Skip to main content

Fishing Communities

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 19 October 2023

The Government are supporting communities by opening new fisheries for spurdog and bluefin tuna, accelerating action to protect valuable non-quota stocks through the first fisheries management plans, and protecting stocks by better controlling fly-seiners, and we have brought about increased benefit through reform of the economic link.

Off the coast of beautiful Hastings and Rye, fishermen are suffering the impact on their fishing of a growing seal colony. Due to the nature of the fishing—small boats leave their nets in the water—sound systems to deter seals are not appropriate. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the presence of seals does not result in the decimation of our fishing communities, let alone the fish?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a tenacious campaigner for her fishing community. We are working alongside the Marine Management Organisation to assess non-lethal seal deterrent options to keep seals away from fishing catches, and we will publish an evidenced report on targeted acoustic startle technology later this year. We are also considering the next steps, including for net fisheries, under our Clean Catch programme. The special committee on seals provides formal scientific advice to the Government on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council on the management of seal populations under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. Its reports include seal population data based on extensive regional surveys and form the foundation for monitoring our UK marine strategy.

I wonder whether the Minister has seen the video footage that is doing the rounds of the recent incident involving the Spanish longliner Antonio Maria trying to ram the Shetland whitefish boat Defiant; in fact, it put out a rope to foul its propeller. The footage is truly shocking, but the real scandal is that this is not the first time it has happened; it is at least the third documented incident in recent times. This will keep happening unless something is done to stop it, so will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Foreign Office to make sure that France, as the flag state with enforcement powers in this case, takes its responsibility seriously?

I have seen that footage. It is truly shocking. This was a deliberate act to try to sabotage a UK fishing boat. It was outrageous behaviour. As the right hon. Gentleman identifies, enforcement is difficult, because the incident involved a Spanish boat under a French flag, but given the seriousness of the event I will most certainly raise it with my ministerial colleagues.