Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:04 pm, 21st November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Paterson.

I speak as a former shadow fisheries Minister, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and someone who—as some Members who are present already know—grew up in Grimsby. I remember it as a bustling fishing port when I was a girl; moreover, it was the biggest in the world at that time. I remember the numerous trawlers in the docks, and the sense of pride among workers who were doing something that they knew was incredibly important: providing the nation with one of its favourite foods.

However, I also remember the decline that followed the so-called final cod war with Iceland. The devastation that it wreaked both economically and socially was vivid. I was a teenager at the time, but I remember areas, particularly around the docks—such as Freeman street and East Marsh—suffering disastrous consequences. I am sure that my hon. Friend Melanie Onn will refer to that later. Gone, too, are many of the food processing plants that lined Ladysmith Road. Findus has gone. Birds Eye has gone, no longer anchored by the town’s status as one of the greatest food towns in Europe.

It is my witness of this decline, and the fact that my father was, for a period, a deep-sea fisherman—fishing off the coast of Iceland, at Reykjavik—that gives me an understanding of why our coastal towns and fishing communities matter more than their contribution to our national GDP would suggest. At this point, I want to pay tribute to all those who died serving the fishing industry. In Grimsby, every time a trawler went down or men were washed overboard—that was the commonest cause of death—the children in their primary schools would repeat the Fisherman’s Prayer and sing The Fisherman’s Hymn. It was all too common, particularly in the 1950s, for those children to have to sing that hymn and say that prayer.

Let me now deal with the Bill. I have a number of concerns about it. First, the Government’s stated aspiration is to develop “world leading fisheries”. Clause 1 sets out how this would be developed, including objectives such as creating a sustainable industry. We would all support that, but, unfortunately, the light-touch duties placed on the authorities potentially undermine the delivery of those aspirations. For example, while the Bill rightly contains an ambitious objective to ensure that all harvested stocks are recovered to, or maintained at, a biomass above that capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the Bill places no duty on regulatory authorities to ensure that fishing pressure is managed in a way that delivers on that objective.

We have to ask whether the Government are really committed to restoring stocks, or whether it will put political pressures first, at the expense of the science and the data available. There is a history of those pressures leading to that kind of over-exploitation of our stocks, not just in our waters, but throughout the waters of the European Union.

Secondly, there are concerns in relation to our marine environmental regulations. The fisheries White Paper acknowledged concerns about a possible “governance gap” which could threaten accountability for the implementation of the regulations. It also suggested— as have consultations on the proposed environmental principles and governance Bill—that a new independent environmental regulator should have a role in relation to the marine environment. As things stand, this Bill is opaque about how the forthcoming environment Bill will protect our marine environment, and how the “governance gap” will be closed. Clarifications of those issues would be welcome as the Bill proceeds, and I hope that the Minister will comment on them when he winds up the debate.

Clause 28 will give new powers to introduce financial schemes to promote sustainable growth, and to improve the marine and aquatic environment. They will replace existing powers, and will allow new funding schemes to replace funding currently received under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. However, as the clause is currently drafted, those grant-making powers do not reference clause 1’s sustainability objectives, such as an ecosystem-based approach. That strikes me as rather strange and concerning, and, again, I would welcome clarification. I understand that the fisheries statement will reference clause 1 and the powers will come under the remit of the statement, but clarification would be welcome.

My final point relates to the very important fact that the fishing industry is not just about the catching side; there is still a very important processing and aquaculture industry alongside it, most of which, unsurprisingly, is based in or nearby fish-landing towns such as Grimsby and Immingham. Indeed, 21% of the industry is in Yorkshire and the Humber. It is an important provider of jobs in those areas, and for my home town of Grimsby it is still an important source of employment, with some 4,200 jobs dependent on the sector. These processing plants also export much of their product into the EU, in a market worth £1.3 billion, where we still enjoy a trade surplus. It is therefore vital in the drive to create world-leading fisheries that processing is not forgotten, as so far it has been in this debate. Full tariff-free access to the single market must be retained for the industry.