Amendment 77A

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, we very much welcome the tabling of these amendments, all of which deal with the introduction of remote electronic monitoring cameras on vessels.

I say first that I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I am sorry that he felt that we did not take his comments seriously when he last made them. I certainly listened carefully to what he had to say when this was last debated. I am quite prepared to admit that maximum sustainable yield is not the best measure, but I have not read the book or the scientific treatise to which he referred. I would say back to him: if not that, then we need to find the right form of words that we can put in the Bill. We all know that we want to deliver sustainability. It does not have to be through maximum sustainable yield or, indeed, through some of the other amendments that we have elsewhere in the Bill, which talk about setting the standard above maximum sustainable yield so that there is some leeway. But if that is not the right measure, we need to find something that can practically be put in a Bill. I am very happy to talk to him and learn a bit more about how we might do that.

We agree with the noble Lord and others who have spoken that full and verifiable documentation of catch is absolutely important and can provide help with enforcement and be an added safety feature on boats. Again, I agree with particularly the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Krebs, that these amendments could be the vehicle for bringing about a major change in a Bill that in many other respects seems to maintain the status quo. They are, therefore, important amendments and we hope that we can follow them up on Report.

If the UK is to achieve its sustainable fishing goals, it needs advance data collection to allow authorities to be better informed about the true state of our fishing stocks, to ensure that quotas are set in line with the most up-to-date and accurate scientific advice. REM has the great advantage of providing data in real time, and could provide a complete snapshot of fish stocks and their movement around our waters. This could also add to our intelligence about the impact of climate change and warming waters. It could also create new economic opportunities. Historically, two-thirds of UK fishing stock has been fished beyond its sustainable limits, but better scientific advice does not necessarily mean fewer fishing opportunities. The New Economics Foundation has estimated that if catches were properly aligned with the best scientific data, the yield could actually increase to something like 45% higher landings, and an additional gross value of around £150 million across the UK coast. Better data would also allow more opportunities to classify UK-caught fish as sustainable and to qualify for the Marine Conservation Society’s approval, which could boost their sales in supermarkets and lead to more sustainability.

We therefore see the introduction of REM as a win-win for the sector. Many larger vessels already have this technology; the challenge for us is to roll this out so that it is a universal requirement for all licensed vessels fishing in our waters. Obviously, we do not want the cost to be a barrier for smaller vessels, but the cost of this equipment is coming down and the Government could help by issuing some standard specifications that would make production more efficient. We also have Amendments 113 and 120 to be debated later, which would allow financial assistance to be given to aid the gathering of scientific data that might help in this regard and could be used to subsidise REM for those on the smaller fleet.

We draw a big distinction between REM and the catch-tracking app that has been introduced by the MMO for boats under 10 metres. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, raised concerns about this in a previous debate, but I hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say that he thinks it is a good idea. We will have to agree to disagree on this, because for us it seems that this has been gone about in completely the wrong way. It comes with the power to prosecute and demand heavy fines—up to £100,000—for those found to have imputed catch weights into their smartphone that are wrong by a margin of 10% or more. Many of these boats do not have accurate weighing scales on board, however, and many fishers are forced to rely on estimates, which can clearly lead to incorrect data being submitted. It feels as if a whole new layer of bureaucracy and red tape is being introduced by these measures, whereas REM would provide an independent measure of the catch.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, are rather absolutist in their approach, making the installation of video equipment a condition of licences being granted to both UK and foreign vessels. Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, offers an alternative way forward, requiring REM on vessels of more than 10 metres and commissioning a feasibility study for under-10s. Amendment 124, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would allow a phased introduction of REM and might be the best solution if we are to find a consensus about a way forward.

Regardless of the approach, there appears to be a consensus that we should move forward towards mandatory video monitoring as part of the fight against irresponsible behaviour and for better data collection on fish stocks. I hope noble Lords will support these amendments.