New Clause 8 - Agency arrangements between sea fish licensing authorities

Part of Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann 7:45 pm, 13th October 2020

Yesterday, in the debate on the Agriculture Bill, Members heralded a new dawn for UK farmers. Likewise, today, with this Bill, we see a new dawn for our fishing industry, breaking free from the over-regulation of Brussels.

In Northern Ireland, we have a resilient and innovative fleet. They see Brexit as an opportunity. Therefore, as we chart this new course, it is incumbent on our Government to ensure that the approach taken is not simply a mirror image of EU regulation. This Bill indicates that that will not be the case, which is welcome.

Like most MPs here today, I read the briefing from Greener UK, which highlighted the fact that 58% to 68% of fish stocks in UK waters are now at sustainable levels. That signals an improving trend and is good news. The sustainability principle is already at the core of our fisheries policy. There is no need to give it precedence over other pillars of UK fisheries policy.

The top-down command and control approach of the common fisheries policy has failed. The UK must resist the temptation to begin this new era by prescribing draconian solutions across the board, as represented by remote electronic monitoring. On 29 September, the Fisheries Minister in Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots MLA, told the Assembly that

“it is important that we have that devolved flexibility to choose from the range of management tools and measures, and pick those that are best suited to our fleet.”

I agree with our devolved Minister because I do not support the amendment that would see REM prescribed. Rather, REM should be something to be considered with the fishing community, rather than imposed upon them.

Our fishermen in Northern Ireland are custodians of the sea. The principle of sustainability is written into their DNA. I hope the EFRA Minister will acknowledge that, in recent years, the total allowable catch in ICES Area VIIa has been managed according to the principles of maximum sustainable yield. The ICES advice for 2021 indicates more challenges and opportunities in the area. In the main, these are within natural fluctuations, but there continues to be debate among fisheries scientists and fishermen around some of the stark figures.

Northern Ireland’s fishermen have worked with members of the Greener UK alliance to develop and agree proposals for marine protected areas in the Irish sea. It is no secret that these measures and other similar plans within Northern Ireland’s territorial waters are causing economic harm to local fishermen. Nevertheless, what this shows me is that legislation at a national and a devolved level does work to achieve our marine sustainability goals. I wish to hear from the Minister about what legislative route she intends to use to devolve responsibility to the authorities in Northern Ireland for the designation and management of marine protected areas throughout our maritime zone, as is the case with Scotland and Wales. Amendment 42 offers more power to Northern Ireland, and we welcome that, but we support more devolution of these powers to Northern Ireland, similar to that in Scotland and Wales.

The Public Bill Committee reviewing this Bill did not have any representative from Northern Ireland. The written evidence submitted by the Northern Ireland industry, specifically by Alan McCulla from the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, referred to the marine protected area process, as well as the discrimination faced by all UK fishermen in the Irish sea, especially those from Northern Ireland because of the application of the Hague preference. We presume that, come 1 January 2021, this discrimination will end when the rightful share of annual total allowable catches is repatriated to the UK. That will then be shared among UK fishermen.

I want to make it very clear here that, within the UK, Northern Ireland fishermen expect nothing more than their share of the UK’s old and new fishing opportunities across all waters and quota species, based on the methodology used today. Based on established international law, zonal attachment is the principle that this Government have used to claim an increased share of the available catches. Within the UK, the established principle of fixed quota allocations should be used to apportion any new quota.  It should then be left to the devolved Administrations to decide how to allocate that quota.

It is time to seize the opportunities that arise from our escape from the common fisheries policy and Government must ensure that that happens.