I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Inshore Fishing Fleet.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I should declare my interest as treasurer of the all-party parliamentary group on shellfish aquaculture and point the House towards my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
There can be no more picturesque sight than that of our fishermen going about their day’s work, and for residents of and visitors to south Devon’s coastal communities, it is a regular occurrence to see nets cast, pots raised, boats launched and catches landed. That is undoubtedly a familiar view across the coastline of the United Kingdom, and one that presumably has changed very little—with the exception of new technologies—over the past few centuries.
I shall focus my remarks on the inshore fishing fleet, which I am defining as vessels generally below 24 metres within the 12-nautical-mile limit, and based on the value of the vessel and gear type. I am fully aware that there is no specific definition of the inshore fishing fleet, and that one of the few benefits of the common fisheries policy was not to provide an exact explanation or definition, but to include a 10-metre dividing line for vessels under that, which were removed from having sizeable administrative burdens placed upon them. Colleagues might wish to expand on that definition.
As ever, I believe that there is significant opportunity for our coastal communities to do more for our fishermen, and levelling up is about not just creating new opportunities, but shoring up existing and established sectors such as the fishing industry. If there is to be any purpose to the debate, it is to raise awareness and to call for greater clarity and co-operation between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Marine Management Organisation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities—the IFCAs—and our fishermen, as well as to highlight the legitimate concerns held by the sector about some of the new regulations, requirements and technologies that are being foisted on this noble industry.
It is absolutely not too late to make the changes necessary to enable us to enhance confidence and certainty. If successful, the Government would have simple wins that helped to create jobs, investment and opportunity across the UK’s coastal communities, as well as fulfilling part of the national food strategy and achieving some of their core levelling-up objectives.
From the outset, I should make it clear that I consider the Minister’s efforts on behalf of us coastal MPs exemplary. She has displayed typical patience and tolerance towards me, and I suspect others, and my weekly—if not daily—questions and inquiries on behalf of the fishermen of south Devon. There is cross-party support for and consensus on her hard work and determination to see the sector flourish, so today’s debate, and the attendance of right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, should only strengthen her arm. I hope she will listen carefully to the suggestions that we make.
I am going to tackle four areas, and for Members who might want to intervene, this is the order in which I shall do so: first, the fuel crisis; secondly, the MCA under-15-metres code; thirdly, the spatial squeeze; and, fourthly, the catch app and the inshore vessel monitoring system.
The fuel crisis is perhaps one of the most serious matters facing our fishing sector. The recently published Seafish impact assessment details the rising impact of fuel prices on the fishing sector. It makes for grim reading and details the step-by-step impact of fuel prices versus the economic viability of UK fishing fleets. After an incredibly difficult two years, this shock increase is only likely to sail more fleets into the red and see them suffer operational losses. The worst-case scenario suggests that two thirds of the UK’s fishing fleets might not be able to cover operational costs by income, and even the most optimistic scenario shows that half the fleet’s operating profits might drop into negative values.
We cannot underestimate the impact that the fuel price crisis will have on our fishing fleets if the Government fail to respond. There are steps that individual vessels and skippers can take—from optimising gear, fishing methods and vessel propulsion systems, to improving maintenance both of vessels and hulls and of engines and auxiliary engines, as well as improving operational husbandry—but that costs money. Businesses might usually be able to ask for or to source investment, but that has been proving incredibly difficult due to high prices, poor returns and a lack of certainty.
Let me make two proposals to mitigate the impact of rising fuel prices on the fishing industry. First, the UK Government and DEFRA have created the UK seafood fund—a fund of £100 million set up to support the long-term future and sustainability of the UK fisheries and seafood sector. This fund should be repurposed without the need for match funding in order to help enhance and retrofit vessels with green technology.
Secondly, the super-deduction scheme, announced in the 2021 Budget, was a stroke of genius and was applicable to fishing operators purchasing new vessels. However, it did not support the retrofitting and upgrading of vessel machinery to make it greener and more fuel efficient, so the scheme ought to be amended in order to help at this difficult time.
Anecdotally, I received a message yesterday from the crew of a trawler based in Brixham, in my constituency, that had just been out on an eight-day voyage. Because of the rising cost of fuel, they returned after eight days with the smallest amount of profit they had made in quite some time, which equated to each of the eight members of the crew earning £32 a day. If we continue in that direction, following that model, our fishing fleets will be totally unsustainable and, at a point when we are worrying about food security, they will not be able to even go to sea to help address the food security crisis we face.
Does my hon. Friend the Minister support the two suggestions I have made, and will she speak to the Chancellor about them? Has her Department explored emergency schemes similar to the European maritime, fisheries and aquaculture fund launched by the European Union, and whether there are any lessons to be learned from that scheme?
Last year, I went to sea on a Brixham trawler, which was an extraordinary opportunity, and I saw at first hand the hard work it takes to provide fine British seafood for our dinner tables. This year, I am set to head out with the Salcombe crabbers to learn more about that sector. Going to sea comes with the most extraordinary risk, and it is absolutely right that we do nothing to reduce the levels and expectation of safety. Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the UK, and in the last 10 years there have been, tragically, 42 deaths on vessels of less than 15 metres.
No one here wants to see any loss of life, and safety and security are vital, but there is a concern about the new MCA safety code, which is causing considerable amounts of consternation and concern for a large number of vessels, skippers, owners and crew. I understand that the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has already raised with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) the need for a review of the code’s implementation. It has raised a number of points that have also been brought to my attention by the likes of Beshlie Pool from the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen, and by fishermen in Dartmouth, Brixham, Salcombe and Torbay. These problems include, but are not limited to, the roll test stability assessment; previously certificated vessels being asked to alter their original design; the time frame in conducting these tests being both lengthy and costly; the language in the code of practice being undeniably complicated and vague; and the engagement of surveyors being poor and failing to reassure those who fear they may lose their jobs, livelihoods and vessels.
There are solutions. The MCA should revise its roll test stability assessment to include either the heel test or the offset load test. Water freeing arrangements should be considered on a risk-based, individual approach by the MCA. The MCA should state a turnaround time for these tests; the NFFO has suggested a week, which I think is perfectly reasonable, as do industry representatives. Improved guidance and consolidated information need to be written so that it can be more easily understood and implemented. Finally, the MCA should train its surveyors to work hand in hand with fishermen to understand that these changes have a significant impact on them and on their jobs. I say again, no one wants to reduce safety at sea, but we must take fishermen with us rather than bamboozle and confuse them with non-sensical generalised tests.
I am positive about the future of fishing in the UK, but I frequently meet angry and depressed fishermen whose mental health is suffering and who, in many cases, are considering packing it all in. It is ironic that with the current expected changes being forced upon us, many fishermen are taking increased risks and working in rougher conditions. That is the exact opposite of the what the MCA code seeks to do. There must be better engagement.
In the Minister’s response to my letter, which I received yesterday and I am grateful for, she mentioned the co-operation the MCA has had on the issue with the main UK fishing federations, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Seafish and the Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association, and that there had been a roadshow consultation. That is all very welcome, but the industry is now pushing back and we would do well to listen to its legitimate concerns.
I know that the matter falls into the brief of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, but what engagement has my hon. Friend the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food had with him on this point? What scope for reform and amendment does she think is available, given the sizeable pushback from the industry? As Members might know, I am very keen to see the Hampton principles adopted at every level of Government, and that we can still maintain safety at sea.
Like so much of the Government’s policy when it comes to the environment, we have an incredibly strong record. We need only look at the fact that 38% of UK waters are now in designated protected areas, which equates to 371 marine protected areas across the UK—to say nothing of the highly protected marine areas that will be identified by the end of this year. Like safety, protecting our coastal waters is not just important but a necessity. Well-managed coastal waters are as effective a carbon sink as anything we might find on land. In fact, I could bore for Britain, Sir Charles, about the role that live bivalve molluscs play in sequestering carbon and cleaning our waters, but I can assure you that that is for another day.
The marine protected areas and highly protected marine areas are now more effective at sequestering carbon, but there are now more carbon capture areas, dredging sites and wind farms, and we will only squeeze our fishermen into smaller and smaller areas, as well as encouraging the intensification of fishing over smaller ranges. There is a unique example of that happening in the North sea, where in 2003 we shut our waters to demersal fishing in order to protect spawning cod. The then Labour Government thought they were doing the right thing in 2003—I am always delighted to point out a Labour Government’s flaws—but scientists at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science thought that they did exactly the opposite. We closed the ranges and, as a result, the cod that we sought to protect was caught immediately after the seasonal closure. The demersal fleet was pushed into another area, where immature fish were caught and subsequently discarded, and the Dutch fleets were pushed into new fishing grounds, where they enacted extensive damage to the biodiversity and ecosystem.
Historical fishing grounds come with a responsibility that fishermen take seriously and understand how to manage. The Government must recognise the real-world consequences of squeezing and shutting down historical grounds, and the impact that this will have not just on the industry but on fish stocks and our ecosystems. The key is to listen to fishermen and to understand that their knowledge is not born out of guesswork; it is a product of daily engagement and understanding, and sometimes it has come about over centuries of working in the sector.
I agree with the NFFO that we should conduct a careful, site-by-site analysis of how conservation objectives for each site could be achieved while minimising the impacts on the fishing industry; that we must ensure closer dialogue with those who would be affected by management measures; that we need to implement close collaboration in the design of those measures; and that we have to maintain an adaptive approach. If we squeeze our fishing grounds into small areas, we will only send our inshore fishing fleets further out, thereby facing greater danger, rising costs and diminishing fishing grounds.
Does the Minister recognise that Scotland has found the right balance in this area? We can learn from its example in this instance—that is not something I thought I would be saying, but it is true. Does the Minister also recognise that, in some MPAs and HPMAs, fishing can assist the enhancement of biodiversity and carbon sequestration? What exemptions could be allowed to see fishing operations—perhaps in the aquaculture sector—take place in those areas?
Technology is a great leveller. We might groan and complain about the advancements, but who among us has not seen it improve our lives? Now is the time for the fishing sector. Both the inshore vessel monitoring system and the catch app have been well voiced for both the positive and the negative. On the positive side, I recognise the value of these systems. Ultimately, the technology will help improve our data and allow us to maintain our arguments about the responsibility and manner in which our fishermen look after our waters. That technology should not be feared, but embraced where necessary and when sensible.
I happen to believe that the technology is highly relevant for vessels over 10 metres. However, I am totally unsure about why the Government and the MMO are pushing for the smallest vessels—those under 10 metres—to install this technology. Open-deck vessels that are launched from beaches run the risk of having their equipment stolen, as the devices are fitted and not portable. The issues with signalling that we all experience across our coastal communities are already proving difficult, and mean that these fishermen fear inadvertently breaking the law and run the risk of fines if they accidently get it wrong. We forget that, across the country, these are not large-scale operations but individuals and their boats. We must ensure that we are working with them and listening to them. With regard to the IVMS technology, will the Minister please offer an exemption to boats under 10 metres before the August deadline? Not only is the technology expensive but, given the sporadic fishing schedule of the under-10s, IVMS offers neither good data nor value for money. As I have said, the only good part of the CFP was perhaps the exemption of under-10s from burdensome requirements.
On the subject of money, I understand that now there is only one approved supplier of the IVMS technology and that prices have been inflated grossly. The Government have offered £650 for the equipment and installation but, all too often, installation is not covered by the grant we are now offering. So, to my final questions: first, does the Minister recognise that the prices have been inflated and that installation costs are frequently being added to the £650, and what might we be able to do about that?
Secondly, on enforcement, I understand that the data collected will be interpreted by the local IFCAs, but that there is no national standard or procedure in place to ensure that they act appropriately, proportionately and consistently in their use of data. Will the Minister clarify that and say that there is a national response?
On the catch app, I wrote recently to the MMO about the need to address some of the concerns. From the response I have had from Mr Michael Coyle, it now seems that we have a system that will allow people to enter their catch to the port nearest to where they land—rather than the actual port, if it is not listed in the app—and that will accept a 10% margin of tolerance and record the data offline and transmit when back in signal. Those are positive steps, which provide some reassurance to people who were deeply worried that they will be penalised and fined. Simple though it may sound, we must improve communication and ensure that the MMO, DEFRA and fishermen work together in a collaborative manner that reassures them all.
I am often accused of speaking only about fishing, and I am sorry not to have disabused people of that view, but I am proud of the fishing community in my patch. I see their value and what they achieve in south Devon. I know that they have an enormous opportunity in the role they have to play in levelling up our coastal communities and ensuring that jobs, investment, training and skills can all come in the right direction in the right place.
I suspect that your patience with me has worn out, Sir Charles, so I will leave you with a final cast: our land and seas can look after us, but only if we listen to those who know it best, those who for centuries have toiled the land and sailed the seas. Now, at a time of great need, we would do well to place our faith and support in those who can address the many challenges that we face.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Sir Charles.
I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for introducing the debate. If success were measured in words per minute, there would be no problems left for fishing. I endorse many of the points he made and will repeat them. I suspect that there will be cross-party agreement on many of the concerns and, indeed, many of the suggestions as to how those can be addressed.
I am worried that fishing is facing a perfect storm. A series of problems are coalescing and forcing fishers—[Interruption.] Good luck to Hansard recording Siri making an intervention on my phone. I worry that the problems that fishers are experiencing are compounding and coalescing to be more and more difficult. They are not only making their lives harder, but making the future of fishing, in particular from small boats—the under-10s, the inshore fleet—much harder.
We must acknowledge that massive pressure from both the cost of living crisis, to which fishers are prone given the cost of fuel, and the difficulties in using inadequate technology. The Minister knows my view on the catch app: it has been a disaster to date. Progress is welcome, but it is not yet enough. IVMS costs, as well as other costs faced by fishers, are making fishing trips less profitable. Furthermore, not enough is being done to get British-caught fish into British supermarkets. We have had that debate before, and we will no doubt have it again. We need to get to the point where fish caught by British fishers and landed in British ports can be sold with the same celebration and flag waving that we get for British beef in the meat aisle at British supermarkets. That is currently absent from the fish aisle.
Fishing matters. It matters in my constituency, in the south-west and, looking at the geographical spread represented by Members across the Chamber, in every part of our country. In the patch that I represent, there are 1,000 jobs in fishing, but in my past five years of being an MP, I have never seen more fishers concerned about their future and about whether they will stay in the trade. There has always been a fair amount of banter down the pub with fishers about the success of the industry and what is going right, but I am seeing more deeply worried faces. I would like to speak briefly about those people, because I am really concerned that many fishers across the country are now at a crisis point.
Paul Gilson, chairman of the NFFO, said that
“a very large number of fishers are deeply depressed”
and that many are now on suicide watch. Our fishers work tirelessly—day in, day out—to feed us, and they have families to support in a difficult economic climate. They were promised a better system post Brexit, but that has not been delivered. Fishers in our inshore fishing fleet are feeling neglected, and many are not only thinking about their future, but are worried that there is no way out and no end in sight. That should worry each and every one of us, and it is why we must not continue to let down our fishing communities.
When the Minister gets to her feet, I would like her to set out how she can work to make sure more British fish is sold. We need to make sure, recognising the export difficulties that the botched Brexit deal has created, that more of the fish landed here is sold locally in our supermarkets. That is an opportunity to cut carbon, promote British jobs and celebrate the high-quality fish and fishing methods we have in our country. I have made that case to Ministers in debate after debate—as, indeed, have Government Members—but I have still not seen any progress, and the lack of a strategy in the food strategy announced yesterday does not fill me with confidence that there is a plan to get more British fish on to our tables.
I agree with the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) about the catch app: it needs to be replaced with something that actually works. The improvements are welcome but, my word, they have been painful to wring out. My real concern is that those improvements are often made without the involvement of fishers, who are having to choose between going to sea to try to earn a day’s living and working with the Government in daytime consultations. There is a real problem there, and that needs to change.
The Minister knows of my concerns around I-VMS, which the hon. Member for Totnes also spoke about, but the final point I want to raise is about safety. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch annual report for 2021 shows an increase in commercial fishing incidents. During 2021, 89 casualties were reported to the MAIB, six fishing vessels were lost, and there were 10 fatalities to crew—the highest annual figure in a decade. We need to have a more comprehensive approach to vessel stability and to ensure that every single fisher wears a lifejacket with a personal locator beacon.
Thank you very much, Sir Charles; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. This debate is timely, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing it. It is an honour to speak up today on behalf of an industry that served my family well for 24 and a half years until the death of my husband, Neil Murray, because of an accident aboard our Cygnus 33 inshore trawler in March 2011. I hope I can bring that human element to this debate.
I apologise to the Minister and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), as well as to you, Sir Charles, for my early departure, which is due to a meeting about an important constituency matter—no discourtesy is meant. I will have to leave before the conclusion of the winding-up speeches, but I hope you will forgive me. I promise to catch up with the closing remarks as soon as I can.
During my time as a fisherman’s wife, the industry provided my family with a comfortable living. There were lean times, and sometimes we had to make personal sacrifices in favour of boat repairs, but as a family we accepted those sacrifices because, like most inshore fishermen, male and female, the owners and skippers who put to sea do so because it is a job they love. Throughout my whole marriage, I kept the boat’s accounts. That involved submitting VAT returns, and sometimes being asked by my fisherman husband why I had not included the receipts that were screwed up in the inside pocket of his jacket. I also dealt with the purchase negotiations for our replacement vessel, so I understand all the stresses and strains under which these hard-working men and women operate to bring their fish to our table.
So many people connected with our great industry hated the common fisheries policy, and saw the vote to leave the EU and the CFP as their salvation. I shared their disappointment when we did not get the promised deal. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries, I refer to a report that we recently published and pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for taking the lead on it. The six recommendations are particularly pertinent to the inshore fleet. They are that we should:
“Ensure that quotas are distributed and managed more fairly…Implement…restrictions on non-UK fishing fleet access to UK waters…sooner than 2026…Ensure effective and inclusive management of UK stocks…Implement measures to increase the efficiency and reduce the costs of exporting…Work with the EU to free up trade and remove regulatory and financial barriers…Invest in infrastructure and new markets both at home and abroad.”
The NFFO has concerns that are particularly relevant to our inshore fishermen. Many inshore vessels are not able to migrate to other fishing grounds in the same way as larger vessels, although they do venture beyond the 12-mile limit. Our own vessel, “Our Boy Andrew” did have bunks, and my late husband would stay at sea for a two-day trip, but these vessels do not lend themselves to longer trips. Of course, that does mean that fresh, high-quality, day-caught fish is available on the market, which can realise a higher market price.
A fairer share of quota is essential for inshore vessels. My late husband used to take scientists to sea with him. He was in the minority. Interaction between scientists and fishermen is improving, but greater collaboration must be encouraged. The catch app is used by about 90% of fishermen, but there is room for improvement, and it is essential that the MMO works with the fishermen to make improvements.
I-VMS will be an important way of defending the most important fishing grounds and activities against outside pressures, but new technology must be adapted to fit the conditions found aboard small vessels, particularly open-deck vessels. I know that some electronic monitoring can have a safety impact. My late husband’s boat was fitted with a class B automatic identification system and without it his boat may never have been found. That is a point I constantly make.
There is also competition for space from offshore windfarms and marine protected areas. I know that the Minister is listening intently to the debate, and I ask her to ensure that she works with the industry between now and 2026 to ensure that at least our six and 12-mile limits are restricted to UK fishermen.
Diolch yn fawr. It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing the debate.
Vessels under 10 metres compose over 92% of the Welsh fishing fleet, and fishers in Wales are historically dependent on shellfish, crustacea and non-quota species, such as bass. Indeed, the town of Nefyn where I live was once so famous for its herring catch that its people were known as penwaig Nefyn—penwaig being herring in Welsh—and its coat of arms is three silver herring set on a blue background. Sadly, perhaps as a message to us, the herring catch collapsed in the middle of the last century, even though herring remain on the town’s coat of arms.
While the greater part of fishery matters is devolved to the Senedd and managed by the Welsh Government, the key role of the UK Government in negotiating quotas and in interventions such as the UK seafood fund behoves me to stand here and argue the case for Wales’s communities, where fishing was historically of immense importance and where fishers still need support in the here and now to grow an environmentally sustainable and locally rooted food-producing industry in the future.
Let me summarise the present issues. The first is the markets. I am told that the cost of living crisis is knocking consumer confidence and affecting leisure activities, such as eating in restaurants, particularly for high-value produce, such as lobsters and crabs. That is having a direct effect on some of the fishermen local to me. There is also the fact that we still cannot sell mussels and other bivalves to EU countries, which again is affecting aquaculture industries. Fuel prices have already been touched on. In rural Wales, prices stand at between £1.90 and £2 per litre. We are very much aware that although there is a standard charge of 57.95p per litre and 20% VAT on top of that, there is still room for the Treasury to do more.
Some 83,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish are caught in Welsh waters annually, but only between 5,000 and 8,000 tonnes are landed by Welsh vessels. Our communities therefore see little economic or social benefit from Welsh fish stocks. The UK Government have made much of the significance of zonal attachment as the basis on which to agree fishing opportunities with the EU. The same principles could well apply to intra-UK allocations. That would help to reduce the overdependency on a small number of species in Wales, thus reducing the risk of overfishing.
It might be argued that the present capacity of the Welsh fleet is insufficient to warrant allocating all quotas located in the geographic region to that cohort of vessels, which does not presently have the capacity to utilise those stocks, but such an approach would be short-termist and serve only to perpetuate Wales’s present disadvantages. One practical solution would be to lease out any surplus from year to year within the developing workforce fleet and infrastructure systematically to maximise the economic benefits for Wales.
Fishery negotiations with the EU resulted in an increase in the number of vessels from France, Belgium and Spain with the right to fish in Welsh waters. Historically, only 10 vessels fished in Welsh waters, but 76 extra vessels now have the right to fish there. To summarise the present issues, the lack of local infrastructure, particularly in Wales, means that we need to develop the means to make the most of the local catch and keep the value local.
I will touch briefly on a few local initiatives that have shown how to face adversity. In Lockdown Lobsters—the name says it all—Siôn Williams of Sarn Meyllteyrn works with a London photographer called Jude Edginton to bring lobsters here and ensure that he still has a market. The Menai Seafood Company of Porth Penrhyn in Bangor was set up by Mark Gray and James Wilson, who have worked together since 2014. Their business, Bangor Mussel Producers, was hit hard by the ban on the export of live bivalves, but they have now set up a really good local business that processes and sells food. Môr Flasus, which sort of translates as “taste of the sea” but plays on the words “so tasty” in Welsh, was launched by Sian Davies and Dyddgu Mair of Nefyn. They serve street food from an Ifor Williams horse trailer, including lobster cooked in Cwrw Llŷn’s Largo lager, which I absolutely recommend—people travel for it.
In the little time I have left, I will suggest some solutions. There should be a rural fuel duty rebate scheme for Wales, because we are hit by the fact that we are within 10 miles of the fuel refineries, but it does not affect the price at the pump. The Welsh Government should have a role in identifying quotas in Wales, which does not happen presently. I suggest that we should have infrastructure improvements to give Wales greater means of processing locally. Finally, what the Crown Estate has done with offshore wind in Scotland has enabled Scotland to invest far more in local infrastructure, and the value of the Crown Estate is going up incrementally because of those developments. Why can we not do that in Wales?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this debate, which is important, particularly because it allows those of us who represent constituencies in the south-west to share our thoughts and feedback with the Minister.
I represent the rural and coastal seat of West Dorset, where we have 45 small fishers and vessels. The impressive biodiversity of our Lyme bay coral garden and our thriving fishing ports go hand in hand in West Dorset thanks to the fisherman of Lyme bay, who have made that work. The Lyme bay fishers have done all that has been asked of them to fish sustainably, but we have a small-scale fleet, and the challenges that they now face to make a living are increasingly difficult, particularly in the light of the huge fuel price increases. The value of their catches remains the same, but gear costs have increased. Those fishing families face the same cost of living challenges as other families.
I do not think that the Minister can pull a magic lever to fix those issues, but fishermen report endless consultations, meetings and additional burdens, such as the catch app, I-VMS, new MCA inspections and so on. Those burdens can and need to be addressed. In West Dorset, we are finding the MCA a bureaucratic nightmare. It holds our fishermen to account against its own questionable or false advice. That is increasingly becoming a problem. I hope that I can count on the Minister’s support to help with some particularly difficult issues in my constituency. Fatigue in the sector is considerable. The sheer scale of bureaucracy is causing real mental health concerns.
Fishers are not a regular stakeholder group. Our fishermen do not work nine to five, so the MMO, the IFCAs and officials in the Minister’s Department can and should do more to make things easier for them. Meetings in the middle of the day and the middle of week do not work, because if the weather is fine, fishers go out to sea. They need to do that to earn their money in these increasingly difficult times. Moving all these meetings to early evenings or weekends would make all the difference to attendance and engagement, and fishers would not be faced with a choice of giving up a day’s pay or making their representations.
West Dorset predominantly has small fishing vessels, not big fishing businesses. These small fishers have no paid representation to attend and speak on their behalf at a level to help inform policy. I understand that having shore-based employees helps, but while the NFFO has lots of advice to offer, it does not necessarily speak on behalf of small fishing vessels such as those in West Dorset. I am proud to represent them in this debate and to offer their voice in this House.
Our Lyme bay fishermen know that these issues have been a weakness, but I am proud that they have collectively pooled together across the four ports, not just in my constituency but in Tiverton and Honiton and further west, to register the Lyme Bay Fishermen’s CIC. It is an important and progressive development that means we can really get their voice heard. I hope that the application of the MMO grant scheme will be recognised and that the importance of similar community interest companies will be recognised to ensure that key developments can move forward.
I urge the Minister to see what the regulators can do to change their way of working, because as small-scale fishers rise to the challenge, regulators should do so as well and should give these new organisations and initiatives time to get up and functioning with the resources that they need.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on introducing this debate on a worthy topic. I am pleased to participate in it to give a Northern Ireland perspective.
Hon. Members will be aware that I represent the fishing village of Portavogie. I was there last Saturday at my advice centre: it was a wonderful day and the sun was shining on the harbour. The place was buzzing with life, which told the story of how important fishing is to Portavogie. I came away realising that many people I have known for years have retired or moved away from fishing because it is no longer financially viable for them. While it was good to be there, it also put the issues into perspective. I also speak for the fishing villages of Kilkeel and Annalong in South Down, whose Member of Parliament happens to speak outside these walls in Parliament Square but will not come in to do his job.
It was explained to me when I raised this topic with the local fishing industry that the vessel monitoring service currently in operation in over 12-metre boats sends a ping every 15 minutes to record vessel activity. That feeds in information about where the boat is and how long it is likely to be fishing. That information benefits the Government in our sustainability obligations, ensuring that we have accurate information to appropriately measure and protect our fishing.
There is an obvious benefit to industry when we have discussions about closed areas, because we can demonstrate and quantify where we are already fishing. Extending to under 12-metre boats would be fine—our fishermen have nothing to hide. However, the fact is that that is an additional cost at a very difficult time. I put that on record because on Saturday I heard how costs are overtaking income. One guy I spoke to said it costs him £2,000 a day in fuel to go out and fish. Another said it had cost him £9,500 in fuel in the last four and a half days that he had fished. The costs are extremely high. The hon. Member for Totnes referred to the cost of fuel, and as always I look to the Minister to see what help can be given to these fishing boats.
Northern Ireland vessels should also receive help and support to take on board this new monitoring obligation. They cannot be forgotten when we determine that subsidies are necessary for new equipment.
Let me move on to the issue of HPMAs. Members may be aware that we do not have any currently, but there is a possibility that we will. Although it is essential that we protect our environment—I believe it is, and that fishermen are committed to that—we must also remember the cost of living and the fact that it is vital to sustain local food production at an affordable rate. It is imperative that we fulfil our environmental obligations while ensuring that there is food in bellies without debt in banks. The balance must be struck correctly. That balance is what every fisherman and fisherwoman is committed to at this time.
While thinking of the environmental obligations, it seems right and proper that I flag something to the Minister, who is always very responsive and understands fishing better than most Ministers—I say that very respectfully to her and to those who were in her place before her. Applications to the UK seafood fund are in place, under the science pillar, to work in partnership with the University of Ulster to monitor the effect of fishing gear on the seabed. That work will have a positive impact on our environment by seeing how we can fish with as little an impact as possible on the seabed. I trust that the Department will look favourably on that exciting and useful proposal. I would love a reply on that from the Minister, if at all possible—if not today, I would appreciate it if she could write to me.
Furthermore, another application is in place to create a state-of-the-art training centre in Portavogie, using infrastructure funds. Again, I make a plea to the Minister on that. I am sure the long list from Alan McCulla and Harry Wick and the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation will be on her table every week. There is also the strategic funding to advance Kilkeel harbour. We need to ensure we have a new breed of fishermen, with the knowledge passed down through generations and an eye to the modernisation of the industry.
As the House looks towards the importance of food security and sustainability, the fishing industry has a vital role to play. In order to reap the harvest, we must first diligently sow, and now is the time to sow a new style of fishing that merges experience and know-how with modern demands. To do that, we must come alongside our fishermen and fisherwomen and build the industry that Europe decimated for so many years. Now is the time to move. Again, I look to the Minister to see how we will do that, confident that she has the answers—we will soon find out about that. The Minister has a commitment to deliver, which is so important. Again, I thank the hon. Member for Totnes for introducing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this debate.
At the outset, I declare an interest, in that I chair REAF—the Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries—which was registered last week as a community interest company. A key objective of REAF is a healthy and vibrant inshore fishing fleet that will not only promote sustainable and responsible stewardship of our fisheries but bring significant economic benefits to coastal communities all around the UK.
I am afraid we have been having debates focused on the inshore fleet for a very long time, yet things never appear to get better. Brexit has, so far, been a missed opportunity, with the failure to secure an exclusive 12-nautical-mile zone to protect the inshore fleet, the saga of paper fish, and the failure to enforce the catch limits for non-quota species for EU vessels. The inshore fleet is currently facing a variety of challenges and there is a serious risk that it will not be around to take up the opportunities that local fisheries management plans can provide. I shall briefly outline some of those challenges.
The regulatory burden is bearing down very heavily on inshore fishermen. It is significant, growing and disproportionate—taking into account the amount of time it takes up and the way it is applied—compared with the regulations for both larger and foreign vessels, and, I suggest, for other sectors, such as farming and retail.
Safety and accurate records are incredibly important, but the introduction of the catch app, I-VMS and over-zealous inspections create an administrative burden and added costs that place businesses at risk and take up an enormous amount of time, which adds to fatigue and exhaustion and makes a long day even longer and fishing an even more precarious and risky occupation. Is it really necessary for inshore fishermen to have to account to the local IFCA, the MMO, DEFRA, local authorities, the MCA and, in some places, Natural England? One REAF recommendation is for the regulatory system to be joined up and not fragmented. Given the Government’s planned reduction in the civil service, now would appear to be an appropriate time for DEFRA to review the current regulatory framework.
As has been mentioned, spiralling fuel costs are crippling the inshore fleet. They are making taking to sea financially non-viable, which means no income for many households. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look into ways of addressing that, perhaps through repurposing the UK seafood fund, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes mentioned, along with his other proposals and those of other colleagues.
Finally, there is concern that the laying of cables to the wind farms off the East Anglian coast is creating electromagnetic fields that are having a significant negative impact on traditional inshore grounds. Research has recently been commissioned, but more work is required, perhaps involving Lowestoft-based CEFAS—the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—to ascertain the full extent of the problem and to come up with solutions. That is encapsulated in the final REAF recommendation, which is to make use of data to manage potential conflicts between fishing and other marine activities.
As I said, we have been here many times before, and there is a worry that a vicious spiral of decline could be self-perpetuating, yet this industry has so much to offer in terms of responsible stewardship of our waters, reviving coastal economies and providing healthy and nourishing food for the nation. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope she will provide for the inshore fleet a route map out of the current malaise and to a vibrant and sustainable future.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing this relevant and important debate. I welcome the Government food strategy, through which, in effect, they want to maximise the supply of homegrown nutritious food. The inshore fleet is absolutely the answer, or part of the answer, to that problem.
We do not have long in this debate and we will never cover all the aspects of fishing that we should cover. In five minutes, I would not have time just to list the coves and ports that people fish from in my constituency, so I will not attempt to do that, but if people ever get the opportunity to come down to Cornwall and go to one of those coves—such as Cadgwith, Coverack or Porthleven —they will see how important the small inshore fleet is to the local community, what a key part of the local economy it is and what a local tourist attraction it is.
There is a danger of us missing an opportunity to harvest the contribution that the inshore fleet makes to good nutritious food. In April, I was privileged to meet inshore fishermen in Cadgwith, Porthleven and Newlyn, which is the fourth biggest port in England—in the UK actually—in terms of the value of fish landed, and what I saw was men who know what it is to work hard to put good food on our table. However, those men were tangled not in nets but in red tape, despite the UK having left the common fisheries policy. Today I want to run through what I learned and suggest some answers.
One issue is reporting catch. Fishermen do not object to good data in support of sustainability. I have never yet met a fisherman who wants to completely exhaust the sea of fish. The impression is, though, that reporting to both the MMO and the inshore fisheries and conservation authority is clunky and duplicative, involving a mixture of hard copy and online data collection. It cannot be beyond DEFRA to sort out the way we ask fishermen to record what they catch.
On safety, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes was right to raise the issue of the under-15 metre safety code. Again, fishermen understand the need for the highest safety levels at sea, but the impression is that the under-15 metre safety code is being applied in a way that gives rise to multiple examples of extreme stress for the inshore fleet. The inspections seem inconsistent and I have met a number of fishermen who believe that changes they have been asked to make risk making their vocation less safe rather than more safe.
There is also the use of technology to consider. We have heard about the roll-out of the inshore vessel monitoring systems. Fishermen I have spoken to are concerned not so much about the principle of I-VMS as about the pace of the roll-out, the ongoing cost of the system and the implications they face if the kit fails and they are grounded because they cannot go to sea to fish legally. The loss of income for a fisherman who already faces restrictions on the number of days they can spend at sea would be significant, if that issue is not properly understood and addressed.
I have a few quick asks. First, I ask for some common sense to be applied to data collection and safety at sea. The Minister is not responsible for safety at sea, but she can support us in our efforts to work with the Department for Transport to ensure that the DFT makes sure that inspections are consistent, coherent and recognise both the enormous knowledge that inshore fishermen have and their years and years of experience of how to keep safe at sea.
I suggest that we scrap IFCAs altogether and instead concentrate marine management and conservation within the Marine Management Organisation. It is bizarre that we are asking fishermen to send similar data to two different places at different times in different formats. That just is not helpful in realising the full potential of our inshore fishing fleet and I suggest it would be a great thing if, as has been hinted at, IFCAs were scrapped completely. I might not be popular with my local council for saying that.
We should also be brave and scrap quotas. A lot of conservationists will be shocked by that, but if we look at the inshore fleet, we see that I am talking about much smaller vessels than those my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes referred to. These vessels do not go to sea very often, because the weather does not suit them—it is not safe for them to go in bad weather. Also, their capacity, their time at sea and how they fish are all very sustainable, so I suggest we could really regenerate our coastal communities, and provide fantastic, healthy food for local communities and for people further afield, if we just let the inshore fleet free and allowed those vessels to fish sustainably.
In the last 15 seconds or so that I have to speak, may I also say that we need to create dedicated areas where these fishermen can fish safely? Across the Lizard peninsula we now have massive freight ships coming through, cutting off the corner of Land’s End and trawling through the fishermen’s kit and making their lives very unsafe.
Thank you very much, Sir Charles, for calling me to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this debate.
Fishing is an important part of the heritage of King’s Lynn in my constituency, where the fishing fleet has been proudly sailing for 700 years. I encourage hon. Members to visit our historic town and I recommend the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, which includes the final remaining cottages of Lynn’s old fishing community in the north end of the town.
Today, King’s Lynn continues to be a busy port, with cockles, shrimps and whelks all being caught in the Wash. However, fishermen are very concerned by the recent decision of the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority—the local IFCA—not to open the cockle fisheries this year. That decision follows the annual cockle survey, which found that
“the stocks in the regulated fishery do not meet the bird-food model threshold and are unable to support a cockle fishery this year”.
That model is Natural England’s model, which uses the oystercatcher population as an indicator of other species. The Eastern IFCA added:
“This is primarily the result of very low spatfalls in 2019 and 2020 and only a moderate spatfall in 2021.”
Of course, as others have already said, maintaining the balance between a sustainable fishing industry and conservation, including for overwintering birds, is essential, particularly at this internationally significant site. However, local fishermen have questioned Natural England’s assessment and the time at which it was made.
Normally, when one fishery is closed, boats will be redirected to the whelk or shrimp fisheries. However, the Eastern IFCA considers that these fisheries are also under pressure and would not be sustainable if there was an increase in what is taken from them. So, redirecting to the whelk or shrimp fisheries is not an option for these fishermen either, which is a further blow for them.
Last week, when the Eastern IFCA met to make its decision, a protest was held in King’s Lynn with fishermen from Lynn and Boston, and support from Cromer and Wells. This is a very worrying time for the local fishermen, who are concerned about the loss of their livelihood and the consequent impact, which would be felt by those who crew the vessels through to those who work in the processing factories. It obviously comes at a time when people are facing higher bills for energy and other products, which the Chancellor has sought to mitigate with targeted support.
I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister to highlight this situation and the implications for local fishermen. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), I met the Eastern IFCA, along with the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. Following that meeting, the council is meeting local fishermen to try to assess more fully the impact of the decision not to open the fishery this year and the inability of the boats affected to be diverted to other fisheries.
As others have commented, one of the issues the fishermen have raised is that of communication with IFCA and Natural England. I am sure the Minister shares my view that proper consultation and engagement should be at the core of how both those bodies operate, and much more needs to be done to ensure that there is proper dialogue. That is not happening at the moment, as any of the fishermen on my patch would testify.
This fishing fleet has a proud history, and it is important that the fishermen have confidence in the future, so I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will agree to meet me to discuss the issue, including Natural England’s advice, and how we can assist the fishermen in my constituency at this very concerning time.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Sir Charles, and I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for introducing the debate and for giving kudos to the Scottish Government when that is clearly required, as well as the other Members who have done so. I hope the Minister learns from those rather pointed questions from Members.
It gives me pleasure to sum up a debate on an issue on which I do not think I have addressed the House, although that is not through lack of trying, and I am glad to say that in my constituency neighbour—my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), who is unable to be here today but who has so much of Scotland’s inshore fishing capability based in their extensive and extremely watery seat—those who work in the industry have a doughty and determined advocate. They absolutely need that because, far from being in a sea of opportunity, Scottish inshore fishing communities are collateral to the hardest of Conservative Brexits.
It is apt that we are having the debate in the same week that the Government—at least from my perspective—have unveiled a myopic plan that seeks to break international law and undermine our relationships with the European Union and the United States of America, all in the name of passing a Bill that will undoubtedly make many of us poorer, not least Scotland’s inshore fishing fleet. Some three quarters of Scotland’s registered fishing vessels work inshore, and having previously been the Scottish inshore fisheries group’s secretariat myself, I know only too well that the fleet is diverse and that it includes trawlers, creelers, netters, dredgers, divers and many more.
We saw quite a few years of growth, most of it sustainable, until 2019, but Scotland’s seafood industry has seen an incredible 30% drop in exports to the EU—a perfect demonstration of how Scotland’s food and drink industry has borne the brunt of Brexit. In 2019, some £91 million of langoustine was landed in Scottish harbours, making it the second most valuable seafood stock after mackerel—that is an incredible 43% of global supply, and it is certainly at the top end of the market.
The three largest export markets are Spain, France and Italy, which are all part of the European single market. This is a quality fresh product, and whatever the Government say about an Indo-Pacific tilt or the potential growth in east Asian markets, we are not going to be air-freighting hand-dived Scottish scallops to Shanghai at scale any time soon, and most certainly not in a way that keeps us within our net zero targets.
Members should not just listen to me. Simon Macdonald, chair of the West Coast regional inshore fisheries group, said just last month:
“We’ve had all sorts of problems with Brexit, mostly with the paperwork and the costs of it… They’ve got new health certificates that just came out, which are far more complicated than the ones we had before.”
Macdonald also spoke about shipments being stuck due to new requirements, a delay in the new electronic verification system, the potential for mistakes among a bundle of new paperwork and eye-watering fees of up to £600 per customer order—that is £600 per customer order!
That is an acute issue with Brexit, but the larger issue over time will be chronic as the Scottish seafood industry declines relative to competitors who have free access to the large and dynamic market on our doorstep. Just last week, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs heard from a range of Scottish fishing organisations, which spoke about the range of factors that will inhibit growth in the sector after it gets over this Brexit shock—namely, the shortage of labour, the increase of red tape and the disappearance of markets where this product, which, as the Minister knows, is reliant on freshness, can gain easy access.
Further, Hamish Macdonell, director of strategic engagement at Salmon Scotland, came out with one stat that made me sit up: Scotland possesses a 6.5% share of the international salmon market, but that is predicted to drop to 3%, while Scandinavia is at 10% market share, which will surely only grow.
It should be said that this is not simply an issue for our coastal communities, although we do get the occasional salty tang off the Clyde next to my office, the site of the former John Brown shipyard. British Governments, both red and blue, allowed the upper Clyde shipyards to wither on the vine, but I am glad to say that there is something of a shipbuilding renaissance in the borough of Clydebank, as the Malin Group looks to build smaller vessels for our aquaculture industry at a site in Old Kilpatrick. That yard needs inshore fishery contracts to grow and to thrive; to do so, it needs a competitive and expanding inshore fisheries fleet, ready and able to take our world-class Scottish produce to markets in Europe. As others have mentioned, a competitive industry is also able to bring down prices at home—vital during a cost of living crisis—and, as we all know, there is nothing better for the developing neural pathways and strong bones of any wean, no matter where they live, than being able to eat as much healthy, home-grown Scottish seafood as possible.
Instead of whimpering on about remainer plots, bleating about a biased media, and attempting to break international law by refusing to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, the UK Government could do two things that are within their power to help and protect Scotland’s inshore fishing communities. Either they could extend the Northern Ireland protocol to Scotland, which voted against the folly of leaving the EU—[Laughter.] I thought that would get a laugh; other Members might not want it, but we do. That would allow Scottish producers to sell seamlessly back into the single market, keeping the Union together and respecting the will of the people. Alternatively, the Government could allow us to sail away from the titanic failure of bargain-basement Brexit, rejoining our European family of nations and allowing the UK to have those sunlit uplands all to itself. What will it be, Sir Charles? I await the Minister’s reply with bated breath.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Charles. I could not help noticing, following your instructions before we started, that we have had an entire Westminster Hall debate without an intervention and we are running to time—you have amazing powers, Sir Charles.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing the debate and on his excellent introduction to this very serious set of issues, and thank him for his kindness when I visited his constituency a couple of months ago. It will come as no surprise that my comments will reflect many of the points he and other Members have made, albeit in a different order.
I have been struck by the intense pressure at the moment on people working in the inshore fleet. I was also struck by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) about the NFFO’s Paul Gilson, who has been making his point very strongly, to me and to others, about the effect that things are having on people at the moment. Frankly, people are buckling; one distressing case in the industry that has played out over recent weeks is known to many of us, but it is not an isolated case. Partly, I am afraid, that pressure is due to the boat inspections that are being conducted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—everywhere I have been, I have heard that issue raised.
An email has been passed to me, written by someone fishing from an under-8 metre boat. A recent inspection found that his freeboard was 20 mm under the limit, and the MCA has insisted that he either block up the scuppers and fit tanks and pumps under the deck, which he considers would be extremely unsafe due to the high likelihood of the pump fouling, or get a full naval architect’s report to say that his boat is safe, which he has been told would cost thousands of pounds. The boat is watertight and well maintained; it has been fishing since 1980 without a single safety incident, and has never even broken down and needed a tow. The author of the email fishes single handed and sells all of his catch directly to the public, with his partner handling the sales. The MCA has banned him from going to sea, so the family has lost its entire income at a stroke. The only permitted solutions are either dangerous or completely unaffordable. He is dyslexic, and has struggled to understand the regulations and the correspondence he has received. He describes himself as “desperate” and
“at the end of my tether”.
That email was forwarded to me on the day that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) had agreed to meet me and a delegation from the NFFO, and I read it to him and his officials. It is, of course, very powerful. We have sent the Minister who is responding to today’s debate a summary of that meeting, in which we raised a series of issues including the roll test stability assessment; the matter of previously certificated vessels requiring alteration to the original design, which makes them potentially less safe in the view of those fishing from them, particularly—as the email said—those relying on pumps; the very high charges being levied for inspections, which to some very marginal operators seemed excessive; and a range of other issues. I am pleased to report that the Minister replied to me yesterday promising more flexibility and reviews of some of those practices, so I hope that the representations that have been made have some impact. We will see. I am slightly sceptical, because I think there is a bigger issue here. This has been a constant complaint from fishermen I have met around the coast. People feel got at. Some, in turn, feel spied upon and tracked. They feel that they are being treated as if they are criminals, and that is really not a good feeling to have.
I pay tribute to Fishing News for its work on the matter. I was not at all surprised to see some of the people I had met at West Mersea raising the problems in its pages. It is a consistent complaint. When I was in Ramsgate, a very experienced boat builder explained the issues around older boats, where changing the original design raises a series of unintended consequences and potential problems, not least the anomaly that different inspectors seemed to be coming to different conclusions about boats built to the same design. What have surprised me are the complaints about overzealous enforcement and suspicion from some of the bigger boats too. Frankly, it seems endemic.
I am sure that the Minister will say, as did her colleague, that it is about safety. No one disputes the need for safety; it is paramount. However, the checks need to be proportionate. Some of the inspections seem to be carried out by people more used to inspecting large vessels, who then apply the same logic to very small boats. A balance has to be found. Yes, safety is the priority, but there is nothing safe about driving people to despair and destroying their livelihood. There needs to be a culture change and I hope the various authorities, not just the MCA, think hard about that.
There are other issues that are putting people under pressure. The Minister and I have had an encounter at the Dispatch Box over the catch app, when she skilfully dodged my invitation to guess the weight of a previous day’s Hansard. There was a serious point being made there: it is hard to guess weights accurately and there is a long history on that. I understand and share the Minister’s quest for accurate data, but it is once again a question of how people are treated and how they feel. The suggestion that there will not be prosecutions if people make mistakes is welcome.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that my late husband was adequately able to estimate his catch. Of course a lay person could not, but fishermen get used to it, so please do not misrepresent them. I know that they could grade their fish within a certain criteria and would know exactly how much they put in their boxes.
I hear and respect the hon. Lady’s point, but that is not what others have told me. I can only reflect on what people have told me.
In this case, the suggestion does not feel like a guarantee, and if it were a guarantee, there would not be much point making it an offence in the first place. The risk of prosecution is kept hanging over people, once again adding to the pressure that many are reporting.
Then there is the case of IVMS. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made those points very well, they have been well rehearsed and I will not repeat them. Again, I appreciate the need for data, but the way in which it is being introduced—adding extra cost for people working on fine margins, having time limits on possible financial support, and then people finding that some of the recommended systems are being withdrawn because of the type approval process—has just added to the stress people are feeling.
The stresses and concerns around very high fuel costs have been mentioned. Other countries have found ways of tackling that. The Government are choosing not to do so but, as we have heard, it makes what were already marginal activities in some cases almost totally uneconomic. That is well documented.
I will briefly raise one or two other issues of concern. The UK seafood fund is currently being considered by the EFRA Committee, and I was struck by the discussion on how difficult it is for small operators to access the fund. With minimum spends of £250,000, it is unlikely to help the many small boats in inshore fleets. Can the Minister say what she might do to address that issue? One of the positive outcomes might be to provide assistance in improving the carbon performance of the fleet, either through electrification or improvements to existing engines. Electrification may well require much onshore investment. Again, can the Minister tell us what is being done?
I listened with interest to the concerns raised by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), and the Minister might also wish to tell us what has been done to protect the shellfish sector against sewage outflow—an issue that has received much public attention recently. It was certainly raised with me as a pressing problem in West Mersea.
Finally, there are spatial pressures as the country moves to make more wind power. There are clearly tensions, and although good efforts are being made to do better in future, there have been too many cases where inshore fishers do not feel that their interests have been taken into account. I would be interested to hear how effective the Minister thinks the current arrangements are. Given their role in marine protected areas, how effective does she consider the IFCAs to be, and what plans does she have for improvement? Again, I listened closely to the comments of the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous).
In conclusion, these are difficult times for many in the sector. A more understanding approach from those who regulate it does not have to cost more money, but it does require a change in attitude, and I hope the Minister will be sympathetic to that call.
Thank you, Sir Charles. As ever, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, particularly when talking about fish.
Like everyone in the room, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing this important debate. We all know that the English inshore fishing fleet is an integral part of our fishing industry, and the Government are committed to its future. It is always good to talk to my hon. Friend about fishing, which, as I think he admitted, we do very regularly. No one could do more to stand up for his local fishermen, many of whom I know personally now, and I look forward to further discussions on a frequent basis in the weeks and months ahead.
It is really good to be here among the usual suspects in fisheries debates. I like to feel that there is a large degree of cross-party consensus on how to solve many of the issues that confront the inshore fleet. It was good to hear from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who I am glad is still in her place so that I can thank her for such a passionate and authoritative speech, and say again how much we value her first-hand experience of the industry in this place.
We have heard from Members representing constituencies around the nation, including those from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous)—I always describe him as the hon. Member for REAF, but I know he represents many more of his constituents as well. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), who always speaks so well about these matters.
To my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), with whom I have not caught up in the last couple of weeks, I say that I am very much on top of what is happening in King’s Lynn at the moment, and I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) about it last night. I am pleased to say that I was also able to meet June Mummery last week, when we discussed those issues as well. IFCAs vary in their effectiveness: some do a superb job at meeting and working with local industry, and some do not. It is really important that the IFCA my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk spoke about continues to meet the sector—I know that there was a big meeting last week—continues to talk through solutions, and continues to talk about any schemes that exist. I would be delighted to catch up with him at any time that he is free, because it is clearly a very difficult situation for the local fishing fleet.
I turn now to the points raised today. I will start with fuel, because we all recognise that the challenges facing the industry relate to input costs, at least in part. Obviously, we are all affected by increases in fuel duty, but fishermen are disproportionately affected, because so much of their cost is fuel and so much of their decision as to whether a trip is worth it is based on the fuel price. That has definitely informed the Government’s decision to retain the fishing industry’s access to red diesel, but I accept that the marine voyages relief fund, which enables fishermen to access that relief, is not as well used as it might be. I am extremely willing to work with hon. Members to see how we can increase the take-up of that perfectly legitimate relief.
The second round of the seafood fund is planned for this autumn. I suggest that I meet my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes to discuss how we might make a plan, such as the one he suggests, to retrofit vessels. We all understand that retrofitting vessels can be difficult and relies on inshore infrastructure that may not always be present, but the Department is in touch with companies that provide that sort of technology. It would be backward to describe such technology as in its infancy, but it is new and there is a great deal of work still to be done. I am extremely happy to meet my hon. Friend, and anyone else who would like to join us, to discuss how we can make the seafood fund work in this area.
The Minister is always responsive, but does she know whether the fuel relief scheme she referred to applies in Northern Ireland? If it does, how many people there have applied for it? That is really important after what I heard on Saturday at the advice centre. Prawns are at their highest price in ages. The price is good, but the profits are being swallowed up by the cost of fuel.
As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes some very relevant points. I know that many, although not all, fishermen in Northern Ireland are receiving good prices, but many of those are being swallowed up by input costs. As far as I am aware, that fund applies to Northern Ireland—I do not see why it would not—but I will check that and come back to him.
On the seafood fund, much of the inshore fleet can receive 80% grant funding if it does not use towed gear.[Official Report, 4 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 8MC.] Action has been taken to support the inshore fleet and some specific measures were set out in our 2018 White Paper. We have allocated an increased share of quota to vessels under 10 metres, providing them with over 5,000 tonnes of quota during 2021, which nearly doubled the tonnage. We have provided reserved quota to the fleet to support the landing obligation, and the economic link licence condition in England has been strengthened, bringing more quota to the non-sector pool.
We plan to do more to ensure that the quota transfers can be better utilised by the inshore fleet. We have listened to industry about wanting to be more involved, although I take on board the comments about when and how to do that, the tone to use and even the time of day at which to have the meetings. Those are all valid concerns that I will take away.
With the MMO, we have established five regional fisheries groups to provide a formal and regular forum for engagement between the inshore fleet and policy makers, scientists and regulators. Operating at a regional level enables the distinct issues and concerns that relate to local fisheries to be discussed in a way that is not possible nationally, which is a step forward. The groups have already put forward some good, scientifically based projects, including on small-eyed ray and area 4c sole. These projects will be taken forward immediately by the CEFAS.
Fisheries management plans will help managers to design bespoke, flexible and transparent approaches for a number of key stocks. The inshore fleet is fully engaged with that process and I am always willing to listen to suggestions made to hon. Members by their local inshore fishermen about different ways in which they feel we could be consulting with them. We hope to start a consultation before the summer recess on how to protect non-quota species, and I encourage all hon. Members to get involved with that.
We have heard concerns from across the Chamber about the manner in which MCA inspections are being carried out. I recognise that the inspections can be a source of stress. This is very difficult territory, as was widely acknowledged, because we also recognise the enormous importance of vessel safety. We are all concerned about the sadly increased number of deaths as lockdown came to an end. We heard again from my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, who speaks so passionately on such issues.
I will continue to liaise closely with my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), on marine safety. I am pleased that the MCA has started to attend some of the regular regional groups that we have around the coast for members of the inshore fleet. Engagement is probably the answer here. My hon. Friend and I are having a marine safety roundtable in Maritime Safety Week which begins in the first week of July, and I am happy to look at other ways that those present at this debate can be involved in marking that important week.
We heard concerns about IVMS and the catch app. The MMO—I visited one of its offices, in Newcastle, recently—is working intensively with fishermen to resolve the issues and concerns. I am glad to say that most have been resolved. Uptake of the catch app is now at about 90%. The MMO was keen to reassure me that the intention is not to penalise fishermen, but to collect landings information in a way that is sensible. IVMS is now installed on most under-10 vessels and we have got over many of the initial teething difficulties. Four models are available for fishermen to purchase.
Many hon. Members mentioned the spatial difficulties, so let us not forget that IVMS and the catch app are important tools that will provide us with the data that we need to understand the impact and importance of the inshore fleet, for example, when making decisions about offshore wind or the location of other spatial planning pressures. The data that we have lacked for so long is needed urgently, but it is important that we work with the industry to collect the data in a way that works for it. Nevertheless, the better the data we have, the better the decisions we can make.
We also heard about eating more fish and about selling British fish. I am glad to say that fish is embedded in the food strategy, and that is real progress. Over the course of the pandemic, we saw some improvement in how British fish is marketed and sold directly, but there is much more to do. I look forward to working with Members in all parts of the House on promoting fish from their area to our eaters.
The fleet faces significant challenges, which the debate brought to our notice and which Government, regulators, scientists and the industry itself must continue to address. The diversity of the fleet is one of its strengths, however, and there are some extraordinary examples of individuals and regions seizing the initiative to make the industry more sustainable and profitable. They can be assured that they have the support of the Government and indeed of everyone in the debate.
I will be brief, Sir Charles, but thank you, and I thank the Minister for her response.
I will rattle through some of the comments that were made. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) was absolutely right to talk about the food that we can eat, and the Procurement Bill provides such an opportunity. Unfortunately, I am disappointed in the food strategy, which mentions fishing only four times and aquaculture only three. When it does mention fishing, it is deregulation from EU rules; it does not talk about how we can do better to get fish into the supply chain.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) made a vital point: we need certainty beyond 2026, beyond the transition period. People need to know where they are going to go and whether we will have the six to 12-mile limit back in our hands.
I loved the idea of lockdown lobster, and if the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) is happy to invite me, I will visit. She is of course right: that shows the innovative way in which our fishermen and our communities have been able to support local produce and get it into the market. There is more that we can do, and lessons such as that are ones that we can learn from.
My hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made the point about regulation.. I suspect my hon. Friend for St Ives may come up with his very own catchphrase, such as “tangled in nets, not red tape”. I am sure he can do better than me. As ever, I feel validated by the presence of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who talked about the fact that fishermen are retiring because of the added level of bureaucracy. They feel they might just pack it in because it is becoming too difficult. We need to focus very carefully on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made the point that if we are to reduce the civil service, let us reduce the regulation and make it more coherent and easier to adopt. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) made the point about his smaller fishermen and invited us all to visit. I can think of nothing better than a cross-party visit to see what is going on in King’s Lynn and other parts of his constituency.
The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) made the point about where we might learn. I see no better way to strengthen the Union than by learning how to co-operate through hearing the experiences of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that across the United Kingdom of these islands, we have a coherent, successful fishing industry that is the pride of our country. I thank the Backbench Business Committee and everyone for their time.