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Fishing Sector and Coastal Communities

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to support coastal communities, and (2) to improve the capacity of the fishing sector, before 2026.

My Lords, the Government have committed to a fund of £100 million to invest in landing capacity, processing, distribution, science, technology and skills to advance the industry. In addition, there is £32.7 million in place of EU funding and £23 million for the seafood disruption support scheme and the seafood response fund. Furthermore, the UK shared prosperity fund will create opportunities for coastal communities.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure that he is as fed up as I am with those using fishing as an excuse to indulge in Brexit bashing. I am also sure that he will confirm that the fate and future of fishing is now in sovereign hands. However, that also means that the awful fishing deal is a sovereign sell-out, and now the Government need to own it. I am glad to hear about the millions of pounds being put into this area, but fishing communities see these as rather demeaning handouts. It is good to hear the Prime Minister calling on us to eat British fish, but can the Minister give us a bit more detail on the long-term thinking and imaginative initiatives that will transform and modernise the industry and turn coastal communities into world-class hubs of productive growth? I am thinking about top-class fishing apprentices, ambitious technical—

My Lords, a number of points were made there, but it is important to stress that the £100 million fund is about advancing infrastructure projects, rolling out science, innovation and technology, and—among many other things—encouraging new entrants into what we believe is, after all, a very healthy source of food that has a great future.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of an ongoing television documentary about sea fishing communities in Cornwall. I recommend it to him. It describes, among other matters, the considerable problems faced by small family fishing businesses in the aftermath of our withdrawal from the EU. One way in which they might survive is to process and sell direct to the public, but the equipment to enable them to do this—and do it professionally and efficiently—is very expensive. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to grant-aid such ventures, which might ensure the survival of these micro family businesses and thus shore up their communities?

My Lords, my noble friend highlights an important documentary and the fact that fishing businesses are at the heart of many coastal communities. As I said, they supply a healthy source of food to the public. In England, we will open a new grant scheme in April to replace the EU-funded EMFF. This will support sustainable growth for the sector in England, including supporting businesses to recover from Covid and adapt to new trading conditions outside the EU. I recommend the documentary as well.

My Lords, foremost of the eight objectives declared in the Fisheries Act 2020 is the sustainability objective, which aims to ensure that fish stocks are maintained at levels that avoid the danger of their radical depletion. Can the Minister tell us how this objective is to be reconciled with the expansion in the capacity of the British fishing fleet? Moreover, can he explain why the Government resisted during the passage of the Fisheries Bill calls to declare sustainability an immediate and unequivocal objective, and why they preferred to describe it as only a “long-term” objective?

My Lords, we had many deliberations on sustainability during the passage of the Fisheries Bill. It is absolutely at the heart of the legislation, which is why we believe that there is compatibility between sustainable fishing and modernising and rejuvenating our fishing sector with new technology, new nets, REM and all the things we want to do. This is an important source of food, but the harvest needs to be sustainable.

My Lords, coastal and fishing communities are suffering extreme economic decline due to Covid. The Prime Minister’s exit road map will help tourist communities, but not as quickly as they would like. However, fisher men and women are in the depths of despair, as has already been said. They were promised prosperity but have received a slap in the face—especially shell fisheries. The Minister has given various figures on support, but how will this affect individual fisheries, especially in Cornwall?

My Lords, the recent announcements are UK-wide. We want all coastal communities across the United Kingdom to benefit from these schemes and funds. We think that there is a strong future for the communities. They will command a lot of public support in terms of fiscal support, as I have described, and I am far more confident than I think the noble Baroness is portraying. There are difficulties, and we need to overcome them and advance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, just mentioned the shellfish industry and the devastating impact on it as a result of the ban on British shellfish in the EU. What progress is being made with the European Commission on lifting this ban? Also, the Minister mentioned the Seafood Disruption Support Scheme. The criteria for it are limited in scope and the scheme does not appear to match the ambition initially indicated by government Ministers. Can the Minister assure me that the scheme will be sufficient to support those businesses affected, some of which have had no income at all this year?

My Lords, these are important points and we are seeking an urgent resolution to the matter of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters. We have an extremely strong legal case and we are awaiting a meeting with the commissioner. I should say that those businesses impacted by this disruption to trade can apply for support via the seafood response fund, which seeks to ensure that the shellfish sector is supported during this difficult period.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on expanding the seafood support scheme, but that scheme ran out on 31 January. Will it be extended into next month? May I also follow up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury in a slightly wider form? What are the Government doing to help fishermen sell more fish to the British people and get us to eat the fish that they produce rather than sending it overseas?

My Lords, on 21 February we announced the seafood response fund, which will expand the support to help with the fixed costs of shellfish catch and aquaculture businesses. That fund is to open in early March, which I think covers the point made by my noble friend. I agree that we need to eat more fish and that we need to promote greater consumer awareness of the number of species in UK waters. Through Seafish and the Domestic Seafood Supply Scheme, we are looking to increase the domestic consumption of our excellent produce.

My Lords, many coastal communities in the UK rely on tourism and travel for their survival and are particularly hard hit by lockdowns and curbs on movement. Does the Minister share the hope that the quarantine restrictions at entry points to the country will have the positive effect of encouraging British families to take a staycation this year, which would kick-start coastal economies and bring the jobs and growth so sorely needed?

I agree with the noble Lord that there are many opportunities across our coastal and rural communities to welcome visitors this year, as soon as lockdown easements make it safe to do so. I will also say that everyone should enjoy themselves while ensuring that the coastal and rural communities are respected as well.

My Lords, the government response to the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, of which I was a member, made welcome undertakings about town regeneration, which Newhaven, my nearest town, has welcomed. What is the Government’s assessment of the impact and outcomes of their education proposals, such as the opportunity areas programme, along with the promotion of adult learning and basic skills in the use of technology—tied, I hope, to maritime and environmental contexts? These are essential to real regeneration.

As I said, the £100 million scheme will involve working on the right skills for new entrants into the fishing sector. However, I should also say that, since 2012, £229 million has been invested in 369 projects via the coastal communities fund. Every £1 invested has secured up to an £8 boost to coastal economies. The investment we need to make in coastal and fishing communities will show the benefits that come from it.