Motion to Take Note
My Lords, perhaps I may say to those Members who are about to leave the Chamber that fisheries is going to be a big issue over the next 11 months, so do not miss this chance to educate yourselves.
I will speak to both of our reports, but before I start I want to make clear that, although parts of the committee’s report may be critical not just of the industry but of the sector, we should recognise that fisheries is one of the toughest and most dangerous professions, so we should have this debate in that context. I also welcome the Minister, in his continued role, in this House, and I welcome the fact that he will be replying to the debate on behalf of the Government. I look forward to his speech.
I shall go through one or two facts about the landing obligation or, as we know it in common parlance, the discarding ban, although the fishing industry itself would argue that the two things are rather different. However, most people can think of it as being pretty much the same thing.
In 2013, when legislation in the European Union on the landing obligation came into force, the estimated amount of discarding by European fleets was running at 1.7 million tonnes of fish in that year. That is not just a biodiversity challenge; it is obviously an obscenity in terms of food waste. Of course, for some people who do not know much about this subject—and why should they?—returning fish to the ocean because the vessels do not have a quota for them might sound quite benevolent, but in fact the vast majority of those fish are unable to survive.
Why are these reports, the first of which was published in the middle of last year, still important? It is because this is a challenge for the European Union fleet as a whole and will continue to be relevant once we become an independent coastal state. No doubt one of the questions that will be asked is whether it is still the Government’s policy to have a landing obligation once we have “control of our own waters”. Confirmation of that would be useful, although I know that the Government have been quite strongly supportive of the landing obligation since it was introduced.
I shall give a timeline on how the legislation has been working. It was passed in 2013, much of it as a result of pressure generated in the United Kingdom by celebrity chefs and British NGOs. It was implemented over a four-year period, meaning that it was gradually introduced. It was a major culture change for the fishing industry, so it was sensible to introduce it gradually to cover different classes of fish and stocks over the period. It was finally implemented in total on 1 January 2019, after that long period of preparation— six years overall—since the legislation was agreed.
For our second report, the committee wanted to understand how the discarding ban or landing obligation had fared. The answer was not something good or anything that could be welcomed. What became quite clear from the stories we heard in the evidence, some of which I will go through, is that in reality, if I can be harsh enough to put it this way, the fishing industry itself has carried on as it was, the regulators have been gentle in terms of trying to enforce the discard ban but have not had the tools to be able to do so, and member states have effectively turned a blind eye to what has been happening. We still have that great challenge there.
What is the evidence for that? First, we should have had a lot more undersized fish landed. Half way through 2019, the total tonnage of undersized fish landed in the UK was 85 tonnes. Noble Lords might think that sounds small, but, interestingly, even more was landed—almost four times as much—the year before, so that had actually gone down.
Secondly, there were very few facilities in the ports in reality. One of the big issues is around choke, which is when a vessel in a mixed fishery—very relevant to United Kingdom fisheries—runs out of quota for a species and therefore has to stop fishing altogether. That is one of the problems of the landing obligation, which no doubt many speakers will talk about. But, to the end of 2019, I do not think there was any sign at all of any choke arising and fleets having to stop fishing because of that.
Thirdly, another area that should be an indicator of problems, with the landing obligation coming into operation and fear of the choke, is that quota swaps would stop happening, because fish quota owners would not wish to lose the opportunity to carry on fishing. Yet the information from Defra is very much that the level of swaps continued.
It is not only the fact that this is not happening out there on the high seas; there are also particular dangers. First, a disregard of legislation and the law is clearly not a good thing generally and is a bad culture in any industry. Secondly, quotas were increased to take account of the fact that fish would be landed rather than thrown away. Those quotas have gone up, but the way in which people have acted has not changed, so we have the real issue of greater overfishing.
What are the challenges here? First, there is enforcement; this is always difficult on the high seas and in territorial waters. Fishing is a secretive industry in many ways; people do not want to say where those resources are. There is culture; this is a major change in the way the fishing industry works, and all industries find it difficult to change quickly. Also, there are not the tools to do the job. The stark fact is that it has been proven in other areas—New Zealand, British Columbia, parts of the United States and other parts of the world—that you need remote electronic monitoring, effectively closed circuit TV, to be able to do this. The technology has been tested, works and is getting much less expensive. The other area of challenges is exemptions. If you have too many exemptions, the whole system starts to fail—and those have been increased recently. I suppose there is also the experience of two other nations, Iceland and Norway. It is said that it took some 20 years for Iceland in particular to adjust to its landing obligations. No one is saying that this is easy.
This is relevant because these whole issues will remain post Brexit, when we have control over our independent waters. My questions to the Government that arise from this report are: will it remain government policy to keep the landing obligation? I looked through the Conservative manifesto, which says a number of good things about fisheries, but I did not see a specific commitment to this. If you really want to stop discarding, you need remote electronic monitoring technology. Will the Government bite the bullet, however difficult that is, and eventually—hopefully in the medium term—introduce this technology? If so, will they also then insist that non-UK vessels coming into UK waters also have that technology? Also, when will the fisheries Bill—which I understand might be introduced to this House—actually arrive, so that we can see and start to really look at legislation on these issues?
What is quite clear is that the discard ban is the right policy. Discarding however many million tonnes of food is clearly wrong commercially, ecologically and morally, so I support the Government entirely in what I hope is their intention to keep this policy. But we have to make sure that we have a way to implement it. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to sit on the committee and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. As a member of the committee which produced the two reports, I express my admiration for the patience and stoicism of our chairman, who has waited patiently for the opportunity to bring them before your Lordships.
We can also thank the staff of the committee, who amassed evidence from far and near for our consideration. It has been quite a revelation to hear from scientists and fishermen’s representatives of all sorts about how they view the regulations they currently have to deal with. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, pointed out, we are considering such a swiftly moving topic, and even more time has now elapsed since our last report, so it is equally as dated as our first one was. Perhaps the current developments that my noble friend the Minister, who we welcome to the Dispatch Box, can give us will serve as an update as to where the industry sees the progress.
Perhaps it is going back a little far, but I want to look at how the situation developed. By including our fishing waters as a way to secure our entry into the Common Market, we opened up a rich vein of opportunity for fishermen from all around Europe, but there was no desire to oversee or conserve the fish stocks. Gradually, elements of the stock were eroded to a point where recovery was in question. In those early days, it was almost inconceivable that rational controls could be imposed. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, pointed out what we in Scotland call the thrawn nature of fishermen; they were most unlikely to accept any kind of imposed direction. Who knew where the fish, the boats or the stocks were, or what chance the fishermen actually had of catching them?
In the intervening years, great effort and quantities of new technology have begun to offer the answers to some of these questions, but this has progressed to the present crisis. I think we are all familiar with the fact that, when Brussels sees a problem with a production system, the time-honoured policy is to impose standards and rules and to introduce quotas. It then comes down to enforcement of the rules if they are not adhered to, and the enforcement is ultimately pretty draconian. A number of your Lordships are, like me, familiar with the scene in my own industry of agriculture, where all support and finance can be withdrawn for relatively small infringements.
Fishing has, for some time, seen quotas and they have been complied with, but the practical way compliance was achieved was by discards of overquota landings or unwanted species. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just quantified what that amounted to. This is a totally destructive way to look after a finite resource. The immediate remedy appears to be to ban discards. In our reports, we worked out how this would work in practice and suggested ways that the Government could most efficiently implement this ban. It appeared that the Government were quite ready to ignore our recommendations. I think I can say that most of us on the committee were dismayed to find that, within the UK and more widely in other European countries, the letter of the regulation was not being enforced.
The difficulty for the fishing industry that is now apparent is that, with a large proportion of fishermen being involved in mixed fisheries, if one species has a restricted or no quota and you are likely to catch them, the result of compliance will mean the closing down of the enterprise. What could be more draconian than that? As we now pass the first anniversary of the policy, it is a good moment to assess what has worked out.
It appears that the fishing industry in general is profoundly dissatisfied with the discard regulation. Scotland administers the largest part of the UK’s marine economic zone, and I have taken an interest in it for a great many years. I took the opportunity to find out what the experience of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has been. The good news is that the fishery managed to complete the year within quota, and with no fishermen suffering through having to abandon their activity because of choke—which was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. At the same time, the fishermen can see that, next year, with their cod quota being halved, there will be serious problems for the industry within a few months.
The federation asked me to look at a paper put out by the Shetland Fishermen’s Association last April. It sees the approach of the present regulation as being based on the idea that fishermen can easily choose which fish to catch and which not to. In a mixed fishery, this is an impossibility. The association shows considerable approval for the way discarding is managed in Norwegian fisheries, where they suddenly voiced a policy of no discards but with a regime of exceptions which reduces this to the absolute minimum. One outstanding aspect, in its idea, is that there should be rules on discards but a requirement to record all discards, so that these can be taken into account when assessing the overall health of the stock. The association goes as far as to suggest that there is a role for having observers on boats, who can report on the circumstances surrounding discards. But it certainly thinks that all discards should be recorded. In general terms this appears to be favoured by the Scottish federation, but certainly the fishing industry is looking for a new approach. Can the Minister and his officials look into this?
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to his new role, and very much look forward to working with him. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the committee on two thorough reports.
I find myself terribly torn by the most recent government response, which, to summarise, said, “We’re making piecemeal progress, but it’s all rather difficult because of Europe.” The result was a bit of gloom, but of course, in these troubled times of leaving the EU, one must constantly search for rays of hope and small signs of some benefit from Brexit, and fisheries by-catch must be an area where we can now do something ourselves to revolutionise our poor performance on the landing obligations. Time is pressing for a radical improvement in performance. We can do something once we are out of Europe, and we must, because UK waters are among the most heavily exploited in the world, and shortly we will have full accountability for managing our fisheries sustainably. If we continue to overfish our waters, it is bad not only for the marine environment but for the future of the fishing industry and for coastal communities.
I will give two examples. In the UK, 59% of stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels in 2019, down from 69% in 2018. We are heading in the wrong direction. Secondly, and worryingly, UK cod stocks have declined to critical levels due to overfishing. Cod has lost its MSC certification and, with that, potentially valuable market access. This is not good.
As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, outlined, the landing obligation was agreed in 2013 and implemented in stages from 2015, but the committee’s report demonstrates that despite that long lead-in time we have not made much progress. It is estimated that less than 1% of what fishermen catch is currently monitored or verified, and it is likely that there is a widespread lack of compliance for the landing obligation. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations still do not have mechanisms in place to monitor compliance, and the lack of historic data on catches means that there is no real way of knowing the extent of illegal discarding. The result of oversetting quotas and failing to monitor discard is simple: overfishing.
The pressures both from our own fishing industry and from others in the future from the new fisheries management arrangements post Brexit could make this very much worse. The fisheries Bill has an opportunity to define our post-common fisheries policy approach to fisheries management. Will the Minister now indicate how our approach to the landing obligation, or at least a UK equivalent, will meet the Government’s promise of a gold standard for sustainable fisheries in the future? In its previous form, the fisheries Bill fell far short of that gold standard. Will the Government include in the Bill binding legal commitments not to fish above scientifically recommended sustainable levels, as is currently the case with the common fisheries policy? Will the Bill require CCTV cameras on all vessels fishing in UK waters to record what is being caught in our waters, improve data and ensure full and verifiable documentation of catches, as well as robust monitoring and enforcement?
Effective monitoring of discards is essential for a number of reasons: to determine whether discards are still occurring and ensure that future catch limits are effective. Catch limits may assume negligible discards and by-catch, but that cannot in reality be guaranteed because discards are not adequately monitored or enforced, so those catch limits could be wildly adrift.
It is widely acknowledged that remote electronic monitoring—REM—with cameras is the only effective tool to ensure control and enforcement of the landing obligations at sea and to deter illegal discarding. I support the Select Committee’s view that the Government should commit to introducing REM. No doubt the Minister will say that they are considering it or that it will be expensive. The Government’s response listed lots of things that they are doing, including a doubling of some inspections—although not inspections at sea, only on land. Will the Minister tell the House the additional costs of these piecemeal measures that are not working and how they could compare with the costs of implementing effective REM that would work? If the analysis of the costs and benefits of the REM system is still under way, as the most recent government response implied, will the Minister tell the House the timetable for this analysis coming to fruition?
There is no time for delay. We are on the brink of having sole responsibility—if that is not a pun in a fisheries debate—for our own sustainable fisheries management. That cannot be achieved without effective monitoring and management of discards, and REM is the answer.
My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, his committee and members and staff who researched and produced these two reports. I was not a member of that committee but have, over many years, raised the challenges of discarding fish. I recognise that the industry has made progress, slow though that is, in reducing the unwanted catch and that this is a complex issue that no single approach can successfully resolve, as has been indicated. But the situation is still dire, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. Earlier this year, only 85 tonnes was landed whereas the figure for the year before was four times that. We clearly cannot go on with that situation.
Before going into further detail on the report, I take this opportunity to welcome my noble friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park to the House; I look forward to his maiden speech when he winds up at the end of this debate. He has been a long-standing champion of the environment, seeking ways to improve it and addressing wildlife, biodiversity and climate change.
The marine environment is increasingly being affected by climate change, pollution, ocean acidification and warming seas. However, today we focus our thoughts on the long-term sustainability of fishing stocks. In reflecting on the Government’s response to the second report, I have some questions for the Minister, particularly on the landing obligation.
The report highlights the significant challenge facing the fishing industry, but comments that the new rules seem to have had little impact since they came into force six months earlier. In their response, the Government commit to working more closely with key stakeholders, which is to be encouraged. What tonnage of undersized fish has been landed in each of the past five years respectively? As has already been indicated, if that tonnage has not increased, one must pose the question; is that due to discards being dumped in the sea? Catch data is obviously needed and if it is not available or not working, what are the Government’s plans to resolve this matter?
The report stresses the importance of having mechanisms in place to monitor and enforce compliance. One of the ways suggested in the report is the use of remote electronic monitoring. I understand that EU member states did not agree to such a proposal. In their response to the several suggestions on compliance and enforcement in the report, the Government state:
“When the UK leaves the EU it will be in the position of being able to place requirements on foreign vessels who wish to fish in our waters as a condition of access”.
I welcome that statement and hope that remote electronic monitoring will be at the heart of the other proposals already indicated in the government response. The White Paper made it clear that we will seek to deliver on our sustainability objectives by attaching conditions, which could include the use of REM for some sectors.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations suggests in its briefing that REM is not a panacea and that, particularly in mixed fisheries, wider thinking is needed. One suggestion is to authorise the landing amounts of unavoidable catch. For example, when a quota is exhausted and a choke situation arises, the fish could be sold for human consumption, but vessels would not receive the full value of the catch. I understand that that is not possible under current CFP proposals. Will the Minister comment on that?
I am well aware of the importance of the fishing industry to this country and especially to local communities whose living is dependent on the long-term sustainability of fish stocks. I welcome the improvement to fishing gear selectivity, which should reduce species being caught unintentionally. I also welcome the more detailed inspections of catches at sea. In response to the report, the Government made several suggestions, including recording the last-hauled catch to assess the catch profile, as opposed to simply looking at what has been retained on board; ensuring that legitimate discards are recorded; ensuring that juvenile fish are recorded and counted against quota; ensuring that all catches are correctly recorded after landing and that juvenile fish do not go direct to human consumption; using data resources such as scientific data to evaluate levels of compliance; and, most importantly, working with producer organisations to ensure that quota is assessed by fleets facing chokes. My earlier point about juvenile fish being sold for human consumption might give the Government an alternative suggestion. The government response list had more proposals, but I will not go into them.
Improving the health of our species is vital to long-term sustainability in these waters, which we will be responsible for very shortly. There is much work to be done and in this new decade we must use all the tools we have to achieve a successful outcome. It is a hugely important issue: this is about not just fish being caught but the long-term environmental sustainability of our seas and oceans.
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and look forward to working with him.
As others have said, when we in our committee did our original report on the landing obligation at the end of 2018, it was obvious to us that no one was prepared for the dramatic change that was to be introduced to the common fisheries policy. The Government had not really addressed all the practical actions necessary to make it work; there was no data on the current level of discards; there was no data on the take-up of more selective fishing gear; there had been very little education of fishermen, particularly those of the inshore fleet with smaller boats; and there was no real preparedness for how such a new total ban would operate and be policed. Furthermore, the MMO was underresourced and underprepared for its inevitable policing and enforcement duties. The port authorities also had made minimal plans to deal with any increase in the landing of illegal fish.
Meanwhile, the fishermen, both large and small, were in a state of panic. They knew that, if properly enforced, the landing obligation and the associated problems of choke species would close them down and possibly bankrupt them—some said by March and others said, at best, by June 2019.
However, of course, as we all now know, the total ban on discards came into force on 1 January 2019 with more of a whimper than a bang. I have to admit that that was probably the best thing that could have happened in the short term for the survival of our crucially important fishing industry. It was not ready. No one was ready. But now we really have to move on as soon as practically possible to full and proper implementation if we are to ensure the long-term survival of this same crucially important fishing industry.
In their reply to our report, the Government state that the early part of 2019 was taken up with training and informing the various parts of the industry regarding their obligations under the landing obligation and how to best implement them. The Government state:
“Following this initial period of education, the MMO is now moving towards a more enforcement-centred approach ... We are stepping up enforcement ... to include more detailed inspection of catches at sea in high-risk fisheries.”
There is thus in those remarks a tacit admission that the Government were slow to grasp the nettle in 2018—
First, I am not a Viscount—I should perhaps correct that. However, the answer is at the moment, yes, but I am assured that we are building up to it.
The Government have been slow to grasp the nettle but are moving in the right direction. That is a good thing. In the meantime, bearing in mind that fish are an international commodity, it is important that we try to persuade our neighbours also to pursue and enforce a ban on discards. There is no doubt that the reluctance to enforce the landing obligation is not only a British phenomenon; it seems to be the norm across all EU fishing states. We heard from a Dutch fishing representative, who was adamant that the whole idea was ridiculous, and there was no doubt from our conversation with the fisheries Commissioner that even DG FISH was taking a very softly, softly approach.
However, Brexit gives us an opportunity to lead by example. In spite of the dog’s dinner that will be the fisheries negotiations, I believe that we should end up with at least some extra quota. Thus, it should be possible for us to devise a system of a government-owned reserve of quota, especially in the choke species, while also granting some additional quota to the under-10 and under-15 fleet in order to relieve some of the existing social and economic tensions.
We must then be rigorous in our enforcement of the landing obligation, not only within our own fleet but in relation to EU and other visiting vessels in our waters. To my mind, and clearly to others in the debate so far, that means having compulsory remote electronic monitoring—REM—on every boat. In the argy-bargy of the fisheries negotiations, we should insist on cameras on every boat fishing in our waters. I realise that we will encounter strong opposition, particularly among the French and Spanish, to our desire to enforce the landing obligation. However, the landing obligation is the law, and both the French and the Spanish signed up to it, so there can be no legitimate excuse for them to object to it, or to its enforcement.
It was interesting that during our earlier inquiry, we heard the view that applying universal REM among a whole fleet—for example, in Iceland and Canada—could be a boon to fishermen where choke species were a problem. Because all boats would have instantaneous knowledge of who was catching what and where, they could more easily avoid catching unwanted species. However, I suspect that not telling your fellow fishermen where you go to find your catch is so ingrained in the competitive nature of boat captains that they would probably still prefer to do without this particular aid to avoiding choke species. However, I regret to have to tell them that, if they want international equity in the catching of fish, they will have to accept REM as part of that agenda.
The second aspect of our post-Brexit fisheries that I would like to see is a commitment by the buyers, both processors and supermarkets, to ensuring that all their suppliers always—and I mean always—fish according to the highest principles of sustainability. They ought to insist on REM on all their boats. As I see it, only when their marketplace is threatened will the fishing industry as a whole conform.
I am glad that we have produced this follow-up report after our earlier intervention, because there is always a tendency for everyone to focus on an issue for a moment, but then real life reasserts itself and we carry on as usual. Even some of the NGOs, having been very fired up about discards a few years ago, seem to have let this issue slip off their radar, possibly because they thought it was fixed. I believe that for the long-term future of our fishing industry and, more importantly to my mind, the communities it supports, we must not let go of this issue.
The global depletion of the fish stocks is a prime example of the environmental depredations that have been occurring throughout the 20th century and of which we are becoming increasingly conscious. Fish stock depletion is an example of the phenomenon that has come to be known as the tragedy of the commons. This refers to a circumstance where the self-interested pursuit of individual advantages leads to an outcome that is to the detriment of everyone.
The tragedy of the depletion of fish stocks has been rendered all the more intractable by the invisibility of the marine environment. Nevertheless, awareness of the hazard is not new. The threat to the northern fish stocks became apparent in the 1880s with the advent of steam-powered trawlers. In comparison with their sail-driven predecessors, they were able to travel further, to be at sea for longer and to use larger gear that could reach deeper.
Already by 1885, trawling had become controversial. A government inquiry of that year was charged with examining claims that fish stocks were being reduced and marine environments damaged. However, given the abundant and increasing quantities of fish being landed, the claim must have seemed to many implausible. Here, we have an early instance of an illusion regarding the abundance of fish that has beset the fishing industry for many years. The size of the fish harvest has been maintained in the face of declining fish stocks by deploying ever-improving fishing technologies. Eventually, and inevitably, one will be faced with the reality that most of the fish are gone and the harvests have been severely reduced, if not extinguished. This is the current reality throughout the world.
It has been estimated that the biomass of the fish stocks of the North Atlantic is today only 10% of its pre-industrial levels. This inference is based on the size of the harvest relative to the efforts devoted to catching it. This might be startling until it is recalled that, by 1990, the once-abundant stock of Newfoundland cod had been eliminated through fishing.
The landing of fish by the British home fleet provides only a dim indication of the state of the fish stocks, but they are of some interest in their own right. In 1910, they weighed over 1 million tonnes and followed a downward trend to reach 400,000 tonnes by 2010. During both world wars, fishing was severely curtailed. That allowed the stocks partially to recover but thereafter the downward trend resumed.
The depletion of the fish stocks occasioned the so-called cod wars between Britain and Iceland, during which Iceland sought to preserve its local resources while Britain continued to demand access to them. The cod wars concluded in 1976 with a victory for Iceland. The United Kingdom agreed to a 200-mile exclusion zone around Iceland. Not long after, in 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea established exclusive economic zones in which nations have sole rights to the economic exploitation of marine territories that lie within 200 miles of their shores. If the seas do not extend far enough, the zones are bounded by median lines between adjacent territories.
Britain’s fishermen were highly aggrieved by their exclusion from Icelandic waters. That sense of grievance has continued to this day, albeit aggravated by other causes. It has made them willing, if not eager, to flout the rules and regulations that seek to constrain their activities and ensure the sustainability of fishing. When Britain joined the European Union in 1973, there was little thought of her asserting exclusive fishing rights. Britain could not reasonably exclude other European nations from the waters in which they had traditionally fished.
All maritime members of the Union were given access to the common seas, via the common fisheries policy. Each member was given quotas that defined the amount of fish of each species that they were allowed to catch. The allowances are supposed to be set according to the advice of marine scientists regarding sustainable levels of harvesting. In practice, they have been subject to intense bargaining among the member states and they have invariably exceeded the advised levels.
The quotas defined only the quantity of fish that could be landed legally. The intention of ensuring the sustainability of fishing has been vitiated by the resort of fishermen to the practice of discarding, whereby they throw back to sea any fish in excess of their specific quotas while they attempt to fulfil the remaining quotas. There is also the common practice of upgrading, whereby any fish that are undersized and might otherwise count towards the quotas are discarded.
In 2013, the European Union Commission enacted a ban on discarding fish. The intention was that the ban should be introduced gradually, to become fully applicable to all fish subject to quotas by 2019. The two recent reports of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee have testified that the discard ban has been widely ignored by British fishermen. Moreover, our Government have not been effective in enforcing the ban. Their defence has been that they cannot be expected actively to implement the ban until other European fishing nations do likewise. This will no longer be a valid defence after Britain has left the European Union, when it will seek to assert control over its fishing territories and over the access of other nations to those waters.
It appears that the Government are intent on asserting rights to the entirety of the UK exclusive economic zone. The exclusive economic zones of some European fishing nations, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, are highly constrained by their proximity to Britain, while that of the UK extends far into the North Sea. Given the exorbitant extent of the UK zone compared to those of other European nations, this intention is liable to be strongly resisted. It is possible that a dispute over fishing rights will vitiate the other negotiations that must accompany Brexit.
Recent statements by the Government suggest that they wish the resources of our local seas to be exploited more fully. Therefore, one can imagine that the objective of conserving the fish stocks is liable to be neglected. The pursuit of a policy of conservation is liable to be frustrated by the fact that the supervision of fisheries is to be devolved to the authorities of the constituent parts of the UK. These will have to contend with the pressures of some highly organised and assertive parties, not least the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
Nevertheless, models exist for how Britain might successfully manage its fish stocks. The Norwegians, who are not members of the European Union, have successfully managed their fisheries for many years. They have effectively nationalised their fishing industry, giving ownership to their Government, albeit that the ownership is licensed to fishing co-operatives. They have also maintained an effective discard ban for at least 30 years.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Minister to this House and look forward to working with him.
When I started contemplating this debate, one phrase kept popping into my mind: “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” It is usually used, of course, by people who have perhaps heard a bit too much from their friends about their broken hearts and wish to reassure them. I tried to look up the first use of this phrase, but it seems to have been lost in the mists of time. As the noble Viscount has just outlined, that is because things have changed very much over centuries. The tenor of this metaphor in the age of online dating may be more true than it has ever been, but the vehicle for the metaphor no longer bears the weight that it carries.
There is a lot of focus on the state of nature on land. We have recently seen reports from NGOs, and people can see for themselves what is known as “insectageddon”: the fact that, when we drive along the highway at night, we no longer see insects spattered over our windscreens. The loss of, say, our cod is much less visible and much less talked about. We owe a real debt to the commentator George Monbiot, who has drawn attention to this and written about the fact that it goes back a very long way—further even than the noble Viscount went. Paleolithic fishers were catching giant beasts that medieval fishers could not imagine, and what medieval fishers saw modern fishers cannot imagine even in their dreams. We have shifting baseline syndrome and we should never forget that.
Before I get to the main points of this debate, I will say one more thing directly to the Minister: although not specifically our topic today, it is clear from this background that we need to see many more marine reserves and many more genuine no-take zones protecting our fish stocks.
On the specific point of today’s debate, I record my debt to the Greens/EFA parliamentary group fisheries adviser Björn Stockhausen, who very much informed what I am about to say. The Green parties of the United Kingdom will continue to be part of the European Green Party, with which we will continue to work very closely. Similarly, our fish stocks will continue to be European after Brexit. Fish do not carry passports. If they tucked them under their fin on one side, they would be able to swim only in circles. They do not stop at borders. We will have to continue to work very closely with our European neighbours.
Several noble Lords have referred, as I did yesterday, to the fact that the discard ban is not simply an EU rule. This is the people’s rule, fought for and won by people. It is up to the Government to enforce this rule to continue to reflect the will of the people after Brexit—and up to your Lordships’ House to scrutinise what the Government are doing about that, as these two reports do.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who said that not much attention is being paid to this by NGOs. We should pay tribute to the excellent ClientEarth, which put out a report last October highlighting how France, Denmark and Spain are, like us, failing to enforce this ban. I ask the Minister to ensure that, in ongoing talks and negotiations, we focus on doing the right thing ourselves so that we can push for others to do the right thing as well; this needs to be part of the negotiations.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the challenges of being a fisher. They need to be properly paid; we need to look at issues that also apply to our farmers and growers about the payment pressures put on them by supermarkets and multinational companies. We know that much of our stock, our catch, is sold into European markets. What kind of access will our fishers have to those markets?
In light of the food strategy for England that will come forward quite soon, we also need to think about more sustainable, closer-to-home consumption of some of our catch. I ask the Minister to ensure that his work is closely integrated with the work of the food strategy, in this area and others.
I come to a couple of specific points in these reports. Paragraph 49 of the EU Committee’s report refers to how
“Using different types of equipment could enable some fishers to fish more selectively.”
What do the Government plan to do to help and support fishers to do that?
The report also extensively covers the issue of remote electronic monitoring. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has already covered that point extensively, so I will merely say that I want to ask the questions that she has already asked.
Paragraph 57 refers to a system of
“real time notifications that is useful to, and trusted by, fishers.”
We need to change systems and indeed, as other noble Lords have said, cultures so that we can reduce the choke risks for fishers. What plans do the Government have to support that happening?
Finally, there is a small area that I want to address—small in both senses of the term. Paragraph 71 refers to vessels under 10 metres not having the same ability to mitigate choke risks. What are the Government planning to do to support and help those vessels under 10 metres in particular? Those vessels, which often work locally in inshore waters and are a part of strong local economies, make a different kind of contribution and, I would say, a very positive one, unlike the giant vessels taking huge volumes from our seas and oceans. What are the Government planning to do to ensure that we have strong support for those crucial small vessels?
My Lords, I add my welcome to our new Minister. His environmental credentials are of course a welcome addition to this House. I had the privilege of listening to Sir David Attenborough last night in the Royal Gallery, and anyone else who was there will know that we hardly need reminding of the importance of a debate like this at present.
It is seven years since the landing obligation was agreed by the EU. Although there is a timetable, which really only sharpened its teeth last year, voluntary compliance does not seem to be working. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, the regulators do not have the resources and it is not working. There is no effective means of policing agreed and the fisheries protection fleet needs beefing up; as the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said earlier, the Royal Navy is unlikely to come to its assistance as it too is short of ships. The only real motivation for the fishing fleets, ours and the continental ones, are from the personal conservation interest of the skippers and the desire to obey the law. However, I am sure there is no motivation for foreign boats in UK waters, particularly in the present circumstances.
After leaving the EU, we have a great opportunity for our fisheries. We must use it; it is hugely valuable, and it is ours. It is not a cheap bargaining chip to be used in wider trade negotiations without a great deal of care. Our rivals in those negotiations will play down the importance to their fleets, but let us not be fooled: it is a negotiation, it is critical to them and they want as much of the share of our waters as they can have. The price for sharing our seas must be very high. Their boats and their gear, such as the remote monitoring that we have heard about, must all meet UK standards. I ask the Minister to ensure that these are introduced, particularly with regard to remote monitoring, as soon as possible.
Of course we surrendered our waters as a condition of joining the EU, and it was a very expensive surrender. The continental fleet has gorged on it. I have even heard that the EU centrally funded some of the fishing fleet of our continental neighbours. I have not heard that the UK fleet enjoyed such privilege. I would love to be told that I was wrong.
What of the impact of EU membership on our fleet? A gradual but steady reduction in size. Happily, strong pockets remain, but many have been squeezed out. Once a fishery has shrunk below critical mass, that fishing community slowly collapses. Landing facilities, storage, processing, ice, markets and distribution all wither. It becomes uneconomic and the fishery dies. What of the social cost? The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to the social cost to communities: the existence of fewer boats, fewer skippers and crews, chandlery and gear suppliers and so on leads to a high human cost. Seafaring families who have supplied generations of skippers look elsewhere for jobs. When that chain is broken, where will future crews come from?
When the Government put out their White Paper, Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations, a year or two ago, they used what I thought was the most extraordinary phrase: “hollowed-out communities”. That is the Government’s own phrase. The solution must be to help those hollowed-out communities to rebuild and retrain, assist in re-establishing and updating facilities and support boat building. What plans do the Government have to do that?
Give them back their fishing grounds. Do not roll over in negotiating the trade deal. All that is in the gift of this Government.
My Lords, I feel something of a fraud being the person to bring this up, as I am probably one of the most junior members of this committee. Where my noble friend Lord Teverson leads on environmental matters, I am afraid I have a habit of following. The previous committee that I served on was the one that looked at the future of the Arctic region, and a huge amount of the work that we did was on fisheries. One of the issues that follow through from that report to this one is that, as has been stated, fish ignore our ways of travelling. Fish could not care less whether we have decided that this is our water or someone else’s.
There is environmental change at the moment, which all but a tiny minority accept as a fact of life, and it means that practices regarding breeding grounds make this matter even more complicated than it was already. We have a long tradition of taking fish more rapidly than the fish can breed. Fishing is probably the only activity where we take something wild, so we are effectively hunting, and expect to go back to it again and again. Taking fish out of your local river since the pre-dawn of history—in many places fishing in rivers is a very important facet, though not so much here—shows that you can overdo it. We have to start regulating now while we have the capacity to catch fish. We must remember that we have the capacity now to make our oceans deserts. We are putting technology designed to destroy submarines on boats to catch fish, and the fish cannot compete. It is about us showing restraint here. If we do not, we are going to run out of fish and all the social consequences that we have just heard about will be there. However, those social consequences are built on a fallacy; we cannot take all the fish that we want. We have to intervene.
The basic point behind this debate is that, if you have a system to stop overfishing, you have to monitor it and enforce it. Unenforced laws become jokes and farces. We all know that; we have all seen it happen. We must put effort into making sure that, when the choke problem arises, those fish are landed and we are monitoring. Effort is required by the Government, and it all depends how they do it. Putting cameras on boats seems an obvious thing to do.
We can now get more aggressive. Even the enthusiastic Europeans on these Benches would agree that not everything about the common fisheries and indeed agricultural policies was a total blessing. However, we must actually get out there and start saying that we have to conserve these fish stocks and the environment that they come from. There can be very few other natural environments where we are prepared to do the same amount of damage that we do in order to take away these species. Unless we start doing something positive about enforcing the laws we have agreed we should pass, and which our neighbours and allies—hopefully still allies—have agreed to, we will get into trouble.
My questions for the Government are as follows. What is the enforcement strategy? What are they doing to make sure they go out there? If fishermen are simply getting cleverer about landing only the right fish, knowing this and passing it on would be a good idea. I rather doubt that that is the case, but hey, let us be optimistic. If we have found a way of going forward that does not damage the environment, great. If not, somebody should be held to account.
There is no point in Members of this House and the other place standing around discussing this and wringing hands if we are not prepared to take some action. I am afraid we are going to have to offend a few people. As my noble friend said, fishing is one of the hardest and most dangerous professions going. If we are going to take fishing communities’ livelihoods away, they should at least know why this is being done. Indeed, if the Government are not prepared to enforce and help them, I suggest they would face a slight complaint when another way forward is being offered to agriculture.
What are we going to do here? That is the question that comes back again and again. We can all agree that there is a problem—virtually everybody has—but unless we are prepared to take some action now, we have left ourselves in a situation in which we can all take a big slice of the blame, because we have all been part of the problem.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box this afternoon. I very much look forward to working with him on the many environmental challenges we will be dealing with and which face our nation at the current time. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for the insight and clarity he showed in introducing these reports. He is right that this will be a big issue this year, and I think this is one of many debates we will have on the future of the fishing industry in the UK. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the work of this committee and those who contributed to such an excellent and well-informed debate. It is hugely frustrating that the initial report took so long to be debated. I am therefore very grateful to the committee for the tenacity it showed in going back and repeating it all over again, just to remind the Government that this is an issue which needs to be addressed. Therefore, I am very grateful for the committee’s later report as well.
It is clear that the issues surrounding the impact of the discard ban are as relevant now as ever, particularly as we move towards becoming an independent fishing state. As a number of noble Lords have said, we are awaiting the reveal of the latest version of the fisheries Bill. I hope the Minister will be able to update us on the anticipated timetable in his response. As noble Lords will know, the original Fisheries Bill made considerable progress in the Commons before consideration was halted, perhaps in a move that underlines just how controversial this issue is likely to be. Nevertheless, it enabled my colleagues in the Commons to thrash out some of the key issues before us today, which I am sure will be running themes during consideration of the Bill.
At the outset, let me say that we support the introduction of the discard ban, but it needs to be one feature of a comprehensive sustainable fishing policy. This is an issue to which, so far, the Government have paid lip service but on which we are yet to see concrete action to deliver these promises. This is not an easy task, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hanworth, who set out the long historic roots to this challenge. It is not an easy task and it is in many ways a cultural one. Noble Lords talked about the invisibility of some of these issues; I think that has made the challenge more difficult. However, it remains the case that overfishing is having a huge impact on marine biodiversity, and this is an issue we need to address.
As my noble friend Lady Young said, in the UK, just 59% of stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels last year. UK cod stocks have declined to critical levels due to overfishing and the EU Council of Ministers has continued to increase quotas in spite of the scientific evidence which suggests that it should reduce it. We welcome the fact that the Conservative manifesto specified that there will be a legal commitment to fishing sustainability and to the achievement of maximum sustainable yields. We believe that the fisheries Bill could provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start fresh and create a truly world-class sustainable fisheries policy. However, we believe that the previous version of the Bill failed to meet that ambition.
We believe that our fishing needs to be sustainable both environmentally and economically. These objectives are not in conflict with each other. If we do not have a truly sustainable fisheries policy, we will not have the fish, which means we will not have the fishing fleet, processors and industry which sustain our coastal communities. Noble Lords have quite rightly identified the social and human cost of a failed fishing policy in those coastal communities. We can reverse that declining sustainability, but it would take a much more imaginative reallocation of quotas, in essence rewarding those who demonstrably meet our ecological criteria. For example, a greater share should be offered specifically in return for compliance with relevant regulations, participating in data gathering, transparent monitoring, the recording of catches and, of course, compliance with the discard ban. This is an opportunity that will come when we leave the EU.
We also need a serious plan to address the data deficiency, with investment in world-class science that can outclass the advice from the EU that we have previously relied on. This will help our fishing sector market more species at a sustainable level and boost demand for a greater variety of fish. This will work only if our science is indisputable and backed by a commitment to adhere to maximum sustainable yield calculations, which would need to be spelled out in the Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether this is the intention for the fisheries Bill.
In addition, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that there is a strong case for smaller boats to be given a greater share of the quota after Brexit. The small-scale fishing fleet generally uses more low-impact gear and creates significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the large-scale sector. Noble Lords will know that, in the UK, the under-10-metre small-scale fishing fleet represents more than 70% of English fishing boats and 65% of direct employment in fishing. This is a sector we should support, providing it can demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable fishing strategy. I would be grateful if the Minister could address in his response the need to rebalance in favour of the under-10-metre fishing fleet.
These are some of the issues which we will want to explore when the fisheries Bill comes to be debated here. They all relate to the challenges in implementing the discard ban, which the report addresses so clearly. Like other noble Lords, I was concerned at the degree of complacency in the Government’s response to the report, so I hope the Minister can update us on the latest position in implementing the ban since their responses were written—I hope he will provide slightly more optimism that the Government are taking this seriously.
The reality seems to be that no one knows what the level of compliance with the discard ban really is. It is not being properly monitored and we do not have sufficient surveillance technology in place, or sufficient inspection vessels at sea, to change the discard practices which have been going on for generations. I was shocked to read the evidence of Phil Haslam of the MMO, who said that he has access to only three patrol boats. I agree with my noble friend Admiral Lord West that we need a huge investment in new boats, equipment and staff if we are to enforce compliance effectively in our sovereign waters post Brexit. This is an issue for our own domestic fleet but, perhaps more importantly, for foreign vessels seeking to fish in our waters as well. When the Minister responds, perhaps he can update us on the plans for increasing that capacity.
I agree with many noble Lords that the quickest and most effective route to achieving compliance is the introduction of remote electronic monitoring, with cameras to produce full and verifiable documentation of UK catches and discards. I hope that the Minister will be able to set out in his response a clear commitment to the introduction of REM and a timetable for compliance with this technology.
Noble Lords have rightly drawn attention to the problems with mixed fisheries and the choke effect. Clearly, there needs to be some kind of flexibility, to help mitigate its impact while maintaining compliance with the quotas. However, like other noble Lords, I was slightly disturbed to read that the impact of choke species has been less than anticipated, again raising questions about the level of compliance with the discard ban. The truth is that implementing the discard ban effectively will always be an uphill struggle if the fishers themselves do not understand the intent behind it, or if they believe that the policy is unworkable in its current form.
The Government still have a massive job to do, not just to inform the crews of their obligations not to discard but to persuade them that it is a policy that will work in their interests. This requires a huge cultural shift, as noble Lords have identified, so it is the real challenge ahead. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government intend to respond to that challenge.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for initiating this important debate and I thank all Members for their contributions today. I am also grateful to members of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee for its hugely valuable reports on the landing obligation.
I should note that this is my first, and therefore technically my maiden, speech in this House. Given that time is short, that we are here to debate a very specific issue and that I have already had an opportunity, some 10 years ago, to deliver a maiden speech in Parliament, I will keep my opening remarks to a minimum. Before I do, I thank noble Lords from right across the House for a surprisingly warm welcome. I can tell them that there is quite a contrast between this side of the building and the other. I thank in particular my two distinguished supporters, my noble friend Lord True, who I had the pleasure of working with when he led Richmond Council, when he really showed me how politics should be done at the local level, and my noble friend Lord Randall, who I first met in the other part of this complicated compound when he was the Deputy Chief Whip. It is a miracle that we remained friends but we did; I think it had something to do with our shared passion for nature. I also thank my noble friends and Defra colleagues Lord Gardiner and Lady Chisholm for their extraordinary patience in showing me the ropes here from the moment I arrived. Finally, for the same reason, I give my sincere thanks to the doorkeepers, the police officers, the Clerk of the Parliaments, parliamentary staff and Black Rod, who have all at varying times explained the procedures and prevented me getting horribly lost.
I had the honour of representing my home community of Richmond Park and north Kingston for nearly 10 years, with the exception of a short six-month window in 2016 when my constituents kindly sent me off on a short sabbatical. While I will miss working directly for my former constituents, I think we can agree they are not short of representation here in this House. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on the other Benches. I think she will understand when I say that I have lost count of the number of times I have knocked on the door of a residence, to be told by a pleased-looking occupant that they are unable to vote in a general election. I sometimes resist asking why, just to cause a flicker of disappointment.
I know that my appointment to this House was not everyone’s cup of tea. One political rival described me—I apologise if this is inappropriate—as a turd that will not flush; a phrase my children are unlikely to let me forget. Equally, I know that many of those heroic people who are engaged in the battle to protect this extraordinary planet we inhabit and the species it holds are cheered by having another voice in Parliament. It is an enormous privilege. The environment has preoccupied me for as long as I remember; it dominated my work in the Commons. I am enormously grateful that I am able to continue working on it full time, as part of a Government who have made tackling these issues a top priority.
The environment may not be everyone’s most immediate concern in the way that education, health, security and so on often are; but given our total dependence on the health of this planet, the damage we are doing to it is self-evidently the most important issue. There can be no doubt that we are damaging the planet. It is estimated that each minute last year, the world lost the equivalent of 30 football pitches of forest. Since the 1960s—just a few years before I was born—we have lost half the world’s land animals; today, we are told that a million species face extinction. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made this point graphically in her speech. Our marine environment has fared no better. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, explained, nearly a third of the world’s fisheries have either collapsed or are close to collapse. Half of the world’s coastal waters have been degraded and we are told that if trends are allowed to continue, by 2050 the seas will contain more plastic than fish if measured by weight.
All these things matter in and of themselves, but they matter to humanity as well. Forests, for instance, underpin the livelihoods of well over a billion people. Some 200 million people depend on fishing for their immediate livelihoods. Ultimately, of course, we all depend on nature, so we have an enormous amount to do to restore some form of balance in the relationship between our species and the surrounding world. I do not believe that any Government in the world are doing enough, but I am proud of what this Government are doing on land and at sea, at home and abroad.
The subject of this debate concerns the seas, broadly, so they will be my focus. As custodians of the fifth-largest marine estate globally, it is a source of immense pride that we are on track, through our magnificent Blue Belt programme, to protect an ocean area of some 4 million square kilometres around our Overseas Territories—an area roughly the size of India. Our Overseas Territories, incidentally, harbour around 90% of all our biodiversity. This is the reason why our Prime Minister has said repeatedly that two-thirds of the world’s penguins are British. I am not going to argue with the figure; I have used it myself from time to time. What better reference can there be?
Last year we committed additional funding for the Blue Belt programme and, as one of the Ministers responsible for this area, I am absolutely determined to see it grow much further still. I was also delighted that we committed in our manifesto to create
“a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund”
from our overseas development budget, to help restore and protect ocean ecosystems around the world, and that the Government are leading calls for at least 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030. By yesterday morning, 12 countries had signed up to this fledgling campaign; by yesterday evening, Sweden had joined them and I am grateful for that.
We are making progress in our domestic waters too. A quarter of UK waters are already in marine protected areas—an area almost twice the size of England. Masses of evidence from around the world show that marine protected areas work, but the evidence is also clear that much more needs to be done. That is why we have asked the former Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, to review whether the Government should introduce a network of highly protected marine areas in our waters. It was Richard, incidentally, who spear- headed calls to end the appalling practice of discarding, which is of course the subject of today’s debate.
That brings me to the issue we are discussing. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, whose question was repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I want to be clear that this Government remain committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of maximum sustainable yield, as well as to ending the appallingly wasteful practice of discarding fish. This will not change once we leave the European Union. However, leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy gives us a unique opportunity to introduce a sustainable, responsive and resilient new fisheries policy, one which both recognises and can overcome the challenges associated with ending discarding.
As both these excellent reports we are debating today have shown, implementing the landing obligation is far from easy. The first Select Committee report reviewed whether the full landing obligation would lead to large segments of the fishing fleet being choked, as well as how the choke risks could be mitigated. It reviewed how effectively the landing obligation was being enforced, and recommended the use of remote electronic monitoring as a compliance and enforcement tool.
The second report was published six months after full implementation of the landing obligation. It questioned why it had had only a limited impact, and in particular why the earlier identified choke risk had not materialised. It questioned whether this was due to lack of enforcement and compliance, and repeated its very strong call for the use of REM. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, pointed out in his very eloquent speech that there was no doubt that one of the reasons for the difficulties was the nature of UK fisheries: the fact that our fisheries are so mixed. Moreover, the inherent risks of choke—exacerbated by the CFP’s outdated allocation of fishing opportunities, which is effectively based on fishing patterns of the 1970s—has made implementation of the landing obligation extremely challenging. This is particularly the case in areas where there is a need to protect and recover vulnerable stocks, often where the UK’s share of quota does not accurately reflect the balance in our mixed fisheries.
Leaving the CFP is a huge opportunity, which will allow us to address many of these issues. For example, in the Celtic Sea, where Celtic Sea cod numbers are low and haddock numbers are high, we would want to ensure that our share of cod quota was sufficiently high to enable our industry to catch the haddock it is entitled to catch. That does not mean—just to be clear —increasing the overall quota in EU waters: it means increasing our share of quota in UK waters to provide a more sensible balance and to minimise the risk of choke. We have instigated a comprehensive programme of research to inform this process, including a call for evidence last year. Among other things, we used this to ask what England could learn from allocation models used in other parts of the world—a point made by a number of noble Lords—how allocation could help tackle choke risk and how best to use quota to support coastal communities and ensure a sustainable industry.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked a question specifically about support for the under-10s. It is the case that, since 2017, all additional quota has been distributed to the under-10s as a direct policy—if not all, then a majority. I am happy to come back with a more accurate answer following this debate, but I believe that all additional quota has been passed to them. We will take what we have learned and will work with industry and other stakeholders to develop a new approach to allocating any additional quota we secure after leaving the EU.
As noble Lords will know, the Government will be introducing a fisheries Bill soon. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones—I thank her for the kind words in her speech—asked for more details of the timeline. I am afraid that I am not able to provide her with specific answers, but it will be here shortly and will be steered through this House by my noble friend Lord Gardiner. The Bill is designed to enable the UK to act as a responsible independent coastal state, taking control of the management of its fishing waters, and achieving world-class sustainable fisheries. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the Bill will also ensure that we meet our manifesto commitments to include a legal requirement to end overfishing, to fish sustainably and to produce plans to recover fish stocks to achieve maximum sustainable yields.
I acknowledge that there are strong calls for a legal commitment to achieve MSY within a specified timeframe, and I have heard those arguments today. While clearly this is something we would like to do, it can be achieved only through international negotiations, because fishing stocks by their nature straddle international boundaries. As things stand, the number of stocks of interest to the UK being fished at MSY is rising. After the recent December Fisheries Council, 69% of those stocks will be fished at or below MSY in 2020. While this is good news, clearly much more remains to be done, particularly for those stocks for which we do not yet have sufficient information.
The Select Committee report highlighted the importance of using more selective gear to avoid unwanted catch. This is absolutely part of the Government’s approach to implementing a discards ban. Across the UK, £5.3 million from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund has already been used to support the landing obligation by improving port infrastructure to prevent the waste of fish that would otherwise have been discarded—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. A further £4 million has supported more selective gear types, as well as diverting fishing activity to less restricted species. After the CFP, we are committed to introducing grant schemes of our own across the UK to continue that work.
The committee’s two reports raised concerns about the extent to which the landing obligation is being monitored in UK waters and the rules enforced. Through the Marine Management Organisation, the Government have put a lot of effort into ensuring that the industry has the right information available to support compliance. The equivalent organisations have done the same in the devolved nations. Alongside this, the MMO is stepping up enforcement. In England, between 2018 and 2019, the MMO more than doubled the number of inspections of landings. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, it has also nearly doubled the number of inspections at sea. In Scotland, inspections against landing obligation rules have also increased significantly. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford—I hope that I get these figures right—landings of undersized fish since 2016 have increased, although not by as much as expected. The figures that I have are that in 2016, 175 tonnes were landed, and in 2109, 358 tonnes were landed—so an increase, but not the increase that was anticipated.
I know that many noble Lords have a close interest in REM, and we have heard a number of calls today for the adoption of cameras on fishing vessels as soon as possible, not least so that our quota setting is based on proper science. The UK has consistently called for the adoption of REM across the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, emphasised the importance of the UK taking the lead—a point repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. At this stage in discussions, however, we are in a very tiny minority—perhaps a tiny minority of one.
After we leave the CFP, we will have the power to make this decision unilaterally, but, as the Select Committee reports have made clear, compliance for many fishers remains extremely challenging, and it may be that we need to facilitate the transition to the mandatory use of REM before it is introduced for compliance purposes. We discussed this point with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, when we met in a meeting just a few days ago. We will work with industry, environmental groups, retailers and others on this as we consider the right approach.
Finally, as a number of noble Lords highlighted in the debate, fisheries is a devolved matter that is important to all parts of the United Kingdom. Obviously, we must work—and are working—as closely as we always have with our colleagues in the devolved nations, as well as those in the Crown dependencies, and we will ensure that their views are taken fully into account.
I want to end by saying that much of this work was begun by Richard Benyon in the other place when he was Fisheries Minister. It is only right that we should continue to lead the way after we leave the European Union. Once again, I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate and for raising some extremely important points that I will take back to my department and discuss with my colleague here, my noble friend Lord Gardiner.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his response, especially because I do not think that he is even going to have this as part of his portfolio in the future. I hope he will remain very involved in this issue because clearly, in terms of biodiversity and all the other areas, the marine environment—as has been said, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—is extremely important. I am sure that the House recognises his great expertise and his track record in environmentalism from the anthropological side—in his early days of travel abroad—right the way through to his editorship of The Ecologist. He hugely boosted its readership at the time, although latterly it became difficult for it to survive due to the change in the way the media works.
Furthermore, an MP standing down from Parliament on principle to cause a by-election is something that is not often done. It was courageous; it may not have paid off absolutely immediately, but it did two years later. I think that the House recognises both his courage and his commitment to this area.
On the report, he may well have had, as he suggested, instructions on how Ministers respond in the House of Lords and been educated on how to perform today. There is also a rule for committee chairs introducing reports such as these: when you sum up, you should be as brief as possible, especially when there is a debate coming up with 30 more speakers and it is the last business of the House on a Thursday. So I am just going to thank all those who have contributed, particularly those who are not members of the committee. I also want to thank our excellent committee clerk, Jennifer Mills, and our administrator, Jodie Evans, for their work. This is a really important subject and I think it is recognised that it will certainly be a key issue during the negotiations with the European Union. We will no doubt come back to this subject.