Amendment 77A

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee 3:45 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who has expressed so eloquently many of the points I want to make. I shall try to avoid repeating them; nevertheless, I want to extend the argument. I agree with the noble Lord that if the Government are to make only one change to the Fisheries Bill, this should be it.

The purpose Amendment 124, in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Worthington and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, is to ensure that all boats fishing in UK waters are fitted with remote electronic monitoring. My amendment focuses on data collection as opposed to the discard ban, but the two are not incompatible and REM would support both. If we introduce it on a phased basis and with consultation, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested, it could be achieved in a way that does not disrupt the industry. It will be accepted internationally as the way to collect accurate data on what is being taken from the sea, to inform the scientific analysis of sustainability.

As the Minister said last Wednesday,

“One of the things that we must all wrestle with is that currently, we do not have adequate scientific information on all stocks and we need a better assessment”.

This will help to achieve that. The Minister also said:

“Where we cannot make such an assessment, we will gather scientific data so that such an assessment is possible”.—[Official Report, 4/3/20; cols. 652-53.]

Well, here is a method of contributing to that. Without direct on-board monitoring of fish catch, there would be a crucial gap in the scientific data on which to assess sustainable harvests. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has already said, while we were in the CFP it was argued that compelling our boats to deploy REM would put them at a disadvantage compared with fishers from other countries. That in itself tells you something about fishers’ behaviour. But now we have taken back control, we can set our own rules to require all boats in UK waters, whether or not they are UK-registered boats, to operate on a level playing field with REM fitted to their boats.

It was also argued that it was unaffordable and not suitable for smaller boats—the under 10-metre fleet. However, a recent report on the San José gillnet fishery in Peru, concluded that

“small-scale fishing vessel remote electronic monitoring offers potential for affordable at sea monitoring costs in coastal fisheries.”

I am told that there are also new technologies—the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to this—such as Shellcatch, which is cheap and easy to use. Is the Minister aware of Shellcatch and similar technologies, the use of which would be a very appropriate step for the Government to take?

The proposed new Clause in Amendment 124 would also require all boats to have GPS, so that their location is known, and it would require the establishment of a framework for monitoring and enforcement to prevent illegal fishing. The accurate collection of data is always important in fisheries management, but even more so as the Government are intent on pursuing the mistaken notion that maximum sustainable yield is the right way to manage sustainable fisheries. At Second Reading, I pointed out the folly of this proposition, but my warning did not seem to elicit a warm response, so I am going to repeat it at greater length now, for the record.

I am delighted that the notion of experts seems to be coming back into fashion, because I will refer to a number of experts in fisheries science. I first quote from two of the leading fisheries scientists of the 20th century. Canada’s P.A. Larkin, one of the leading fisheries scientists of his generation, wrote in his 1977 paper An Epitaph for the Concept of Maximum Sustained Yield:

“In many ways, it is a pity that now, just as the concept of MSY has reached a world-wide distribution and is on the verge of world-wide application, it must be abandoned.”

J.A. Gulland, who wrote the world-standard FAO manual on fisheries science, said:

“It is very doubtful if the attainment of MSY from any one stock of fish should be the objective of management except in exceptional circumstances”.

I also consulted two colleagues who are fisheries experts: Professor Marc Mangel from the University of California, arguably the top fisheries scientist in the United States, and Professor Sir John Beddington, former Government Chief Scientific Adviser and adviser to the UK Government in international fisheries negotiations. Both confirmed that MSY is not a desirable tool for fisheries management. Professor Mangel said:

“MSY as a management tool simply won’t go away, regardless of evidence that ‘managing for MSY’ has not been effective”,

and

“MSY is a very dangerous fishery management target unless one knows lots about the stock, about fishing mortality, and has the ability to really control fishing effort (particularly shut it down if needed). MSY is generally not used as a target in North America.”

Sir John Beddington is even blunter in his assessment that there is complete consensus among fisheries scientists that to set harvest levels at MSY is not appropriate. I apologise for going on at some length about MSY, but also note that I could have gone on a lot longer. Instead, I commend to those who would like to follow up my points a book entitled Quantitative Fisheries Stock Assessment, by Hilborn and Walters.

Sadly, the Government are committed to a misguided fisheries policy. I am not an expert fisheries scientist, but I have looked carefully at the issue and consulted experts, and the consequences of this misguided policy will be felt by UK fishers in the years ahead. I urge the Minister to listen to world fisheries experts and consider whether the Bill needs to be changed accordingly. However, I am not optimistic that the Government are prepared to do that, so, at the very least, they should agree to record properly what is being caught and where, so that when things go wrong—as they certainly will—they can change the policy. This amendment would enable the Government to do just that.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked why the amendment refers to phasing in REM rather than introducing it straight away. I have talked to people involved in this in the Chilean fishery, where REM is required on boats over 15 metres long. I was told—as was the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—that a culture change has to go with the introduction of REM. Consultation and phasing in would therefore enable the Government to achieve buy-in from the fishing industry, particularly the important, smaller boats under 10 metres long.

That does not undermine the fundamental objective: to gain accurate data to enable us to manage our fisheries, in spite of our aiming for the undesirable target of MSY. We can manage the fisheries with good data, and change the plan when the data demands it.