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Inshore Fisheries

Volume 783: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

Private Notice Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to police and enforce the new regulations for UK inshore fishing waters.

My Lords, the UK has a robust enforcement system, delivered by the Marine Management Organisation, or MMO, and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, or IFCAs, in England. The MMO covers the UK’s exclusive economic zone from six nautical miles to 200 nautical miles or the median line, while the IFCAs cover the area from zero to six nautical miles. As we leave the EU, we will need to review and reflect on the level of fisheries enforcement required.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I have to say that this simple sailor is absolutely stunned by it, as it shows amazing complacency. The bottom line is we have very few vessels involved in this and they are not properly co-ordinated centrally. We have already seen a number of the countries involved saying, “To hell with what you say, we’re coming there anyway”. We will be made a laughing stock if we apply some rules and cannot enforce them. Will we now establish a centralised command system to control the various assets we have—far too few of them to be able to focus on things such as someone fishing illegally in the six-to-12 mile zone? Will we also ensure that we build some more ships and boats so that we can actually enforce this?

My Lords, the best thing may be if the noble Lord would be prepared to come with me to Newcastle to see the vessel-monitoring system, which I have learned a great deal about since his Question was on the Order Paper. It is a digital service which enables us to target those areas, so that we know every vessel that is at sea within our waters. I have some very interesting statistics on enforcement by the Royal Navy and others. In addition to that, not only are there three offshore patrol vessels but a further five new River class offshore patrol vessels are currently being built. They will be used for, among other things, fisheries protection. However, as I said earlier, we will have to review what we need to ensure that.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that if we are to have sustainable fishing in the longer term, which obviously will need to be based on clear scientific evidence, there has to be some alignment and co-operation with neighbouring countries? Fish stocks cannot be managed unilaterally—fish shoals can sometimes move hundreds of miles. Indeed, our own fishermen sometimes fish from the north of Russia right down to southern Portugal. This cannot be resolved by a unilateral declaration. There have to be detailed discussions because, as we know from the very good Brexit fisheries report produced by your Lordships’ House, there is an incredibly complicated set of agreements in place. I hope the Minister will take the message back to the Secretary of State that there is no point in just making a unilateral declaration on this; there have to be thoughtful, detailed discussions on the future.

My Lords, I agree with a lot of what the noble Baroness says. We need to base our decisions on science. We have a responsibility under international law to have sustainable fish stocks, and I am pleased that in this country we have had some considerable successes in getting sustainable yields. The basis of this is that we have given two years’ notice that we intend to leave the London fisheries convention, which is necessary under legal advice. We now need to negotiate with our partners and friends in Europe so that, as I say, we have a sustainable fishing industry. Also, for the first time we will have the ability to decide who fishes in our waters.

My Lords, our fishing industry contributes less than 0.5% to our country’s GDP, yet it is hard to think of any industry that will be affected more by Brexit, along with the rural communities that fishermen come from. How are the Government going to guarantee that our fishermen and their industry are not used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations?

My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness that the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has said today that our giving withdrawal notice from the London fisheries convention,

“is welcome news and an important part of establishing the UK as an independent coastal state with sovereignty over its own exclusive economic zone”.

The noble Baroness says that the fisheries sector makes a small contribution to our GDP, but it contributes £1.3 billion to the economy, employs 34,600 people in 6,000 fishing vessels, and landed 708,000 tonnes of fish worth £775 million. To the coastal and fishing communities of this country, the United Kingdom, that is a very important consequence. I assure her and your Lordships that we will be very conscious of their interests.

My Lords, does this mean that the inshore fishermen, with vessels under 10 metres, will have a higher quota? That would be very good news.

I am sure your Lordships will understand that these issues are all subject to negotiation. However, one of the things that we wish to do, in having the ability to control our own waters, is have a sustainable domestic fishing industry.

My Lords, almost exactly a year ago the EU sub-committee of this House published the first of the Brexit reports on fishing. Could the Minister tell the House what he thinks was the most significant paragraph in it?

I remember replying to the debate on that very interesting report, but I am afraid I cannot remember the precise details. I know that it featured the phrase “the requirement for co-operation”, which is clearly important; that it said we need to fish sustainably, which is also important; and that the sub-committee saw that there were opportunities for the domestic fishing industry. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the sub-committee giving us a very helpful and important report, which has and continues to have considerable consideration by the department.

My Lords, is not the noble Lord, Lord West, with whom I often agree on many matters, arguing that the Royal Navy is out of control on fishing protection? Surely, that cannot be right.

We rely very much on the Royal Navy and I am pleased to acknowledge what it does, and has done over centuries, to help us with the protection of fisheries. It is very important that we work with the Royal Navy, Border Force and a number of other agencies, including the National Crime Agency, so that we not only have a sustainable and successful fishing industry but we co-operate, which we must do, with our partners in Europe so that we have robust and clear negotiations.

My Lords, will the Government guarantee as part of these discussions that the correct, accurate powers will be devolved to the devolved Administrations, where the powers coming back from Brussels tie in with the existing devolution settlement? Will they further guarantee that there will be an effort across the United Kingdom to establish a UK common fisheries policy with the co-operation of the four nations of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord said, and that is one area where close discussion and co-operation with all parts of the United Kingdom is very important indeed. We have had successful and continuing discussions with all Ministers concerned. We are certainly looking to have a UK policy in bringing back to this country our own fisheries policy. We are working with the devolved Administrations so that we are working together in the negotiations. This is a key area where all the coastal fishing communities of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are looking to the Government to secure a good deal for them.

My Lords, I appreciate that I may be inviting the Minister to depart a little from his responsibilities, but perhaps he would join me in welcoming the fact that there are reports in Scotland this weekend that the Government are about to place an order for a further three frigates to be built on the River Clyde—yet another illustration of the advantages to Scotland of being part of the United Kingdom and not being independent.

My Lords, what the noble Lord said is precisely what so many people are reflecting on: that unity in the United Kingdom is a force for good. I very much endorse the importance of vessels being built for the Royal Navy in Scotland—and in other shipyards, but I am delighted if they are being constructed in those excellent shipyards, which have so much expertise in their workforce, over many generations.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has been trying to get in for a while. I hope that we will have time to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, as well.

My Lords, I am most grateful. Will the Minister confirm to your Lordships that the figures he has given for the British fishing industry are for as it is now, in a state decimated by our membership of the European Union and the common fisheries policy? Can he give us any idea of the figures which pertain to the wonderful future when we have taken back control of all our waters, having left the common fisheries policy?

My Lords, our whole purpose is to ensure that we have a sustainable future for the UK fishing industry. It is the first time in 50 years that we will have been able to control access to our waters. That is a force for good because, in particular, it is very important that we have sustainable stocks for the future.