My Lords, in moving Amendment 76ZA, I shall speak also to Amendment 86 tabled by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who is unable to be with us today. I have added my name to his amendment as well.
I turn first to Amendment 76ZA and I shall refer in particular to Clause 14(1) and (2). My concern is that it appears that subsection (2) actually countermands and completely detracts from subsection (1). I am raising this specifically in the context of fishing,
“for salmon or migratory trout … for common eels (Anguilla Anguilla) by a boat whose length is 10 metres or less”
I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will clarify that, in both those paragraphs, such fishing is usually for recreational purposes. I am sure that it is not the Government’s intention to stop subsection (1) applying to subsection (2), but I have information on good authority that ICES is very concerned about European eel, as stocks throughout the UK and the rest of Europe are in serious difficulties. Because eel spawns at sea, it is considered to be a single stock, so it needs to be addressed in an international context.
My noble friend will be aware that I have raised the issue of salmon stocks in the context of allowing more of the quota to go to the under-10 metre fishing fleet. Salmon is considered on a river by river basis because it spawns in rivers. Both species undergo major migrations, but effectively in opposite directions.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to clarify why subsection (2) has been drafted in this way because, if the two derogations were to be used in the way provided for here, we will end up with unregulated marine fisheries in which these already depleted stocks will create additional problems, so I hope that my noble friend can put my mind at rest on this. I understand that the Government are committed to taking the figures from ICES, so by definition they will be fairly gospel. They will be accurate because our own national authorities are feeding into the research in this regard.
I know that the Minister has been given advance notice of the reason that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has tabled Amendment 86. It is in order to insist that the authority may require information only where such information is reasonably needed for the exercise of its function. The reason is that we do not wish for information to be received which the Government have no right to receive. I understand that, in the Government’s view, this amendment is not necessary. In the department’s view, the power to request information is related to the exercise of licensing functions, and data protection legislation provides that information may be collected only for legitimate purposes. We seek to insist that this is information relevant to the very needs of the licence. No reference is made within the schedule to the reinstatement of the licence, but we would like that information included. With that clarification, I hope my noble friend will look kindly on Amendment 86 to Schedule 3 as allowing such powers to obtain information relating only to information relevant to the purposes of the licence to be issued.
With those few remarks, I hope my noble friend will look kindly on those two amendments.
My Lords, I shall speak to my own amendments in this group–Amendments 76A and 79. One of the characteristics of this Bill is that we start to talk about recreational fishing, which is an important leisure activity—not one I indulge in myself, but one I would certainly encourage.
However, there is a big difference between someone going out in their own unpowered vessel and the charter recreational sector, which could have a significant impact on local fisheries. In a way, this is a probing amendment to better understand the Government’s view on the recreational side, but there is a strong argument that charter vessels should be licensed. They are quite substantial, have a number of people on board who are fishing recreationally, and they may be targeting certain fisheries which are significant in terms of environment and biodiversity. Although this amendment does not cover it, there might be an argument that, now that Defra has invented the very simple catch app—controversial in certain areas, but I think it is a pretty good idea—we could easily use that for this type of fishing, as that would give extra information about the types of fish that are being caught and landed in the recreational sector.
My second amendment looks at the area of capacity. It has been mentioned by many noble Lords during Second Reading that the British fleet has gone down and down in size. Of course, the prime reason for that is that the efficiency of fishing vessels has increased hugely over recent decades, so you need much fewer vessels due to their power, fishing techniques, electronics, sonar and engine power. All of those features have led to a reduction in the fleet. In the past, we have had to have decommissioning schemes to equate fishing fleet levels with available stocks. They are never the best things to do, but sometimes they are necessary.
I am trying to find out how the Government expect the capacity of the fleet to be managed. I would be interested in the Minister’s comments and he may well be able to reassure me in this area. My amendment says that there should be no additional licences granted if there is already a sufficient capacity for the fishing stocks available for the total allowable catch. We know from history that a mismatch in that area, whatever the rest of the regulations are, is highly negative to sustainability.
I will speak to Amendments 85 and 87 in my name, tabled for probing purposes. Amendment 85 concerns conditions being imposed on sea fishing licences regarding matters that are not themselves directly related to the regulation of sea fishing. I am sure there will be a number of examples of conditions that it would be both logical and reasonable to impose, and I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify for the record what these include.
Amendment 87 deals with the duty of a sea fish licensing authority to comply or not with a request submitted by another licensing authority. In paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 3, there is an exemption to the statutory duty to comply:
“unless … it is unreasonable to do so.”
This amendment merely seeks clarity from the Minister to highlight the designation between reasonable and unreasonable, as presumably the requesting authority may consider the request entirely reasonable. What steps must a fish licensing authority take when a request is denied, and is that the end of the matter? Would the licensing authority need to justify that denial and, if so, is there a timetable for this, should the requesting authority wish to follow up?
I turn now to other amendments in this group. Amendment 76ZA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, brings into focus in my mind the interplay between farmed salmon, which is not regulated in this legislation, and the Fisheries Bill. The Norwegian Government believe that farmed salmon escapes are the biggest threat to Norway’s wild salmon population. The Scottish Government are certainly aware of the significant risk to the vital recovery of remaining west coast salmon stocks. Experts estimate that the number of escapes—often laden with disease, especially lice burdens—is around double the number of wild Atlantic salmon that return to their spawning rivers on the west coast of Scotland. During Storm Brendan in January, around 73,000 farmed salmon escaped from the open-net cage near Colonsay. I draw attention to the considerable effect this may have on west coast fisheries.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his amendments in this group. In Amendment 76A, he poses the question of whether the recreational use of a charter fishing vessel requires a full licence and in what circumstances. Would the planned exemption for recreational activities still stand? The Committee has welcomed the previous positive comments from the Minister about recreational fishing. Indeed, my comments on salmon are apposite. It is an often overlooked yet important part of our fisheries industry, reported to be valued at over £2 billion annually and supporting more than 18,000 jobs. I am grateful to David Mitchell at the Angling Trust for making contact regarding the size of recreational fishing and the economic impact it has. This merits some attention.
Finally, I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his careful scrutiny of the provisions under Schedule 3, seeking clarity on the balance and pertinence of information required by a licensing authority.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for her Amendment 76ZA. I understand her interest in querying eels, salmon and migratory trout’s apparent exemption from the licensing regime, as they are all valuable and vulnerable species. However, I think I can provide the reassurances that my noble friend and other noble Lords would expect—that they are licensed and controlled.
Legislation is already in place at the devolved level to manage the licensing or authorisation of fishing for these species. In England and Wales, it is the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, as amended by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, that already makes provision for the licensing or authorisation of fishing for salmon and eels in England and Wales. Marine Scotland does not “license” fishing in inland waters as is done in England and Wales. Salmon fishing in rivers, estuaries and coastal waters is managed by way of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 and, more specifically, the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016, as amended annually.
For eels, the Freshwater Fish Conservation (Prohibition on Fishing for Eels) (Scotland) Regulations 2008 prohibit the taking of eel without a licence from Scottish Ministers. In Northern Ireland, the Salmon Drift Net Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 and the Salmon Netting Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 prohibited the use of any nets to catch and kill salmon and sea trout in tidal waters and inland fisheries. The Eel Fishing Regulations 2010 license only eel fishing activity using long lines and draft nets on Lough Neagh and eel weirs at Toome and Portna. Because of the state of both species, these fisheries are closely managed and heavily restricted in all four Administrations.
Should we need to vary the existing regimes in the future, the Fisheries Bill provides a mechanism for this. Clause 14(3) allows the Secretary of State to “add, remove or vary” the current exceptions by regulation. These regulations would be made based on evidence and following consultation.
I turn to Amendment 76A. According to research published in Defra’s report Sea Angling 2012, recreational fishers fishing from charter boats account for the minority of fishing days and a limited proportion of fish caught recreationally, compared with those fishing from the shore or from private boats. Research from 2015 to 2017, due to be released later this year, shows that the percentage contribution of charter boats to fish caught has remained relatively low over this period.
Measures are already in place across the United Kingdom to protect bass from recreational fishers, including those fishing from charter boats, through daily bag limit restrictions as well as via minimum landing sizes. In England, controls are also imposed through by-laws made by the inshore fisheries conservation authorities.
Taking into account the best available evidence, the Government are of the view that licensing charter boats at this stage, would be disproportionate and not driven by evidence. Instead, officials will focus on working with the recreational sector to drive improved voluntary data collection to support conservation and sustainability and, where necessary, to implement intervention at a species level.
The Fisheries Bill provides the mechanism to implement licensing in the future, should this be deemed necessary. Clause 14(3) allows the Secretary of State to “add, remove or vary” the current exceptions by regulation. This would be done based on evidence and following consultation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this issue, which we wish to keep under review, but I hope my explanation of where we are provides some reassurance, and I emphasise that we take all these matters into account and take them seriously.
The noble Lord’s Amendment 79 seeks to ensure that fleet overcapacity does not threaten the sustainability of fish stocks when granting licences. The common fisheries policy requires member states to take steps to ensure that their fishing fleet capacity does not exceed the fishing opportunities available to them. Each member state is obliged to provide annual reports on the status of its fleets. These reports make clear that the United Kingdom has consistently operated within the capacity ceiling.
The licence system in place in the United Kingdom is designed to ring-fence the UK fleet capacity to the level seen at the creation of the UK licensing regime in the mid-1990s. No new capacity has been created in that time. No new licences have been issued and a new entry to the fleet can take place only when another vessel is removed from it. Any new entrant to the fleet must not be larger than the vessel that was withdrawn. Any vessel owner wishing to fish in UK waters in this scenario must purchase a licence entitlement from an existing registered vessel. The requirement on the UK to limit its fleet will become part of retained EU law. In addition, as we considered last week, the sustainability objective in Clause 1 requires that the fishing capacity of fleets is economically viable but does not overexploit marine stocks.
I am grateful for the clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that his Amendment 85 is a probing amendment that seeks clarification on what conditions could be attached to licences not directly related to fishing. The wording the amendment seeks to remove was added to Section 4(6) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 by Section 1(2) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992. The condition-making power in paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 3 therefore simply restates the existing position. For example, we have previously discussed the “economic link” condition, which requires all UK-licensed vessels to demonstrate a genuine economic link to the United Kingdom. The economic link is an important area that does not relate directly to fishing, as it pertains to what happens to the fish after they are caught; for example, where they can be landed, or the percentage of the crew who must be normally resident in the UK.
I also highlight that because conditions on licences is a devolved matter, this amendment would cut across the competence of the devolved Administrations, all of which I imagine would not want to lose this important fisheries management flexibility.
Amendment 86 would limit a sea fish licensing authority’s ability to request information. The purpose of the underlying provision in the Bill is to give sea fish licensing authorities the power to obtain information from a vessel master, owner or charterer. This is to ensure that they have fulfilled the requirements necessary for them to obtain and use a UK fishing licence. There may be information ancillary to the direct function of licensing the vessel that is nevertheless necessary for the authorities to request for a number of reasons. The amendment would make licensing of vessels more difficult because of the danger of not being able to identify precisely what is, and what is not, related to a licensing function. Were a restrictive approach taken, and such terms interpreted narrowly, the amendment might impair cases where an authority may genuinely need to obtain information about issues such as quota holdings and fishing patterns; for example, to help fishers establish an historical track record of fishing for particular species, which does not always relate directly to licensing.
It is important to remember that, again, the provision replicates and replaces the existing licensing framework in Section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. This is a tried and tested framework and has worked well up until now. As I said, the licensing of fishing boats is a devolved function. This amendment would go against that principle.
In addressing Amendment 87, the purpose of this clause is to prevent one fisheries administration putting in place rules that would have little or no effect on its own vessels but could be to the detriment of vessels from another fisheries administration. One example of this could be the closure of an area not fished by fishers from the administration imposing the condition but by those from another part of the United Kingdom. Another example could be prohibiting the use of a gear type used only by fishers from another part of the United Kingdom. This would clearly be to the disadvantage of one group of fishers and would not be in the spirit of the mutual access clause.
The Bill seeks to ensure that vessels from all parts of the United Kingdom can fish in each other’s waters and follow the same rules as other fishers within those waters. However, it is possible that one Administration could seek to impose unfair restrictions on another. This amendment would remove what we believe is an important safety valve to prevent a fisheries administration having to comply with an unreasonable request. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that the memorandum of understanding being developed with the devolved Administrations would be a vehicle through which Administrations can set out what is considered reasonable.
We take all amendments very seriously but I hope, particularly in this group, that noble Lords and my noble friend will feel able to reflect that all these matters are either found in other pieces of legislation or are acknowledged to be important. For the moment, I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, particularly for his very helpful answer on recreational fisheries matters. I felt his answer on capacity was useful, but I just want to be clear. Is he saying that after this year, even when the Bill becomes an Act, through retained common fisheries policy law, the capacity rules from the common fisheries policy will remain for the United Kingdom? That is what I understood, and I am fully reassured.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this little group of amendments and explained their concerns. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister, who I hope has put my mind at rest. Obviously, this is something I will keep an eye on, and I will share his reply with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. With the permission of the Committee, I wish to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76ZA withdrawn.
Amendment 76A not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Power to grant licences in respect of British fishing boats
Amendment 77 not moved.