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Fishing Industry

Volume 735: debated on Thursday 29 June 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the fishing industry.

I start by congratulating and thanking the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who secured this important debate. Unfortunately, he has had to go back to Scotland on compassionate grounds; I am sure the whole House will wish him well.

Fisheries, as I am sure everyone in this House knows by now, loom reasonably large in my constituency, as they do for others taking part in this debate. Peterhead, the largest town in Aberdeenshire, is also the largest whitefish port in Europe, while Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire’s third largest town, is Europe’s largest port for nephrops. Macduff, the other port town around the coast, is still a very active port, as well as being the headquarters for Macduff Shipyards, the only manufacturer of steel hull fishing boats in Scotland, with additional facilities in Fraserburgh and the town of Buckie in the neighbouring constituency, Moray.

Dotted around the rest of the Banff and Buchan and Moray coast, like the rest of our island nation, we have smaller ports, smaller boats and smaller operations—but they are no less a part of the wider fishing industry that has been a mainstay of coastal communities for centuries. Also located in those major port towns are a wide variety of seafood processors. The subject of this debate is the fishing industry, but I will speak on the wider concept of fisheries as a whole. It is not just about catching the fish; we are talking about the whole supply chain and, as with any food supply chain, if one part fails, the whole chain loses out.

I have touched on the manufacture of fishing boats, but there are a wide range of businesses and jobs that depend on a thriving fisheries sector. I remember a fisherman once informing me, when his boat was in for summer maintenance that year, that he had something like 40 different businesses, most of them local, working on his boat. I will not list all 40 contractors—he did—but only one was not from north-east Scotland: the guy who had to come and install his Sky box. That just goes to show how one boat can employ so many people in the local area.

Towns such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh exist largely to serve the fisheries sector. There are all the other businesses, shops, community services and public facilities that exist to provide for all the people who work in that industry and the families who live in the community. There is a lot of economic activity in those port towns, but as with all industries and communities, particularly in the light of events of recent years, such as the pandemic and the rise in fuel prices since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are not without their challenges.

Other Members will, I know, talk more specifically about the issues faced in their constituencies. I will touch on a few key topics. I will talk about Brexit, the pros and cons of the trade and co-operation agreement, and what I believe to be a general benefit overall of leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy. I will also talk about a range of challenges faced by the industry. Like everyone else, I will focus mainly on the challenges faced in my constituency, but there will be general concerns that many of us share. I will intersperse my remarks with questions for the Minister and her Department. If they can be answered today, great, but if not, a later response or meeting will suffice.

I will start with Brexit. We have left the common fisheries policy and are an independent coastal state. It seems strange to still be standing up and saying that, because it is a fundamental part of having left the EU, and, now that we have reached that status, it is a complete and utter no-brainer. However, it was by no means inevitable. At the very start of the negotiations on withdrawal from the EU—many of us in the Chamber bear the scars of that period—the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, insisted that the UK could not leave the CFP and that EU fishing vessels must retain full freedom of access to UK waters. But we did leave the EU on 31 December 2020, and we left the CFP and took our place as an independent coastal state. Under the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement, which Opposition Members had gleefully predicted could not be reached, we left the EU with a deal—a deal that Scottish National party Members did not even vote for.

One major disappointment of the TCA, however, was the introduction of the so-called adjustment period, which we are still in the middle of. It is important to note that that it is aimed at helping the EU fisheries sector adjust before the day when that period comes to an end in July 2026, and to stress that full control over all vessels fishing in UK waters must fall to UK Ministers and officials, including those in the devolved Administrations. My first question to the Minister on this is: what are the Government doing in the meantime to ensure that, when July 2026 comes around, the most is made of those opportunities for British fishing interests, including what the industry would regard as “first call” on quota?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the situation post 2026. I wonder whether he can respond to the point made by Mike Park, the chief executive of the Fraserburgh-based Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who told the Daily Record last week:

“One of the biggest negatives for me was the hyperbole spoken by the Michael Goves, the David Frosts, the Boris Johnsons, who all knew what was going on and they were still spinning it and spinning it. And they’re still spinning it because, here we are, they’re still talking about how post-2026, they will deliver. No, you won’t. Go and read the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Europe still gets the same amount of fish after 2026.”

Is he correct?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentions Mr Park, whom I know extremely well. I am familiar with that Daily Record article, which is from, I think, last Monday. It was the first in a series of “Why Brexit is bad” articles. If I am not mistaken—and I stand to be corrected—that quote from Mr Park is not necessarily all that up to date. I talk to Mr Park on a—[Interruption.] The article was last week, but I am not sure the quote was that recent; I stand to be corrected on that. Opposition Members are good at pulling out quotes from the likes of Mike Park, Jimmy Buchan and other key individuals in the industry who are well respected in it, but I talk to them on almost a weekly basis, and I know one thing for sure: neither Mike Park, Jimmy Buchan nor any of those others would agree with the SNP’s stance of rejoining the EU and the common fisheries policy.

On Mr Park’s remarks about what happens in 2026, that is precisely why I am asking the UK Government to confirm what they are doing now, to ensure that when we get to that point, we are not caught out by any surprises. We can be sure that the EU fisheries lobby groups will be pushing hard to get all the advantages, so we need to ensure that we are doing the same.

I have always acknowledged the disappointment felt by many in the industry that the trade and co-operation agreement, especially with the adjustment period, did not get as much as we wanted as quickly as we would have liked. Over the course of the adjustment period, 25% of the EU’s fishing quota in UK waters will be transferred to the UK. For 2023, 140,000 tonnes of catching opportunities worth some £750 million have been secured for the UK. That is a £34 million increase on last year. As an independent coastal state, our Ministers and officials and those in the devolved Administrations have a far stronger voice in those annual negotiations than they ever would have had as merely one of 28 member states of the EU.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, because he is making an excellent speech, but in case he is not going to mention it—I am sure he is—may I point him to the specialised trade committees within the trade and co-operation agreement, which are there for sanitary and phytosanitary measures and for fisheries and will allow us to put on to the agenda issues that we are concerned about in our relationship with France? Does he agree that we must use those specialised trade committees?

I totally agree. I would like to say that my hon. Friend had the foresight of predicting something I was going to say in my comments, but I was not, so I am grateful that he brought that up, because he is correct.

We now have control over our own fisheries regulations and management systems. Of course, we cannot apply regulations on vessels coming into our waters that do not equally apply to our vessels, but that is fine; that is how agreements between independent coastal states operate.

The fact that we will get our own waters back in a phased way may well be necessary, because we need more boats and we need to attract people into the industry. One of the weaknesses we have is that it is a hard life being a fisherman, and many people do not want to go into the industry.

Sadly, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. Fishing, like farming or going offshore and working on an oil rig, is not for everyone; it is a hard life and a hard job. In many ways, we need to have grown up around it or been born into it. It is a generational thing. I will come back to that point later in my remarks, if my hon. Friend can be patient.

While we were under the control of the common fisheries policy, decision making always felt distant and imposed on our fishing industry from afar. Fisheries management is now managed more locally, with fisheries management plans run by local management groups to provide a formal and regular forum for engagement between fishermen, policymakers, scientists and regulators, not just for the good and the prosperity of the industry but for sustainability as well.

I have welcomed the fact that funding has been maintained, with £37 million being provided to replace the European maritime and fisheries fund, about £16 million of which goes directly to the Scottish Government to spend on fisheries and maritime issues. The £100 million UK seafood fund, which has also been welcomed, has been split between the topics of science and innovation, infrastructure, skills and training, and promotion of exports, which is a key element.

Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to help fund domestic marketing? She may be aware of the issues faced by those catching and supplying small haddock, for example, which is not traditionally an export species. How can the Government help to either promote more haddock consumption across the UK or open up new export markets for that fantastic product? I would also be interested to know what discussions the Department has had with Seafish, which I am told made a commercial decision last year to no longer promote seafood in the UK, preferring to focus on those growing export markets. I think everyone here would agree on the merits of fish as a high-quality, high-protein source of food with a relatively low carbon footprint.

On the subject of exports, I acknowledge that not every seafood exporter was fully ready to deal with the new export systems when they came into place immediately after we left the EU. I should also stress that many exporters—usually those who were already accustomed to exporting outside the European economic area—were ready to go with those new systems. The border operating model had gone through a few revisions, but had been available since it was rolled out in July the previous year. Funding and support had also been provided to impacted industries to help them prepare for the inevitability of the new systems. That included funding to devolved Administrations: for example, some £180 million was provided to the Scottish Government, which sadly I do not think was adequately applied to help exporters in Scotland. I also do not think the SNP Scottish Government helped the preparedness of our seafood exporters. I respect the view of the SNP as a political party that it did not want to leave the EU, but leave the EU we did, and it was something that we had to be prepared for.

It is also fair to acknowledge that even those exporters who had done everything right, who were accustomed to exporting around the world and got their paperwork systems in place, sadly fell foul of some of those IT systems crashing through no fault of their own. As such, I ask the Minister what assessment her Department has made of those export systems, and what improvements—for example, digitalisation and other time-saving methods—remain to be implemented.

I will now move on to the subject of spatial squeeze.

Before the hon. Gentleman moves off the subject of Brexit and fish processors, he has talked about mitigations, for example. Does he now admit that for fish processors and those exporting, Brexit has been a negative, not a positive?

I go back to the response I gave to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). In the last few minutes, I have acknowledged the challenges that leaving the EU has brought, but also the mitigations that have been put in place. Ultimately, though, the fishing industry and the seafood processing sector in my constituency do not have an appetite to return to the EU and the common fisheries policy. I take on board that there have been challenges, but as Elspeth Macdonald of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said, whether we are talking about Brexit, access to labour or access to exports, those issues all pale into insignificance compared with the impact that covid had, for example, and certainly the impact of the highly protected marine areas, which I will also talk about.

Spatial squeeze is brought about by less and less of our seas being available for commercial fishing. That can be for a number of reasons, such as offshore wind or the imposition of the marine conservation areas I have just mentioned. Neither I nor the fishing industry are against renewable energy or marine conservation in principle, but it is worrying to read last year’s combined report from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which predicted that almost 50% of waters could be restricted for fishing by 2050, compared with less than 1% in the year 2000. I realise that there are some special interest groups out there that would quite happily see the demise of the fishing industry for various ideological reasons, but I have already mentioned the huge impact that that could have, not just on the industry but on coastal communities as a whole.

On offshore wind and other renewable projects, all the industry is asking is to be at the table when planning decisions are being made—to be in the loop. I have seen that happen to reasonably good effect between the industry and some offshore wind developers, but sadly, that is not universal.

Similarly, on marine conservation, fishermen just want to be adequately consulted on not just on where but how, and even if, measures such as HPMAs should be applied. I cannot overstate how important it is to get that engagement right. In Scotland, the SNP and Green Scottish Government are in the process of implementing those HPMAs without adequate engagement or even a pilot scheme, not even waiting to see how the pilot schemes that are currently being carried out in English waters turn out. I completely agree with Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the SFF, who said yesterday:

“Nobody cares more about our marine environment than those who are dependent upon it for their livelihoods—from fishermen to salmon farmers to fish processors. Opposition to this policy, which lacks scientific rationale, is widespread throughout our coastal communities. The Scottish government needs to scrap it, not rebrand it, and carry out a complete rethink without pandering to the Greens whose desire to halt legitimate economic activity with a low carbon footprint is dangerous and damaging.”

Does the hon. Member agree with his Prime Minister, who has said:

“I am committed to introducing pilots of Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters, providing the highest level of protection for our seas, and safeguarding the 372 Marine Protected Areas”?

Yes—it was a manifesto commitment. [Interruption.] No, this gets raised time and again. When my MSP colleagues raise it in Holyrood, SNP Members shout about how the UK Government are doing it and it was in the Conservative manifesto, but there are some major differences. At the moment, the UK Government are proposing 0.53% of English waters to be covered by HPMAs, while the Scottish Government are looking for 10%, which is 20 times as much. Not only that, but the Scottish Government only have the power to implement those HPMAs within the 12-mile nautical zone, so fishing could in effect be banned in a huge area of our fishing waters. Again, I go back to the points, made not just by me but by those in the industry, about how the policy lacks a scientific rationale and is just being pushed through for ideological reasons. I appreciate that the Scottish Government are due to make a statement in the next hour or so on their response to the consultation, and I eagerly look forward to hearing it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the way the Scottish Government are dealing with this will have a disproportionate adverse effect on small vessels, because they are unable to migrate to other areas?

My hon. Friend, as always, makes an absolutely valid point. There are all different sizes of operations, as I said earlier, and if one area is closed off to one particular group of fishermen in one community, it is much more difficult for smaller-scale fishermen in smaller boats to migrate to somewhere else to catch fish.

Another challenge faced by the sector is access to labour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) mentioned. I know the Minister will be aware of this, but I reiterate that the catching sector is keen to work with the Government on it. For example, it welcomed the addition of offshore deck crew to the skilled worker immigration route in April 2021 and, more recently, the addition of fishing crew to the shortage occupation list.

One remaining stumbling block, however, is the standard of the written English test. The industry can find plenty of skilled workers who meet the requirements of the immigration system, but sadly not in the numbers required with the ability to meet the B1 English language test. I am already in discussions with the Home Office on this, as are other right hon. and hon. Members, with a request to reduce the English language standard—specifically for those fishermen who come in and out of the country on a rotational basis, with no desire to settle—from B1 to A2, which the industry believes is a far more appropriate level for the requirements of that job. I guess the question for the Minister is: can she help emphasise and reinforce this need with the Immigration Minister?

In the processing sector, the needs are different. Again, I have already engaged with the Home Office, asking that the facilitative support that the Home Secretary has offered to the catching sector is extended to the processing sector, and that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme is extended to include onshore seafood processing jobs of a seasonal nature. Unlike the tens of thousands of SAWS visas that have already been announced for agriculture, horticulture and some other food processing sectors, the seafood processing sector is only looking for a few hundred, or a couple of thousand at most. The ultimate aim is of course to use as many local workers as possible, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Poole has pointed out, this is a generational issue, and it will take time to build enthusiasm in our local communities for people to get into the fishing industry again.

I will bring my comments to an end. I was going to say something about the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s plans to introduce medical certificates, but when I look around, I see at least three hon. Members who will make more of that point than I can. If I can make one last request of the Minister, will she meet me and arrange to meet stakeholders from the Banff and Buchan fishery sector to work through some of these issues? She would, of course, be welcome in my constituency at any time.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on the fishing industry.

Fiona SD 144, Seaforth HL 111, Sophie Leigh HL 9, Rockhopper of Percuel HL 138, Aura HL 294, Constant Friend BH 212 and Equity TH 377 are just some of the fishing vessels either sold or for sale from just one port in the north-east—Hartlepool—and there are many more along that coastline. The inshore fishing industry off much of the north-east coast was decimated two years ago, following the still unresolved mystery that led to the wipe out of the crustacean population. Sadly, today it is little better. Before I get into the detail of what needs to happen next, I wish to share with the House what has happened and is happening in fishing communities, particularly those in Hartlepool, Redcar and Whitby.

James Cole is chair of Whitby Commercial Fishing Association, which represents 20-plus small to medium-scale potting boats from Whitby and Staithes in north Yorkshire. He reports a huge reduction in catches in recent years and said:

“Our main concern is the 90%—”

Ninety per cent!—

“reduction in brown crab catches, and very little velvet crab to be seen either. Invasive speeches like starfish and whelks have taken over the die-off zone grounds.”

He adds that figures from the Whitby and Scarborough harbour office show a big drop in revenue from local boats. In the reporting first quarter of the year, Scarborough’s shellfish landings were down by 87.5%, and Whitby landings by 93%.

It is clear, however, that a very different picture is being painted by the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, which has appeared to claim that catches are robust. But the catch figures it relies on totally distort the reality facing inshore fishing communities. The catches reported included those from so-called “super crabbers”, which operate not inshore but 90 miles off the coast, and do not land catches in our area. One, MV Margilis, operates just 12 miles off our coast, plundering the sea life and giving it no time to replenish itself in the inshore areas. The Government, including the Secretary of State, have relied on those figures to deny any form of compensation to the inshore fishers, and claims of assistance being available have been misleading.

I have advised the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer) that I intended to mention her in my speech, because she is one of those who has also relied on those figures. The hon. Member is being taken to task by the North East Fishing Collective, which issued a statement saying:

“It is with utter dismay and bewilderment that we find ourselves having to clarify the current situation for those concerned in order to have full transparency around the current issues that the fleet faces… It has been stated by the MP for Hartlepool that ‘prawners have experienced a temporary but significant reduction in their catches due to prawns burrowing into sands and moving away from usual catch areas.’ She also states that ‘the prawns and catches returned...but fishermen lost some valuable weeks of fishing.’… Whilst our MP may have spoken to some individuals, she has not spoken to the majority of the skippers in the fleet who are suffering indescribable hardship and lack of catches on the local prawn grounds where they have made their livings all of their working lives. These individuals have spent their careers fishing within the die-off zone and have first-hand experience which should have been collected and shared with the Minister of State at DEFRA in order to give a fair and accurate account for all involved.”

It is all the more important that accurate data is provided by Government agencies to spare Members of Parliament the embarrassment of making wholly inaccurate statements. A recent example was reported by fishers’ leader Stan Rennie. On 25 May he steamed north from Hartlepool for nearly two hours, and shot seven fleets of trammel nets from Hawthorn to Nose’s Point near Seaham, up to 4 miles offshore. On 26 May he collected 4 kg of cod, eight edible crabs, three lobsters weighing just 2 kg between them, and three monkfish. He said that instead of lots of crabs and lobsters, there were just starfish and brittle stars, which have taken over the barren ground. The other fishers report similar results, but many are now out of business. I am so aware that the Government have abandoned our north-east inshore fishers, and the Government’s capital investment in new boats or upgraded equipment for the fishers is useless in an environment where there is little, if anything, to catch.

Going back to the boats sold or for sale at Hartlepool, half the potting fleet has been sold or is for sale, as are a third of the prawners—all since the disaster of two years ago. It is time for the Government to look again at compensating our inshore fishers. We have heard in the past about the fisheries and seafood scheme to help fishers, but the Minister knows, as I do, that it is there not to keep people in business, but to invest in the future. Sadly, many do not have a present, never mind a future. We all know that for our fishing industry not just to survive but to thrive, we need a healthy sea, which we certainly do not have off large parts of the north-east coast.

We can argue until there are no boats left over the cause of the devastation that ruined so many lives. The Minister’s own independent scientific group could not determine what happened off the Tees, and reached the conclusion that it was probably some sort of pathogen—not the algae bloom that Ministers have depended on for months on end—but they simply do not know what happened. They could form an opinion only from the evidence provided to them, and they would have had no information about the deadly mix of contaminants being disposed of at sea.

In May I wrote to the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, trying to look to the future and seeking more comprehensive testing of the sea and sea life as it struggles to make a comeback in the north-east. I told him of my meeting with one of his independent scientists and the need to ensure that the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and the Environment Agency provided an inventory of all remaining available samples from the original events of October 2021 and June 2022, so that scientists could conduct further analysis of the die-off. I am advised that knowing where all the samples are, what they are of and how they were collected and preserved would aid retesting for a broader range of potential pathogens. That is essentially to recommend that the samples be archived for future study by academics.

We also discussed the need for regular monitoring. I was rather surprised to hear there was anecdotal evidence of some very young crabs being spotted on the rocks at Saltburn, near Redcar. It is perhaps a sign of life returning, or maybe just a one-off. We do not know, because no monitoring of consequence is now taking place. I said in my letter that the Minister and I should agree that there is a need for consistent, rigorous scientific surveys of the recovery process to be established through an ongoing monitoring programme. The scientists mentioned evidence, for example, from posts on social media, of new recruitment of juvenile decapods in the affected area, but that is no substitute at all for an ongoing programme to monitor the area’s recovery in a scientifically robust manner. That is critical to ensuring that recovery continues to progress as would be expected, and it would provide data on the post-impact effects of the removal of a significant component of the ecosystem.

I told the Minister that we cannot stop there. Ongoing monitoring efforts should also include a full suite of measures of environmental samples, as well as full faunal surveys. Environmental samples should include measurements of seabed oxygen levels, temperature and chemical contaminants in water and sediments. Faunal surveys that are spatially and temporally comparable and consistent should include targeted sampling of fauna to assess for disease. Any samples should be collected and preserved in a manner that will enable the full suite of analysis, including molecular screening, to be undertaken by the crustacean disease experts at CEFAS. Despite the ongoing devastation of the sea and sea life, sadly the Minister is not prepared to do anything for the north-east beyond the monthly water monitoring by the Environment Agency, which is done everywhere. He said that CEFAS will test the dredged materials disposal site this year on behalf of the Marine Management Organisation. That is simply not good enough. If there is failure to monitor emerging life on an ongoing basis, nothing will be done to nurture it.

The Minister should know that fishers, environmentalists, and the public on the north-east coast will not give up pressing for action, or showing up the Government for their inaction. Others continue to look for solutions; I am pleased to hear that a university is adopting artificial intelligence models used by the Norwegians to predict the effect of combining multiple contaminants at sea—a huge step forward from the UK approach of dealing with each contaminant in isolation. Early results are quite shocking. I hope that when we get further information, the Government will sit up and take notice. The cocktail of materials dumped from the Tees area may impact not just sea life but humans. I wonder what role those materials have played in local beaches losing their long-standing blue flag status.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to review the Department’s approach to the affected area again, and to go beyond the routine testing regime that was outlined to me. I ask her to recognise that fishers and the supply chain continue to suffer. If they are not already out of business, they soon will be, unless we do something about this. I ask her to commit to working with universities and others on monitoring sea life over coming years, and to give us hope for a brighter future.

I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries, and should make the House aware that for decades, I have had a very strong connection with the UK fishing industry. I wish to speak on a few matters faced today by UK fishers—although I use that term, I understand that women who work aboard fishing vessels often prefer to describe themselves as fishermen.

First, I will raise the matter of the ever-increasing competition for access to waters around our islands. Fishermen face continual displacement from large areas of sea due to vast offshore wind farms, and areas being designated as some form of marine protected area. Those designations are often made without any real consultation with the industry or its representatives. Please do not take that to mean that fishermen do not care about the marine environment or our energy security. However, we must ensure that all people are included in discussions about the use of our sea. By working together and listening to all voices, I am sure that we can manage the use of our waters in a way that works for everyone concerned, while protecting our valuable maritime waters for the future.

The report, “Spatial Squeeze in Fisheries”, jointly commissioned by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, concludes:

“The ability of the fishing industry to continue to produce healthy protein and contribute to food security and coastal communities depends on its future viability. This in turn will require close collaboration and cooperation with other sectors that are increasing their spatial footprint in the marine area, to ensure that such developments and nature conservation restrictions occur in a way that is compatible with the continuation of fishing activity and the viability of fishing businesses.”

Has the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), or the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), had any discussions with fishing organisations about the report and its conclusions?

Turning to the 2026 negotiations, in January this year, the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries was before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. He stated that conversations with the EU had not yet started, but that his ambition was to secure the best possible deal for the UK. Could my hon. Friend confirm that that ambition will at least be for sole access that UK fishermen currently have inside the six-mile limit, and that it will be extended out to 12 miles or the median line?

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene; she is making an excellent point. Does she agree with the former DEFRA Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who wrote in Fishing News about the need for us to ensure that foreign vessels follow our regulation within our six to 12-mile limit? I agree with what she is asking for, but it is also essential that, if it is equipment, net sizes or anything else, foreign vessels should follow those rules in our waters, which they currently do not.

I completely agree that all conservation measures that are set for UK fishermen should also apply to other member states’ vessels and that they should be enforced.

A further matter I wish to raise concerns the implications for the fishing industry of the “work in fishing” convention 2007, which resulted from the International Labour Organisation conference of May 2007. I accept that this is not within my hon. Friend the Minister’s portfolio, but I ask her to urgently speak to the shipping Minister about the requirements for fishermen to have a medical carried out by a GP. The draconian measure being introduced will prevent fishermen and fisherwomen going to sea if they do not have a medical by November this year. I can understand why that is necessary on large vessels, where operations are similar to those of other large merchant vessels, but to apply the requirement to small inshore fishing vessels is in my opinion an unnecessary and unacceptable expense.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the way that the regulation has been implemented has caused enormous stress and anxiety to an industry that already feels that regulations do not apply to them properly? The catch app and the roll-out of I-VMS—inshore vessel monitoring —have caused real distress to the sector. Does she further agree that the deaths we have seen at sea have come not from poor health, but from vessel instability and the lack of lifejackets being worn, and that Ministers should focus on where the risks are and where the experience is rather than going after a form of regulation that is just causing anxiety to our fishers?

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will come on to express my personal experience on that.

Furthermore, it places a disproportionate financial burden on small inshore fishing vessels. Article 10, paragraph 2 of convention C188 provides for exemptions from the requirement on the basis of

“size of the vessel, availability of medical assistance and evacuation, duration of the voyage, area of operation, and type of fishing operation.”

Sadly, all those have been ignored by the Department for Transport. The shipping Minister has allegedly refused to engage with industry representatives, and, indeed, refused to listen to cross-party MPs when we met last week. Some are here today.

As someone whose fisherman husband paid the ultimate sacrifice while striving to bring this valuable source of protein to our table, I fully support sensible safety measures being introduced. Indeed, working with the previous shipping Minister—I have told him I will mention him—my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), we were able to successfully find grant funding for the voluntary introduction of safety stop buttons for deck equipment aboard fishing vessels. I will be forever grateful to him for assisting me with that positive measure. However, fishermen do not need to prove their fitness to undertake their occupation. I know from 24 and a half years of being married to a commercial small boat skipper-owner that fishermen are simply not as stupid as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would have us believe. My late husband suffered a heart attack and was stopped from fishing for a number of weeks while he recovered. He could not go back to sea until the Regional Fisheries Group was happy that he was medically fit to return. Why should he have had to undergo an unnecessary medical?

I looked at the incident reports on the Marine Accident Investigation Branch website, because they are all there. As far as I can see, there were no occasions when a medical condition was identified as a cause of an accident. Even our Royal Navy personnel, who must comply with specific fitness tests periodically, do not need a regular medical certificate from their GP. This is just another in a long line of complaints that I have received about the way that the MCA causes financial hardships and stress to the fishing fleet, which remains very close to my heart.

I end with the case of a 15-metre trawler based in Cornwall, primarily fishing out of Newlyn, and partly owned by one of my constituents. It suffered a catastrophic main engine failure on 19 April while steaming back to the Newlyn harbour from its fishing grounds, and was safely towed in by another vessel. The vessel underwent inspection by a local marine engineer, who deemed the engine beyond economic repair, resulting in the need for a replacement engine. Current regulations set by the MCA state that the company would have to replace the current engine, which is classed as tier 1, with a tier 3 engine that complies with emissions standards in place for new vessels.

The company appreciates the reasoning behind the regulation and the need to reduce emissions, but it is not always practical given the supply chain timeframes for such purchases and deliveries of tier 3 engines, especially in emergency circumstances where there has been unexpected engine failure. The engine must be swiftly replaced to get the vessel operating, back at sea and making an income rather than being out of action for around half a year. The MCA offers a process to request exemption from having to install a tier 3 engine, which the owners submitted with good reasons for their request and asking to install a tier 2 engine, which would allow the vessel to return to sea and ensure that the business remained viable.

Unfortunately, the exemption request was rejected by the MCA, which leaves the business in a very precarious position. The MCA offered the option of a temporary dispensation, which would allow the installation of a tier 2 engine until a compliant unit became available. However, that is not financially viable, as the total cost is likely to exceed £100,000 in machinery alone, excluding additional liabilities and lost time at sea for two engine installations.

I thank the Minister and the Fisheries Minister, the right hon. Member for Sherwood, for their support for our fishing industry. I welcome the Fisheries Minister’s comments and commitment, but I am asking that he speak to his colleagues at the Department for Transport to ensure that it matches that support. At the moment that Department appears very uncaring and with an attitude towards the industry—which is vital to the food security of our country—that could almost be described as contempt.

It is a pleasure to speak in a debate on fishing. I do not believe there has been a fishing debate in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall that I have not participated in—some might say that I participate in most debates, but that is by the way. I am particularly interested in the fishing sector, as I represent the fishing village of Portavogie, where fishing is really important. I also represent in this House the fishing villages of Ardglass and Kilkeel, because the Member who represents that constituency does not attend this place and thereby abdicates his responsibility to his constituents on fishing issues in this House, where decisions are made, cases are put forward and representations can make a difference.

I commend the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) on his introduction, detail and contribution, which set the scene so well for us all to follow and, perhaps, add to in a small way. I am interested in fishing because when I arrived at Ards council for the first time in 1985—I also represented Strangford in the Assembly—fishing was key to our economic life in Strangford. I also knew many people who were crews on the fishing boats in Portavogie, my brother being one of them. I could never really understand the courage of those who wanted to be fishing crews, because on my visits to the boats in Portavogie it became clear right away how dangerous and claustrophobic the atmosphere was. Fishing is important. It delivers to the economy and it gives opportunities and jobs in my constituency.

With the recent negative economic news, and having seen the UK economy buffeted by forces that, for a large part, are outside of our control, it would be easy to feel pessimistic and downbeat about the future. But I come here not with grievances about what cannot be controlled or tales of pessimism, but with genuine optimism and some recommendations on how, if we make the most of the factors inside our control, we can deliver not a bleak but a bright future for our fishing industry. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan tried to look at the optimistic side. He referred to challenges—which there are—but it is about how we overcome the challenges. That is the way to look at it in this debate, as the hon. Gentleman referred to, and I back him up.

I know that the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) will make similar comments about the fishing crews, and others probably will, too. Like us, the Minister will be well briefed on the problems with crewing, so we are better served to focus on the solution, as I often try to do in this House. Whatever the issue, I always try to be solution-focused, and I want other Members to do the same in this debate.

The Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance proposed that the reading and writing elements of the skilled visa language requirement be adjusted from B1 to A2. That is not a big request—it is tactical more than anything else—but it enables the fishing sector not just in my constituency but in that of the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan and for Totnes, and across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to make fishing viable and add to economic life. I underline that. It will help those in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel and us all. That level better matches the standard of the highly skilled international fisherman who already form an integral and valued part of our fishing industry. That adjustment of the standard would be time-limited for the individual, to protect the integrity of the skilled visa system. The immigration Minister has said that he is prepared to consider that option.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and for some excellent points. He refers to the Westminster Hall debate that we had with the immigration Minister, which was positive and encouraging, and looked to the future. Does he agree that the migrant workers coming to his constituency are generally not looking to settle here in the UK? The immigration Minister himself said that the English language test had to be B1 because it is seen as a route to settlement, but if we could distinguish a non-route to settlement version of that visa, A2 would be more than enough.

The hon. Gentleman has clarified the matter. I hope that the Minister, although she does not have sole responsibility for this, can illustrate and take forward our thoughts. I usually meet the fishermen from eastern Europe and Africa who work in Portavogie on every second Saturday in the month, when I give advice sessions down at the harbour. They have made it very clear that they do not want to stay here; they want to go home.

What we are asking for will not have an undue impact on the visa system. It is a really simple arrangement which I think will assist what the immigration department is trying to do. The English language requirement can be adjusted from B1 to A2. The solution lies entirely within the Government’s gift. It will hasten the adoption of skilled visas within the industry, and will give fishing vessel owners the business stability that they need to plan and invest in their own future. May I ask the Minister —whom we all respect greatly, and who always responds positively to our requests—to take this positive action, and throw DEFRA’s full weight behind this proposal? It helps when there is consensus in the House, and I am convinced that there will be consensus today. Others, I am sure, will make that clear as well.

The second issue that I want to raise is every bit as important as the first. In recent years, we have seen fishermen across the UK lose access to prime fishing grounds to make way for the offshore energy industry and environmentally protected areas. That affects my fishermen back home because there are plans for wind farms just off the Antrim coast, where some of their fishing grounds are. We should always remember that fishermen were the original environmentalists, and few of them will deny that our natural habitats need stewardship, or that the decarbonisation of energy production is as important an aspiration for our society as it is for them. Indeed, we have seen Government policy for the management of the marine space reflect just how important it is. I would argue, however, that our food security is every bit as important. If recent global events have taught us anything, it is that the cheap food we have enjoyed up until now is not something that can be taken for granted. During Business and Trade questions this morning, Members referred to food price increases of some 20%, which have made family purchases very difficult.

We know that areas where fishing and energy production co-exist successfully are the exception rather than the rule. In most instances, such co-existence is impossible. Overlapping fishing with environmentally protected areas can be problematic, and that is a shame. Research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation shows that our Northern Irish wild-caught prawns have a carbon footprint one third the size of that of the farmed, south-east Asian prawns favoured by UK supermarkets, so we should buy the home-produced ones and reduce the net carbon impact. I am not saying that we should not buy from the rest of the world, but if we want to do the right thing for our fishermen while also reducing carbon emissions, we should buy local—buy from Portavogie, buy from Ardglass, buy from Kilkeel, and yes, buy from the whole of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland collectively. According to one scientist from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, the harmful emissions from harvesting Northern Ireland prawns are an order of magnitude below those from other UK animal proteins.

Fishing is clearly not without its own environmental or carbon reduction merits, but, notwithstanding the food security that it supports, it is all too often treated as the poor relation in marine spatial management. Will the Minister support the fishing industry in its drive to produce healthy, affordable and environmentally responsible food by ensuring that food production areas are given their rightful significance and importance in the designation and allocation of marine space? That, too, is entirely within the Government’s power.

The third issue lies somewhat closer to home. The renegotiation of UK-EU fishing opportunity and access draws closer. The ability to access our traditional fisheries in Irish EU waters was a formally submitted priority for Northern Ireland during the 2020 negotiations, but I have subsequently been told that the UK side—I say this respectfully—did not even put the matter on the table. How disappointing. We can imagine how it looks to Northern Ireland fishermen when they see that the UK allowed inshore access to some French boats, but did nothing to help our own. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government do not allow Northern Ireland fishermen to be let down twice. Once is a mistake, but twice would be deliberate. Can the Minister assure us that in the upcoming negotiations, and notwithstanding the Voisinage agreement, any access to UK inshore waters for EU vessels should be part of a reciprocal arrangement allowing Northern Ireland fishermen access to their traditional fisheries in EU waters? This means so much to those fishermen in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel whom I speak for in the House, and for whom others will speak just as strongly and passionately.

Let me end by returning to my first point about optimism. It is so important to be optimistic, to be “glass half-full” and focused on solutions. There is a bright future for our industry, and one that can be delivered by fishing businesses throughout this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but if that is to happen, we need the Government to grip those matters that lie in their control. That can be done in three ways: by helping the industry to make the most of the skilled visa system through the small technical changes that can make such a difference to the future, by recognising the importance of food security and protecting food production areas, and by using the upcoming renegotiation of fishing opportunity as a chance to set right the problems caused by the old system. Therein lies our very bright future.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in the debate. May I start by saying how sorry I am not to see the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in his place? He has been a strong voice on this topic; he has a fund of knowledge and understanding of the sector, and he always adds great weight to the subject. May I also say what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)? He is an ever-present and, indeed, continual voice in every debate on the subject, and it is helpful to have a UK-wide perspective on how we can help the sector.

I am the treasurer of the all-party group for shellfish aquaculture, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell). We have had great success over the last few months in pushing the aquaculture sector, and I am particularly grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House who have joined our group. I will focus my remarks on both aquaculture and fishing, and on some of the problems that are faced by the sector, and I will end by, hopefully, reinforcing my view that there are huge opportunities in the sector that are yet to be recognised and yet to be seized. We need to talk more about the sector in this place, and to discuss how we can build it up throughout the United Kingdom.

My first point is about Pacific oysters. Those of us who have them in our coastal waters—I recognise that that does not constitute the whole United Kingdom—will know that they are incredibly prevalent, incredibly productive and incredibly delicious. Unfortunately, however, DEFRA’s present position, which is a historical one, is that they are invasive and therefore should not be cultivated. I see my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) shaking her head, because the situation is different in Cornwall, and I am speaking from a Devon perspective. Before my hon. Friend intervenes and tells me I am wrong, let me make this point. We need to look at the areas where Pacific oysters are being empowered and are growing at an alarming rate because of climate change and rising water temperatures rising, and we need to think of ways in which we can utilise that and improve food security. If, for instance, DEFRA were to change its policies from invasive to naturalised, businesses would be able to harvest them, sell them, and grow the market.

As a result of DEFRA’s wording on this subject, both landowners and the Duchy of Cornwall are now restricting the licences of those who are currently operating in my area. Three local firms are about to go out of business because they cannot renew their contracts. This very easy line change would help our markets across the UK. If we look at the sheer economics of the sector, we see that France outperforms us by about tenfold in this area, so there is money to be made and businesses to be created in coastal communities.

The second thing that has been particularly damaging for the aquaculture sector has been water quality. Around 80% of shellfish-harvesting waters in the UK do not meet the standard class A requirement for export. The confusion about whether we could still export from class B waters when we left the European Union has only compounded the problem. We need a better conversation about how we will allow aquaculture businesses to be set up and created and whether we can do that in highly protected marine areas. Not a single chemical is poured on live bivalve molluscs, Pacific oysters, razor clams or scallops. Where they are grown and harvested, they help to enhance marine biodiversity. If we can get this right, we will find a way to make highly protected marine areas all the more productive in improving marine biodiversity.

The third area is what we do in relation to EU trade flows, and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) has made that point. The class B problem has restricted many businesses. I know that DEFRA has moved already in terms of going beneath the 53° line across the United Kingdom, where businesses can export and where we recognise new areas as class A, but we have to think about how we test. The UK wrote the rules in the European Union on how to test our waters, but we are perhaps the most stringent in employing them and we perform it in the strictest manner. The French, Dutch and Germans all test their waters using our rules but to a lesser standard, and the right of appeal is not there in the UK.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is yet another example of the UK Government gold-plating legislation unnecessarily?

I could not fail to agree with my hon. Friend; she is absolutely right. We have to look at how we can make the laws that we have passed work. This is not about lowering standards or looking at how we can put people’s health at risk. It is about making sure that we can work with businesses and give them certainty. There is an extraordinary business called Offshore Shellfish that operates out of Brixham, with its harvest waters in Lyme bay. It is constantly at risk of a poor rating that would see it put out of business for a year. A business simply cannot operate on that basis, so we must look at reviewing those appeals.

I know that CEFAS has worked with the FSA on this issue, but any impetus from the Minister would be incredibly helpful to get that across the line. A change will cost no money. It will create businesses, jobs, opportunities and a fantastic, sustainable source of food. I have in front of me the figures in comparison with France. The UK produces 0.9 tonnes per kilometre of coastline whereas the equivalent figure in France is 17.3 tonnes. That is the scale of the disadvantage that we have and shows what we could achieve across our coastal waters and coastline. Indeed, that would help to level up in coastal communities.

Fishermen’s medical certificates have been mentioned several times. There is not a single person in the Chamber who wants any lowering of standards or safety for fishermen. We understand not only how difficult fishing is, but the risks that go with it. We are asking the Government to look at putting in an exemption so that there is not the medical certificate requirement for vessels under 10 metres. There is already a law in place—regulation 14 —to allow an exemption. I have to say, Minister— I hope this does not come across as pompous—that we had a meeting with a Minister from the Department for Transport, and I have never heard a Minister speak with such contempt of this sector. To just say that this will automatically be implemented without consultation is—I am sorry to be so candid about it—a very shoddy way to treat a sector that needs our support.

Does my hon. Friend agree that that Minister did not seem to have a grasp of the marine accident investigation branch reports that are available? It was very clear that she had not looked at them to see whether there was evidence to introduce this legislation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she was far more diplomatic than I was during the meeting, which probably means that her career in the Foreign Office is likely to be far greater than mine. I tabled a question in the House on this subject to ask how many people in the past four years had died at sea or had a serious injury from a medical condition. The response was that not a single one of the deaths or emergency responses was down to a medical condition; they were down to poor practice and poor equipment. We are putting in legislation that causes huge horror and difficulties. We must think about why we put in such things. If we want to change the practice and make sure that it is safer on vessels, let us do that and we will work hand in glove with people. However, to think that this will not impact small boat owners and small inshore fishermen on our coastal waters is just nuts.

The hon. Gentleman makes that point exceptionally well and echoes some of the concerns and arguments of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association. He mentioned the lack of evidence. Does that not perhaps reflect the fact that those who drafted the regulations foresaw the potential for exempting smaller vessels by giving the Secretary of State the power to do so?

The hon. Gentleman makes the point perfectly. If the exemption is there, let us use it. It takes nothing other than the Minister standing at the Dispatch Box to say that regulation 14 will be used. I get the sense that there may be some cross-party support on this issue.

I was in that meeting as well. I do not wish to add to the piling on of that Minister, but there is a point to make about how regulations should be implemented, and there is a real problem with how this particular regulation is being implemented. Does the hon. Member agree that the way to build trust with the sector, which feels put on and over-regulated, is for the MCA, the DFT and possibly DEFRA to ensure that there is renewed trust between them and the sector? The absence of trust will not deliver the regulatory outcomes that the Minister wants and will only further corrode the already tense relationship between the fishing industry—especially those using small boats—and those who seek to regulate them.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. Communication is key. We are not trying to overload the sector. We want to make sure that we take all the steps in the right way, but that means that organisations such as the MCA and DEFRA have to be very clear and concise. I say this to the Minister, and I am sure that the Fisheries Minister is watching: they have been proactive in engaging with us and very clear about this, so this is not me having a dig at them.

I am sorry to take up so much of my hon. Friend’s time. As someone whose husband suffered a fatal accident aboard his under 10 metre fishing vessel, I can honestly say that when his toggle caught in the net drum of his boat, no medical certificate issued by his GP would have prevented that. Does my hon. Friend agree?

I absolutely agree. As ever, my hon. Friend adds huge weight and knowledge to the debates on this topic. I hope that officials and Ministers across all Departments are listening to the points that we are making.

I am taking up far too much time, but I will just make three other quick points. I should also mention that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) cannot be in this debate but wanted to emphasise that her view on medical certificates is very much aligned with those that have been expressed across the House.

Another concern about the fishing sector relates to the I-VMS—the inshore vessel monitoring system. That has been a difficult programme to roll out. We have to ensure that the MMO has learned from the shambles of the type approval process and does not repeat that. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, the MMO has to be open and transparent and must communicate in full with fishermen and the fishing community.

That brings me on to the catch app. I am perfectly willing and happy to accept that modern technology has a place in how we fish and farm, and that we must use it to our full advantage, but the app is still not functional. People still cannot enter some port locations or species or differentiate between male and female crabs. The computer literacy and, indeed, connectivity in some places across this country are of hugely varying quality, so there needs to be a bit of understanding. I have seen fishermen in my community suddenly being issued with non-compliance letters many months after the alleged incident happened. That only adds to the stress of those in a sector that is really under the cosh at the moment and which needs more support.

The catch app and the type verification for I-VMS are two good examples of over-burdensome regulation. The threat of criminality if someone cannot successfully weigh a fish—within 10% of its weight—while at sea without marine scales seems to be home-grown, massively over-burdensome and costly red tape that creates additional stress. Does the hon. Member agree that there must be a better way of doing this to ensure that fishers can be taken with the Government when they change the laws, not pitched against them?

Yes. Where we have seen huge progress is that the Fisheries Minister has been extremely proactive on this. I hope I am not speaking for him when I say he has told me that he agrees with the points we are making. It is about how the MCA is putting this in and regulating it. We have to make sure that what we say in this Chamber and what is being said in Departments is translating through to the organisations that enforce it. If we get that right, we can suddenly do all the things that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and Conservative Members are saying.

We have spoken a little about Brexit. There are huge opportunities outside the common fisheries policy, and Brixham in my constituency is a fantastic example of a fishing port that has had record sales since 2021. In 2021, it sold £43 million, in 2022 it sold £60 million, this year it is on course to sell £63 million and next year it is forecasting £67 million. By 2027, it expects to top £100 million-worth of sales. Brixham prepared for Brexit, and it is taking advantage of it. New boats are coming on line and being built, and the Government’s capital allowance is a huge support to the sector. Do not think we are being doom and gloom about the sector; it is about ensuring that we recognise the difficulties of gold-plated legislation, rules and regulations and try to unlock them to make it easier and simpler, and about ensuring that we really talk up the sector.

We need to talk a lot more about food security in this country, and we need to talk about how we can be more self-sustainable. Our coastal waters offer that opportunity. We must make sure that, when we come back with the three-yearly reports on food security, fishing and aqua- culture are fully embedded to help us answer the call for better food security and better local food on our plates.

It is a privilege to speak on behalf of the fishing community in my constituency and to know that so many colleagues on both sides of the House share similar views.

The Liberal Democrats would typically be represented in this debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who has decades of experience representing fishermen and the fishing industry, whereas I have represented the town of Beer for merely a year. None the less, I will make a few comments that seek to represent the small fishing fleet of Beer. I will specifically comment on the trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union, access to labour and, finally, a level playing field for British fishermen and their competitors.

We have heard that the TCA with the European Union will be revisited in 2026. Fishing lobby groups have told me that they were disappointed by the TCA’s first iteration, which is a bit of an understatement. I have heard others describe it as something of a betrayal. We heard in advance of 2016 that, as an independent coastal state, the UK might expect to have exclusive access to the 12 nautical mile zone and that we might have protected inshore fisheries. Instead, we have quota shares that still do not reflect the fisheries resources located within the UK’s exclusive economic zone. EU vessels may catch up to 40,000 tonnes of non-quota species in UK waters, whereas UK fleets are allowed to catch only 12,000 tonnes in EU waters.

The hon. Gentleman is using the statistics well, but can he tell me how many of his fishermen from Beer operate in the 6 to 12 mile limit, or on the other side of the median line in the channel?

I do not know. I am also speaking about the UK fishing industry as a whole. It is not only the small number of fisheries based in Beer but the whole sector that has an interest and a stake in this.

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s speech and in how he wrestles with his party’s position of rejoining the European Union and going back into the common fisheries policy. Surely that would end up with us sharing far more quotas and seeing far more boats in our waters.

I was happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will not have him make straw-man arguments that misrepresent my party’s policy. However, I agree with him that the standards that apply to EU vessels fishing in UK waters must also apply to UK vessels fishing in UK waters. There must be equal treatment of UK and EU vessels. He is exactly right that having higher standards for UK fishermen is deterring the UK fishing industry and could potentially put fishermen out of business.

I think the hon. Gentleman is a little confused. At the moment, the UK Government set the conservation measures for all vessels operating within the zero to 12-mile limit. Between 6 and 12 miles, some member states’ vessels can come in and operate in our waters in a limited way. He says that regulations that apply to EU vessels must apply to UK vessels, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) is saying that what is imposed on UK vessels must also be imposed on EU vessels.

I agree with the hon. Lady. I was simply agreeing with the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) about having a level playing field for UK and EU vessels fishing in the same waters. I will return to that point a little later.

As with many industries, fishing faces difficulties in recruiting new workers. The media have tended to focus their comments on the use of foreign workers to fill the gaps. Overseas workers definitely have a role to play, although that role has perhaps been exaggerated, because around 20% of fishermen working on UK boats are non-UK citizens. The proportion is higher in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland has made so much of that point.

Commendable efforts have been made in the south-west to increase domestic recruitment, and I pay particular tribute to the South Western Fish Producer Organisation and South Devon College. I congratulate them on developing a fishing apprenticeship that is now taking on its first recruits.

Adding fisheries workers to the shortage occupation list was a commendable step, and it is making the skilled visa route much easier to follow, but the difficulties identified by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) in the written English requirement are right. These barriers need not be imposed. We understand that a level of verbal English-language proficiency is required, but imposing written requirements on people who do not need to write in the course of their job just adds pointless expense and delay to their recruitment.

I acknowledge and thank the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with my point. I also acknowledge, in his absence, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) who, along with me and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), has been a strong advocate for the process of not just getting cheap foreign labour but helping the Government to facilitate that process.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out.

There is a little irony in how British boats fishing in the 6 to 12-mile zone are unable to employ foreign workers, yet overseas workers routinely make up a large proportion of the crew of EU vessels that work alongside those boats.

There is one other sense in which British commercial fishermen are not competing on a level playing field with EU commercial fishermen and our competitors have a competitive advantage over our fishermen. To make this point, I will quote directly from what I have been told by a constituent who lives in Seaton but whose son is a commercial fishermen who owns a trawler based in Brixham. She writes:

“They work all over and last week the boats fuel bill was nearly twelve thousand pounds for one trip. Many fishermen are struggling to pay fuel costs and unfortunately a lot will go under as a result. France is subsiding fuel costs for their fishing fleet. As usual, our fishermen are receiving no support whatsoever from their own government. These are good, hardworking men Richard who risk their lives at sea everyday in order to feed the nation. Most worked throughout the pandemic without any fuss and with very little thanks. They deserve help from our government to help with fuel costs. If they don’t get some help, many will lose their livelihoods.”

Her comments—

I apologise for interrupting, but as that person is operating in my constituency, I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell them to get in touch. Secondly, we must also recognise what the Government have done through offering funding for retrofitting vessels to make them greener and reduce their fuel prices, and through the fisheries and seafood schemes. A significant amount of money is available. It might not be a fuel subsidy, but we have done a great deal to help the sector reduce its emissions and the fuel it needs to use.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the duty on marine gas oil can be reclaimed, so this is not the same as buying petrol at a pump? Fishermen can reclaim the duty on their marine gas oil if they operate a commercial fishing vessel. Did he know that?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I do not know whether the fisherman in question knew that, but I can be sure to pass it on to my constituent. The overriding point, aside from the specifics of fuel to which she refers, is that we need equality of esteem for UK and EU vessels that are fishing in UK waters. Frankly, there are some people in this iconic industry who feel that in 2015-16 some of the arguments made in relation to fishing were duplicitous and that some fishermen were sold a pup.

Poole is the second largest natural harbour in the world and it has a long history of fishing, particularly in the north Atlantic. Indeed, the Dorset accent can sometimes be picked up in the Newfoundland accent, because so many people from Dorset ended up going to that part of Canada. We no longer fish that distance, but we still have a live fishing industry, mainly now in under 12 metre boats. There is a great opportunity for fishing, because of our coming out of the EU and being able to catch more catch. This does require investment and persuading people to go into what is a hard living if they are to make it a success.

I recently held a meeting, organised by Lyn Bourne, at the Poole fishermen’s dock. It was with a number of fishermen, including Mark Goulding, the skipper of Golden Girl PE1130. They were all a bit depressed, because they feel that we have come out of the EU and yet the various agencies are bringing in regulations that ought not to be applying to them. Those regulations are making their job more difficult and, in some cases, unviable. They expressed to me in clear terms that many of them feel, “The Government do not want us to continue fishing, otherwise why on earth would they be bringing in all these regulations?” I said that that is not true and that we want a vibrant and successful fishing industry. However, a number of things are landing on them that I do not think they particularly expected.

We ought to be doing all we can to keep people in the fishing industry, for reasons that many people in this debate have expressed. It is a potential growth industry and it is important, not least because of the “tail” created by fishermen, with all the other businesses fishing supports. It is easy to drive around Poole and see that the marine industry employs significantly more people in total than just fishermen, including those in various engineering and supply companies. So we want to do what we can to keep the industry going.

A number of points were made at that meeting. They have been raised in today’s debate, but I will repeat some of them. Those fishermen feel that the regulations are unfair and that they are being pushed out of their livelihood; the MCA vessel surveys and medicals are very much to the fore in this. The catch-up was mentioned a moment ago, and it requires solo fishermen, as many of these people are, to control their boat safely on the return to the harbour, while measuring catches and filling in things on smartphone apps, often with wet hands, on a rolling boat, in the dark. A further requirement is for all fishermen to have medical fitness assessments, five-yearly up to the age of 65 and then annually, which of course is an additional cost.

On the medicals, many on the inshore fishing fleet never go over the horizon, yet they are required to pass tests required of those on offshore large ships. Lifetime fishermen are being warned that they may lose their livelihood because of minor diabetes, colour blindness or weight. A doctor’s decision from a 30-minute consultation could leave them without an income and with no right of appeal. That is a concern to them. They also see that the MMO acknowledges that there ought to be grand- fathered rights but does not spell out what that means. So there is a degree of pessimism among many of the small fishermen in Poole about what is going on.

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points, some of which have, as he admitted, been made already. He mentioned diabetes as one of the conditions that would stop somebody from going out fishing in a small boat. Does he agree with the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Elspeth Macdonald, who asked, “How can a long-distance lorry driver drive down a motorway at 50 or 60 mph with those precise same conditions, yet someone with them could not go out on a small boat within 6 to 12 miles?”?

That is a good point; there is an element of gold-plating here. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who chairs the all-party group on fisheries, made some important points about how we seem to be trying to solve a problem where there is not really one. This is rather like the British disease where members of a club start getting excited when one starts talking about the rules. Ministers ought to be a bit more robust with the agencies on what we need to do for safety and what does not make much difference but just makes earning a living far more difficult.

The I-VMS situation does not sound very good. Initially, the MMO had four suppliers. Many of the fishermen in Poole fitted an I-VMS from one of the suppliers that were subsequently suspended and are now waiting to see what happens. The MMO has said that it will provide £650,000 of grant funding to replace working equipment, but it may be replacing it with something less suitable than had been fitted. The MMO has not yet confirmed the procedure to follow for those with systems installed by the two suppliers that have been suspended. This is creating more uncertainty, because those fishermen might well be disallowed from fishing.

We need not only more clarity, but a bit of common sense in order to help and support our local fishermen. There is a great opportunity here, but we do require people who have given their life to fishing to continue with it. I get a strong feeling from the fishermen in Poole that most of them will continue to do it largely because they feel their obligation to hand on their boat to a relative, be it their son, grandson or whoever, as there is a strong tradition of fishing in certain families. They will not be doing it because they think they will be making a lot of money. Most of them think that some of these regulations are making their life more difficult than it needs to be.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to raise these issues only a few days after meeting them in the House. I hope that the Government and indeed the fisheries Minister, who has had a bit of a kicking today, review some of these things, as they ought, so that we can get a successful fishing industry that the Government support, rather than bringing in regulations that get in the way.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) on leading it. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. Mr Deputy Speaker, I state at the outset that I chair a community interest company, REAF—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries. My comments will focus on the inshore fleet and on the marketing, processing and retailing of fish in the east of England.

The UK’s departure from the EU was intended to mark the start of the revival of the domestic UK fishing industry. We are yet to properly grasp this opportunity, primarily due to the poor terms for fishing that were negotiated and are contained in the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement.

The Government have put in place the framework for improving the sector through the Fisheries Act 2020, which provides for the preparation and implementation of regional fisheries management plans, and through the creation of the UK seafood fund. Yet, for many in the industry, two and half years on from the signing of the TCA, we are still on the starting grid, there has been no significant improvement in business outlook and, in many respects, the situation has got worse. The industry has also been hit hard by the cost of living crisis, high energy and fuel costs and labour shortages.

I shall briefly highlight some of the challenges that the industry is facing in East Anglia. Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex adjoin fisheries ground 4C in the southern North sea, which is one of the richest fishing grounds in northern Europe, but I am afraid that the catch opportunities for local fishermen remain poor. That is because we do not have full control over our own waters and the inshore fleet, which fishes sustainably, has to compete with larger vessels, which are often non-UK registered and often supertrawlers. It is vital that that situation is addressed when the trade and co-operation agreement is renegotiated in 2026. The UK should also consider introducing measures to allow the inshore fleet to fish exclusively in the 12 nautical mile zone, which would benefit not only coastal communities and local economies, but fish stocks.

I acknowledge that the issue does not fall within the remit of the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), but, as we have heard, the requirement for fisherman to gain a ML5 medical certificate is causing enormous worry and distress within the inshore fleet, particularly for those operating single-handed vessels, who risk losing their livelihoods. The feedback that I have received from one fisherman is that when he rang his doctor’s surgery, the receptionist had never heard of a ML5. When he got his appointment, seven weeks later, he had to print off the 14-page form and take it with him, and then he had to pay £125. The doctor expressed the opinion that the ML5 was far too strict and detailed, and that it was easier to pass a medical to drive an HGV or a 52-passenger coach. As we have heard, this is another example of British overzealous gold-plating, and I urge my hon. Friend and her colleagues in DEFRA to liaise closely with Baroness Vere to streamline the process.

It is clear how colleagues feel, but we should also take into account that the Department may well say that none of the people who have applied for the medical certificate have been rejected. However, many have been referred, which takes a great deal of time. It does not help the process and adds to the stress. My hon. Friend, like I and others in the House, will have fishermen in his constituency who will not want to carry on working because of the added bureaucracy. Is that the case in his constituency?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I believe the inshore fleet is the future and the lifeblood of the industry. It will not have a future if there are no fishermen to operate those vessels, and very often they operate them on their own.

A vibrant fishing industry can play a vital role in levelling up and uplifting left-behind communities all around the UK, but to do so requires fish to be landed locally and then marketed, processed, sold and eaten locally, with specialist high-quality products, for which the UK has a long-established and enviable reputation, being sold further afield, whether in London’s finest restaurants or around the world. REAF recognises that challenge and, in the coming months, it will be working up a seafood strategy for the east of England.

Unfortunately, that vision is in danger of being undermined by the Brixham fish market strategy of setting up hubs. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes that I would be mentioning this issue. I am sure, when I have stated my case, he will want to intervene, and I will be happy to take that intervention. Brixham fish market has been setting up hubs around the UK, where local fishermen deposit their fish, which is then transported by road for sale in Brixham.

In the short term, I acknowledge that that sales outlet is attractive to many fishermen, due to the higher prices offered. However, in the longer term, its consequences could be disastrous. A cartel or monopoly could be created, to which fishermen would be beholden, and we would then have squandered that once in a lifetime opportunity to breathe life back into coastal economies all around the UK.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is not isolated to Brixham? Plymouth fish market also overlands fish to the market and it also sells remotely. It is not something that is specifically isolated to one particular market.

I thank my hon. Friend and I acknowledge that, but I am drawing on experiences in the east of England. Brexit and levelling up, in so many respects, are about giving opportunities to very local communities and fishing sectors, in order to make the most of those opportunities in those locations. We heard a lot about that during the Brexit negotiations. I see the issue in Lowestoft. The Lowestoft Fish Producers’ Organisation has an office in Lowestoft, but it does not land any fish in Lowestoft; it lands them in the Netherlands. It is not much better if that fish is then taken over land and sold in Brixham, or wherever. That is to the detriment of the community that I represent, which yearns to take advantage of the opportunity.

I strongly oppose my hon. Friend’s suggestion that Brixham is a cartel; that is the wrong language to use. In the interests of seeing how this model might be replicated by other businesses and organisations, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has said already, will he come down and see the organisations and Brixham Trawler Agents? He will see that this is something to be welcomed by communities across our coastal areas, and how other businesses can take ownership of the idea, so that we can find ways to land more fish not just at Brixham, but across all our respective ports.

There is not, as yet, a cartel or a monopoly. I am flagging up the fact that if we do not watch it, that is what could happen and that would not benefit the wider UK fishing industry.

Let me just say this before my hon. Friend moves on from this topic. I find this matter fascinating. I was not aware that this was happening in Brixham. It brings to mind the fact that in Peterhead, in my constituency, we have one of the largest state-of-the-art fish markets in the country, if not in Europe. Catches from the west coast of Scotland and the islands find their way over to Peterhead market by road much faster than if those boats were to come around and land. It can work, but I appreciate that it can work in different places and in different ways. May I suggest not only to the chair of the all-party group on fisheries but to the treasurer that perhaps we should take my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) up on his invitation to see how the scheme might be proposed.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Lowestoft was the fishing capital of the southern North sea for the fishing industry in the east of England, which yeans to regrasp that crown. This is what Brexit is about. My sense is that we need to build local infrastructure, local markets and local processing all around the UK, and not concentrate them in one or two locations. I also wish to highlight another disadvantage of that concentrating in one or two locations, which is the complete lack of environmental sustainability of vans, in this instance, driving from the East Anglian hub of Southwold, in the Suffolk Coastal constituency of my right hon. Friend and neighbour the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, all the way to Brixham, which is a six and a half hour drive and a 350-mile journey. That is not environmentally sustainable in today’s world.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, who is looking slightly bemused at my approach, to understand that this is an issue locally in Norfolk and Suffolk, which is causing a lot of concern and discussion in the industry. I urge her to take this matter back to her colleagues and look at the situation very closely. I suggest that one solution could be for her Department to prepare what I would call a national strategic plan of regional fish markets, which would then be the focus of their local industries. Money from the UK Seafood Fund could be directed and targeted at stimulating the creation of vibrant local fishing and seafood sectors all around the UK, not just in Brixham with those very impressive sales records. Let us distribute that all around the UK, and the UK as a whole, I suggest, will benefit most from such an approach.

This is perhaps now turning into a debate about Brixham, which of course I am always happy have. The model that is also being considered in Brixham is to have hubs outside of Brixham. My hon. Friend is right to make the point that it is not necessarily environmentally friendly to have huge amounts of trucks coming through, but Brixham is exploring having hubs in new communities. If any colleagues in this House are looking to have hubs set up, I am sure Brixham Trawler Agents would be delighted to come and see them.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. A single hub-and-spoke model for the UK, I suggest, will not be to the benefit of the whole UK. What would be of benefit is hub-and-spoke models in individual regions. Mr Deputy Speaker, I will leave this issue for further discussion and debate. I welcome the fact that I have, hopefully, engendered a debate on this particular issue.

My final point is that the seas all around the UK are becoming increasingly crowded. I am referring to the spatial squeeze that many colleagues have mentioned this morning and that the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, among others, has identified.

In many respects, this enormous amount of activity is good news, as it will create the business that will bring new and exciting jobs to coastal communities all around the UK, but we do need to be responsible guardians of our waters. There is a need for a more strategic approach to marine planning, with the needs of the fishing industry being properly represented.

I am a great supporter of the offshore wind industry, but it is important to recognise that adding physical structures in the sea at the scale that we are currently doing will change patterns of oceanographic processes and hence biological processes. Some of this change might actually be for the better, but much of it could well lead to degradation and it is vital that we ensure that does not happen.

In conclusion, the UK fishing industry is not yet in the last-chance saloon—though I did listen carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham)—but there is a very strong sense of missed opportunity. In the medium term, the Government need to prepare themselves for a tough renegotiation of the trade and co-operation agreement in 2026. In the short term, there is a need for streamlined administrative processes and strategic thinking to ensure that the industry can flourish not only in East Anglia, but all around the UK.

We are now coming to the wind-up speeches, which will last eight minutes, 10 minutes and 10 minutes, and two minutes for David Duguid at the end. I am anticipating that the second debate will start no later than around quarter to two. Anybody who wishes to take part in that debate should start making their way to the Chamber now.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who is not in his place, on their work in securing this debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to happen.

Before I get into much of what I am going to say, I just want to confirm an announcement that has been made in the Scottish Parliament today by our Minister for Net Zero and Just Transition, Mairi McAllan. She said: “I can confirm today that the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed. This means that we will no longer seek to implement HPMAs across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026.”

As Mr Deputy Speaker will be aware, I have been sitting here during the course of this debate, so I have not had an opportunity to listen to the entire contents of what has been said. I direct Members to have a look at that statement in the Scottish Parliament if they want any more information on what is happening in that regard.

I wish to start my contribution with a few comments on Brexit. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said, there have been some issues and concerns along the way, particularly for fish processers and those who are choosing to export. It has not so much been the sea of opportunity that was promised, but more that people have been set adrift. The number of fishing vessels is continuing to go down. The number of fishers has also been down over the last period. I wish to quote from a number of different articles—not the one that was quoted earlier—including from Politico. Charlie Waodie from Hull said:

“I wish I had never voted for Brexit. They told us everything that we wanted to hear.”

James Wilson, the Welsh shellfish exporter said:

“Brexit has been absolutely, fundamentally, profoundly devastating. It’s utterly ****** us.”

You can imagine what the missing word is, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is the case that people feel that they were told lies in advance of the Brexit vote. They were told how great things were going to be, and they are not as great as they thought.

As I acknowledged in my opening remarks, a lot of concerns have been raised with me, as they have no doubt been raised with her. But may I just point out that it is very easy to cherry pick certain quotes from certain individuals at certain times. What I have found when talking to people in the industry as I do, week after week, some of those quotes are not necessarily generally indicative of the overall feeling.

I agree, and I said earlier that the hon. Gentleman had talked about some of the problems people have encountered and the barriers they have faced as a result of, in his words, not being as prepared as they could have been for Brexit. I did not shy away from that or suggest he was entirely positive about the whole thing in his speech. I understand, but I feel that, particularly for fish processors and those who are exporting, it has been a much more difficult process and situation, certainly than they were led to believe, but also than before Brexit.

Things are more difficult for people exporting to the EU now than they were previously. That is particularly important with shellfish or fish that will go off very quickly and require to be exported as quickly as possible to get to their final destination. In some cases, those exports are not taking particularly longer than they were before, but in other cases it is the level of uncertainty about when that shipment will arrive that is causing problems, as well as the number and cost of the additional hoops that businesses have to go through in order to export that excellent produce.

I want to talk about the UK visa schemes. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan talking about the importance of coastal communities, as he often does. Coastal communities are incredibly important and they are at risk of depopulation. That is a problem that we see particularly across rural Scotland and it is exacerbated by the earlier situation with visas and the current situation with immigration.

When Brexit was first on the cards, I made the case that in negotiating it, the Prime Minister should say, “Which are the industries that bring in the most money to the UK, the ones that are best for our economy and most important for our economy? Those are the industries we should protect. Secondly, which are the industries whose loss would cause decimation for communities? Those are the industries we should protect.” The Government chose not to negotiate in that way but, if they had, we would not be seeing the immigration system being obstructive to people who are looking to come and live in our rural communities. We would have seen the protection of fishing and farming communities.

We know that the loss of even a small number of people from those communities will have a devastating impact, because there are not that many people living there. My colleague the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan talked about the people who grow up in those families and who go into those industries as a result. I am originally from a fishing family, a couple of generations back. Their surname is West, a name that hon. Members have probably heard—certainly in Scottish fishing circles, if not in the rest of the UK.

I have some questions for the Minister on the expansion of the UK visa schemes and the shortage occupations that have been added. We have called consistently for more occupations to be added to the shortage occupation list. The UK Government need to make decisions on that with thought and care, but they also need to make them at speed, and to put the views and expertise of the industry ahead of any ideology about stopping immigration.

The shortage occupations that have been added are share fishermen, trawler skippers and experienced deckhands. I want to ask the Minister how many businesses have been in touch to seek support in applying for sponsorship for those new shortage occupations. I am led to believe that the Government are providing a dedicated visas contact for individuals, so they should have the ability to track the number of businesses that have been in touch. What percentage of applications for those occupations are being granted? Are they generally being granted? Do the Government feel that adding these three occupations is enough or are there more that require to be added?

The announcement was made at the end of May in the hope that it would be in time for the beginning of the summer season. Given the length of time it is taking to process visa applications, is the Minister clear that they are being expedited in order for the workers to be able to come here in time for the fishing season to start?

I just want to make the hon. Lady aware that, around the same time—I think it was a couple of weeks earlier than the shortage occupation list announcement—the Home Secretary wrote to the industry, offering the fish catching sector additional facilitative support in getting visas through more quickly.

I appreciate that, but I want to know how it is working. I know the promises that were made, but what are the outcomes?

Lastly, fishing means a lot to Scotland. It means a lot to us. It is significantly higher proportion of our economy than it is for the rest of the UK. We care passionately about it, and fishing in the north-east of Scotland, or Scotland in general, is often different from fishing across the UK. We will do what we can to put the interests of those living, working and hoping to have successful businesses in Scotland first. I hope the Minister will take on board the questions and concerns we have raised, in order to ensure the continued prosperity of our fishing communities, rather than a continuation of the decimation that is happening.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who cannot be here today, for securing this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) for filling in for him today.

As colleagues can see and will know, I am not my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), the shadow Fisheries Minister; my hon. Friend has asked me to send his apologies to the House for not being here, so I am also filling in. However, as the Member for Newport West I am very proud of the port in our city and of the coastline and marshes further down the constituency, so talking water, fishers and our environment is very important to me.

I want to start by remarking on how consensual and agreeable the debate has been today. That is quite surprising, in my experience, but I hope the Minister will take away the fact that there has been so much cross-party agreement on the problems and the way to go forward on them.

I pay tribute to the fishers up and down the country who go out in all weathers, day after day. While there are many different sectors, often with competing and conflicting views, in all cases it is clear that they are extremely hard-working people in the UK’s most dangerous peacetime occupation. Too many lives are still lost and too many life-changing injuries still occur. During the pandemic and the lockdown periods, our fishers worked hard to support their local communities and to keep them fed, and we know they are all hugely valued.

However, I am sad to say that, for all their value, fishers have been sorely let down by this Government. The fishing industry, like so many UK sectors, was made a lot of promises in the run-up to 2016. It is fair to say that many feel that those promises have been broken or, at the very least, are yet to bear fruit.

At the end of 2020, Parliament passed the Fisheries Act 2020, which gave the Government the authority to act for us as an independent coastal nation outside the EU and outside the common fisheries policy. It allowed us to embark on bilateral agreements with our closest neighbours and potentially to negotiate much more favourable fish quotas for UK fishers.

The outcome of those negotiations was a huge disappointment and was greeted with widespread dismay. Under the terms agreed between the UK and the EU in the trade and co-operation agreement back in December 2020, the Government ceded access to fish in UK waters to EU vessels for six years and failed to establish an exclusive 12-mile limit. That result is a long way off taking back control of our waters. The financial consequences of those deals are far-reaching. The NFFO has calculated that the sector will see losses of £64 million or more a year, totalling more than £300 million by 2026 unless changes are secured through international fisheries negotiation.

The English distant fleet has, to all intents and purposes, been sold out. Jane Sandell, the chief executive officer of UK Fisheries Ltd, is exasperated. Referring to the deal with Norway as

“yet another body blow for fishers in the North East of England”,

she explains:

“The few extra tonnes of whitefish in the Norwegian zone won’t come close to offsetting the loss in Svalbard due to the reduced TAC. Defra knows this and yet they simply don’t seem to care about the English fleet.”

As a consequence, she has had to lay off 72 people in the last 18 months. I hope the Minister will be able to explain why the English distant fleet has fared so badly, and what she plans to do about it. I am talking particularly about the English fleet here, but I am concerned about DEFRA and the devolved Administrations working together. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have their roles, but DEFRA has a dual role and it needs to get it right.

The joint fisheries statement and the fisheries management plans pose additional challenges. Their objectives are certainly positive. We all want the UK to develop a

“vibrant, modern and resilient fishing industry and a healthy marine environment.”

I also recognise that it is no easy task to balance the need to produce a plentiful supply of food in the UK with our aspirations to ensure sustainable stocks and to protect, and repair the damage inflicted on, the marine environment. All three objectives are crucial. Maintaining stocks must be a primary goal for the fisheries management plans. It is in the interests of all concerned. Sadly, stock levels of cod in the west of Scotland have declined by 97% since the 1980s, and trawlers continue to operate in 98% of offshore protected areas.

My hon. Friend is making a good speech, and the many technical experts in the room will congratulate her on it. Does she agree that a good step to protect stocks and support UK fishing would be to ban foreign-owned super-trawlers that fish in our marine protected areas but do not land their catch in the UK and so do not create jobs in our country?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the industry. He has made that point perfectly well—as have many other Members—and yes, of course, I agree with him 100%.

Bycatch remains a serious problem. The Future Fisheries Alliance highlights studies that show that bycatch is responsible for the catching and killing of around 1,000 harbour porpoises, 250 common dolphins, 475 seals, and 35 minke and humpback whales in gill nets and other fishing gears in UK waters every year.

I spoke in a recent debate about marine protected areas as an important tool in safeguarding our ocean’s future. I am deeply concerned about the ecological state of our seas, rivers and lakes, and the innumerable threats that they face from human activity. This House has been made well aware of the shockingly poor quality of the water in many parts of the UK, and of the Government’s negligence when it comes to cleaning and protecting our waters. Indeed, poor water quality is a major threat to the livelihoods of our shellfishers in particular. Shellfishers in West Mersea made it clear to us that it is an all too regular occurrence that effluent being discharged into the sea has meant that they have had to stop work. Maintaining a healthy, pollution-free environment can also be in the best interests of food producers.

As I said, I welcome the joint fisheries statement and the fisheries plan, but I just do not think that they provide the answers required to create a thriving and sustainable fishing industry. We need a more strategic solution to balancing the need to produce food, maintain stocks and protect the marine environment. The NFFO is understandably concerned about the spatial squeeze. The Government need a robust response to the potential displacement of fishing areas as more marine protected areas are introduced and more offshore wind farms are proposed. However desirable MPAs and wind farms are, they literally reduce the size of the pool for the catching sector, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) highlighted.

Questions remain about how UK fishing plans will interact with third countries, the extent to which plans will be based on data, and how fisheries management is simplified in future, not made as complicated as under the CFP. Is there not a danger that Brussels red tape will simply be replaced with UK red tape? While our competitors have developed strategies to bolster their fishing industry and ensure that they have the best possible chance of selling their produce abroad, our Government seem intent on making life more difficult.

The shellfish sector offers several examples of that, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) highlighted. Whereas numerous other European countries actively support the farming of Pacific oysters because they represent a sustainable method of producing high-quality marine protein, our Government actually hamper efforts to farm them—so much so that David Jarrad, chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, has resorted to asking:

“Do we actually want a UK oyster industry?”

Moreover, our fishers are being held by UK regulators to much higher standards than their competitors when it comes to the system of testing our shellfish for E. coli levels. Of course, we all want to be assured that our food is safe, but surely the same standards should apply to imported goods. Our fishers are simply asking for a level playing field. To add insult to injury, the catching sector has been on the receiving end of additional regulation that is heavy-handed and disproportionate. The catch app, the inshore vessel monitoring system, and boat inspections by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have been exacerbating the stress our fishers are experiencing. The medical fitness certificate is a particularly good example of the proliferation of red tape that has swamped the small fishing businesses under this Government. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) spoke eloquently about that.

Safety will always be a top priority, but insisting that all fishermen and women over the age of 50 fall below a certain weight is an expensive, onerous and hugely anxiety-provoking solution to a problem that does not exist. It is hard to find any accident in the reports of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch that has been caused by a fisherman or woman being overweight.

Those challenges are enough to be grappling with, but the industry faces a range of other problems, including the fight to keep afloat against the rising tide of rocketing fuel costs and rising interest rates that devalue the pound; labour shortages, which have been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, and stricter immigration rules. It is little surprise, then, that the overall picture for fishing is causing concern—it is not the thriving industry we want to see. Preliminary economic estimates by industry body Seafish, reported in Politico, show that the number of active fishing vessels and full-time equivalent fishing-related jobs fell 6% in 2021-22 compared with 2019-20, continuing a decade-long trend.

It is no wonder that many of our brave fishermen and women are suffering from poor mental health. Those factors constitute an existential threat to hundreds of livelihoods. There has been plenty of lawmaking but no clear vision and no substantive answers to the challenges that the fishing industry faces. The Conservative approach to trade deals and negotiations with countries in distant waters is too often naive and amateurish compared with our long-experienced and wily competitors. What is the plan? Where is the vision? I hope the Minister can enlighten us today.

The Labour party takes a different view. We think that knowing our destination makes it more likely that we will get there. A Labour Government will take action on three priorities for the fishing sector. We will back our British fishing industry and work together to see them get a fairer share of the quota in our waters—more fish caught in British waters and landed in British ports, supporting British processing jobs. We will work with fishers themselves to deliver improvements in safety standards and make our regulatory approach proportionate and risk-based. We will ensure that foreign boats that are allowed to fish in our waters follow the same rules as British boats. We will use the many frameworks and conventions already in place to ensure that we have a sustainable marine environment that is safeguarded for future generations, while ensuring that our food security needs are met.

The task is not a simple one—nobody says that it is—but our fishermen and women deserve to be truly valued and supported for all the invaluable work they do.

My goodness! What a passionate and vociferous lot we have on all Benches. They are all champions for the fishing industry. We have even had some fishing-activity rivalries between constituencies—I see all that as very healthy, as, I am sure, do you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) for stepping in at short notice to lead the debate. He is, of course, a huge champion for the fishing industry and speaks with such great knowledge given the ports in his constituency, including Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and the rich fishing grounds that he so often talks about in this place. We also send our best wishes to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who was going to lead the debate but could not be with us.

A lot of important points have been raised. I will try to deal with as many of them as I can in the time available. Those that I do not cover I will pass to the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), and I promise that he will reply to Members on any outstanding issues that must be dealt with.

Many Members have mentioned what a dangerous job fishing is in the UK. The collision last October between the Guiding Light and the Guiding Star, off the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan, was a reminder to us all of the dangers that our fishers face day in, day out. Fortunately, the crews of both vessels were rescued safely and no lives were lost, but we know that the outcomes of such instances are often sadly much more tragic, and I want to remember those who have lost their lives, not least— I am sure she will not mind me mentioning it—the husband of our hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).

I will put out a few key points before I turn to the points that have been raised. First, I am really proud, as I believe we all are, of the contribution that fishing makes to the lifeblood of this nation and to our coastal and rural communities. We have only 22 miles of coast in Somerset, but we still love it and are very proud of it. Every time a fisherman goes to sea, they are helping to support their local communities and economies and to provide healthy, low-carbon, nutritious food.

Secondly, the fishing industry relies on a healthy ocean, and no one knows that more than the fisheries industry itself. I am so aware of it, as the Minister responsible for environmental quality. We must have a joint approach of achieving both economic sustainability and environmental sustainability; those two things go hand in hand for our seas.

The Minister talked about water quality. She heard my speech about the issue affecting the north-east coast. Does she agree that we have to step up the testing not just on Teesside and off the North Yorkshire coast but across the country, if we are to ensure that our sea is healthy and sustaining sea life?

I was going to come to the hon. Gentleman’s point later, but it is this Government who have increased the testing and brought in all the monitoring. We have a real focus on the bathing water areas along our coasts. That has been made a top priority through our storm overflows discharge reduction plan and our plan for water.

Let me touch quickly on the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about the area around Whitby and Scarborough. He will know that our chief scientific adviser invited a group of independent scientists to join a crustacean mortality panel to review all the evidence, and that panel was unable to identify a clear, convincing single cause for the mortality. We continue to monitor it—he is right: that is critical—and to look at any reports of dead sea life on the north-east coast. Everything we do must be based on scientific evidence, and monitoring is key to that.

The health of our fish stocks in our waters is improving. For 2023, 40% of total allowable catches were set consistent with International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice, compared with 34% in 2022. That is the biggest improvement we have had since the metric was introduced in 2020. We look forward to ICES publishing its scientific assessments of many of our key stocks tomorrow.

We know that much more needs to be done to ensure that more of our stocks are fished at levels in line with the maximum sustainable yield and that we protect important species and habitats, ultimately reaching our goal of good environmental status. It was great news that the Shark Fins Bill received Royal Assent today, which is just one indication of the care we take with the species around our coasts—and even the other ones being fished off our waters—and of the steps we have taken.

Thirdly, I recognise that one of the greatest concerns of the sector is spatial pressure or spatial squeeze, to which many Members have referred, in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Banff and Buchan and for South East Cornwall. These pressures are significant. I was made well aware of that when I had offshore wind in my portfolio as the marine Minister. In Grimsby I met lobster farmers in the Holderness Fishing Industry Group who were concerned that growing offshore wind development, which is important for the nation, would reduce the industry. But through liaison and close working, they have worked out a good model so that they can continue to catch lobsters in a healthy, sustainable way and we can have offshore wind. That is a very good example.

In England, the cross-Government marine spatial prioritisation programme is helping to support a more strategic approach to managing all the pressures. The matter is devolved, and other nations will have their spatial issues. We are dealing with this in England, but it is important that everyone talks together and deals with it. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, everything going on around our coasts is important, and we must try to make these things work together. It is only with the input and involvement of the fishing industry that we can understand its views, with everybody having a piece of the sea—if we look at a map, we see that everybody does want a piece of it. It is a complicated picture, but we must work together to steer through it.

Fourthly, this Government have grabbed the opportunities offered by EU exit to start reforming our fisheries management arrangements here in the UK. We are moving away from the one-size-fits-all straitjacket of the common fisheries policy, which was so disliked by fishermen, to a fisheries management system that will better reflect the needs of our diverse industry here in the UK, support our coastal communities and better protect our marine environment. We have to take every opportunity.

The SNP and the Liberal Democrats wanted to stay in the common fisheries policy, but it is this Government who took the step to move out of it, and we have to take the opportunities of doing so. That includes the joint fisheries statement, which will provide a framework for sustainable fisheries management for years to come. It also includes our fisheries management plans, which are being developed with the fishing industry, the first six of which are due to be consulted on shortly. The idea is that they will become the gold standard for fisheries and used as a template. We have also consulted on how to share out from 2023 and beyond the additional fisheries quota gained from our exit from the EU and put in place reforms to strengthen the economic link conditions.

There has been a lot of talk today about trade and about the trade and co-operation agreement. The TCA set out a new quota-sharing arrangement for UK and EU fish stocks, with a significant uplift for UK fishers— 25% of the average annual EU catch from UK waters is being phased in over five years from 2021, with further increases each year until 2026. There has been a lot of discussion about what will happen in 2026. In 2026, access to waters will become negotiable as part of the UK-EU annual consultations, and this could be used to pursue several possible objectives, such as increased quota shares in the stocks we fish and sustainability improvements. We have already begun talking with stakeholders to seek their views, and this will be increasingly important. I hear all the calls, which I will pass on to the Fisheries Minister, about making the most of the Brexit opportunities. Clearly, fishers want to see that, and we must ensure that it comes about.

Another key issue raised by many Members across the House was labour. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has offered seafood businesses a package of support to help them use the skilled worker route. In May, the Home Office announced that various fishing jobs, including trawler skippers and experienced deckhands on larger fishing vessels, would be added to the shortage occupation list this summer, and they will qualify for a lower salary threshold and lower visa application fees.

I hear the point about the English language made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan. I will raise that and ensure that the Fisheries Minister is made aware of it, but the Home Office is the lead Department on these things, as it would be for the issue raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) about how many people have applied for that visa. I urge her to contact the Home Office about that.

Mr Deputy Speaker has asked me to wind up, but I must mention seafood promotion. We have our £100 million seafood fund, which is being shared between large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises. Officials are working closely with the industry on small haddock. I loved the idea from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) about regional fish food markets, even though it caused a bit of a storm between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall). We all want to eat more locally caught food.

If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must touch on the issue of medical certificates raised by my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall, for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), for Totnes and for Waveney. I fully support the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s focus on improved safety, which I understand has unearthed significant non-compliance, but I recognise that those measures have caused concern in the fishing industry. The Fisheries Minister has been meeting with Baroness Vere. He will continue to have those meetings, and all the points raised in this debate will be passed to him, because we have to make this work for everyone. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) cannot be here, but I am delighted to report that her husband, who is a fisher in the under 10 metre group, has been through the process and has just got his certificate. I am sure that she will be pleased to share their experiences, but she does raise the challenges for that sector.

I will get the Fisheries Minister to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes about water quality and oysters. We have had a meeting about water quality. With my water quality hat on, I will just say that there should be opportunities to sort out any issues for shellfish fishermen by working on the wider catchment basis that is in our plan for water, with catchment plans. That is the kind of thing we could be working on with our farmers and those all the way up the catchment, to sort out the problems that end up on the coast. If necessary, I am happy to look into that issue at another time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you have been incredibly patient, but we have had so many questions; I have not been able to get through them all, but as I said at the beginning of my speech, it has been a really vibrant debate. The fishing industry has shown resilience, adapting to a new, changing world post Brexit. Obviously, there is still work to do. Our fisheries management plans will be a big step towards our new future. It is all about balance, working together and feeding in to make sure that we get the right outcomes economically, for the environment and for our communities. I thank everyone for taking part, and I will follow up on any outstanding issues with the Fisheries Minister.

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank the Minister for her response.

I will not go through every single Member, but I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I will pick out a couple, including the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who mentioned that whenever there is a debate in this place about fisheries, people from all over these islands turn up to speak. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), said that this was a very good-natured debate with a lot of agreement on all sides. I think the biggest disagreement, which I am sure is not insurmountable, was on the Conservative Benches. We can all work together to resolve that.

I mentioned the Scottish Government’s plans for HPMAs in my opening remarks, and they have been mentioned by others. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) said, the Scottish Government have made a statement. Both she and I have been here in the Chamber rather than listening to that statement, so I have just managed to get a few headlines come through. I pay tribute to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the Scottish Seafood Association, the Scottish Association of Fish Producers Organisations, Salmon Scotland and the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance, among others, who have campaigned vigorously to get to the stage where the Scottish Government have—at the very least—shown signs of rethinking their plans. I congratulate them on that, and cautiously welcome what the Scottish Government have announced today, whether it is a pause or a delay. I respectfully caution them to not take the industry for granted. The industry must be engaged every step of the way, not just on where HPMAs might be in the future, but on the “why”, the “how” and even the “if” of HPMAs.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I see that my two minutes are up. I could talk about fishing all day, as I am sure everyone would agree, but I will close my remarks by thanking everyone again.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the fishing industry.