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Fishery Protection Squadron

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 12 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what (1) ships, and (2) other vehicles, will be used to strengthen the Fishery Protection Squadron; and when such vehicles will be ready for active service.

My Lords, in England the Marine Management Organisation has contractual arrangements with the Royal Navy for two offshore patrol vessels. The Royal Navy will be increasing its offshore vessels from four to eight over 2020. In addition, the MMO has two vessels and two aircraft as well as 22 patrol vessels from the inshore fisheries conservation authorities at its disposal. The MMO works closely with the devolved Administrations, which have their own fisheries enforcement assets.

I thank the Minister for that very full response. It is important that we get this right. We have 80,000 square miles of water to look after and as experience shows, that sometimes going wrong; some 28 frigates were involved in the cod wars. As an aside, I gather that the Government are reducing our number of frigates to nine by 2026, which is a bit of a shock.

My questions relate to the OPVs. We will find them difficult to man because they are being run extra to what was originally intended. Has there been any consideration of using RNR crews to man them and tying those crews specifically to RNR units? Is HMS “Clyde” going to be used? Lastly, will we get the MMO co-located with the NMOC so that they can co-ordinate these operations?

My Lords, I am answering for the Government but from Defra rather than from the Ministry of Defence. I shall run through the ships because I think it will be helpful. HMS “Forth”, HMS “Medway”, HMS “Trent”, HMS “Severn”, HMS “Tamar” and HMS “Spey” are either in operation or coming forward. With regard to HMS “Clyde”, the lease ends on 31 March 2020. So, as I have outlined, this will be additional to HMS “Tyne” and HMS “Mersey”. They are specifically directed to help us with fisheries, and those ships will be engaged in a number of duties.

On the point about co-ordination, as I have mentioned before, one of the advances is the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, which exists precisely to ensure that we optimise and co-ordinate the development of UK maritime assets across government agencies, including the seagoing craft owned by Border Force, the Royal Navy, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, the MMO and others. I will look at all the points the noble Lord has made, but there is a lot more co-ordination. In addition, the MMO now has 75 marine enforcement officers working with the Royal Navy.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the key to fisheries protection is to catch foreign vessels in the act of fishing? To what extent will the Government use remote electronic monitoring, and are they considering making this a qualification for issuing a licence to foreign fishermen?

My Lords, access for foreign vessels will be subject to negotiation but clearly, as the Fisheries Bill states, they will require a licence. One important additional point is modern technology. A monitoring system has been in force for vessels over 12 metres since 2013, and we will be introducing VMS for vessels under 12 metres as well so that we get a more accurate picture of fisheries’ location and activity. The noble Lord and I went up to Newcastle to see the MMO. It can detect all vessels in operation in our waters, so that we are in a better position to ensure that our waters are properly fished.

My Lords, can the Minister inform us how the Scottish waters, under the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, will be integrated with the English and Welsh, and even Irish, waters? How will the three Scottish fishery protection vessels be integrated with MMO?

As I said in my first reply, co-ordination and collaboration with all the devolved Administrations—indeed, the four fisheries administrations —is absolutely key. Marine Scotland is represented on JMOC. In addition to the three vessels referred to by the noble Earl, it has two aeroplanes for aerial surveillance. The point is that there is collaboration with all four fisheries administrations to ensure that all UK waters are better protected.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that fishing vessels are very sophisticated nowadays? They know when a large, grey naval vessel is about to go over the horizon, so surely, exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, we must put more investment into electronic surveillance—aerial surveillance and satellite surveillance. We must also ensure that all vessels fishing in UK waters are on an equal footing, and that all comply.

This issue goes back to the very essence of sustainability and the reason why we need to do this. Heightened surveillance is in the long-term interests of the fishing fleets—for all vessels, whether they are foreign and subject to negotiation, or our own. It is about ensuring that sustainable stocks are in our waters and are fished properly. That is why, as I outlined, we have the electronic reporting and data system, the vessel monitoring system and even more innovative technologies to complement what we already have. This issue is really important.

My Lords, have the Government thought of ordering these new fishery protection vessels from Appledore shipyard, which needs some more orders? I believe that it built some vessels for Ireland. If not, where are these new vessels being procured from?

My Lords, I cannot speak of Appledore, although I have heard of it, but under the terms of the Fisheries Bill there will be opportunities for varying grants, including for port infrastructure. We will clearly need to think about this area because we want to have vibrant coastal communities, not only through vessel repairs and construction but by having vibrant fishing fleets in sustainable waters.