I declare an interest: I am proud to speak on behalf of my daughter and her partner, who operate a fishing vessel out of Porthdinllaen. I am proud to represent the many coastal communities of Llŷn, Eifionydd and Meirionnydd, and all their fishing families.
Let me begin by outlining the special nature of the Welsh fishing industry, which is structurally different from that of the rest of United Kingdom, and especially different from Scotland’s, despite the devolved environment in which both nations operate. There are approximately 400 vessels in the Welsh fishing fleet, the vast majority of which are under 10 metres. These small boats operate in some of the most challenging and dangerous inshore environments. I have spoken to experienced fishermen, such as Brett Garner of Llŷn, as well as to long-serving spokesmen such as Owie Roberts of Edern and Jim Evans of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, and I wish to convey some of their fears and aspirations as we look towards the future of Welsh fishing.
Trading in live produce with a short shelf life is a tricky business at the best of times, but the imposition of customs checks and any slowdown in the trade process will mean deterioration and mortality, making trade desperately difficult under many predictable post-Brexit eventualities. I note, too, that the valuable trade in whelks, which are the mainstay of many Welsh fishermen, the value of whose UK landings in June this year was £2.6 million, has South Korea among its primary destinations. That trade is enabled by an EU extended trade agreement. To state the bleeding obvious, the UK currently has no trade agreements with Korea directly. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for International Trade to facilitate the future of this important local industry?
Tariff barriers would have an immense impact on viability, but non-tariff barriers could also be truly devastating. Welsh fishermen’s spokespeople have urged me to ask the Minister, given the vulnerability of fishermen’s livelihoods to any hold-ups in the transporting of their produce to European and worldwide markets alike, what plans he has to set aside financial support for inshore, small-vessel operators, in preparation for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Before quota responsibilities were devolved to the Welsh Government, which is currently the case, the Westminster Government authorised the sale of 88% of Welsh fishing quotas to Spanish businesses. They were content for the market to operate unimpeded and condoned the loss of resources for the Welsh fishing industry. Indeed, only 10% of Wales’s quota is currently held in Welsh waters, and only 27% of the quota is even caught in UK waters. That raises the question: why did Westminster permit quotas to be at the mercy of global businesses? How can the Minister assure hard-working fishing families that this will never happen again?
Wales being let down by Westminster is not an unfamiliar tale, but the responsibility for quotas was transferred to Cardiff. The Welsh Government could have made a stand for Welsh fishing and moved to install a moratorium on the sale of any more fishing quotas for businesses outside Wales, as the Scottish Government did in 2014. Instead, after we have left the EU and the withdrawal Act kicks in—with the consent of the Labour Government in Cardiff, I hasten to add—Wales will have gifted back to Westminster the legal capacity to do that.
I seek clarity on the following points. How will the Minister consult the devolved Administrations and what will be the nature of the joint decision-making mechanisms that he surely intends to establish? How does he intend to ensure that consent means consent and not really just the right to be told? If, as appears to be the case, the Welsh Government will now have some responsibility for all Welsh waters—namely from the coast to 6 miles, from there to 12 miles and now, at last, to the Welsh median line—this is indeed to be welcomed. I ask whether the financial resources will also reflect these additional waters. How will maritime and fisheries funding allocations be allocated after 2020 and can he confirm that that will be needs-based?
The reality of the Government’s position is that fishing opportunities and the withdrawal agreement’s political declaration remain utterly uncertain. How much of the fishing fleet’s livelihood are the Government happy to barter? Fishing communities seek clarity and certainty. The Minister’s Government presently offer scant comfort.