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Fishing Industry

Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the sustainability of the fishing industry in the United Kingdom since 1 January.

My Lords, as a responsible independent coastal state, we are committed to developing world-class sustainable fisheries management, safeguarding stocks and the environment for the long term. This is underpinned by the Fisheries Act 2020, which provides a framework for a UK-wide joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. We remain committed to the principle of fishing at maximum sustainable yield through the Act and to extending the number of stocks fished at MSY through negotiations with other coastal states.

My Lords, what assurances will the Minister provide to Northern Ireland’s fishermen that their share of the new or additional proportion of fishing quota secured by the UK from the EU as part of the trade and co-operation agreement will not be reduced from 2022 onwards, and that the Government will look towards restoring a share of this new quota in line with Northern Ireland’s fixed-quota allocation share, as well as protecting all those—[Inaudible.]

My Lords, the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, covering the whole of the United Kingdom, provides a significant uplift in quota for UK fishers, which is estimated to be worth around £146 million for the whole UK fleet. That is equal to just over 25% of the value of the average annual EU catch from UK waters and is being phased in over five years, with the majority of that value being transferred this year. That applies to the whole of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the sustainability of the fishing industry in the UK is of course a critical matter, as noble Lords will all agree. Does the Minister agree that the sustainability of the car industry is also crucial to the economy of our country and join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government—in fact, both Houses—will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the car plant in Ellesmere Port, my home town, is sustained? Will he join me in wishing every success to the ongoing negotiations?

I certainly join the noble Lord and, no doubt, the whole House in wishing the greatest luck to our negotiators. On sustainability generally, I think the UK can say that we are world leaders. We have 372 marine protected areas, protecting nearly 40% of our waters; we have created a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund; we have been one of the most active members of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative; and, for UK waters, including our overseas territories, we now protect an area of water larger than India.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the hardships experienced by our coastal fishermen and their families during the past couple of years. What financial and other support have the Government provided to assist those fishing businesses to invest in processing facilities, to enable them to sell direct to the public?

My Lords, the UK Government are absolutely committed to investing in the seafood sector, and a range of government initiatives over several years has allowed the sector to invest in its businesses, including investment in processing and marketing equipment that supports the expansion of markets both here and abroad. We also established the domestic seafood supply scheme last year and a partnership with Seafish on the consumer-facing and highly successful Sea For Yourself campaign.

My Lords, what plans does Defra have to introduce restrictions on the fishing carried out in all our marine protected areas, with particular reference to those types of fishing which damage the ocean floor and its habitats?

My Lords, a new by-law power in the Fisheries Act 2020 allows the Marine Management Organisation to protect offshore MPAs from damaging fishing activity, and work on this has already begun. In February, it launched consultation on proposals to better manage activity in four of England’s offshore MPAs: the Canyons; Dogger Bank; Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge; and South Dorset. The aim is for by-laws for these sites to be in place this year. The MMO is developing an ambitious programme for assessing more sites and implementing more by-laws to manage fishing activity in all our offshore MPAs.

My Lords, during the passage of the then Fisheries Bill, the Government argued against Labour amendments to redistribute part of the UK’s quota from foreign-owned trawlers to smaller domestic fishers, and to introduce a national landing obligation to ensure that the proceeds of fishing activity in British waters flow through our economy. In resisting the amendment, Ministers claimed that their own initiatives were out for consultation and would then come on stream. Can the Minister update the House on these schemes?

My Lords, I am afraid I am not yet in a position to provide that update, but I will do my utmost to ensure that it is made available as soon as possible.

My Lords, I grew up in Conwy, which was then a busy fishing community and is still heavily involved—tragically at times. Even this January, a fishing boat, the “Nicola Faith”, was lost with all its crew. Fishing can be a very perilous job for those involved, and we need the rescue operation—the coastguard, helicopter searches and, possibly best known, the RNLI, with 444 lifeboats around our coast. It is a legendary charity. Has the Minister had any discussions whatever with those organisations, especially the lifeboat organisation, which I am sure has suffered in fundraising because of the pandemic—anything to make sure that we keep the lifeboats and are able to support them adequately, as they are vital back-ups to our fishing fleet?

The noble Lord makes an extremely valuable point. I have absolutely no doubt that the Fishing Minister, my colleague Victoria Prentis, and our representative here in this House, my newly appointed noble friend Lord Benyon, have had meetings with the lifeboat organisations and others that the noble Lord mentioned. Of course, the difficulties he describes have been heavily exacerbated by the pandemic, as in almost every sector. I was pleased that up to £23 million of emergency funding was made available during the first part of this year to support the seafood business affected by the impact of Covid-19, as well as the new and tricky import conditions.

My Lords, as we have now left the European Union, we all want to build the foundations for a strong and prosperous fishing industry, and this can be done only with the appropriate investment to sustain the industry right across the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that central funding will be required over the next number of years to sustain the industry long into the future, and can he confirm that, as a starting point, British fishing vessels will be given priority access to British fishing waters?

My Lords, British fishing vessels will of course have greatly improved access to British waters. In addition to the emergency funding that I mentioned in response to the previous question, we have delivered our manifesto commitment to maintain fisheries funding by allocating £32.7 million at the spending review to support the seafood sector. This is equivalent to the average annual amount delivered through the European maritime and fisheries fund, so our support base is not only maintained but continues to grow.

My Lords, so far the trade deal with Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands is concerned, can the Minister tell us the details of the fishing arrangements and how welcome these will be to the British fishing industry?

My Lords, the recently announced trade deal with Norway does not address access to waters or exchange of fishing quotas with Norway or the Faroes; those are negotiated separately under our fisheries framework agreements. With Iceland, we have a new memorandum of understanding in place, and we are keen to co-operate with Iceland on a wide range of fisheries policy areas and share best practice—in the interest, of course, of our fishing industry.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm the Scottish Government’s assessment that, far from having substantially increased opportunities, the Scottish fishing industry will in future have access to fewer of the fish it needs to be profitable, and does he accept that fishing communities will suffer as a result?

My Lords, I do not believe that is the case. Catch limits, known as total allowable catches, have been set for 70 fish stocks at the EU-UK annual negotiations, and the total value of the UK-EU fishing opportunities for the UK in this year is approximately £330 million. This equates to around 160,000 tonnes. In real terms, the access we have across the whole of the United Kingdom has grown, not shrunk.

My Lords, the inshore fisheries sector could do well to have an increased quota from just the sort of overseas trawlers’ quota that is now available. Will my noble friend endeavour to keep that under review, and will he ensure that the sustainability of inshore fisheries will not be threatened by the plethora of offshore wind farms to be placed in the North Sea?

I will certainly convey my noble friend’s message to my colleagues in Defra, who I am certain will be willing and able to make that commitment. In relation to the sustainability of inshore fisheries, there is undoubtedly a tension between those activities and new wind farms, but Defra colleagues are confident that those tensions can be ironed out and problems can be avoided.