With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future for 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 how the Government can ensure that more of the fish in our waters is caught by our boats and benefits our fishing communities. 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 that contain some of the historically richest fishing grounds in the world. Those waters sustained a fishing industry that 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 has been undermined by the operation of the European Union’s common fisheries policy. As a result of the CFP, more than half of the fish in our own 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 Access to fishing opportunities has been allocated according to out of date formulae which do not properly reflect either changes in our global climate or advances in marine science. During our membership of the CFP, 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 halfway between our nation and others. We will determine, in annual negotiations with our neighbours, who has access to our waters. We will also 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 UK. 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 CFP 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 we will 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 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. We will deploy the most sophisticated monitoring technology to ensure 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 UK.
Of course, delivering for the UK fishing industry depends on close collaboration with the devolved Administrations. The White Paper sets out our approach to develop a UK framework for fisheries management that will respect the devolution settlements, and, where necessary, we will 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.
However, 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 a quota for some low-impact inshore fisheries, although 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 policy and CFP with new approaches that better serve both our economy and the environment. Alongside replacements for the CAP and CFP, we have also introduced policies that contribute to a cleaner, greener planet and, in particular, healthier, more resilient rivers, seas and oceans. We have introduced reforms to the water industry; introduced a world-leading ban on the plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products; called for evidence on new measures to restrict the use of other single use plastics; and, subject to consultation, we are 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, and 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 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.