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Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) Scheme 2012

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the scheme laid before the House on 24 May be approved.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the sustainability of global fish stocks is currently a matter of considerable concern. That sustainability depends in great part upon effective control and reliable data to inform the science. The electronic transmission of both satellite position reports—or VMS, vessel monitoring systems—and fishing activity reports in the form of electronic logbooks, forms an essential element of modern fisheries control. It is used more and more throughout the world to monitor fishing activity. The old paper-based systems of logbooks and landing declarations are both cumbersome and time-consuming for fishermen to complete. The input of the data from these paper records on to computerised databases is also resource-intensive for fisheries administrations.

Under EU law, the requirement to have this electronic equipment has now been extended from fishing vessels over 15 metres to fishing vessels over 12 metres. Extension of the technology to smaller vessels will significantly improve the monitoring in real time of fishing activity, as logbook information will be transmitted back to shore on a daily basis, rather than having to wait for the vessel to complete its trip, as at present. It will also greatly increase the risk of detection of attempts to misrecord catches and so contribute positively towards improving compliance and ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks.

The benefits of this new technology are therefore clear. Essentially, though, electronic logbooks and satellite tracking devices are control tools. Because of that, the Government have contributed towards their capital cost in the past. We think it right to continue to do so, and the new scheme therefore provides funding to smaller fishing vessels as required by Community law. It also allows for the funding of the installation of similar technology on vessels below 12 metres, should a decision for that be taken in future.

The Government are pleased to be able to offer financial assistance to fishermen in the purchase of the necessary VMS hardware and electronic logbook software. Similar assistance is being provided by other fisheries administrations in the UK and other member states. In England, the scheme will be administered by the Marine Management Organisation.

For VMS, we have appointed a single supplier of the equipment. However, for the electronic logbook software we have aimed to ensure best value for money by adopting a type approval process under which any software supplier can submit a product for approval. Six software systems have so far been approved. This will offer fishermen a choice of software to meet their own needs and introduce competition between suppliers.

Grant aid will be made available only for approved software systems. I nevertheless recognise that some fishermen may wish to purchase more sophisticated software that contains functions beyond those necessary to comply with our EU obligations. It is therefore reasonable to place a cap on the level of financial assistance that the taxpayer will provide, so we propose to limit the total amount of funding that will be available to English fishing vessels to £4,500 per vessel. On this basis, the overall cost of the funding scheme is not expected to exceed £770,000 for the 170 or so English vessels over 12 metres, and 90% of this is recoverable from Community funds under the EU aid regime, which provides cofinancing for member states’ expenditure on statutory control measures. The remaining amounts will be found from existing budgets.

We believe that the relatively modest costs of this scheme will deliver real benefits to both fishermen and fisheries administrations, so the scheme will provide real value for money. I beg to move.

From the outset, my Lords, I make it clear that we do not oppose the draft scheme. Following the extension of Council regulation 1224/2009, it is clear that a funding scheme is needed to provide for payment to obtain the necessary equipment, and that the installation of satellite tracking devices and electronic logbooks on board fishing vessels is a positive step in promoting better working practices across the industry. We hope that the transition to an electronic system will provide a more effective and efficient method of determining what fish are caught and what location the stocks are fished from and, potentially, to address the difficult problem of discards, which many of us find repugnant. Any steps that are taken to improve industry standards to ensure the preservation of fish stocks will be wholeheartedly supported on this side, as are any measures for better working standards across the industry.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships’ House. I shall merely ask a couple of questions that were asked by my honourable friend Gavin Shuker in the other place which the Minister who was on duty, James Paice, did not have an opportunity to respond to, and I will be delighted if the Minister wants to respond in writing. When will the scheme be implemented, and have the Government set in place a timetable for the completion of the works? Has the EU set a deadline on carrying out this widening of the regulations, and will the Government be able to meet it? As I said at the beginning, though, we do not oppose this draft scheme and indeed welcome many of the elements of it. Any clarification of the details would be welcome.

My Lords, will the information that comes from this system be open or will it be completely secure to the MMO? Will it be possible, for example, to use that information to see all the other ships in our coastal waters coming from different countries in Europe, which causes considerable difficulty?

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have participated for their contributions. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for saying that effectively he agrees to the proposals. As I said at the outset, the use of this technology on smaller vessels will significantly improve the reliability of catch data and reduce the opportunity to cheat for those few who are inclined to do so. This can only be good for fish stocks. The modest costs of delivering these improvements in the way in which fisheries data are gathered are therefore, I suggest, justified.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to discards. I share his abhorrence of discards. Discussions are under way as part of negotiations towards reform of the common fisheries policy. We hope to conclude these early next year. He asked about timing. All the equipment will be installed by the end of the year. That is a little late, but it is not later than in many other member states. As to the openness of the information, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, asked, for those other nations that need access to the information for purposes of monitoring our vessels in their waters—just as we will need to monitor their vessels in their waters—that information will be so shared. I am grateful to him for his comments and if I can add to that reply I will write to him. I hope that noble Lords can accept this scheme.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.41 pm.