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Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place:

“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the future of Britain’s fishing industry.

Today, we are publishing a White Paper, Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations, which sets out how we can benefit both our economy and our environment when we leave the European Union and take back control of our seas.

The White Paper outlines that the Government will seek to ensure that more of the fish in our waters is caught by our boats and benefits our fishing communities; and we will also aspire to the highest environmental standards so we can ensure that our seas are healthy and productive for future generations.

The United Kingdom is blessed by waters which contain some of the historically richest fishing grounds in the world. Those waters sustained a fishing industry which was at the heart of coastal communities from Shetland to Cornwall. Thousands were employed in catching, processing and marketing fish which enjoyed a global reputation for excellence. But in recent decades both the health of our fishing industry and the management of our fish stocks have been undermined by the operation of the EU’s common fisheries policy.

As a result of the CFP, more than half of the fish in our waters has been caught by foreign vessels. Access to fishing opportunities has been allocated according to out-of-date formulae which do not properly reflect either changes in our global climate or advances in marine science. Indeed, during our membership of the common fisheries policy we have seen jobs in fisheries decline, businesses go to the wall and communities hollowed out.

But now that we are leaving the EU and taking back control of our waters, a brighter future beckons. Today’s White Paper outlines how. As an independent coastal state, under international law, we will be in control of the seas that make up our exclusive economic zone—the waters up to 200 nautical miles out from our coastline or half way between our nation and others. We will determine, in annual negotiations with our neighbours, who has access to our waters, and we will ensure that any additional fishing opportunities then available to our vessels are allocated fairly and thoughtfully to help support vessels of all sizes and communities across the United Kingdom.

Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU from the future economic partnership. Through the fisheries strand there will be a separate process whereby the EU and the UK, as an independent coastal state, will negotiate on access to waters and fishing opportunities on an annual basis.

Outside the common fisheries policy we can also be more ambitious environmentally. We can make sure that our future fishing policies are truly sustainable, and that they protect and enhance marine habitats in line with the goals of our 25-year environment plan. Sustainability is key to a successful fisheries industry. We will continue to work under the principle of maximum sustainable yield and use the best available science to create a policy that ensures profitability and resilience for decades to come.

We are fortunate that Britain is a world leader in fisheries science and marine conservation, and we will use that expertise and the flexibility that comes from new fishing opportunities to ensure that the current methods of managing stocks, such as the ban on discarding fish caught over quota, work better and in the interests of both the industry and the environment. We will also ensure that all foreign vessels seeking to fish in our waters will be allowed to do so only if they adhere to our high sustainability standards, and we will deploy the most sophisticated monitoring technology to ensure that those standards are rigorously policed and upheld. We will deploy not only technology but the vessels, aircraft and people required to safeguard our waters. We will also consider whether and how to replace the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which has supported the sector across the United Kingdom.

Of course, delivering for the UK fishing industry depends on close collaboration with the devolved Administrations. The White Paper sets out our approach to developing a UK framework for fisheries management that will respect the devolution settlements, and, where necessary, maintain the overall coherence of the UK’s fisheries policy. This will help deliver our international obligations and protect the functioning of the hugely important UK internal market.

But there are specific opportunities that this White Paper outlines where we can better support the sector in England. We can look at new opportunities for those in the current “under 10 metre” category, who have suffered particularly badly from some aspects of past policy. We can also look at running a targeted scientific trial system based on effort, or days at sea, rather than quota for some low-impact inshore fisheries, but of course any trial would have to ensure that the system’s operation was consistent with our commitment to sustainable fishing.

Over the past year, this Government have explained how we can deliver a green Brexit—a suite of measures that replaces the existing common agricultural and common fisheries policies with new approaches that better serve both our economy and the environment. Alongside replacements for the CAP and CFP, we have introduced policies that contribute to a cleaner, greener planet and particularly to healthier and more resilient rivers, seas and oceans. We have introduced reforms to the water industry and a world-leading ban on the plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, and called for evidence on new measures to restrict the use of other single-use plastics. Subject to consultation, we are also setting out how we might: introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles; ban the sale of plastic straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic stirrers; and extend the 5p plastic carrier-bag charge to all retailers.

We have worked with other nations through the Commonwealth clean oceans alliance and the G7 to further enhance the health and productivity of our marine environment. The global leadership the Prime Minister has shown in securing cleaner seas has been recognised by the United Nations. Now, with our departure from the European Union we can demonstrate even more ambitious leadership in our own waters. We can regenerate our coastal communities. We can ensure that our fishing industry enjoys an economic renaissance, and we can do so by putting the highest environmental standards at the heart of everything we do. This White Paper charts that course and I commend it to this House”.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement today. Of course, the White Paper is a long way from the Secretary of State’s promise to the fishing communities that we will gain control of our waters on day one of Brexit. Instead, we have to face the reality that the UK will remain part of the common fisheries policy, but without a direct say in its rules, until the end of 2020. Indeed, the Secretary of State himself had to admit that this represents “a sub-optimal outcome” for the fishing industry.

This White Paper represents one more step in letting the sector down gradually because, despite all the talk of a brighter future beckoning, the future of the UK fishing industry will remain embroiled in complex EU and international negotiations for years to come. It is simply not possible to operate on a unilateral basis as an independent fishing state; everything has to be agreed with our neighbours and with our future markets, unless we are prepared to risk conflict and uncertainties on our marine borders.

The future of the customs arrangements will be key to this and we have to await the details of how the Government’s proposal to the UK will be specified and applied in the future. This matters because 70% of what we catch we export, and 80% of the fish we eat we import. We export nearly 350,000 tonnes of fish to the EU alone so, despite the Secretary of State’s theatrical ripping-up of the Prime Minister’s proposals, somewhere along the line there has to be agreement on a future trade relationship with the EU. It is vital that we preserve the UK’s access to low-tariff exports and imports of fish, so we await with interest the signs of white smoke from Chequers this weekend because the long-term future of our fish markets relies upon this.

The White Paper seems to fudge this issue by claiming:

“Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU”.

Can the Minister confirm whether our exports of fish will be subject to the same customs rules as all other food products negotiated as part of the EU package? Does he accept that access to our fishing rights could be exchanged as part of a bigger bilateral or multilateral trade deal, which could make a mockery of our bid to take back control of our own waters? Can he clarify the future status of foreign fleets which purchased the fishing rights originally allocated to UK fishers? Can he also confirm that the fisheries Bill will cover the full range of outputs from the industry, including fish farming and fish processing?

We welcome the emphasis in the White Paper on sustainable fishing and the need to learn from the latest scientific evidence. We will need to continue to share research evidence with other EU fishing nations and beyond. It does not make sense to create a separate research capacity when so much more can be achieved by working collaboratively. So can the Minister say what steps are being taken to safeguard our access to EU institutions that provide expert advice on the maximum sustainable yield and total allowable catch data, so that we can fish sustainably in the future in the knowledge that we are relying on the best scientific advice? Can he also say what further steps the Government intend to take to safeguard habitats and species in the “blue belts” of the seas and oceans surrounding our island? Does he agree that we should be even more ambitious about protecting our seas by creating national maritime parks?

The Minister will also know that the devolved nations, particularly the Scottish fishers, are keen to have greater control over the local coastal waters. Can he confirm that the new UK framework for fisheries is making good progress? Can he also confirm that the Welsh and Scottish Governments have had an input into the White Paper?

Finally, the White Paper recognises the wider implications of any new deal on fishing to coastal communities. These represent some of our poorest communities, with high unemployment and low wages. Jobs in the fishing sector are in decline and the workforce is ageing. It is important that they have a genuine input into the White Paper to ensure that future government priorities will genuinely help to nurture and revitalise their lives and their communities. It is also important that the EU workers who work in the fishing sector will have their interests protected. Can the Minister explain how the debate around the White Paper will reach out to these communities, to ensure that their concerns are genuinely taken into account? How will the Government measure success in revitalising these communities that are desperate for further resource and investment? I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and welcome the publication of this important White Paper. The shores of our islands have some of the most prolific fishing waters in the world and it is vital that not only are fish stocks protected but that the numerous industries and businesses that rely on a constant supply of fish are supported and protected. This includes not only large fishing fleets but smaller, family-owned vessels, not only the small, iconic smokeries but also the larger processing plants. It is our duty to provide a mixed economy around our coastlines that depend on a healthy marine environment, free from unnecessary bureaucracy and free from plastics.

I note the Secretary of State’s commitment to end the dominance of foreign vessels in our waters and to support our own fishing communities across the country; I welcome that statement. I have only two questions: what discussions have so far taken place with the devolved Administrations about sustainable goals to be shared across the UK? Secondly, is the Minister able to ensure ongoing access to the EU labour force that supports the sustainability of the vital seafood processing sector? I am encouraged by the general thrust of the White Paper and look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses for a number of questions. Let me say in opening that I welcome the stakeholder reaction, and the fact that the fishing communities are looking to Parliament to ensure a better future for the fisheries. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Shetland Fishermen’s Association are all saying that this is a clear, coherent and important policy. I was also particularly struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said about the importance of clean seas and oceans. The director of Living Seas, the Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The Wildlife Trusts are really impressed that the Government is committed to reversing the loss of marine life”.

Predicated on all of this is the imperative of sustainability. It is one of the three key components: it is about sustainability, responsibility and fairness. Therefore, it is essential that we work as hard as we can to ensure that all this comes forward for really healthy stocks in these waters.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the difference between access and trade. Under international law, as with other countries that are independent coastal states, negotiations for access are undertaken annually, as they are with the EU and Norway, and the EU with the Faroes. It is normal practice for an independent coastal state, which we will be, to have these negotiations on access. We will undertake that under international law—UNCLOS and so forth. It is very clear about the distinction. On access to trade, I am well aware that all of us are working towards a frictionless arrangement. Of course, export of fish is an important part of that, but the distinction is that access does not happen in the trade agreement, but under international law, which is the case for all other independent coastal states.

On fish processing and fish farming, my point to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is that the fisheries Bill will, as we announced today, allow us to amend technical regulations in the CFP that cover aquaculture. Of course, our commitment is again to sustainability. On research, we must not forget that Cefas is world-renowned. Indeed, the research it is undertaking will be particularly important. I want to emphasise that for sustainability there clearly needs to be—and is—global co-operation on these matters. That is why we will be seeking, for instance, to join the regional fisheries management organisations, such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, precisely because we have a responsibility to act collaboratively under UNCLOS and other international conventions with other countries. That is a given.

On habitats—this issue was raised in the other place—since 2010 the Government have already designated 50 marine conservation zones, a further 41 of which are out for consultation. This is a clear indication of what we are seeking to do in practice to improve the marine environment—the ecosystem through which a strong fishing industry is possible.

As far as the devolved Administrations are concerned, we are at the beginning of what is a consultation, not the conclusion. There have been many discussions with the devolved Administrations and the Crown dependencies —let us not forget them—since the referendum result, and intensively since January under the process agreed by the joint ministerial committee. The Secretary of State is meeting the devolved Administration Ministers tomorrow to continue that process.

On funding in coastal communities, we will of course be looking at future arrangements and future funding continuing on from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The Chancellor has already confirmed that these will be fully funded under Treasury guarantee, even when these projects are not completed by EU exit date. Indeed, since then, the UK-EU joint report of December last year states the intention that the UK will continue to participate in all EU programmes financed by the multiannual financial framework. Work is now under way to ensure that full consideration is given and that we work with the industry to consider possible future funding arrangements.

I know the Secretary of State has raised the issue of EU workers with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. They are fully seized of the importance of access to labour in this important element of the industry.

I have to say to the noble Baronesses that this is the beginning of the consultation, which runs for 10 weeks. We actively want the industry to be engaged in it. The initial reaction from fishing interests across the United Kingdom has been strong and positive. They see the great opportunities that this represents for a fairer share, and for us to work collaboratively with our neighbours and partners to ensure, through the prism of international law and access to our waters, that we have sustainable fishing that is fair to us and that we act responsibly regarding the UK system that we all care so much about.

My Lords, I welcome this ambitious and sensible Statement, with its candid recognition that the European common fisheries policy has been a disaster for both ecological and economic sustainability. I also welcome the ambition to regulate fisheries more sustainably, and particularly the reference to effort control. But will my noble friend confirm that the Government will learn from elsewhere in the world the important techniques of the transferable quotas that give fishermen themselves skin in the game of conservation, as that is a crucial element in such management?

My Lords, one point that has come to light is the importance of contemporary scientific advice. That is why Cefas will be so important. The problem with the common fisheries policy is that so much was predicated on something that may have been appropriate in the 1970s, but is no longer appropriate in the light of climate change and changes in fish stocks. This is a welcome opportunity for us to have more contemporary research and to learn, as my noble friend said, how better technology and science can furnish us with ways in which to care for the ecosystems in our waters, for which we will become responsible.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that the majority of excellent shellfish from the north-east coast goes overnight to European markets and therefore depends on no customs delays at all? How about the Prime Minister serving some Northumberland lobster and crab to the Cabinet on Friday to make them think about the importance of frictionless trade?

My Lords, I would always actively encourage everyone in Parliament to eat British fish and products—they are the best in the world. I would therefore encourage the consumption of any products from Northumberland, at Chequers or anywhere else. But the point, as I have tried to explain, is that there is a distinction under international law about access. It is in the mutual interest of the United Kingdom and the EU to have free and frictionless trade between our borders. That is in the interest of every part of the European Union and the United Kingdom.

I accept that the common fisheries policy has been a very difficult part of our EU membership, and I very much welcome Secretary of State Michael Gove’s commitment to high environmental standards—so I am in agreement with the Government on both those points. None the less, it is the case that one cannot dissociate the question of reasserting national control over our waters from the question of how much of that market will be shared with the EU 27. There will have to be an agreement with the EU 27 about the market share. I do not know whether that agreement is regarded as very disadvantageous by the EU 27, but there will have to be some means of enforcement of it, and I do not know how many ships of the Royal Navy will be available to police it. Is the Minister aware that the EU has available to it trade defence instruments that it can use against us if it feels that we are behaving unfairly, as it did when Scottish producers thought that there was unfair competition in relation to Norwegian salmon? Does he therefore recognise that there will have to be a fair agreement if these trade sanctions are to be avoided?

My Lords, clearly we wish to have positive and productive negotiations with the EU 27, and under international law “the reasonable approach” needs to be taken. However, I think that all would conclude that what has happened to UK fishing vessels has not been fair, and that cannot be right. The sorts of arrangements that we have now are absolutely against the interests of the UK fishing industry. That is why we need to address this matter and why I think that the White Paper is the beginning of a much more positive situation for coastal communities.

I do not want to pre-empt what may come up but, as the noble Lord mentioned enforcement, I am of course very pleased about the support of the Royal Navy and the replacement of vessels by five more-capable Batch 2 offshore patrol vessels. We are working very closely with the MMO, the Royal Navy and others, because other independent coastal countries undertake enforcement very well indeed.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the outcome of the British fishing policy will depend on some very tricky negotiations which will involve very many vested interests both here and overseas? Given that, does he agree that at this stage we should not draw any red lines or give overfirm commitments? In that context, I congratulate my noble friend on the flexibility of the Statement.

Negotiations require two parties to come together successfully. However, I stress again that one of the principles that we seek is fairness. When one understands the proportion of fish being taken by UK vessels and non-UK vessels and what UK vessels are taking from EU 27 waters, something is not right. There is no fairness, and that is what we need to address. I would be very surprised if EU fishing interests did not understand that this needs to be part of the negotiation. However, clearly it needs to be done in a spirit of collaboration, and part of that concerns sustainability. Whoever fishes them, if there are not enough fish, we—whether the EU 27 or the UK—will not have a dynamic fishing industry. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that that is at the root of everything.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned enforcement and referred to the five new River-class vessels, one of which is going to the Falkland Islands. It is quite clear that we have insufficient ships to patrol an EEZ if we have to enforce new rules. Also, the JMOCC does not have proper centralised co-ordination. I have talked about that with the Minister before and that has to be in place before the new rules come in. Is it possible to consider using the two River- class vessels that have been put on one side and have not been disposed of, and to man those with reservists so that we can enhance the number of ships without too great a cost? We will need more ships if we are to enforce these new rules.

My Lords, many noble Lords will know that the noble Lord and I went to see the MMO in Newcastle and had a very interesting day looking at some of the technology for detecting whether a vessel is aping some other activity but is really fishing. I agree that the Royal Navy plays an important part in enforcement, and it will continue to do so. I am afraid that it is not within my gift to comment on longer-term deployment and the number of vessels, but we are absolutely clear that other third countries are well able to enforce their fisheries policy, and we need to work on a system that works for us.

My Lords, I too welcome the Statement. For years we have been talking about the crisis of overfishing and the way that our stocks have been plagued. Does my noble friend agree that sustainability is at the heart of this and that we must protect our marine environment? I want to draw two things to his attention; perhaps he could respond to them. One is the proposal to end discarding, which I am sure will be welcomed. The second is the review that I believe will be undertaken of the under-10 metre category for low-impact inshore vessels. Again, that will help many of our areas that fish but do not do so in such a wide range as others.

I entirely agree with my noble friend. As I have said before, if we do not have sustainability and adhere to maximum sustainable yields, the ecosystem of our waters—as a whole and not just for consumption—will be put in peril. Sustainability is absolutely key. Obviously, we have all been very concerned about discard and the complete waste that it has caused. As part of that, we will consider the vexed issue of choke and choke species and look for solutions. Clearly, these issues are quite difficult and technical. We need to ensure that we do not overfish but fish sustainably. Therefore, the issues of discard and choke are a key element of seeking to keep our stocks in good order.

My Lords, one of the report’s important features is the role of our research through Cefas. There is no mention that we will maintain or even increase it. There have been some cutbacks in Cefas. To have agreement between the UK and Europe as we move forward, we will need agreement about research. There has been considerable agreement about it, but it is very important that we maintain good links with our European research colleagues.

My Lords, knowledge and understanding of sustainability is obviously not possible without scientific evidence and research. Clearly, Cefas is an outstanding place of research. Of course, I think that it is world-leading and will furnish us. In discussions, knowledge of zonal attachment and how we work with fish stocks not respecting borders—we share fish stocks in so many cases—means that we need to work in co-operation. Indeed, the spirit of co-operation is an essential part of international law on fisheries. Cefas will provide us with research, but there are excellent research bodies all around the world.

I should say to my noble friend Lady Byford that I forgot about the under-10 metre category. Further allocations have been made with unused quota. It is a very important area of our fishing world.

My Lords, I also welcome the Statement. Currently, we benefit from research from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—ICES—which is situated in Copenhagen. I visited it last year. A number of British, Irish and other officials work there, and they are particularly keen to understand that we will continue to benefit independently from ICES research once we have left the European Union. Will my noble friend take this opportunity to explain the difference between the International Law of the Sea Convention putting our territorial limit at 12 nautical miles—which I understood would also cover fisheries policy—and the 200 miles announced by the Secretary of State in the White Paper?

My Lords, any access to EU bodies will be subject to negotiation, but, as I said, collaboration and co-operation will be extremely important. On the other issue raised by my noble friend, I am looking for a definition. My understanding is definitely that we will now be responsible for up to 200 nautical miles or whatever the median line is with another country. I am very happy to put a copy of the map in the Library so that your Lordships can see how this will work for the UK and other countries, so there will be a clear understanding of the waters for which we, under international law, would be responsible.

My Lords, for our Scottish waters I warmly welcome the stress on sustainability in fish stocks, but I am uneasy about the sustainability of the devolution settlement, fisheries not being a reserved subject. Can the Minister reassure us that the White Paper has been discussed in draft with the devolved Administrations?

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of my interest in special protection areas for birds in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. When I went to see one of the officials of Natural England and asked how this was going to be enforced, he said the biggest problem was people in kayaks disturbing nests, and that it would be enforced by the Royal Navy. I do not know how the Navy is expected to prevent people in kayaks fiddling with nests, but I am sure that my noble friend’s aircraft carriers are not the most suitable craft.

I hear in Cornwall many stories about how quotas for fishermen have been sold to foreign fishermen, and people are sitting at home enjoying the money they have from these foreign fishermen, presumably for inshore waters. How will this new system deal with people who have bought these quotas commercially? Is the idea that they will be stopped from fishing in the places that they thought they had bought quotas to fish in?

My Lords, there are current economic link conditions requiring that all vessels fishing against UK quota must land at least 50% of quota, have at least 50% of crew normally resident in the UK, incur at least 50% of operating expenditure in the UK or gift quota to the under-10-metre fleet. That is what all vessels shipping against the UK quota have to do. Clearly this is a matter we want to look into but that is the current position. There may be further consideration, but that is where we are at the moment.

To deal with intruders in one’s fishing area it is important to have ships, but it is also vital to have aircraft, because one can identify intruders much more quickly that way. Secondly, following the last question, the noble Lord will recall that years ago British fishermen sold many of their quotas, particularly to the Spanish. We tried to put a stop to that, but could not. A few moments ago, he read out the conditions for home-based crews but, at the same time, there will be a serious danger of overseas interests buying UK fishing companies, maybe landing the fish here or exporting it, and employing a number of foreign crews. He mentioned the percentage. While we may think we are reverting fishing rights to British interests, it may not be as easy as that.

I entirely agree with my noble friend that enforcement engages aircraft, Royal Navy vessels, other vessels and technology. We need to ensure that the enforcement procedures on our waters are suitable and of sufficient strength, as other countries have been able to do. I have set out the current economic links. They may have to be considered, but I want to emphasise that the prism through which this has to work is that our waters’ stocks are sustainable. That means that we need to be looking at fishing opportunities, but within the context of what is sustainable for us to take. We will always adhere to the maximum sustainable yields or under.

My Lords, I believe that here, as elsewhere, we need to keep an eye on the practicability of the implementation of new policies. Can the Minister tell us whether the proposals announced today would involve the employment of more civil servants and public servants? How long will they have to implement the proposals and is the timetable practicable?

My Lords, this is the beginning of a 10-week consultation. We have already said we will introduce into this Session of Parliament a fisheries Bill, which will include powers enabling the UK to take back control of access, preserve equal access for UK vessels throughout UK waters, set fishing opportunities and manage the exploitation of sea fisheries resources, among a number of matters. These proposals will first be subject to the consultation—we hope there will be active engagement, and I believe there is already, from industry and other parties—and to the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament, as we seek to do the right thing for the waters around our shores and the communities who make their livelihood from them.