the most vocally pro-Brexit groups in the country. I am sure that colleagues will agree, therefore, that leaving the EU presents a real opportunity for the Government to right some historical wrongs and build a sustainable and prosperous future for the UK fishing industry. I think that we can also agree that, as has been said, this will not be without its challenges. However, until we leave the EU, we are still bound by EU regulations, and I am glad to be able to speak in this debate today ahead of the annual EU Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.
I have spoken to the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, which is based in my constituency, has a membership of over 250 boats and is one of the largest fishermen’s organisations in the UK, and to other local fishermen about their key concerns for the future of fishing. Their message is clear. Fishermen want the UK fishing industry to regain control of access to UK waters out to the 200-mile limit. They want to be able to make use of funding opportunities and to a have a regulatory regime determined by the UK Government, not the EU, that permits UK vessels to secure a greater share of total allowable catch.
With regard to the Commission’s proposals on Celtic sea cod, haddock and whiting, I have heard serious concerns expressed about their effect on all parts of the fleet in the south-west. The proposals show a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the ultra-mixed fisheries in this area—something that I know the Minister appreciates. I ask that he makes a case for mixed-fisheries-model analysis of these stocks to ensure that the Commission’s approach is science-led.
I would also like to highlight, as have others, concerns about the European Commission’s proposals on bass fishing for 2018, as clearly set out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). The Commission’s proposals are based on an inadequate understanding of the bass fisheries, which now comprise, almost exclusively, unavoidable by-catch. Under the proposals, every bass caught in a gillnet, a beam trawl or a trawl will be discarded dead. The key to good fisheries management is to control total fishing mortality, but this fundamental principle seems to have escaped the Commission.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, not least because I represent, I think, the most land-locked constituency of any Member in the Chamber at this time. However, my constituents enjoy eating fish and care about the marine environment and fish stocks. Does he agree with me, consumers, and myriad campaigning organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, On The Hook and Greenpeace about the importance of transparency in labelling so that when consumers buy what they believe is sustainably fished fish, they can be confident that it is?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that has been quite successful, particularly in Newlyn. Newlyn bass is worth a premium in London simply because of clear and correct labelling.
The word ‘by-catch’ implies that it is unavoidable. The Commission is damaging fishermen’s integrity by implying that they are deliberately fishing their by-catch. At the same time, high domestic and continental demand make sea bass a valuable species, so chucking the already dead by-catch back seems senseless. I ask that more time be given to looking at the results of the measures introduced over recent years, which have led to a 70% reduction in landings from the commercial fleet. Steady rebuilding is the right way forward, but avoiding unnecessary discards must be a key part of the policy.
I mentioned earlier that I was grateful to have the Minister and Secretary of State on a visit to Newlyn harbour. The Minister was kind enough to have a Q and A session at the CFPO’s annual general meeting, and I make no apology for the thorough quizzing that CFPO members gave him on the future of their livelihood. I note that Councillor Adam Paynter, the leader of Cornwall Council, also accepted my invitation and visited Newlyn last month. I mention those visits, because the team at Newlyn Harbour have developed plans for much-needed investment, under which the harbour would offer a greater range of services and deliver the infrastructure needed to service a vibrant fishing fleet. Their aim is to support innovation, unlock potential within the local fishers and bring in necessary improvements to current infrastructure. That work is aimed at reinforcing Newlyn’s leading role in UK fisheries.
Newlyn is ideally located to serve export markets as well as premium UK markets such as London and elsewhere. It will be vital to secure public funding support for international hubs such as Newlyn as we navigate our way out of the EU. Such support will provide Newlyn with extra capacity for boats and enable it to offer better services, such as engineering and boat maintenance. Newlyn has the potential to expand its international enterprise.
The current funding systems do not adequately recognise the needs of the Cornish and wider fishing industries. Small fishing businesses in my constituency that do not have reliable cash flows struggle to capitalise on reimbursement-based grants. Businesses looking to undertake larger projects may look despairingly at their Scottish counterparts, who have long been able to use European regional development funding for ports and harbours, because Scotland negotiated a block exemption on state aid rules. Please, as we leave the EU and look to secure a sustainable fishing industry across the UK’s coastal towns, can we provide equal access to funds?
Order. Because there have been a number of interventions, I will have to reduce the time limit to four minutes after the next speaker, Ronnie Cowan.
I commend you on your good judgment, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I inform you that I will not be taking any interventions.
In Scotland, there is a great divide that has torn apart families and friends. It is not politics, religion or even football, but the age-old question: salt and vinegar, or salt and sauce? Unbelievably, some people prefer sauce with their fish and chips. That is all that most people need to consider. But how often do we stop and wonder: who caught that fish? What were the weather conditions? Who owns the boat? How much debt are they in? Will the bank lend to them? What sort of living do they make, and are they safe at sea? For generations, fishing families have braved the seas and oceans to put food on our plates, but they can continue to do so only if they and their fishing waters are protected.
Post Brexit, who decides? In the Faroe Islands, the fishing industry accounts for about 90% of total exports. The Danish Government have respected that and allowed the Faroes to negotiate their own treaties. As a result, the Faroes are thriving. That sort of thing is possible when one Parliament respects and trusts another. As we move closer to Brexit, will the UK respect and trust Scotland? Like those of the Faroe Islands, Scotland’s seas are vital. They are the fourth largest in the EU, and they are potentially the richest. On average, around four tonnes of fish are taken from each square nautical mile of Scottish waters, compared with around one tonne on average for EU waters. Neighbouring countries are highly dependent on Scotland’s waters for their landings. Germany and the rest of the UK land around 30% of their fishing catches, by weight, from Scottish waters.
If Scotland was a normal independent nation, we would negotiate directly with other countries to get the best possible deal for this key sector of our economy. Scottish fisherman will be looking to the future with trepidation over their funding and investment situation. We would be wise to look to Norway, where all parties involved in fisheries, regardless of size, have a seat around the table, where all are equally respected, and where fishermen, policy makers, politicians and managers all listen to each other in an atmosphere of equality. No sector dominates to the detriment of another.
I want to be clear that the SNP agrees that the common fisheries policy has been burdensome on the Scottish fishing industry. Ever since 1983, when it was debated in the House, we have consistently opposed the policy, as was mentioned earlier. We understand that, although every voting area in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, many Scottish fishermen undoubtedly voted to leave and to “take back control”. What does taking back control look like for the Scottish fishing industry?
HSBC estimates that the overall loss of access to the single market will initially cost the industry £42 million a year. Over a quarter of crew in the Scottish fishing fleet are non-UK nationals, yet European workers still do not have clarity regarding their working rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) mentioned, a recruitment crisis is looming. We also require access to EU markets: 86% of all the west coast of Scotland’s shellfish currently goes to the EU. This has to continue somehow. New markets in the far east can be pursued long term, but core markets must be preserved.
Finally, it is not just livelihoods at risk, but lives. While we are restructuring our fishing industries, we must give our fishermen the security of a coastguard capable of reacting to emergencies. The loss of fishing vessels such as the Louisa and the mistakes being made cannot be ignored. We should see this period as an opportunity to do things better. Will the Minister seek to develop a fair allocation of quota, provide improved training for domestic fishermen, create fair and flexible fisheries access and management for inshore fleets, and regenerate our coastal fleets and the associated facilities around the coast? We have this opportunity now and must act now.
I wish to start by paying tribute to Sean Hunter, a Brixham fisherman who sadly lost his life in the past week. He was deeply loved by his family and the whole community, and I know that the House will want to join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family.
I also pay tribute to the Fishermen’s Mission, which does much to support fishermen, their families and our wider communities, and join other Members in paying tribute to the coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the National Coastwatch Institution and all the emergency services for their professionalism and courage. Most of all, however, I want to thank the fishers themselves, who do so much, in such challenging conditions, to put food on our plates and bring so much to our national and local economies. The value of the catch to the UK economy in 2016 was £936 million.
I am also delighted to say that Brixham has again been voted the No. 1 fishing port in the UK, landing the most valuable catch in England. In excess of £30 million has been sold through Brixham fish market in the last year, and that is providing jobs not just at sea but in the processing sector on land. We recognise the value of all those jobs.
I also pay tribute to the responsible actions of our fishers, who have done much in responding to scientific advice to improve the sustainability of many of our species. However, just as we expect our fishers to respond to that scientific advice and reduce the total allowable catch, in many cases, so I would ask the Minister to respond and recognise that we expect fairness when the scientific data shows we are fishing sustainably. In his negotiations, in which I wish him well, will he therefore look at the sole quotas in VIId and VIIe? There is a very strong case for their being increased further.
We need to look again at the value of the scientific evidence on which the quotas are based. In responding to the debate, will the Minister listen to the concerns of fishermen who are asking for greater access to fisheries science partnerships in co-operation with CEFAS? I am concerned to hear that too often these requests are turned down. For some years, the UK has agreed to adhere to the data collection framework, so it is of great concern to hear that the sprat stock, for example, is still described as “Data Deficient”. In his response, will the Minister say what is going to happen about that in future?
Several colleagues have raised the issues of bass fisheries. As time is short, I will not dwell on them, except perhaps to thank the Devon and Severn inshore fisheries and conservation authority for meeting me to discuss the wrasse fisheries, and to hold that up as an example of where responsible but proportionate precautionary principles are being applied.
In my closing moments, I say to the Minister that as we now move to thinking about where we are with Brexit and beyond, fishing communities want to see fairness. We recognise that we need to avoid falling into an acrimonious Brexit, but to maintain good relations in order to trade with our neighbours in the future. I just hope that he will make sure that our fishing communities are not let down, as they were in 1973.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), and I congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), on securing the debate.
At the beginning of every fisheries debate, it is right that we praise the amazing charities that provide rescue and support for the fishing industry, such as the RNLI, the coastguard and the Fishermen’s Mission. Today I want to pay special tribute to Tony Jones—a respected fisherman of many years who is missed not only by the fishing community in Plymouth, but around the country—who died when the Solstice trawler was lost at sea off Plymouth recently. Our thoughts remain with his family, and with Nick and Chris, who survived that quick capsize.
I want to pass on special thanks to the RNLI crews from Plymouth, Looe and Salcombe who reacted so quickly in searching for the vessel. It might be useful for hon. Members who do not follow their local RNLI on Twitter to search out the #outonashout Twitter feed, which tweets every time an RNLI lifeboat launches, because they will be amazed at just how many times those brave volunteers go to sea to save lives.
We must do more to protect and secure safety at sea, which means matching our words with actions. I am very grateful to the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime for the action he secured following the possible delay to lifeboat tasking after the sinking of the Solstice. He said that there would be “no stone left unturned”, and so far he has been true to his word. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), an SNP Member, for his support after the sinking of the Solstice, including through sharing his experience of the sinking of the Louisa from his constituency.
The proper investigations are under way and it is not right to prejudge them, but I know that areas in which there can be improved tasking of lifeboats have already been identified by the coastguard. I hope that they will be put in place so that lives can be saved more quickly at sea. This is not a partisan request, because I believe there is cross-party support for ensuring that safety at sea is put ahead of any political considerations. In the meantime, I have asked the coastguard to do all it can to rebuild the Plymouth fishing industry’s confidence in knowing that the coastguard will take action in the event of a disaster or a trawler going missing.
Fishing is a really important industry for Plymouth. We have a vibrant fishing community that we want to strengthen in the years ahead. It is vital not only that we campaign for the right Brexit deal to protect our fisheries, as has been mentioned, but that fishing infrastructure around the country is protected. In particular, that means not building luxury flats on the fishing quay in Plymouth, therefore ensuring that there is protection for the fishing industry for many years to come. Plymouth also needs a new state-of-the-art fish market, and I hope the Government will look at how investments can be secured to ensure that, in whatever port around the country, Britain’s fishing industry can access the very best of technologies and facilities to ensure its success for many years.
I am proud that Plymouth is leading the way towards blue belting, following the example set in “Blue Planet II”, in securing the first national marine park, which I hope will be designated in Plymouth sound. The scheme has cross-party support, as well as the support of world-class institutions based in Plymouth including, among many others, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Aquarium.
Finally, I want to heap praise on the fantastic work of Plymouth City Council in its Plymouth lifejackets campaign. Some 120 personal flotation devices, equipped with locator beacons, have now been given out to those in the fishing industry in Plymouth. This has been supported by a £77,000 grant from the European maritime and fisheries fund and the MMO. As one RNLI coxswain put it, this is designed to take the search out of search and rescue.
At this time, the House has an awful lot to be proud of in the fishing industry. Knowing how dangerous fishing is, we should heap praise on those involved for all the work that they do.
Although my constituency contains 31 miles of magnificent North sea coastline, it does not have much of a fishing industry—certainly not as much as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid). However, I thought it was important that I speak in today’s debate on the eve of the Fisheries Council that will set quotas for all European fishing fleets. In a previous life, I had the great privilege to work for just over a year in the European Parliament for Ian Duncan, now Lord Duncan, who was the Conservative spokesperson on fisheries. One could not find a bigger advocate for the industry.
I quickly learned that someone enters the world of fishing unprepared at their peril. More importantly, I learned about the skill, dedication and ingenuity of British and Scottish fishermen and the wider industry, and of the producer organisations of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association with Mike Park, the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association with Ian Gatt, the Shetland Fishermen’s Association with Simon Collins, and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation with Bertie Armstrong. Faced with overwhelming regulation, bans, recovery plans, and a bureaucratic sea of red tape that would test any industry, they have adapted and overcome. It is through their work and actions, not the words of politicians and civil servants at the Berlaymont or Rue Wiertz, that we are seeing record landings at Peterhead. Amazingly, this year North sea cod has been recertified as sustainable.
We are having the debate because of next week’s Council in Brussels. In reality, as the Minister is well aware, the big decisions have already been taken at the EU-Faroes and EU-Norway negotiations. On the whole, it has been quite a positive year for the Scottish fishing fleet.
I pay tribute to those unsung allies and supporters of the industry in Brussels who have fought the good fight over the years in trialogues, at the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries and at various Councils. Right now this is an uncertain time for them as we prepare to leave the European Union. As we speak, they are working hard to defend British interests as regulations that will affect the British fishing industry, such as the extension of the North sea plan, continue to be made.
We wish every success at Council next week to my hon. Friend the Minister, those at UKRep, all British staff at the Commission, and Caroline Healy at the secretariat of the European Conservatives and Reformists group. She works with the industry day in, day out, to defend it and give it a voice at the heart of the EU. For all the work that has been done for the fishing industry during our membership of the CFP, and for all the work still being done, I say thank you. Through the work of those individuals and their predecessors, the industry is in a strong position as we set sail into the sea of opportunity that is a post-CFP world.
As a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and in recognition of its ongoing inquiry on fisheries, I thought it pertinent that I say a few words.
The opposition to the CFP is obvious, but we cannot forget that it was the Ted Heath Tory Government who deemed that Scottish fishermen were expendable in the wider UK interest. Back then there were 23 Scottish Tory MPs, yet we are now meant to believe that the new baker’s dozen will somehow hold this Government to account.
There is no doubt that everybody appreciates how critical fishing is to coastal communities, but in the bigger picture it accounts for only 0.1% of GDP. With successive Governments in thrall to the London’s financial sector and house prices, what will be the overall Government priorities? How can we believe guarantees from the fisheries Minister that there will be separation and ring-fencing of fishing access.
UNCLOS will be the post-Brexit fallback, but it also allows historical rights to be taken into account. There therefore must be discussions on the subject, but given that the UK Government have already allowed 18 months to pass without even closing preliminary discussions with the EU, they will have to up their game over the next 15 months.
The prize is control over the waters and management of the stock in a sustainable way. In the same vein, Scotland must have control over its waters. Ours are the fourth largest in Europe—they account for 60% of the UK’s waters, and 38% of current EU allowable catch. Scotland is therefore critical to the overall process. It is fine to argue for an overall UK framework, but that must be agreed with the devolved nations, not imposed on them.
These concerns are echoed by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which wants all EU powers devolved straight to Edinburgh, because it trusts the Scottish Government. Scotland also needs to be allocated budgets that are currently accessed via the EU, such as that from the European maritime and fisheries fund. Even that funding is proof of the low priority that the UK Government give this and their weakness in negotiations with the EU.
The forthcoming fisheries paper needs to flesh out a lot of things, so I hope that we will hear from the Minister about it. What will the quota management system be based on? We cannot continue a system that sees some of Scotland’s quotas traded, such as for blue whiting, or the top-slicing of The Hague preference quota, which has seen Scotland lose out on over 1,000 tonnes of whiting over the past five years. The UK Government really need to publish and implement the new fisheries concordat that was agreed by Ministers in August 2016. The Environment Secretary needs to ensure that licencing starts to eliminate the “slipper skippers”. If people cannot afford or access quota licences, the perceived opportunities for job creation will be lost. Quota hopping also needs to be addressed.
Problems might arise with trade tariffs if access to the single market is not maintained. As we have heard, the cost to the sector of leaving the single market is estimated at £42 million. A customs agreement is clearly vital for such special products with a limited lifespan.
How will the EEZ be policed? What will transition periods look like? Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation advises that a nine-month transitional or bridging period is required. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State talks about leaving the CFP early, or on day one, but that is at odds with what fishermen say is required. There will be opportunities, but the UK Government must up their game and need to start giving out better information.
I would like to take the opportunity of this debate on the fishing industry, using the broad definition of that industry as the commercial activity of harvesting, processing and marketing aquatic produce for human consumption, to make a positive request of the Minister. Since 1995, the amount of caught fish in the world has been flatlining, but the amount of fish used for food has continued to grow and outpace global population growth. The gap is being filled by the miracle of aquaculture.
Forty years ago, 93% of seafood came from capture fisheries—trawlers and traditional fishing—and only 7% came from global aquaculture. Today, however, more than 50% of the world’s seafood comes from aquaculture and that figure is only going to rise. The number of aquaculture-produced fish is staggering. Today, more than 50% of globally consumed fish is being produced on fish farms. As of 2014, that is equivalent to 73.8 million tonnes of fish, which equivalent in weight to 377 jumbo jets. That, Madam Deputy Speaker, is a lot of fish. It makes a huge contribution to feeding the world’s population. Aquaculture provides a highly efficient source of animal protein for human consumption and is critical to future food security for the rapidly increasing global population.
It will come as no surprise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to hear a Scottish Member talk about Scottish food as being the best in the world. Our salmon, born and bred in Scottish waters, is second to none. The growth of aquaculture has allowed this industry to thrive. In 2016, we found 13.7 million salmon in Scotland. According to a DEFRA-commissioned report that was published in July 2017, 85% of the volume of farmed fish and shellfish grown in the UK is produced in Scotland, and 92% of the value of UK aquaculture is produced in Scotland. According to a report commissioned and published this year by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the aquaculture supply chain in Scotland employs over 12,000 people. According to the Food and Drink Federation, so far in 2017, salmon alone is the UK’s No. 1 food export.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that one reason why the SNP is calling for Scotland to remain in the single market and the customs union is precisely so that we do not have prime salmon backed-up at customs checkpoints?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We certainly do not want that, because the value of salmon to the UK economy is close to the value of the entire landings of all species of fish by UK vessels in capture fisheries. We want that to increase.
If a barrel of oil is worth $50, the equivalent value of a barrel of salmon is more than $1,200. That is why the Norwegian Government’s national policy is that aquaculture is the sustainable industry for when oil runs out. The industry is already estimated to be worth £1.8 billion to the Scottish economy, but we must go for growth. The Scottish national marine plan has a target of increasing production from the current level of 170,000 tonnes to 210,000 tonnes in the coming year. That can be achieved if we focus on productivity, and we can best do that by focusing on the cutting-edge science involved in food production.
That brings me back to my constituency of Stirling. The Institute of Aquaculture and Global Aquatic Food Security is based at Stirling University, as is the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre. They work together to develop vaccines, cultivation methods and productivity techniques that have had an impact in countries all over the world, including Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. With the help of the centre, we can increase productivity in our domestic industry and do our bit to develop a global industry that will ultimately feed the world, which must be a very worthy objective.
Now I come to my request to the Minister. A very important part of the Stirling city region deal is investment in the infrastructure of the Institute of Aquaculture and Global Aquatic Food Security and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre. May I press the Minister to help me to secure a £20 million investment as part of the deal? That will serve as an ignition point for millions of pounds of private investment in the industry, with a potential prize of an additional £254 million in increased gross value, more than 3,000 new jobs, and more than £690 million in additional sales. The ambition is very clear. The institute says:
“We are determined that Scotland and the UK remain at the forefront of global aquaculture and that we do not lose the potential for high value employment and sustainable economic growth through innovation and enterprise in aquatic food production.
We have created a bold vision for the development of our aquaculture infrastructure, ensuring that we can match current and future industry needs. This development is underpinned by a scientific strategy that will ensure that Stirling remains synonymous with excellence in aquaculture.”
I ask the Minister to help me to secure the money, so that we can make that a reality.
I hoped to make a wide-ranging speech about the practical and policy dangers that face the Welsh fishing industry, but instead I shall concentrate on just three issues. First, I shall set out the unique nature and structure of the Welsh commercial fishing industry. Secondly, I shall highlight some of the concerns that have been raised with me about the UK Government’s trade policies. Finally, I shall implore the Government to give coastal communities, and fishermen and women throughout Wales, the tangible assurances that they deserve.
The Welsh fishing fleet, which consists of approximately 400 vessels, operates in some of the most challenging environments. Not only does it face hostile sea conditions, but it must operate within a low quota of 100 tonnes a year for fish covered by the total allowable catch regulations. The adaptable and hardy Welsh fishing industry has adapted to those conditions, focusing much of its attention on non-TAC species including sea bass, about which we have heard a great deal this afternoon, and significant amounts of shellfish, but it walks a fine line. One fisherman told me that his family lived hand to mouth, not knowing from one month to the next whether they would be able to meet their financial obligations.
The Welsh Fishermen’s Association has drawn my attention to some striking analysis which underlines the precariousness of the Welsh fishing fleet’s position. If there were a mere four weeks of delays in our current trading relationships, the Welsh fishing fleet would be in danger of collapse, and a delay of six weeks would cause catastrophic business failures throughout the sector. That takes me to my next point: the trade issues that are at the forefront of Welsh fishermen’s minds.
Our small-scale fleet trades widely in a dynamic market of live and therefore perishable products. Tariff barriers will of course have a huge impact on their viability, but, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), non-tariff barriers could be just as devastating, if not more so. Trade in live or fresh food produce is a tricky business at the best of times, but customs checks and additional delays in the process of trade will cause the value of the produce to deteriorate, which will render trade unviable and, in certain circumstances, impossible. By gambling away our existing trade relationship with the EU, we risk the creation of customs checks and a raft of non-tariff barriers. Empty rhetoric about “frictionless trade” is meaningless to the coastal communities who are peering over the edge of the hard-Brexit cliff that the Government have created.
I will not apologise for repeating, once again, a simple solution to the problem: retaining membership of the customs union and the single market. If the Welsh fishing industry is decimated, as it might well be if the Government carry on as they are, investment will be drained from coastal communities such as those in Ceredigion. They are already hard hit, and this money is unlikely to return to them.
I urge the UK Government to reconsider their position on the customs union and single market, as that would safeguard the viability of the Welsh fishing industry. I also echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan): the UK Government’s pursuit of future markets and trade deals must not come at the expense of today’s fishing fleet. A fishermen I spoke to asked a disarmingly simple but extremely pertinent question: “There may be opportunities somewhere in the intangible distance, but if there is no fleet left by the time we get there, what is the point?”
Yesterday my colleague the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) and the former Minister for Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland met the Minister to discuss the forthcoming meetings. It is always good to see the Minister in his place; he is a friend of the fishermen and there is no better person to speak on our behalf in this Chamber.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has a five-step plan. I do not have time to go into that in detail, but the federation mentions in its brief:
“A house divided amongst itself will fall.”
This House today is united: all parties and Members are working together behind our Minister.
While the devolution of fishing is necessary for the fine-tuning of everyday issues, there is also a wish among the industry for pragmatism and, where appropriate, maintaining a United Kingdom-wide policy framework, particularly on licensing and the trade of quota. It does not serve the Northern Ireland, Scottish, English or Welsh fishing industries well when barriers in the form of temporary moratoriums are erected around the transfer of quota units within the United Kingdom or restrictions are placed on the port of registration of licensing administration.
A confusing picture is emanating from Ireland, typified by evidence provided by Irish fishing industry representatives to the Irish Parliament’s Brexit Committee during a hearing on 24 January 2017. During that session, contributors stated that up to 70% of mackerel and nephrops annually caught by Ireland’s fishing fleet was taken from UK waters. It seems it was all right for them and other EU fishermen to draw a blank fisheries cheque from UK waters, but not for others to draw such cheques from Irish waters. I put that marker down, to go on the record in Hansard.
Northern Ireland fishermen are looking east to the rest of the UK for their future, not to the south, and certainly not to the EU. They expect that the wrongs imposed on them by the common fisheries policy, typified by the application of The Hague preference quota regime, will be righted. For our fishermen, removal of the preference is a red line.
It may be convenient for the Irish Government to blame the UK’s withdrawal from this convention as a reason for not progressing their Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, but the fact is that their minds were made up beforehand to erect a hard border against fishermen from Northern Ireland, as a tactic to secure future access arrangements for the Irish fleet to British waters, on which, as mentioned, they heavily depend. It is with regret that we conclude the time has come to withdraw from the voisinage agreement, and we urge the Minister to act on this matter soon.
The Minister is well-versed on the issues surrounding the need for non-UK crew. The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland ran a recruitment drive for 150 crew for local fishing vessels. There were 30 expressions of interest in the positions from across the EU. Some 19 candidates were invited to interview, and only six attended for interview, with five of them being offered positions after sea survival training. So 145 places are left in Northern Ireland. I commend the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), who have spoken on this matter. The process we have is not working, and we need to do more on this.
I ask the Minister also to remember the long-term cod management plan and ensure that the sea cod TAC is kept for us and increased across Northern Ireland. I also stress the importance of nephrops to my constituency of Strangford and the villages and fishermen of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel.
These are key stocks for Northern Ireland, as well as the Minister’s constituents in the south-west of England, yet it seems that, against a background of much better news from the Irish sea, the European Commission continues to find something to create discontent and upset. This kind of arm-twisting is unacceptable. There will be a better future for our fishermen, and the December 2017 Agriculture and Fisheries Council should offer a first step in that direction.
This is the first time that I have taken part in the annual fishing debate, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to sum up for the Scottish National party. Although I was born in Aberdeen and have lived most of my life there, before I was five I lived in Gamrie, which is also known as Gardenstown, near Banff in the north-east of Scotland. That little community has historically been dominated by fishing and continues to be so to this day. My great-great-grandfather, John Murray, was killed while fishing, at the age of 34, during the first world war. My grandfather—my “granda”—John West, was the skipper of the Banff-registered May Lily, a 70-foot trawler that went out from Gamrie. He skippered that vessel from 1968 to 1975, having been on it for a number of years before that. The fishing history is strong in my family, particularly on my dad’s side.
It was a very different landscape back then; people had very different attitudes. The boats were much smaller, and people stayed on one fishing boat for much longer than they perhaps do nowadays. Things have moved quite significantly, particularly since the 1970s, but even in recent years there has been a significant change. One of the big changes in recent years has been the increase in sustainability. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) mentioned cod stocks, and the reason for the increase in sustainability is the better management of the fishing stocks. We are able to look at this scientifically and sustainably to ensure that the stocks continue to grow so that we can ensure the future of the fishing industry for the long term in the north-east of Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom. In the UK, 65% of the tonnage of fish landed by UK vessels is landed by Scottish vessels. Over 50% of all fishing jobs in the UK are in Scotland, as are 56% of the jobs involved in going out fishing, rather than in the processing side.
The SNP has regularly raised a number of concerns about the way in which the UK deals with fishing. The deficiencies of the common fisheries policy have been raised by my colleagues and by other Members across the House today, but we have particular concerns about the way in which the UK decides to divvy up the quotas. The North sea whiting top-slice continues to be a major concern to us. Allowing English coastal communities to have more for their 10-metre-and-under inshore vessels is disadvantaging Scottish fishermen. The Scottish Government have been absolutely consistent in their criticism of that policy, and we will continue to be so.
Another thing that my colleagues have mentioned is the UK’s swap package, particularly in relation to blue whiting. That continues to be a concern for us as well. We cannot be swapping with Norway and not getting back what our fishermen fish. We have been consistent in our criticism of the way in which the UK Government have prioritised the fishing industry. It is incredibly important in the north-east of Scotland. It is not that we want to see less priority being given to fishermen in English coastal communities; we want to see more priority given to those who are trawling for white fish in particular in the north-east of Scotland and across the whole of Scotland. That is another major concern.
A number of Members have talked about Brexit. I want to mention the new port and the refurbishments that have been done at the port in Peterhead. More than £5 million of the money that went into the new port came from the European Union, and a further £6 million came from the Scottish Government to improve the port at Peterhead. I understand that the new fish market is under way, and is looking very positive. However, that could not have been done in the same format without the European money that we have received, and we would like some clarity from the Minister as to what will replace it. What will he do to ensure that our fishing industry is fit for the future, particularly in relation to the critical infrastructure that is needed? Peterhead is an amazing port that lands a significant proportion of the fish that is landed across the United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that we can continue to have the curve on them.
In more Brexit-related issues, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who introduced the debate, talked specifically about trading with France, but few people seem to realise how much we export to France, which is the destination for 27.5% of our fish exports. It is therefore incredibly important for our fish processors and fishermen and for everybody involved in the fishing industry that we have a trade deal with France, and therefore the whole European Union, that allows us to export that amount with few hold-ups at customs and that does not have the 7% to 11% tariffs that we would see under WTO rules, which would be a major problem. As has been mentioned already, leaving the single market will cost the industry about £42 million, which is an incredible amount of money.
My last point is about the Government’s prioritisation of looking at the industries that will be hit by Brexit. I am unsure of their level of prioritisation, but the little prioritisation that they are doing seems to be concentrated on industries that offer a particularly high tax take for the Treasury, such as the finance and car industries. I want them to look a little more at the communities that will be decimated by the loss of a certain industry, such as fishing, and to prioritise on that basis as well.
We have had an excellent debate this afternoon ahead of the annual December Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. I start by thanking all those who have taken part in this thoughtful and considered discussion, which saw representations that reflect the diverse fishing activity that is happening all over our country. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who secured this debate, for her characteristically insightful speech—I know that this policy area is close to her heart. I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), because there have been tragedies at sea since last year’s debate. I send our thoughts to those who have lost loved ones and to those who have been injured at sea, particularly the friends and family of the crew of the fishing vessel Solstice. I ask the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) to send our condolences back to her constituency following the tragedy that she shared with us. I join all those who paid tribute to the RNLI for its incredible work and to organisations, including the Fishermen’s Mission, who do so much to support the wellbeing of not only those who spend their lives fishing at sea, but their families.
In anticipation of this debate, I looked back in Hansard at last year’s discussion. This is the second fisheries debate since the referendum, yet many of the questions that hon. Members from across the House were asking in December 2016 are still being asked a year on. In the past 12 months, we do not seem to have moved any closer to clarity on what a post-Brexit fisheries policy will mean for our fishing communities up and down the country. While there is diversity and robust adaptability within the UK fishing fleet, which have allowed it to weather both rough seas and changing political landscapes, people’s fears about and aspirations for a post-Brexit policy depend on where they are in the country and what is being fished. Last week, the Labour party launched a consultation on fishing ahead of the upcoming fisheries Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, to ensure that those with an interest can have a say in that process, and I am looking forward to going through those submissions.
The rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has driven expectations for a significant uplift in economic activity in the fishing sector, which we are all keen to see, so the challenge now is how and when he proposes to deliver it. I hope the Minister can update the House today on what progress has been made to prepare the UK to become an independent coastal state and on where fishing currently features in the Brexit negotiations. When this country leaves the EU in March 2019, what will be the framework for agreeing the total allowable catches as a means of managing fish stocks that we share with neighbouring countries? Despite his tough taking-back-control narrative, the Secretary of State apparently told the Danish market back in August that
“boats from EU countries will still be able to operate in UK waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone.”
Like most of the fishing industry, I am keen to see the evidence upon which he based that policy decision. Will the Minister explain to us how that system would be managed, who would have access to our waters, and what the mechanism will be for agreeing allocations of quota to vessels from the rest of the EU?
In addition to the question of our waters and access, the other area of uncertainty for the fishing industry is trade, which has come up many times today. Although the level of dependence on the European market varies by sector, up to 85% of our crab, lobster and prawns are sold into Europe. We will need the freest possible trade with our neighbours if we are to satisfy the demand from European consumers for our top-quality shellfish. The point has already been made—including in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who represents a constituency with a thriving fish processing sector—that, when dealing with fresh produce, financial barriers are not the only challenge, and ensuring there are no delays that could compromise the smooth and timely movement of fish across borders will be essential if we are to maintain our existing routes to markets outside the UK.
That was made clear to me when I met fishermen in North Shields with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who represented his local fishing community admirably this afternoon. I thank him for his kind remarks, which were certainly kinder than the remarks I heard when I worked under him in the Opposition Whips Office.
It is reassuring that there is firm common ground between the fishing industry, conservationists, recreational fishers and consumers alike that a sustainable approach to a new fishing policy is the only game in town. For a sustainable approach to work, we need two things: we have to get the science right if we are to have confidence in managing fish stocks responsibly; and we have to have a means of robustly enforcing that approach. With that in mind, I am concerned to see that the number of fishing vessels inspected by the fishery protection squadron has fallen from 1,400 in 2011-12 to just 278 in 2016-17. Does the Minister agree that, for all the technological developments, which I certainly welcome, the ability to board a vessel and inspect the operations on board will be essential if we are to manage fish stocks sustainably? I hope the Minister will indicate how he envisages the future of fisheries enforcement to work post-Brexit and confirm that the fishery protection squadron will be resourced to carry out its objectives effectively.
Another issue that came up time and again as I visited coastal towns is the failure to attract the next generation into fishing. If we are to capitalise on an increased quota that drives economic activity and job creation in our coastal towns, we will need a new approach to training. The Whitby fishing school explained to me some of the difficulties of securing funding for courses. The school finds it incredibly difficult to deliver courses that both truly equip young people to work at sea and tick the relevant boxes to secure funding for that training, so it has asked the Government to reflect on whether the framework in place for delivering apprenticeships and training programmes is fit for purpose in attracting and retaining the fishermen and women of tomorrow.
On funding and infrastructure, the European maritime and fisheries fund has facilitated crucial strategic investment that has helped to support jobs and promote sustainability. For the benefit of those planning bids for investment in their area over the coming years, such as the fish quay in North Shields, will the Minister provide further information on the plans in place for replacing the fund? I am keen to hear his response to the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on infrastructure to support aquaculture.
On conservation, there is renewed public awareness of the need for action to preserve our marine environment as a result of David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II”, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said in his powerful speech—my right hon. Friend has always used his experience to be a real champion of responsible fish management. More than 10 million people are tuning in to watch every week and, as anyone who has seen the show will appreciate, there could be no better showcase for our marine life, demonstrating just how visually stunning yet incredibly vulnerable it is.
We are proud of our record in government, and of introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We included bold commitments in our manifesto ahead of this year’s general election. The Minister will be aware of the blue belt pledges, which include the goals of establishing a marine protected area around the South Sandwich Islands in 2018 and of delivering on the commitment to establish a fully protected area in at least 50% of Ascension Island’s waters in 2019. I hope he will reaffirm his commitment to conservation and express Government support for such an initiative.
Marine protection and fisheries management are two sides of the same coin. If we get it right and set the standard both domestically and in our waters around the world, we can secure a flourishing marine environment and a strong and profitable fisheries sector. It is fair to say that the need for certainty from the Government is a theme that has run throughout the contributions today. On many of the biggest questions faced by the fisheries sector, although hopes are certainly high, we are still in the dark on much of the detail. There are plenty of opportunities for our fishermen and women and those in related sectors as we leave the EU, but what we desperately need to see from this Government is the road map outlining just how we deliver on them.
That having been said, may I take this opportunity to wish the Minister all the very best for the upcoming Council meeting? We all have an vested interest in it going well and we all have our fingers crossed that he is a better negotiator with our European neighbours than perhaps some of his colleagues.
I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her good wishes for us at the upcoming negotiations. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and the all-party group on fisheries on securing this annual debate. It takes place at a crucial time, because every year in November and December we have a series of important fisheries negotiations, and this will be the fifth year I attend the December Fisheries Council. It is also crucial because of the context: the fact that we are leaving the EU and working on future domestic fisheries policy, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out.
Fishing, aquaculture and fish processing is an incredibly important industry for this country, contributing £1.5 billion to our economy and employing 33,000 people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) pointed out the great potential for aquaculture, and we have seen some fantastic results in the Scottish salmon industry —this is one of our great exports. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss his thoughts and proposals to take that forward in his constituency. The catching sector is also vital to many of our coastal communities, as the sheer number of contributions we have heard today attests. We have heard contributions from Members from Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and the east coast, and from those on the channel. We have heard from Members from right around our country—[Interruption.] Sorry, have I missed one?
And Devon—we always miss out Devon and Cornwall, as the hon. Gentleman knows. This industry has vital significance to our coastal communities, but we also know that this is a dangerous occupation. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall suffered a very personal tragedy in this regard, and I pay tribute to the work she has done since on issues such as marine safety. In 2017, five fishermen lost their lives, and our thoughts are with all those families affected.
In today’s debate, we have heard some personal accounts of people who have experienced tragedy in their own constituencies, including from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who talked about a memorial in his constituency, and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), who gave a personal account of one of her ancestors who suffered a tragedy in this area.
I turn now to this year’s negotiations. The first thing to note, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) pointed out, is that a series of negotiations take place at this time of year. For Scotland, and for constituencies such as Orkney and Shetland, and Banff and Buchan, the negotiations that really matter, perhaps more than any other, are the annual EU-Norway bilateral negotiations. This year, we have seen some positive outcomes from those negotiations, which concluded in Bergen last week, with the discard ban uplifts being included, as these stocks are now at the maximum sustainable yield—MSY. For example, we are seeing increases in cod of 10% and in haddock of 24%, as well as an increase in whiting and, for the first time in some time, a significant increase in herring.
Also taking place at the moment are the annual coastal states negotiations, which include other neighbouring countries not in the EU, such as the Faroes, Iceland and even Russia. There was a third round of those negotiations yesterday. There was a sticking point with Russia over Atlanto-Scandian herring, so those negotiations are ongoing, but the emerging point of significance for the Scottish industry in particular is that we have limited the cut on mackerel to about 20%, in order to do a staged reduction to ensure that we keep the stock at MSY. That follows several years when there has been a very positive outlook for these stocks.
I turn to the December Council next week. For 2017, 29 of the 45 quota stocks in which the UK has an interest are now at MSY, and it remains an absolute priority for the Government to try to progress more stocks to MSY next year, in 2018. This year, for the first time in many years, we have seen a more positive outlook with regard to the Irish sea. In particular, the scientific advice on nephrops is more positive, and we believe it may therefore be possible to get area VIIa nephrops to MSY sooner than anticipated. The science also supports significant uplifts for cod and haddock, albeit from a low base.
There is positive news on the east coast and the eastern channel for skates and rays, which is particularly important for some of our south-coast fishermen, with the science supporting an increase there and with no new evidence that we are likely to see a roll-over in the Celtic sea.
Will the Minister give way?
I am going to carry on because I want to cover as many issues as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) pointed out that the Celtic sea remains challenging. We are doing some mixed fishery analysis there, but the gadoid fishery, with whiting, cod and haddock, continues to create challenges and we are working with our scientists to address them.
There have been other changes this year. For the first time, the Commission is keen to progress a prohibition on the landing of eel. The UK has signalled that we support that, but we do not believe that marine catch should be the only area we look at; we have to look at the impacts on eels inshore as well.
As several hon. Members pointed out, we anticipate that bass will again be a controversial issue this year. Three years ago, as Fisheries Minister, I pushed for emergency measures for bass because the stock is in a precarious state. We secured that and I have tried since to ensure that the Commission gets the balance right between the actions it takes on recreational anglers and those they take on commercial fishing. We argued last year that there should be a lower catch limit for the hook-and-line commercial fishermen to create the headroom to give more leeway for recreational anglers. I will make a similar argument this year, but the scientific evidence has not been benchmarked to take account of the measures that have already been introduced, so the right thing to do might be to review the bass situation properly in March and we will point that out.
A number of hon. Members have talked about future policy. Everyone will be aware that it is our intention and plan to introduce a fisheries Bill in this Session. Early next year, we will publish more detailed proposals for that Bill, which we anticipate will be introduced during the course of the year, probably before the summer. The Bill will set out very clearly our approach, which is that when we leave the European Union we will become an independent coastal state under international law. We will take control of our exclusive economic zone, which is out to 200 miles or the median line. From that point, we will work with our neighbours to agree issues such as access and quota shares. The hon. Member for Halifax asked what the basis of those quota allocations would be. We are looking at the issue of zonal attachment, which most people recognise is the fairest way to do such things.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall asked whether we have historical catch data. We do. As she pointed out, the UK catches about 100,000 tonnes of fish a year in EU waters, and EU vessels catch some 750,000 tonnes in our waters, so there is an imbalance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited the Faroe Islands to discuss its approach. Our view is that the six to 12-mile zone should be predominantly reserved for UK vessels, to keep that fishing pressure down. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, however, there are issues such as Ireland and voisinage agreement, to which we are committed and which we support.
The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) argued that we would lose influence by leaving the EU. I understand his argument, but I do not agree with it. The truth is that at the moment our influence in the EU is limited to the technocratic size of our qualified majority vote, and we are frequently unable to get the changes we support for the pro-science conservation measures we want. When we leave the EU, our influence will be defined by the scale of our fisheries resource and the need of all those other European countries to have access to it. In future there will be a bilateral UK-EU annual fisheries negotiation, and the UK will be in a stronger position.
I apologise to those Members whose points I have not been able to address. Many other points were raised, but I hope they appreciate that time is short and I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall an opportunity to reply.
We have heard 18 speeches by Back Benchers from all around the coast. I thank colleagues very much. I am sure that the Minister has got the message. I have one more for him: please do not sacrifice access to resources because you think you might get access to the market.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UK fishing industry.