Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, the matter of REM is of the utmost importance. Of course, it already exists in the industry. For example, vessels over 12 metres carry transponders which provide data on vessel location, being satellites at sea. This is a strong aid to effective monitoring, control and enforcement in relation to the work that the boat does. Likewise, electronic logbooks for vessels over 10 metres in length and a mobile phone catch app for vessels under 10 metres, have strengthened the flow of information necessary for the effective management of our fisheries.
CCTV cameras have already been used successfully on a voluntary basis in the United Kingdom and Denmark in projects to provide assurance that cod catches, for example, are kept within permitted limits. Other initiatives using CCTV in a similar way have helped scientists understand specific catch patterns, and provide useful advice to fisheries managers. REM undoubtedly has an important role to play in the future management of UK fisheries.
However, these examples of the successful application of modern technology in fisheries do not mean that at this stage we should take the next step and make REM mandatory. This is problematical. Would we want a policeman in all our offices to make sure that we are constantly obeying the law? Furthermore, the majority of fisheries control authorities, such as the Marine Management Organisation in England, recognise that the route to high levels of compliance lies in dialogue, shared objectives and resolving the management challenges that underly most examples of non-compliance; in other words, it is important that the law which is to be observed by fishing boats is clear and easy to understand.
My understanding of the present system is that there is a good deal of complexity in it and that in some areas it appears to be contradictory. Before one considers making an obligation of this kind mandatory, it is important to ensure that we who are responsible for making the law play our part by making sure that the law in question is absolutely plain. It is important to get all this information, and a good deal of voluntary REM has already been taken up.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made an interesting point in support of what I am going to say. Businesses, supermarkets and the like do not wish to sell fish that has been caught illegally. On the fish counter in any supermarket, there is almost always a statement of some kind saying that the fish being supplied comes from sustainable stocks. They have an interest in this and therefore the leverage to ask the people who supply them to provide the information. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that fishermen should first have the option to use REM. Only if that system did not work—and when the law is already clear—would it be likely to impugn our fishermen as dishonest, which of course underlies the need for compulsion. It is just because we cannot trust people to do what is wanted of them that we have to do this.
At this stage, it seems to be a kind of imposition on fishermen to suggest that they are dishonest and require constant, detailed monitoring. George Orwell foresaw that applying even more widely than in fisheries, but surely fishermen are entitled to the same level of trust and freedom that we expect generally. I believe that it will be possible for the use of REM to become generally acceptable and used throughout the industry without the need to brand the whole of it as requiring a constant police force. Fishermen are able to provide the information. The cheaper the system is, the better, and I agree that it is becoming cheaper. It will then become easier for fishermen to put in the necessary equipment and to use it voluntarily.
In my submission, it is not right at this stage to impugn fisheries people as if they were dishonest and not properly to be trusted. After all, they endure a great deal to get fish for us. I hope that we would be willing to trust them to put this information forward and make it as available as possible with the systems that are now available, and not impose on them the suspicion that requires a mandatory system to be imposed.