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EU: Fishing Industry Negotiations

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they had with representatives of the fishing industry in the United Kingdom during negotiations for the United Kingdom-European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

My Lords—[Inaudible.] During the negotiation of the trade and co-operation agreement, Ministers and officials met frequently with representatives of the fishing industry, including the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, to update them on the negotiations and discuss their views on them.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. The issue of fisheries was raised in your Lordships’ House last Thursday. The end of December 2020 saw us leaving the EU, and during that time, we had a rolling commentary on the Brexit negotiation on fisheries and how we would be taking back our waters. The truth is we have not—not to the extent that fishermen thought we would. Did members of the fisheries organisations take part in the Brexit negotiation? Does the Minister think that if they had been part of the negotiation, it would have had a better outcome? The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations had written to the Prime Minister on this matter back in February—

[Inaudible.] The noble Lord, Lord Frost, and other Ministers and officials were in close touch with the fishing interests. The trade co-operation agreement has made some progress, increasing quota, ensuring regulatory autonomy and no tariffs, and controlling access to fish in our waters.

My Lords, have the difficulties been resolved with the health of shellfish being sent to Europe and with sending Scottish seafood to the EU, particularly in respect of consignments made up from more than one source?

My Lords, there is an overall improvement in the situation, but we all agree that more work needs to be done. That is why Defra has invited exporters to in-depth workshops, 11 of them in the past few weeks, on issues including export health certificates. We are also working closely with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and other government departments to learn from the establishment and operation of existing hubs in Scotland. Although the situation is improving, we in Defra and other government bodies are doing considerable work.

My Lords, there is an immediate, pressing problem for many of our fishermen, who are suffering. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to increase fish consumption in the domestic market? Do we need a fish and chips tsar or someone to encourage people to eat fish? More importantly, in the negotiations with the EU, will the Government work towards a flexible arrangement that allows for better quota swaps?

My Lords, we will be pragmatic and we will work robustly with the EU and, indeed, with Norway and the Faroe Islands. Importantly, Defra and Seafish are working together on the Love Seafood campaign precisely to encourage the domestic consumption of excellent fish that hitherto we may not have consumed.

My Lords, the situation seems to make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim that his Brexit deal would involve

“no non-tariff barriers to trade.”

May I take up with the Minister the worrying situation in my local port of North Shields, which is England’s biggest prawn port and heavily dependent on exports to France and Spain, where trade continues to be severely disrupted by delays, complicated red tape and, in some cases, prohibitive extra costs?

My Lords, I would like the noble Baroness to let me have further details on this issue, which I will speak to the Fisheries Minister about, because we are having daily conversations with, for instance, the French embassy. I would like to hear more about the situation in North Shields; our task is to resolve these matters.

My Lords, many parts of the industry are heading for bankruptcy, yet within the agreement we have the mechanism of a Specialised Committee on Fisheries, which has not yet met. The Minister, Victoria Prentis, recently said:

“Details on how the committee will function will be communicated once they are finalised.”

This is not good enough. Surely, the Government need to pull their finger out. In this third month of Brexit, when is this specialised committee actually going to meet?

My Lords, until the TCA has been ratified in the European Parliament, the Partnership Council and its specialised committees will not start to function. We in the UK are ready for them to be operational and are making our plans.

My Lords, in February last year the Secretary of State wrote to the EU Commissioner raising concerns about its decision to ban the import of class B live bivalve molluscs. In a subsequent letter to food exporters, dated 10 December 2020, it was confirmed that exports of these molluscs would be prohibited. So, why did the Secretary of State claim in a parliamentary Statement this January that he had only recently been made aware of the situation, when, seemingly, he had known and done nothing about it for a year?

My Lords, I will look into this because that is entirely contrary to my understanding, which is that the European Commissioner made it clear that this was an acceptable trade. We were most surprised to hear that the export of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters would not be accepted. We think that that is not well founded in law and we have sought a meeting with Commissioner Kyriakides on this matter.

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in condemning recent illegal operations carried out by Greenpeace: dumping large boulders in shallow fishing waters, potentially causing great risk to fishing vessels and their crews? Can he assure me that adequate resources are being and will be made available to ensure effective protection of the UK’s fishing waters and fleet?

My Lords, everyone should take note of and abide by the regulations. The actions by Greenpeace within the Brighton Offshore Marine Conservation Zone are subject to a live investigation by the Marine Management Organisation. The Government have significantly increased the number of personnel and surveillance assets dedicated to fisheries protection.

My Lords, the Scottish seafood industry is world class but it has been let down by the lack of preparation for implementing this agreement beyond the negotiations, and by the political polarisation of the Scottish and UK Governments whenever these matters are discussed. Has the department, or the UK Government as whole, learned any lessons from this disaster? Will they seek a much more understanding, partnership-based, mutually respectful relationship with the Scottish Government in the future?

My Lords, again, I am interested in what the noble Lord has said because my experience, certainly at Fisheries Councils, is of strong collaboration between all the devolved Administrations. The Secretary of State has had regular dialogue with Fergus Ewing and that will continue, because we have a mutual interest in advancing the export and domestic consumption of excellent products from both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, there is a balance to be struck between a thriving fishing industry and the conservation of fish stocks. The network of marine protected areas is at risk. Information from Greenpeace shows that destructive fishing boats spend hundreds of hours fishing inside places that are meant to be protected. While I do not condone the actions of Greenpeace, it is true that bottom trawlers and scallop dredgers are ripping up protected seabeds with impunity. What are the Government doing to correct this?

We are ensuring through our sustainability objectives that all of the marine environment in the UK system is protected. That is what we intend to do, and that is why there were deliberations on the now enacted Fisheries Bill. We will be working on ensuring an improvement in our marine ecosystem.