Amendment 76ZA

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:15 pm, 9th March 2020

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.