I welcome this Bill, which will hopefully provide the framework for regenerating the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry, which in the past has been an important component part of the local economy. It has sadly declined in recent years, with thousands of jobs being lost, but with the right support, the right management system and the right policies the industry can be rebuilt, we can attract inward investments and the industry can play a key role in the regeneration of coastal communities, not just in East Anglia but around the UK.
Fishing has taken place off the East Anglian coast for more than 1,000 years. Lowestoft was previously the fishing capital of the southern North Sea and was the hub of an industry that included many other ports in the region. Today, East Anglia sits next to one of the richest fishing fields in Europe, but little local benefit is derived from it. To revive local fishing, the industry earlier this year formed REAF—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fishing. With support from Waveney District Council, an application was submitted to the Marine Management Organisation for a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund grant for a study that will develop a long-term strategy for the future of the East Anglian industry.
The application was approved earlier this month, and work is just beginning on a project that will help shape a positive and profitable future for the industry as a whole, from the net to the plate. Its objective is to establish how the economic and social benefits of the fishing industry in East Anglia can be best captured and optimised. This exciting project can revive fishing along the East Anglian coast, but to do so it needs the right national policy framework in place, and that is what this Bill needs to provide. From REAF’s perspective, the Bill must provide the following: first, the East Anglian fleet must be able to catch and land sufficient fish so that those working on the boats can earn a reasonable living and can supply local markets, processing and retailing businesses—the existing quota system has treated them shabbily, and it must be reformed.
Secondly, the Bill must ensure that local coastal communities benefit from any increase in catches and landings. The “economic link” policy which is in the CFP and which is being transferred to the emerging UK fisheries policy must have teeth and must actually achieve its objective, rather than remaining a high-minded statement. There is a Lowestoft producer organisation, but its vessels do not land their fish in Lowestoft—they do so in the Netherlands and in Peterhead. We must have more boats landing their catches in East Anglian ports.
Thirdly, the duty to fish sustainably must be ingrained in the Bill’s DNA. Management decisions must be made locally, with local fishermen working closely with local regulators, and local scientists using up-to-date local knowledge and science. I acknowledge that many fish stocks have improved in recent years, but we really can do better than we do at present, whereby the current system allows the abhorrent practice of electro-pulse fishing to continue, notwithstanding the evidence that it is devastating fish stocks, wreaking havoc upon the marine environment and preventing local East Anglian fishermen from earning a living.
Credit must go to the team at DEFRA, the Ministers and the officials for drafting the Bill in such a short time. We do not need a Bill that just does the job and ticks the necessary boxes; we need a Bill that lasts the test of time and becomes an exemplar for the promotion of sustainable fishing and the reinvigoration of coastal communities. Like most others here, I have received many representations from organisations and specialists with proposals as to how the Bill can be improved. Although it is an enabling Bill and much of the detail will be set out in secondary legislation, I urge the Government to look closely at the proposals that have been put forward and to see how the Bill can be improved.
I re-emphasise that the allocation of quota must be fairer and accessible to all, and should take place transparently, rather than in the existing opaque way. That will enable all fishermen from all communities to really benefit from Brexit.