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Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Scheme 2014

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Scheme 2014.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to present this scheme to the Committee. The scheme will provide funding to the owners of English fishing vessels for the purchase of upgraded electronic logbook software in compliance with obligations under the common fisheries policy.

Logbook and landing declaration information forms an essential element of the means by which we monitor data and manage fisheries. Under Community law, fishing vessels of over 10 metres’ overall length must keep a logbook to record estimates of catch on board vessels. They are also required to submit landing declarations containing accurate landing figures.

Traditional paper-based logbooks and landing declarations are time-consuming for fishermen to complete, and entering data from these paper records on to computerised databases is also resource-intensive for fisheries administrations. As a result, since 2010, electronic logbooks have been rolled out to the UK over-12 metre fishing fleet under the EU control regulation.

The electronic submission of fishing data brings other benefits. It allows the monitoring in real time of fishing activity as logbook information is gathered on a daily basis. It assists in the detection of attempts to misrecord catches and so contributes towards improving compliance. Clearly, the operation of electronic logbooks relies on complex software. As technology develops over time, it has become necessary to alter the format of the data that electronic logbook software stores and transmits, although fishermen will not see a significant difference in how they operate their systems. The new data format does require new software to be supplied to affected vessels, which of course comes at a cost. Given that the benefits of electronic reporting are felt most by government, I believe that it is appropriate to offer fishermen financial assistance in this process. I propose to offer grant aid of up to £1,000 for the installation of updated electronic logbook software.

In order to offer fishermen a choice of electronic logbook, we have approved five different suppliers. As a result, upgrade costs vary between £300 and £1,000. Although the cost to the public purse is low, it remains important to ensure that appropriate controls are in place. In order to ensure that costs remain fair to all parties, the Marine Management Organisation will accept applications for funding of up to a total of £1,000 per vessel. On this basis, the overall cost of the funding scheme will not exceed £330,000 for the 330 English vessels over 12 metres, and in reality will be somewhat lower. I recognise that some fishermen may wish to take the opportunity to move from one software supplier to another but that is a business decision and grant funding would not be appropriate in those circumstances.

I am pleased to be able to report that the Marine Management Organisation has made a successful bid for funding under the EU aid budget, which means that 90% of the upgrade cost will be met from that fund. I should add that we are also taking the opportunity to future-proof this legislation to provide for the possibility of funding future software changes, including any that may be necessary to monitor compliance with the new CFP regulation, and in particular the landing obligation. I commend the scheme to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the scheme before the Committee today. However, what perhaps has not been explained is why the European Commission has altered the format of the data that must be reported, thus requiring software upgrading after only four years. Was there a flaw in the data or is it to be expected today that a four-yearly upgrade will be normal? When set against the progress being made towards the conservation and sustainability of fish stocks, does the Minister judge that these system enhancements will improve outcomes at a quicker pace?

While the cost to the public purse is modest, is the Minister satisfied that this upgrade is future-proofed? Does the noble Lord expect the new system to be effective for future controls or changes in fisheries policies over a longer timeframe? I am sure that the Marine Management Organisation will communicate successfully with the operators of all English-licensed vessels, but will the Minister outline any requirements concerning the timescales involved in this rollout, and what if any penalties would be imposed for non-compliance within that timeframe? I will be grateful to the Minister if he is able to provide any further explanation, but in the mean time I am content with the measure before the Committee.

My Lords, while the Minister is looking for his notes, I should declare that I am a Younger Brother of Trinity House and a master mariner, which goes back many years to the 1960s, when I was last at sea. Therefore I am completely out of date with modern shipping. What the Minister has described appears to be some advancement in regulations and what happens at sea, which has been recommended. I approve.

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked whether I was confident that we had future-proofed the system through the current scheme. The answer is yes. I mentioned in my opening speech that we were taking the opportunity to do just that thing.

The noble Lord asked why the EC altered the format of the data after a relatively short period. He will appreciate as much as anyone that, these days, technology is developing very rapidly. Four years is actually quite a long period, so this change has proved to be necessary. There are other benefits that we can get from the change as well, so we are taking the opportunity through the new format to improve data exchange, for example. As data-handling processes and technology continue to evolve, the Commission took the decision to implement a new software standard for electronic logbooks. Looking to the future—as the noble Lord asked me to do—I very much hope that the new system will be capable of being used for some considerable time. As I say, we have taken the opportunity of future-proofing it by allowing Ministers to approve future public funding should it be necessary.

The noble Lord asked about timescales of rollout and penalties. We are looking to roll this out during the first half of 2015. On penalties, in essence a vessel will be unable to put to sea until the new software is fitted.

I hope that that addresses most of the questions raised. I will check Hansard and, if it does not, I will write.

Motion agreed.