Examination of Witnesses

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:25 am on 4 December 2018.

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Paul Trebilcock and Martin Salter gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 10:54, 4 December 2018

It is a great pleasure to welcome back Mr Martin Salter, who was the Member of Parliament for Reading West for a number of years and is a dear old friend of mine, and Paul Trebilcock from the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations. Mr Salter is from the Angling Trust. Perhaps you could kindly introduce yourselves briefly for the record.

Martin Salter:

Thank you, Mr Gray—I miss our late-night train journeys back to Swindon. My name is Martin Salter, formerly of this parish and now head of campaigns for the Angling Trust, the national representative body for all forms of recreational fishing. That includes sea angling, which according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is an industry in its own right worth £2 billion to the UK economy, generating 20,000 jobs and supporting thousands of coastal businesses.

One of the reasons we were very keen to give evidence before you is that, despite the warm words from Ministers and in the White Paper, recreational sea angling is not mentioned in the Bill, and we are hoping that you will put that right.

Paul Trebilcock:

I am Paul Trebilcock, chairman of the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations. All producer organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in our membership. Our members account for more than 40% by value of fish and shellfish landings in the UK.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q I will start with a question for Paul Trebilcock. The very first clause of the Bill sets out a number of important environmental targets for the sustainable harvest of our marine environment. In the south-west we have particular challenges with maximum sustainable yields in a mixed fishery. Would you explain, from the point of view of fishermen in the south-west, the types of challenge we have as we try to abide by that target?

Paul Trebilcock:

I should probably say at the outset that the fishing industry clearly has an interest and a priority to ensure the long-term sustainability of all our fisheries. Sustainability is at the very core of what we want from the Bill and the UK acting as an independent coastal state. However, in the words of Karl O’Brien at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the MSY concept is scientifically illiterate. To have all stocks at MSY at a particular point in time is just not possible. In particular, in ultra-mixed fisheries, as we have in the south-west, there will always be ups and downs and natural variants. We are trying to manage a dynamic natural resource.

The concept of MSY is a good principle. Working towards MSY proxies on the key driver stocks is probably more practical than what we have at the moment, with an arbitrary legally binding commitment in the common fisheries policy that gives us some perverse pieces of advice. Zero TACs on stocks does not mean they will not be caught in mixed fisheries; it just means they are not taken account of in practical fisheries management. A far better way would be to have the MSY framework as an aspiration and to move towards it, and wherever possible have as many stocks as possible in that MSY range.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Some people say we can learn from Norway, which uses MSY and other approaches, too. Is there anything you think we can learn from that?

Paul Trebilcock:

As I say, I think there are lessons to be learned from independent coastal member states such as Norway. Its approach to fisheries management takes the whole ecosystem into account and does not try just to manage stock on arbitrary numbers. There are lessons to be learned, such as using proxies or other indicators to ensure that the whole mix of stocks is going in the right direction and perhaps using the MSY as the driver for some of the key economic stocks. It is about trying to take into account that we are trying to manage a dynamic natural resource rather than something that neatly obeys some scientific modelling.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Mr Salter, I feel you are a bit glass half empty about the Bill. Clause 28(1)(e), which I am sure you have read, creates the powers to give financial assistance for

“the promotion or development of recreational fishing.”

That is in the Bill and it is the first time ever that we have created power to give financial assistance to angling. Is that something you welcome?

Martin Salter:

What do you think, Minister? With due respect, it is obviously right and proper that the European maritime and fisheries fund makes some of it available to the commercial sector. That is fine, but you had six direct references in the White Paper to recreational fishing. One of the great failures of the common fisheries policy is the failure to recognise recreational angling as a legitimate stakeholder in the European fishery. That is a failure of the CFP that the Bill could put right. You could do that, as we state in our evidence, by putting on the face of the Bill, “The UK Government recognise recreational sea angling as a direct user and a legitimate stakeholder in the fishery.” That would be a win-win situation and it would add to the very welcome news that we are going to have access to EMFF funding.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q I have done this job for five years. We meet every year—you are always invited ahead of the December Council, along with the commercial fishing sector, to discuss our priorities. Bass has dominated discussions, certainly in the past three years. What is it that you seek for us to do with legal powers? Obviously the Bill is about legal powers. Are you saying you would like a licensing regime for recreational anglers? In what way would you like us to legally recognise you?

Martin Salter:

We, like you, are looking forward to saying goodbye to the annual horse trading that takes place at the Fisheries Council. It is worth putting on the record that, despite the reform of the CFP, some 44% of total allowable catch limits were set above scientifically recommended limits. That process is far from perfect, and it is to be welcomed that the Bill and particularly the White Paper talk in terms of world-leading fisheries management.

However, the point for politicians is that it is easy to claim that we are going to be an independent coastal state, but that does not deliver sustainable fisheries. Senegal is an independent coastal state, and its fisheries have been wiped out by super-trawlers, which are mainly European and have used their economic power to destroy the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen in independent coastal states. You will deliver sustainable fisheries management by having world-leading sustainable fisheries policy. You will deliver that by looking at the very best in the world. You should look at Norway and in particular at the United States. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 1976 puts a statutory duty on the eight regional fishery councils to take action to rebuild fish stocks.

You asked what we are seeking. We would like to see on the face of the Bill a binding duty for Ministers to set total allowable catch limits in line with scientifically recommended evidence, rather than this dreadful horse trading that takes place every year at the European Fisheries Council, which is no model of sustainable fisheries management at all.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Do you not think that that is there in the very first clause of the Bill, in subsection (3), which states that the “precautionary objective” is to ensure that “living marine biological resources” are exploited in such a way that they are harvested

“above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.”

There is a legal commitment there.

Martin Salter:

There is, but there is a section in the Bill about binding duties. Frankly, Minister, if I were in your shoes, I would want a binding duty. I would want to make it crystal clear that we are going to end the discredited system that has operated under the common fisheries policy and replace it with a legally backed duty to fish at sustainable levels, just as we have legally backed targets for climate change and emissions.

I am afraid I do not agree with Paul and my colleagues in the commercial catching sector about having MSY as an aspiration. Minister, you have piloted bass conservation measures more than anybody else, but usually in the face of opposition from the commercial catching sector. We have seen those conservation measures start to lead to the rebuilding of bass stocks in the UK, which is really to be commended. We need to be bold, we need to be outliers, we need to learn from the best in the world, and we need it clearly and simply on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Paul, at the moment, not all UK fisheries are classed as sufficiently sustainable under the UK Government’s procurement policies for the Government to buy fish from them. What needs to happen for all UK fisheries to be classed as sustainable, so the UK Government’s procurement policies enable their fish to be bought and so we can be proud that all our fisheries are sustainable?

Paul Trebilcock:

I think we are well down the track on that one. Increasing numbers of UK fisheries have either achieved accreditation and are now Marine Stewardship Council-accredited, or are going through the process. Growing numbers by volume and across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland are achieving that. We are definitely moving in that direction, and the UK fishing industry is currently on a trajectory toward having all its fisheries on a sustainable footing. Contrary to Martin’s view, I think the people who will deliver a sustainable fishery and fishing industry are the fishermen themselves, those who are actively at sea. Currently, there are elements of the common fisheries policy, whether it be relative stability shares, access arrangements or some of the technical measures, that hamper the travel toward that sustainability.

The UK operating as a genuine independent coastal state, with a practical and balanced fisheries policy that takes into account all three pillars of sustainability—not just the environmental but the social and economic pillars—will in a very short space of time take the UK further down that track and ultimately toward our shared aspiration of all UK fisheries operating in a sustainable way that will allow the UK Government and anybody else to buy with a clear conscience.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Martin, I agree that this Bill seems to undervalue the contribution of recreational angling and fishing to the UK economy, especially our coastal communities. You mentioned in your earlier remarks that recreational angling was a key stakeholder in other jurisdictions around the world, with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all recognising recreational angling as a key stakeholder. Do you think it should be included as part of this Bill that recreational angling is a key stakeholder and should be regarded as such as the new fisheries policy is introduced?

Martin Salter:

Yes, thank you for that. We are promoting an amendment that states:

“Promoting the sustainable development of public access to recreational fishing opportunities as both part of the catching sector and the leisure and tourism industries, taking into account socio-economic factors.”

What is interesting, if we look across the pond at America, is that they have fishery management policies on some stocks. It is worth bearing in mind that those fish stocks that are of interest to the recreational sector do not clash desperately with the fish stocks that my colleagues from the catching sector wish to exploit. We are not interested in monkfish. We are not interested in hake. We are not interested in crabs. We are not interested in lobsters. We are actually only interested in something like 20% of fish landed into UK ports, so there is plenty of opportunity to look at sensible resource-sharing.

In America, the striped bass fishery, which was driven to extinction by commercial overfishing, has recovered as a result of tough conservation measures. They now have in place a resource-sharing operation where X percentage of the stock each year is reserved for the recreational sector, which generates huge value for the US economy. I can read the figures into the record if you like. We have the potential to do that over here. We can look at certain fish stocks and say, “Do you know what? We could deliver better for UK plc by managing that stock recreationally, or at least sharing a proportion of that stock.”

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q On that point, we have had representations about Cornish bluefin tuna effectively being allocated as a catch-and-release stock in future. That seems to be an area where there might be a tension between recreational fishing and those commercial fishers who might want to catch and use that in the food supply chain. How can the tension be resolved for a stock such as that, and is there anything that needs to go in the Bill about how stocks could be better managed where there is a potential clash?

Martin Salter:

To be honest, Mr Pollard, I do not think that is a matter for the Bill. We are looking forward to meeting the Minister on bluefin tuna, although we accept that he is pretty busy at the moment with two Bills going through Parliament. It is interesting that the bluefin tuna is still on the endangered list, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature list goes back to 2011, which predates the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas stock recovery programme. That stock recovery programme has seen the global quota increased to something like 38,000 tonnes. The EU gets 20,000 tonnes of that. Under ICCAT rules, the EU has to allocate a small proportion to a non-commercial interest—in other words, a recreational catch-and-release interest. The recreational sector only ever needs a very small part of that quota because of the mortality rate for bluefin tuna. They are big, tough animals, and the Canadian model shows that their mortality rate is around 3.6%.

You can therefore have a very small quota in the UK and develop a thriving recreational tuna fishery. Given that the stock is slowly recovering, I should imagine that ICCAT would consider it far too early to start thinking about cranking up commercial exploitation in an area of the globe where it has not traditionally happened. A first run at tuna, if you like, really needs to be a tightly licensed, properly controlled recreational fishery that sits alongside the tagging programmes that the World Wildlife Fund is currently doing in Sweden and has also done in the Mediterranean.

We need to know a lot more about these wonderful creatures before we open the door to commercial exploitation, and the first stage would be to set up a recreational bluefin tuna fishery. That would generate an awful lot of money for the south-west and for Ireland, and it would also mean—this is really important—that there would be anglers out there looking after this resource. Frankly, if stakeholders are not engaged in the fishery, bad people will do bad things to fish, as can be seen in the amount of illegal and black fish landings that take place every year in this country.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Q I have a couple of questions. Mr Salter, the highlight of the Second Reading debate was the vision of my hon. Friend Mr Walker for what recreational fishing might do for local economies. Does recreational fishing need to be mentioned in the Bill for you to actually achieve that objective?

Mr Trebilcock, the Bill suggests an enhanced role for producer organisations. Are you fit for purpose—not your specific PO but generally—to fulfil such a role? At the beginning of last month the European Commission issued a reasoned opinion to the UK Government, which admittedly was about the management of POs but in which there was a strong suggestion that you are not doing what you should be.

Paul Trebilcock:

You are absolutely right. The Commission is certainly having a look and gave a reasoned opinion about POs functioning in the UK, although that focused primarily on the compliance checks and the audit process by the Marine Management Organisation rather than the functioning of particular POs.

The short answer to your question is that, yes, I think POs are fit for purpose. They are primarily fishermen’s organisations, entirely funded by fishermen and run by and for fishermen to manage quota, market and represent. They have an extremely valuable role. Is there room to improve as we enter a new regime? Absolutely. Clarification of a standard that all POs across the country must deliver to, clarity of function and a greater understanding from people outside POs of what they actually do would all be really useful.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Q If I could just come back on that, you said POs function very much for the benefit of their local communities. The Lowestoft producer organisation in my constituency is made up of three or four accountants in the town but seven trawlers that never come near the port. I do not think that that is functioning properly.

Paul Trebilcock:

No, but in response I argue that the Cornish PO, for example, is made up of around 150 different fishermen, from small handliners catching mackerel and bass through to beam trawlers. That is an example of how a producer organisation might work.

In the Lowestoft example, the local boats sold to Dutch interests, and there was an evolutionary process. The Lowestoft PO functions as a producer organisation, securing maximum price for its members and that sort of thing. The local community in Lowestoft chose not to be part of that. It is important that, as we enter the UK operating as an independent coastal state, all parts of the commercial industry are encouraged into producer organisations to ensure that they collectively understand and drive the function and operation of producer organisations wherever they might be.

You really have to be seeing the benefit. Perhaps that is a role where UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations and producer organisations in general have not particularly done well in explaining to and educating people outside the PO movement what they actually do for fishing communities. The reach and effect of producer organisations goes beyond their membership in a lot of areas. I know that the south-west and east of England POs will help those in the local community who are not even in membership. I strongly feel that producer organisations do a tremendous job around the country at the moment, and have the scope to build on that and do better things as we go into the post-Brexit era.

Martin Salter:

The highlight of any debate is the contribution from the hon. Member for Broxbournero, as we know.

Do we need recreational fishing on the face of the Bill? It is great when the White Paper says:

“We will consider how we can further integrate recreational angling within the new fisheries framework recognising the societal benefits of this activity and impacts on some stocks.”

However—your constituents who fish recreationally will tell you this—for many years they have been a bit sick and tired of seeing their recreational sea angling experience fall off a cliff edge as stocks are overfished, and in some cases get driven into parlous conditions. They feel that the recreational sector, despite its economic significance—its significance for jobs and for coastal communities—is basically being left to feed on the crumbs that are left over after commercial exploitation has had its whack.

If you look at quality fishery management—at America and Magnuson-Stevens, and the New Zealand fishery conservation legislation—shares are allocated. There is proper resource sharing. There is consideration in a sensible, grown-up, policy development way—recognising the social and economic impacts of the exploitation of different stocks for different purposes. It might not just be for recreational fishing. It might be for diving or other forms of tourism. It might be for conservation. Yes, putting it on the face of the Bill would send a strong signal, and would also mean a sea change from the very discredited policies of the common fisheries policy. What I think the Bill is really about is recognising that this is a new chapter for fisheries management. That is why I would urge you to support our amendment.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

We have eight minutes for five questions.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q Paul, I think I agree with you that the work of the POs is much undervalued, and frankly not much understood. Tell us a little bit about the work of POs in terms of trading quota across the different parts of the UK.

Paul Trebilcock:

One of POs’ functions is quota management. Part of that involves getting quota to those who need it—fishermen. That can be done through the swaps and transfer mechanism, which has evolved and developed over many years. Those can be swaps involving different quota stocks swapped for those needed. It can be leasing, it can be gifting, it can be borrowing and it can be a form of banking—it is quite a sophisticated and complex, or flexible, way of doing things, which enables it to be moved around to where it is needed, wherever possible.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q What happens if the Administration in one part of the UK, for example, tries to restrict quota trading among other parts?

Paul Trebilcock:

At the moment we have the ability to trade across all parts of the devolved Administration quota tonnages on an annual basis, but it is not possible to move the fixed quota allocation units across Administration borders, which hinders business and stops FQAs getting to where they need to be—fixed quota allocation units for stocks off the south-west probably are not needed in Shetland and vice versa. The ability to rebalance that and free that movement would be welcome, but at the moment there is free movement of quota tonnages across the devolved Administrations, which is absolutely essential in getting quotas.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q And the Bill as it stands would allow that to continue free of political interference?

Paul Trebilcock:

The Bill as it stands, as I read it, does allow for that. The risk, of course, is that there is the signal towards devolution that means the different devolved Administrations can, I think, as I read it, choose to have their own quota management rules. That is certainly a risk, but it does not appear on my reading to be a high risk. I would hope that all devolved Administrations were trying to work collectively for the benefit of their respective fishing industries and the UK as a whole, so retaining flexibility and restoring the flexibility to move FQAs would be a welcome addition.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Mr Salter, you rightly placed great emphasis on sustainability. Given that in the UK we export most of our fish and export most of what we catch, most of what is consumed comes from places in which as an independent coastal state we rightly have no control over whether things are fished sustainably. Do you see a role for consumer-type markings on sustainability? Should that be left up to the industry or should there be some kind of legal basis so that we walk the walk on sustainability as well as talking the talk?

Martin Salter:

I think consumers welcome guidance. It is a matter for you whether you think legislation is required, but when you walk into a supermarket you see a very complicated tapestry in front of you.

We have a very real problem with farmed salmon. Our colleagues from Scotland recognise it as an important industry, but if it were a land industry it would be shut down tomorrow given the appalling levels of pollution. The amount of sewage that is discharged as a result of the Scottish salmon farming industry into pristine marine lochs is quite horrendous. The wrasse that are prevalent around Mr Pollard’s constituency in the south-west are slow-growing fish of very little commercial value—often the first fish that youngsters catch when they go sea angling. They are being shipped live to the Scottish salmon farming industry as a cleaner fish to eat the lice because that is cheaper. That is a double bad whammy. The industry really needs to improve its act—I notice that Norway is moving a lot of its agriculture on to land so that it can deal with the effluent.

I still see an awful lot of people eating Scottish farmed salmon. I am sure Scottish MPs welcome the fact that they do so, but in sustainability terms and environmental terms it is a dreadful product—doubly dreadful because of its impact on sea fish down in the south-west. Perhaps statutory guidance would be welcome, or at least a level playing field in which agriculture was forced to clean its act up as farming practices on land have been forced to do over the years.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

We are running out of time. May we have a last question from Alan Brown?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Q Mr Salter, you seem to be talking about having a percentage of quotas ring-fenced for recreational angling. How would getting that into the Bill work? Would it apply to future quotas to allow expansion of the sector?

Martin Salter:

We are not calling for that to be in the Bill; it would tie the Minister’s hands. If we are to adopt world-leading sustainable fishery management practice, it is important that Ministers and decision makers are able to take the best scientific advice without having to come back to Parliament to change quotas and reallocate bass stocks from 30% recreational to 37% recreational, for example. That clearly would not work. They have to have that power, but that is why it is important that we put a duty in the Bill for Ministers to set sustainability targets.

The point about resource sharing is more about achieving an optimal economic and societal return for the stock. I find it very sad that protected species such as the grey mullet that we see swimming around harbours in the UK have very little commercial value, yet at times of spawning aggregations we see entire year classes of those stocks totally netted, flooding the market and getting less than £2 a kilo. This is a slow-growing species: a grey mullet takes anything from 10 to 12 years to achieve a size that makes it a useful recreational angling target. It is a very poor use of that resource. As a good business calculation, which is the better use of that stock? Would reserving more of it for recreation give us more jobs for the UK economy—more bites for our buck, if you like? That is something that good fishery management practice would seek to achieve. It will not be achieved by legislation as such, but it could be assisted by a power and duty for fishery Ministers.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

That is a complication, because trying to get a legislative framework that gives that certainty—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Order. We are strictly limited by time and it is now 11.25 am, so I fear I have to call this evidence session to an end. The Committee will meet again at 2 pm. The Committee Room will be locked in the meantime, so hon. Members may leave their papers here if they wish. I thank the witnesses very much indeed for their useful evidence.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.