My Lords, I am grateful for the meeting that I had prior to today with my noble friend the Minister. I assure him that this is indeed a probing amendment. It enables me to press him on why the original objective in the initial Bill, which clearly stated that discards were an objective under Clause 1, has been dropped and replaced with a bycatch objective. The House had the chance to debate the difficulties involved in the landing objective on reports adopted by the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee before I was a member of it, but I will press my noble friend very specifically on the narrow point of discards to ask him what the Government’s policy is in connection with the Fisheries Bill, and why they have removed the discards objective in Clause 1 and replaced it with one for bycatch. There is clearly a difference between those policies of reducing discard as a result of the use of bycatch.
I was grateful for the conversation I had with my noble friend but, separately and elsewhere, I would like to raise the possibility of using some of the bycatch of inshore fishermen in ways currently not allowed. Can he take the opportunity to explain how the Government intend to reduce discard and bycatch and what measure of enforcement is envisaged? As far as I can see, the Bill in its present form is silent on what the enforcement and implementation measures for discards will be. I give notice that I have tabled two more amendments on discards.
The Government need to make onboard monitoring of discards a condition of licensing. Can my noble friend explain why there is no mention—that I can see—in the Bill and its schedules of onboard enforcement cameras? When we come to consider the issuing of licences, is it not the Government’s intention to make it a condition that there should be onboard enforcement and cameras? Clauses 28 and 32 allow the Government and the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations, but will my noble friend please take this opportunity to reassure us today that the discards policy will be enforceable and enforced, and not a voluntary scheme?
Has my noble friend taken the opportunity to consider discards policy, in particular, and discards charging by other countries? Obviously, New Zealand springs to mind. It had teething problems but has now introduced a more successful and reliable discards charging policy.
We need to maintain a discards objective in Clause 1. I would like to see a discards policy elaborated later in the Bill but, if my noble friend does not come up with a policy for implementing this, would he consider that a successful reduction in discards will need monitoring and the use of cameras as part of the necessary enforcement associated with either bycatch policy or discard reduction policy? Can he put my mind at rest? At the moment, the Bill seems not to require onboard monitoring of discards and other activities, but are the Government thinking about it in connection with the licensing regime, and will it be an obligatory—not a voluntary—scheme? Otherwise, we have time to come back at a later stage and help the Government to come up with such a scheme in the Bill.
I have tabled this probing amendment because it is extremely important to maintain the discards objective—in addition to a bycatch objective—in the Fisheries Bill, which will be elaborated later, and to ensure that there will be a meaningful implementation scheme to enforce it.
“bycatch that is fish is landed”,
and then goes on to say,
“but only where this is appropriate”.
I would be glad of some clarification of that. It continues that it,
“does not create an incentive to catch fish that are below minimum conservation reference size”,
and perhaps that is exactly what is meant by it. Certainly, we have had discussions over the weeks about discards, about which I think many of us are concerned. My question is on the phrase that they have used here. Is the Government worried that moving from the discard to the new bycatch will help to disincentivise people from catching fish that are below a minimum standard? Why was the decision made to change it from discarding to the particular wording of the Bill? When we come at a later stage to discuss how we can look at the way we record and know what is being discarded and what is being landed at ports, it will be immensely important. I am just a little bit unhappy with the wording that we have in subsection (6)(c), and would be glad of some clarification.
My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 16, specifically on subsection (6) on page 2 of the Bill; it is grouped with this Amendment 3 on page 1, on the issue of discards, or “bycatch” as referred to in the Bill. It complements the tabling of Amendment 3 by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which alludes to the inclusion of a dedicated objective on fish discards among the list of objectives. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her probing on this.
For a variety of reasons, and as I am sure we will hear from the Minister, it is virtually impossible to avoid catching some of the wrong species—or, indeed, the wrong sized members of the right species—when fishing. There have been some great advances in techniques and technologies, but some degree of bycatch remains an inevitability.
The Bill's bycatch objective, which is lifted from the common fisheries policy, rightly seeks to reduce the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation size and to ensure a proper audit trail for those caught. The latter also raises issues around monitoring and recording; this will in turn contribute to better data that can be used to inform future quota decisions.
Paragraph (c) of subsection (6), which my probing amendment proposes leaving out, refers to allowing bycatches to be landed
“only where this is appropriate” and an incentive to catch undersize fish is not created as a result of the landing. As we sought to make clear in our explanatory statement, we wish to understand the circumstances in which Ministers believe the landing of bycatch will be “appropriate”. Presumably this is meant in the context of the landing obligation, in order to prevent fish simply being discarded back into the sea—a practice which we have fought for many years to bring to an end.
If this is the case, would it not be better for the Bill to be explicit in this regard, and for the references to the prevention of incentivising the landing of bycatch to make clear that such fish cannot be sold for human consumption, thereby producing an economic benefit? Or, if the phraseology does not relate purely to the landing obligation, perhaps the Minister could outline which other circumstances are deemed as being appropriate for landing bycatch at ports?
We are very much probing at this stage of proceedings, but I think I speak on behalf of many across your Lordships' House when I say that we need confidence that, whether we use the terms “discards” or “bycatch”, the Government and devolved Administrations will be properly equipped to build on recent progress and answer the wider probing made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, acknowledging the impact this can have on fisheries management and the marine environment. I fully support that the issue of illegal discarding should be addressed within the fisheries objectives. In doing so, we will ensure that policies in the joint fisheries statement will focus on this important area.
The prevention of illegal discarding is addressed in the fisheries objectives through the “bycatch objective”, which sets out a series of “sub-objectives” to address the issue of illegal discarding. These include avoiding or reducing bycatch, ensuring that catches are recorded and accounted for, and ensuring that fish stocks are landed. It is overfishing and the catching of unwanted bycatch that result in illegal discarding, and the objective has been named the “bycatch objective” to address the root cause of the issue. For example, unreported catches, whether landed or discarded, contribute significant uncertainty to the scientific assessment process. Such uncertainty enhances the risk that stocks are fished at levels beyond MSY.
One limb of the bycatch objective is that catches are recorded and accounted for. We will improve the accuracy of the data available on fishing mortality and enable sustainable quota setting that avoids overfishing. I therefore believe that my noble friend’s aims are already met through the existing bycatch objective. An additional discards objective—which the amendment does not seek to define—risks adding complexity and confusion when read in conjunction with the existing objective, which already serves the purpose of setting a clear framework for tackling discards.
In future, we will have the opportunity to be creative and adopt new measures and flexibilities outside the current common fisheries policy toolkit, to implement a workable discards ban. The Fisheries Bill—we will no doubt come on to this—sets out provisions to introduce one such flexibility: a discard prevention charging scheme to provide a mechanism that allows fishers to pay for additional quota to cover any excess catch that would otherwise push them into illegal fishing. Alongside the MMO and industry, Defra is exploring the use of remote electronic monitoring—REM—as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activities, including the effectiveness of selected gear types, and ensuring compliance.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for saying that his amendment is a probing amendment. I am aware that he seeks to understand the circumstances in which the Government believe that landing bycatch will be “appropriate”. I believe that this is something to which my noble friend Lady Byford also referred. Under the common fisheries policy—CFP—the landing obligation, which was fully implemented last year, requires all species subject to catch limits to be landed and counted against quota rather than discarded at sea, subject to certain exceptions. Now that we have left the EU, the UK will develop a discards policy that is tailored to our industry. It will have an emphasis on reducing the level of unintentional and unwanted bycatch through sustainable and selective fishing. However, even when our fishing practices are highly selective—this is a point that the noble Lord absolutely recognised—there will be instances when this unwanted bycatch cannot be avoided entirely, given the high number of mixed fisheries in UK waters. The sub-objective that the noble Lord seeks to remove with his amendment specifies that bycatch is landed only if appropriate. This is because, for example, if catch is scientifically proven to have high survivability, it could be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of the stock for it to be returned alive to the sea, rather than landed dead. I use that as an example that we need to think through.
However, the crux of the amendment is that the Government would not have to describe how and when bycatch would be landed in the joint fisheries statement. I have already set out the critical importance of understanding what is taken from the sea; removing this sub-objective could undermine our future discards policy and our ability to advance our scientific understanding of the state of our fisheries.
I should add an embellishment for my noble friend Lady Byford. Where we refer to a good chance of survivability—which I have already raised—there could, for instance, be high-survivability exemptions. Where it is accepted that unwanted catches of certain species in certain fisheries are unavoidable and costly to handle, a small percentage of the catch is permitted to be discarded through the de minimis exemptions.
I say in particular to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, with whom I was pleased to discuss this matter, that in further consideration of the Bill the word “bycatch” is not intended to denigrate the absolutely clear requirement that discard is addressed; rather, “bycatch” is a better description of dealing with the issue and its root causes. My noble friend knows that there are, as I said, references to “discards” in the draft legislation. The point about bycatch as an objective is precisely that we think this wording covers and addresses the matter in a wider sense. However, I think we all want the same objective, and I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is entirely consistent with my amendment, in the sense of probing. I am a little disappointed that I have no greater understanding of why the discards objective was dropped between the initial Bill that was published and this version. While I am sure that it is of interest that remote electronic monitoring equipment is being proposed, my noble friend did not explain whether or not that would be on a voluntary basis. Other amendments that I have tabled at later stages will provide him with the opportunity to do so. Also, will foreign fishing boats be policed? Will they also be required to have such monitoring systems in place?
In summing up, my noble friend did not actually respond to whether or not the monitoring equipment would include cameras but, as a subsequent amendment that I have tabled relates specifically to cameras, I would be grateful if he could reply on that specific point at that stage.
I emphasise that even if we use “discards” or “bycatch” interchangeably in the way that we seem to now, for the policy to work effectively, and for more fish to be landed so that we have a better idea of the state of the current stock, it must be effectively policed or it will fall flat on its face. I will return to this issue in later amendments, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.