Q May I ask for your general impressions of the Bill? Does it do the things that you would expect a domestic fisheries policy to do, or are there other elements that you would like to see included?
First off, it has been drafted in short order to deal with the situation that we have. By and large, and given the constraints that the drafters had—you can see that it is drafted in different forms and it does not sit together very well; it is not very beautiful—it does what it says on the tin, but it could be improved. I was looking at some other legislation. The Australian Fisheries Management Act 1991 has 168 sections, the MACA—the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009—has 325, but this has 43. You can see that more could have gone in here, but there were time constraints on the people who drafted it, and I think that they produced what they could in the timescale.
Q Are you happy that clause 1 broadly brings across the marine environment objectives from European legislation?
It does. Clause 1 leads you into the devolution minefield. One thing it has to try to deal with in drafting is repatriating legislation on the one hand, and then delegating it around the four nations of the UK on the other. It tries to do that. Given the constraints on the drafters, there are fisheries plans to bring these objectives in.
There are potentially some bits missing. We do not have marine planning in there, which we could possibly put in. Quota could possibly go in there. There could be a method of dealing with quota at that stage, on how, if and when quota comes back, what happens with climate change and fishing opportunities. That could be put into the plans as well.
However, I recognise that the drafters sat there not only having to operate from the UK perspective but also having to take the devolved Administrations with them, which inevitably is slow. The clause could be improved if we had a little more time.
Q We obviously have to look at marine planning in the context of the retained EU law coming across and that we have other bits of legislation. Some of those things are already provided for.
The second point I want to raise is on the fixed quota allocation—the FQA units—which has been the basis of quota allocation inside the UK, attached to individual vessels, as you know. We have been explicit in the White Paper, and we take the powers in the Bill to make a break from that, and to say that any additional fishing opportunities that come as we depart from relative stability could be allocated on a different basis. What is your view of the FQA units system?
What has happened is that the UK fishery has essentially been, for want of a better word, squatted. We gave it out free to two people, who then sold it and it became propertised. The UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations case held that unused FQA became a property right.
The White Paper talks about quota being a public asset, so we have to make a decision on whether the UK fishery—particularly if we are getting more back; it will be very expensively brought—starts off as a public asset. That means unwinding the FQA system. You can potentially do that under existing powers, or you can do it under some things in the Bill. When you actually look at the auction, I think you have probably constrained yourself a bit too much. If you auction off quota, you are looking at people who have the cash to buy the quota in the first place. A royalty, for instance, is the sort of thing that you would charge—I think we would call it turnover rent in the property sector. That would be a way of charging people and then not having to come up with the cash. Even in the Bill, it only says “may” use an auction. Without constraining yourself, you could expand your powers on what we do with repatriated quota and, indeed, what we do with FQA generally.
We went through some debate when first drafting our amendments. We thought that we needed to put a stop to FQA, but a legal argument will come back the other way that says quota is a property right. We thought, “Well, if you give eight years’ notice, that’s probably sufficient to deal with any compensation that would arise,” but even then, I did not feel comfortable putting that in the Bill, because you reify the situation as soon as you do that. We put it in to start with, then we took it back out again on the basis that there needs to be a proper conversation about what we do with quota. Given the time restraints, we will not be able to do that in the Bill, even with the best will in the world. We can reserve the powers in the Bill to ensure that whatever we decide to do with FQA in the long run is settled, and that we can do some interesting things with it. I think that balance is there if you pull back just slightly on the prescriptive language about what you do with it.
Q Do you think a legal power is needed to do that? They passed legislation in the Faroes that effectively put people on notice, and said that after 10 years they would depart from an FQA system. Our view is that the Government could state that intention, at which point the clock would start ticking without the need to have a provision on the face of the Bill.
We reallocated quota last time—unused quota—without compensation or additional legislation, so I think we could do that. I think you have to be careful when you do that, because a lot of people borrow money by using their quota as collateral. One the one hand, there are some very rich people sitting on quota—the quota barons we read about—but on the other hand, there are people who use quota to support their running a business. You would need to think about what you will do, but I think you can do that under the current legislation.
What has happened here is that it has been beefed up. We have put some more suggestions forward. There are two things that you could do. You could vest the fishery so that it actually becomes public property. We have done a heck a lot of research at UWE on who owns it, and we reckon it was set up by some sort of implied Crown trust that goes back to the middle ages. One of my PhD students is working on this at the moment.
It would be easier just to state in the Bill that it is a public asset and put it in some sort of trust, and then you would get the kind of things that you would normally expect when disposing of a public asset to the commercial sector. That is the way I would approach it. I appreciate that we did not start there; we started with an open-access resource, which we have tried to deal with through legislation. We are in a transition.
Q You mention fisheries management and how that is missing from the Bill. In particular, fisheries management and how that fits with marine plans in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 seems to be omitted. Can you just expand on what you think the Bill is missing in fisheries management?
I am not sure. In common with previous speakers, I liked the idea of a scientific adviser, which would be a lovely thing to have. Its constitution is probably the same size as the Act, so you can imagine the bunfight about who sits on the advisory panel, whether it is peer reviewed and whether it is devolved. That is a huge conversation to have, and it needs to be had in public. That is something I would like to see. If we had more time, I would like to see that go in the Bill.
There is a mirror piece of legislation, which is the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill. Does that apply to fishing or not? When we leave the EU, we will lose the right to infraction proceedings against recalcitrant UK—all parts of the UK. Should Scotland do something, it is the UK that gets infracted. We will lose that, and we have not quite been able to replace that kind of thing.
Those are just two examples: a good, robust, scientific, forward-looking body that looks at how to make the most of our resources, and some sort of regulatory regime to punish the hindmost, if you want to be quite so curt.
Q On the dispute resolution mechanism that you are talking about, the Government seem to think that they have the powers to resolve disputes between the devolved administrations and the UK Government at the moment. Is it your view that that is the case, or would an explicit dispute mechanism requirement in the Bill make that easier in the future?
I think you can put one in. I would love to, but given the timeframe to which we are working—having this Bill ready for March—it would almost be a wrecking amendment if we tried to put something like that in. You are going into devolution which is an enormously emotive topic, especially at the moment. In terms of the Government’s position of being able to hit the devolved administrations with a stick: it is a devolved matter. I do not think the Government can do that.
When you look at most of the Act, it is consensual and they are consulting one another. That is how it should be, to be honest. The four nations should be able to work together and that is right. At some level we have lost the outside influence that we had. The way everything is drafted is, unfortunately, currently predicated on having a common fisheries policy that kept everything together. I am talking around the subject because were you to put a drafting pen in front of me and say, “Get on and draft that,” it would be incredibly difficult. My sympathies go out to the Government for what they have done.
Q Finally, one of the areas that seems to be weaker in the Bill than in the common fisheries policy is the area around maximum sustainable yield and the removal of a commitment to achieve it by 2020. Where there are difficulties in achieving maximum sustainable yield by 2020, do you think that the MSY provisions in the Fisheries Bill are sufficiently robust to make sure that we are restoring stock levels in our oceans, especially as climate change seems to be missing as a theme from much of the Bill? Is that something that we could address?
What does maximum sustainable yield actually mean? The European Union defines it as something like the highest theoretical equilibrium yield. It says something like that in the basic regulation. You take a basket of theories and you use the highest one. It has been knocked around as a term for a long time. Our rights in our EEZ only go up to maximum sustainable yield and we do not have a right to fish beyond it. We can take the interest off our fish stock outside our territorial waters, but we cannot spend the capital. This is the way to look at it.
To some extent, that is all the rights we have. I have not explicitly looked at that, but my sense on the way this works is that we would be bound by MSY targets anyway. The other thing is that the UK has access to judicial review, whereas trying to review the European Commission is interesting. It is very difficult to get a standing in the European Court of Justice, particularly on maximum sustainable yield. A few years the World Wildlife Fund tried to get access on cod quotas, I think, and they failed. So the European Union is good at giving rules to other people, but not so good at looking after itself. From an environmental charity point of view, we are not so concerned as long as there is something in there that does allow some conversation about moving to the right stocks that produce more fish, more jobs and a better environment. We could get hung up on this if we are not careful.
Q Tom, you were expressing concern at how a public asset might have inadvertently become a property right, and how that might constrain more radical reforms of the quota system. Could we go back to the court case of 2012-13 when Lord Justice Coulson put down his determination? I have heard some suggestions that the Secretary of State won that case against the POs, because what he was proposing was very reasonable and small-scale, and the POs were acting unreasonably. Is that a view that you would share, or would you say that Coulson allows one to go a step further?
An FQA is a possession under the European convention on human rights. There is a distinction. “Quota” is once it is distributed, and FQA units are about your expectation of how much of a share of the UK’s TAC you are going get every year. That was based on the historical landings data, traditionally. He said that unused FQA units could be reallocated without compensation. FQA units are a possession, so the corollary of that is that used FQA units—and most of them are used—would require some sort of compensation payment. I have not been privy to the subsequent legal advice, and I took a sharp intake of breath when he said that at the time. In fact, I went to court to watch some of the court proceedings—it was quite interesting; it was right up my field. It is inherent in the UK that we do not take assets off people without compensation. It is part of our culture—way before the European convention.
There is another point about that redistribution and the immediate way it would have ramifications on how the whole commercial sector is constructed, which you need to be mindful of. Once you put that whole lot into a bag and shake it up, you could design a scheme to reallocate quota, but it would need to be done in a sensible, crafted way.
Q Dr Appleby, you say that MSY is not necessary, and that hardwiring a greater onus on Ministers to adhere to MSY in terms of the allocation of future quotas is not necessarily the way to go. If we had more time—I take what you say about there being limited time—is there a way in which we could hardwire sustainability in respect of future fisheries management into this Bill?
That is a good question. There are things that you can do. The Australian legislation, for instance, makes it a legal duty to fish sustainably and according to the plans that they come up with. We could put that in. Our fisheries statements are a bit woolly. I notice that there is a bit in here that says that they do not have to adhere if relevant considerations are taken into account. What is a relevant consideration? I could not find a definition of that.
We have not nailed the Secretary of State to the floor in this Bill, and that could be done. Again, it would have to be done in the context of devolution, so we would have to nail everybody’s feet to the floor around the UK, because we cannot have a situation in which one part of the UK can fish non-sustainably and the other parts cannot. There are things that you can do. There are tweaks and modifications that can be made to harden up that duty.
Q I have one separate question. Do you take an environmental view of what the potential benefits might be of preserving certain fisheries or stocks for recreational fishing, as has happened elsewhere?
You are looking at a public resource, so how do we make the best of that public resource? Some of that is going to be to the commercial sector and some of it is undoubtedly going to be to the recreational sector. The whole thing is so political because we are trying to carve up this public resource through regulation. Undoubtedly, the recreational sector is an important part of this conversation, too. Historically, although it has recently been included in the common fisheries policy, it has come to the table late.
Q I want to come back to this point about some of the environmental criteria and potentially having a hard nib point for MSY, for instance, as a statutory target.
One unique thing about fisheries is that, in or out of the EU, they are subject to annual international fisheries negotiations. Norway, for instance, follows MSY but also follows lots of other scientific metrics that it thinks are superior to those that we use. In such a situation, do you think it is important to keep that flexibility, so that you can actually land an agreement with Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and the EU, or is it preferable to make it unlawful for the UK to reach such an agreement and just have everyone go off on their own and unilaterally set a tax?
That is an interesting question; theoretically, we cannot fish beyond MSY, because that is all we have. Under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, our rights extend to MSY and that is it. You cannot have an agreement on what you do not have.
However, the question is: what is MSY? It comes down to the definition. The Norwegians would probably argue that, by taking a basket of different theories, we achieve MSY, because one stock can be plotted on a graph and another cannot. I am not a fisheries scientist—you would have to ask them—but it seems that you are essentially looking at something like a repairing obligation on a lease. How far can you go with this and do it in a sensible way?
The difficulty with going into, say, MSY or BMSY or all those things, which I have never completely got my head around, is that you define a particular scientific methodology in your Bill. I think that could come back to haunt the draftsman if stock does not behave in a certain way or if you want some sort of flexibility. Again, it is interesting that, coming from a conservation point of view with my Blue hat on, I am not uncomfortable with just leaving it at MSY.
Q May I just tease out for a second or two the question of property rights as they pertain to FQA? As I understand your evidence so far, if we were to get to somewhere sensible on this, we would not start from here. Is that a fair comment? I can understand why you would take the idea of eight years and then think no—if I came to you and said I will take your house away in eight years’ time, you would not be very happy about that. At the same time, does the whole idea of quota auction not put beyond any doubt that this is a tradeable commodity?
You can write that into the legislation. The Americans, in the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, just write in that it is not a property right. You can make it terminable, so that it kind of becomes a contractual right.
Q But that is what you could do with a blank sheet of paper. We do not have a blank sheet of paper; we have a history here of people borrowing large sums of money on the basis of their then having property rights that they can then offer up as security.
Q So do you think that it would be possible for repatriated quota and existing quota to have different rights?
I think you could. We are straying into an area for which you need explicit legal advice, but I see no reason why not. You are not disappointing somebody. The other thing about doing this sort of thing with this sort of asset is that you cannot target one individual and say that you are going to take their quota off them and off they go. That really is compulsory purchase. When you water down the entire pot, it is much harder for somebody to make a claim, particularly if fish stocks start to come back and the inherent value of the asset has not really changed.
The price of quota pings around like anything, depending on how much fish has been landed that month. It is not a very stably priced asset anyway. Again, if in the Act you use robust wording about this, the first thing the courts will look at is the Act and ask what Parliament has said. It comes back to reasonableness, I think.
Q You can slice it and dice it any way you like, but in essence you are talking about nationalising a private resource. You compensate for that, do you not?
The thing is that it was never privatised properly in the first place. Normal squatter’s rights would be 12 years, but this is based on three years. It is a much shorter timeline that people have a track record for. We did the same thing with the milk quota—that was wound down—and various other farm subsidy payments were wound down, too. This is not a sector where this sort of thing happens.
The duty of the public administrators is to make sure there is no undue shock on the fishing industry by pulling the rug out from everyone, and otherwise to make sure we safeguard what is, at least nominally, a public asset. Elsewhere, in the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations case, which is a slightly funny case, Justice Cranston says that it is a public resource. There is some force in the intervenor’s point that it is a public resource.
Q Just 30 seconds on devolution, because I want to give colleagues some time. Is there not a conflict of interest where the United Kingdom is holding the reins but is parti pris in respect of the English interest as well?
That is a very good question. I put my amendments together in two parts. The Secretary of State is doing two roles; I am sitting here with two roles myself, so I appreciate that. One is being the Secretary of State on behalf of the UK—he is a trustee of the UK’s public fishery—and the other one is being English Fisheries Minister. That is why I do not like the way clause 20 is drafted, because I thought you would split the functions. The trouble is that it goes into some very difficult water when we start to look at the different devolution settlements.
I will take the second question first because the second one leads to the first. How can you define “sustainable” if you do not know what the stock levels are? There is a massive absence of science on this. If we get money back in from the fishery, I would like the commissioning of decent science so we can look ahead and plan forward. We seem to be navigating while looking behind us. We need to get better data to manage the stock. We also need to have a conversation about which stock we want to fish. What are the stocks that live best in our waters that we want to feed the country in the 21st century?
Q Thank you very much for joining us. I know you have long been an advocate of an effort-based regime, rather than a quota-based regime or potentially a hybrid model. You will be aware that the White Paper sets out a commitment to pilot that, particularly with the inshore mixed fisheries. Could you just set out what your thoughts are in that respect and why you think an effort-based regime would be better than a quota-based regime?
To start with, overall we were very happy with the White Paper. The Bill is somewhat disappointing, because a lot of what was good and gave a lot of hope to people has disappeared, and an effort pilot was one such thing. We have been staunch advocates of that, because over 30 years with increasing regulatory burden we have tried to go up a cul-de-sac and it has not worked. We have had black fish and discards, and now we are on to choke species.
We sat back and said, to use a phrase the Minister likes to coin himself, “What are the first principles of management?”, and that is the ecosystem. You have to work with mother nature. Currently, all the problems, many of which Members have discussed today—whether that is enforcement, science or shares of resources—all stem from the current quota system. What we said is that the only way to manage a dynamic mixed fishery, where you catch a mix of species that fluctuate up and down and it is difficult to determine exact, quantitative, arbitrary figures such as quotas, is to say to vessels, “What is a sustainable level of time that vessels need to catch a sustainable amount of fish from an ecosystem? If in the North sea you can take 200,000 tonnes of biomass, combined, from that ecosystem, how long does it take your fleet collectively to do that?”
That allows vessels to land all catches. It means you see exactly what the fluctuations and dynamism in the marine environment are, which generates accurate science, and you are flowing along with the environment rather than what we are trying to do just now, which is to impose arbitrary theoretical targets and then try to hit them. That has been proved not to work.
Just to finish, before Mr Aldous asks a question, we quickly concluded that effort control alone does not work, and that is what we brought to the Department as a solution that answers most questions. Blunt time at sea, especially in a blunt measurement such as days at sea, does not work. What we have developed is a system where you adopt FQAs, so there is no contention about people losing their investment in that, and turn them into percentages that people should be aiming to catch. It is not an arbitrary weight that you are aiming for; what you are aiming for is a percentage-based mix of what is deemed to be sustainable. If you catch outside that percentage, what happens is that you lose time in compensation.
Therefore, as a vessel is losing time for catching the wrong fish that he is able to land for that time penalty, his effort burden on the environment is coming back. Since the fish that has been landed has almost been time for the crime, scientists know that is a true representation of what is going on. I have worked on this for over two years; we have not asked for it to be dropped out of the sky, as some of the amendments to the Bill seem to be—for an enabling Bill, there are some clauses that seem to be a shopping list for DEFRA. What we are asking for is a trial, because we truly believe that for a unique system anywhere in the world, we have a system here that could get us away from poor science, solve the problem of FQAs and who owns them, and get us towards a far more sustainable fisheries management system.
We implore hon. Members to put in a legislative requirement that a trial across the fleet, not just inshore, is enacted to give us an alternate solution. If it fails, it fails, and if it is proved right, we have lost nothing but gained a lot.
Q Just to clarify, there is a different purpose behind a White Paper, which sets out your policy and what you seek to do with the powers, and a Bill that establishes the legal powers you need to deliver your policy. We would not need a specific clause to say, “You must run a trial,” in order to be able to run a trial; the legal powers to run a trial are in the existing clauses of the Bill.
Coming back to the principle, the difficulty with fisheries is that, while you have said effort does not work, nothing quite works on fisheries. That is why it becomes a circular argument. You seem to be arguing for a return to catch composition rules, which themselves became slightly discredited so that people tried to move away from them. The challenge is that an effort regime works best in a mixed fishery where it is harder to segregate out the fish, but a tonnage system works best in, say, the pelagic.
Absolutely. We would say for pelagic species, where you are catching an individual bulk species and vessels can reasonably accurately target that, although at times you do get it wrong, a quota system is fine. The problem is that dynamic mixed fishery—the white fish; we include nephrops in that mixed fishery. What we are saying is catch compositions but not arbitrary limits, which, again, is a problem. It has flexibility.
To avoid a race to fish, to avoid giving people a blunt dollop of time and their going off and targeting the highest value species because the economic incentive is there, what you are effectively doing under this system is a buffer scheme, if you like. It is a trading scheme. “Okay, I’ve caught the wrong fish. It’s worth money”. Then, rather than discard it into the sea unrecorded and keep on fishing and killing more of that species while trying to find one you can keep, what you are moving towards is trading overall ceiling of effort for that wrong fish. So it is a compensation scheme, effectively, in which you get the financial benefit of that fish and your men get their pay—we will come on to that with the system that DEFRA proposes for discards—but, overall, your ceiling in the year comes down to meet you.
That would solve the bass problem. You could put in a zero catch composition for bass. Any catches would have a time penalty. Boats could be tied up on the Monday but they would have that bass landed, and the financial benefit of it. It would work for spurdogs. We really believe there is a system here that merits a good look, and proper scrutiny and trial. As we say, we lose nothing if it fails and we gain everything if it succeeds.
I think that absolutely, yes. I think there has always been that case. I was very pleased to hear Dr Tom Appleby state that, and many of the other non-governmental organisations have said it, about the idea of privatisation. Even with the FQA system, it says in the paperwork that people get through, that it should not be bartered, sold or bought. It just happens to be that the industry has gone and done it.
Fish always has been a public resource. Various judicial hearings have defined that as well. Indeed, it probably stretches all the way back into Magna Carta, right back through our constitution. At the end of the day, we as fishermen, as the members of the public who catch, are only custodians of what is the nation’s; we look after it and husband it well for current generations and future ones. We would very much like to see a clause put in towards that.
Q One of the questions asked earlier was about auctioning additional fishing opportunities, and one of the key concerns that Fishing for Leave has raised when we have met has been about how auctioning could favour people who already have a quota, who already have cash, which would not support the small boats, on which there should probably be the greater focus. Do you have any concerns about where auctioning sits?
That is one of the main five things that are in the Bill. As I said at the start, one thing that disappointed us more was what was missing from the Bill rather than what was in it. But out of the five things we are deeply concerned about, that auctioning clause is one of them. It runs coach and horses through the principle of it being a public resource. Practically, it will end up in the hands of the highest bidders.
There is no tightening of the economic link in the Fisheries Bill, which is one of the things we really want to see included, so without that, combined with auctioning, you could have massive, multinational, hugely wealthy seafood companies saying, “British fishing is on the up so we’ll come in and wave our cheque book and outbid everyone else.” Even the biggest companies in Britain could not compete with some of those far eastern ones.
If we go down the auctioning route, we have an opportunity to draw a line, as I think the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, between the current quota resources—how it has been divvied out, not in the way we would have chosen—and this clean slate of what comes back. If we go down the auctioning route, where it is monopolised into the hands of a few big interests, with their financial firepower, it rides coach and horses through the Government’s objective of rebuilding coastal communities and supporting family-based fishing.
Q You mentioned effort, and you suggested a hybrid scheme between FQAs and days at sea. There are concerns that the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to allocate fishing opportunities simply on days at sea, without any qualification after that. But the White Paper spoke about there being a series of trials to assess whether days at sea would deliver against the objectives. Do you think that the simple inclusion of days at sea without any qualification that comes afterwards could make that more problematic?
One of the amendments we put in was to amend it to hours at sea. It might seem contrary to Members that fishermen would want to tighten what could be perceived as a noose on themselves. That amendment was to get towards what we really need to get towards, which is some kind of catch-per-unit effort system of fisheries management.
Over the years, one of the clauses in the Bill we would like to see amended is right at the start: clause 1. It says that management will “ensure that…activities are”, which suggests that the Government kind of take a hammer and beats down the industry to meet their requirements. We would like to see that reversed so that policy requires management that delivers. In other words, the onus should be on the Government to say, “Okay, here are the objectives we want to meet. How do we move towards that?” We want it changed to hours of soak time at sea, because that is a far more accurate method of delivering catch-per-unit effort. You would be getting accurate data to deliver management that actually achieves objectives rather than just trying to take a hammer to the industry to make it comply.
Q Finally, we have heard today that the way fishing is conducted in UK waters has changed over many years, with new technologies and greater efficiency in catching fish. There is a new development called electronic pulse-beam fishing, which I have a lot of problems with. Although this level of detail might not be included in a framework Bill such as this one, we received representations—I tend to agree with them—that that practice should be banned. Do you have strong views about where electronic pulse-beam fishing sits within acceptable fishing practices?
Absolutely. We feel it should be banned outright immediately. You could put a sub-clause in that says it should be banned until it is proved that it is not responsible for the environmental degradation that has been reported by fishermen all around the southern North sea, where the derogation has happened. I certainly do not think anyone could say that the Dutch, who are primarily responsible for this, have not taken the Michael—that’s the polite word. It started as a derogation against the ban on electric fishing that the European Commission itself got—let us remember that it was a derogation against the EU’s own scientific advice—for a trial of the method. That trial has gone on for 10 years and has 100 boats on it. That is a commercial fishery masquerading as a trial. Even the Dutch now hold their hands up to that. We would like to see that banned.
We would also like to see sandeel fishing banned in the central North sea. For years and years, that has taken away a key component of the food chain—the base of the food chain—for sea birds, fish and obviously fishermen. Neither method—pulse fishing or sandeel fishing—is of benefit to any UK vessels, and with sandeel fishing you have the double dunt that the sandeels are taken for pig feed, so the British bacon industry could see a competitor’s food costs go up.
There would be a massive environmental gain if we banned both practices. That would not affect any British industry. I am actually very surprised that a Government who extol their environmental credentials with plastic cups and wars on wet wipes have not taken the easy win of banning pulse fishing.
Q I will not comment on pulse fishing, because I agree with you, Mr Brown. I think the Minister said that the Government are happy to look at an effort-based pilot. I am conscious that there was a pilot in the past. What was the outcome of that? What shortcomings were there, and what lessons might we learn for future pilots?
That is one of the areas where, when we devised this system, we realised there had been a massive failing. The days at sea scheme was blunt and there was no effective monitoring. Generally, it was with smaller boats in south-east England. I think even the fishermen themselves would hold their hands up and say they really knocked the backside out of the pilot. There was mis-reporting going on—they just went out and kind of went Tonto on it.
We are advocating an hours-based system. You would obviously have vessel monitoring systems. We want to get towards a fully integrated monitoring/management system. Vessels would have sensors, which are not expensive to put on—vessels use a similar technology for gear telemetry and door sensors—and go on any type of fishing gear, to monitor soak time, so you would know the exact time a vessel’s gear was in the water. There would be a stipulation to monitor where vessels were through your inshore VMS or your full-on VMS, and also to fill out electronic logbooks, which are here now. You would get an up-to-date, haul-by-haul update on how much fishing effort was going in. You would know, “That boat towed six hours in this area and he caught x amount of fish for this size of gear. The chap over to the side towed similar gear and caught half the amount of fish.” You would start to know where the abundancies were.
The one main control to go for with a pilot is making sure it is rigorously enforced and it is an hours-based scheme. The other main thing is the catch composition thing. That really is the main control for regulating the industry. Rather than everybody going Tonto, like they did last time, and targeting Dover sole, cod or bass, you would say, “Yes guys, you can catch them and keep them, but be aware that if you do that, your ceiling of hours is going to come clattering down to meet you.”
IQ think you touched on this topic earlier on; you said you would probably come on to it. Do you have a view on the discard prevention charging scheme that is in the Bill and on how transparent it is and how it would actually work?
That is one of the things in the Bill that very much seems to ride coach and horses over the idea that the Bill is just an enabling Bill. Obviously, there is a bit of reticence—okay, you could say, “Understandably so”—to career on towards a different type of management on an effort-based system, yet somehow we have a scheme here that has dropped out of the air, with no prior piloting and no prior consultation, and that has just arrived on the table. We are vehemently against it, because we personally feel—and everybody who has read the Bill, both among our membership and in other organisations, feels—that only an idiot who could not understand the practical implications of such a scheme would propose it.
We feel that the scheme is there to administratively abrogate the failings of the current system. The Government are proposing to take all the repatriated resources and use them as headroom to avoid choke species, whereby, as of 2019, vessels have to cease fishing on the exhaustion of their lowest quota. What will happen is that you will have vessels going to sea. Many hon. Members are from the south-west, as the Minister is, and haddocks are a huge problem there—in the North sea, it is hakes. The Government then say, “We will honour the fish that would choke you or would tie you up. We will give you fish to keep fishing, but so that there is no economic incentive to target that species, you must land it for free.” That scheme effectively creates a giant shuttle service, where boats are going to have to run in and out, in and out of harbour, landing all this fish that they cannot profit from, to allow them to keep fishing.
The first big problem with that scheme is retention of crew. Lads are not going to work to retain—well, just now it is a 40% discard rate, so if they have to retain that 40% for free, you are going to lose your crew very quick. The next problem is that there is no provision in the Bill as to what happens to this fish when it is landed: you cannot turn around and allow processors, hauliers, markets or shore-based people to profit from it, because that would disadvantage the fishermen. Really, the logical question about that clause is, “Are we going into some sort of Soviet system, where the fishing industry is going to work for free for the Government?” It is an ill-thought out thing, and I think it needs taking out of the Bill. It needs to come back once it has been properly tested and run in to see if it actually works, because we see such pitfalls in it, and it does not actually—
Q In terms of perverse incentives and the process of making money out of these fish, you said that they would be landed for free. Could there not be a risk of collusion, with fish being landed and processed so that some of that money is recouped?
To some extent, that would be difficult now. It would come back to black fish, which were really stamped out through the vessel monitoring system and designated ports legislation, whereby vessels now have to book in three hours in advance and declare their catch. Effectively, the only way to do it would be coming in and mis-declaring that you did not have those fish—because otherwise you would be declaring them, and the Government would know they were there—and taking them up the road. Obviously at the ceiling, you could say, “Well, the tally was wrong.” There is some degree of openness to abuse.
However, the thing that disappoints us most, where our system works but this one allowing fish to come in does not, is that it does not address the fundamental flaw: arbitrary quotas do not work in mixed fisheries. All that happens is that we are now setting an arbitrary target that we try to hit, and all this scheme does is allow you to make it right up to that target. It does not actually tell you, “Is that more abundance of fish?”
In the south-west with haddock, say, or in the North sea with hake, you could lift the quota up—double it—and the fleet would still catch it. Does that tell you there is a greater abundance of species, or does it basically show that you have given more legislative headroom to bring fish ashore? The only way that scheme would work is if you increased the quota disproportionately high, which no one is going to agree to. Since there would be no economic incentive for the boats to go off and handle all these fish that they are not profiting from, you would see where the fleet came up to and what a natural abundance catch was. That might be 60,000 tonnes, but if you had set the quota at 100,000 tonnes, you would know that there was not that abundance. The scheme, effectively, does not work. It needs taking out.
Q I noted that you were very much against the big boys, or the financially powerful, coming in on an auction system to buy up the quotas or the right to fish. Bearing in mind that skippers with smaller quotas or rights to fish sold them on to those people, what is your alternative to that system? How would you make it fair?
The way we want to see it is with the auction clause taken out and a direct replacement put in on what we call the 1 tonne to one boat principle, whereby the resource is seen as a national resource and legislated as such. What happens is that all the repatriated resource that we gain under zonal attachment—anything about that is missing from the Bill—that national pot of resources, gets allocated to all vessels in a sea area fairly, equally. For the west coast of Scotland, where we are both from, about 60,000 tonnes of mackerel could be repatriated—worth about £60 million—and about 100 vessels are left there with the capability to go to that fishery, so what you would turn around to say, therefore, is that each west coast fishing boat in the ICES sea area for that stock gets 600 tonnes. That applies across any stock.
What we would like to see with that is, instead of it just being administrated on a spreadsheet like the non-sector is, which ends up with DEFRA just saying that we get 12 tonnes for 12 months, spread out equally over the months, is that that fish can be held in a PO—not monetarily traded, rented, bought or sold, but held in a PO—as a kind of holding vessel to use it at the best time of year, when that fishery may be on, rather than trying to spread 600 tonnes over 10 months. Also, if you cannot use that resource, it goes back into the national pot. We believe that has a huge degree of simplicity to it, legislatively and operationally. It would provide the flexibility for vessels to use that fish at the best time of year and, obviously, it would allow it to be reabsorbed into the national pool. That is what we would like to see.
We would agree with that. We have one—it is actually the first one that we have put together ourselves—and we are obviously aiming for 2019. The way that negotiations are going, it will probably end up being 2019—hopefully, if God is merciful. Yes, we would absolutely agree with that. Our big fear is that if there is not a commencement date, the Secretary of State has the powers to kick the can down the road—it depends on what Government is there. We very much agree with a commencement date, preferably 2019, when we actually are a fully independent coastal state.
We have made it clear—I would like to put it on the record—that the transition is an existential threat to the industry: we leave, but we then sign up to re-obey the CFP—we have to obey all EU law—and they can enforce any detrimental legislation that they please, which they have every incentive to do, because under UNCLOS article 62, paragraph 2, if a state cannot catch its own resources, it must give the surplus to its neighbours. The EU has absolutely every incentive—they have even mentioned it in their own studies by the PECH committees, that this could happen—to run a bulldozer over the top of the UK fleet.
We implore Members: fishing cannot be in a transition. Obviously, with the wider deal, the big problem is that the EU says that there must be a future relationship or we are into the backstop, and that future relationship for fisheries will be based on current access and quota. That is not conjecture; the EU has said quite clearly that Gibraltar and fisheries are getting it, in the words of Mr Macron—via my rusty French translation. There is a huge danger of fishing going into that, so as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said in the Chamber, given the current poor state of the negotiations as they have been conducted, every red line has been breached. If the Government truly had a commitment to fisheries not getting mangled again—bartered a second time—they would not have been in the transition in the first place.
Q Thank you, Mr Hanson. Mr Brown, there has been a lot of talk today about the ownership of quotas. As Mr Carmichael said earlier, if we were to design this again from scratch, we would not start from where we are. A lot of what you describe sounds like it might work if you were starting from scratch, but I cannot help but feel a bit squeamish about the idea of taking something away from someone who owns something—I am a Conservative; I cannot help myself. I do not see that as being fair. Not only does it in essence involve taking ownership of an asset away from someone, even over time, but how fair do you think it is that the fishermen who benefit, the smaller fishermen who would get a bigger share of the quota, in some previous generations might have benefited financially from selling that quota to the larger fishermen in the first place?
I absolutely agree with you. That is why Fishing for Leave has been absolutely explicit right from the start that FQAs as they stand—the current quota and the current FQAs—should not be touched. We agree with you that it opens up a total legal and moral can of worms to turn round and say, “Okay, this shouldn’t have happened, but it has happened, but we’re going to take it off you.” I absolutely agree.
Our solution to preserving the FQAs, while moving to a more equitable system of management for both fisherman and the fish was to convert them into this flexible catch composition entitlement. That is very simple to do. It is legislatively no problem, because all you are doing is saying that your FQA is not an entitlement to a kilogram; it is an entitlement to a percentage. So the resources all come back, and the current resources go into a national pool; that is divided out as time and everybody gets an equal stake of time to reach their potential, but those biggest quota holders, both in the south-west and the north-east, which have heavily invested in FQAs, get the benefit of their investment, because when the fleet’s national average might work out at 5% cod in the North sea, those who have invested heavily in FQAs would get their 30% or 40% or whatever. We think that is a fair way to do it.
Yes, absolutely. That makes it worse. It pours petrol on the bonfire that I have described to you. In the transition, the EU has every incentive to run a bulldozer over the top of us. They can abolish the 12-mile limit; they could fully enforce the discard ban in choke species and, obviously, we would not be able to implement policy to mitigate that, such as suggested in the Bill. They would be able to barter UK resources in international swaps, because we will not be party to international agreements but the EU will be making them on our behalf.
The other thing that is really devastating right round the country is that currently the UK relies on a lot of swaps in the EU, to get in fish that would otherwise probably be ours under a zonal attachment. We will not be able to do that because we will not actually be sitting at the table any more. So we will be trapped in this kind of halfway house, where the EU has every incentive to take a great big stick and beat us with it like a piñata. It is not a position that I think is equitable for the survival of the industry. To be brutally honest, by the time we get round to a new British policy, if we are not shovelled into the backstop, of which there is a high likelihood, there will not be a fleet left to take advantage of anyway.
Q Whether it is the smaller under-10 shellfish boats working out of the west coast ports, such as Stornoway or Oban, or the pelagic and white fish fleets running out of the big commercial ports, such as Fraserburgh and Peterhead, what benefit to Scottish ports would there be of introducing an economic link of landing at least 50% of all fish in Scottish ports?
I am fully supportive of that. We have gone further and said 60%, and not just for landings. There is a huge benefit from that. Currently just now, the flagship problem that Britain has, after the Factortame case, is that under freedom of establishment and freedom of movement, any EU national could come in and buy up British entitlement. Obviously, with the British fleet struggling with so much loss of its own resources, and regulatory ineptitude, many family fishermen felt compelled to sell. That is huge problem just now as we see on the west coast, in Lochinver. I think it was £30 million of fish went through Lochinver and there was not a single indigenous fishing boat. That needs to be tightened up on. There is a huge benefit, not just to the fisherman and their communities, but also to processors and market share.
Norway’s crowning glory is not actually its fishing fleet. Norway’s crowning glory is its dominance in processing and marketing globally. That is something that Britain could equally compete in with the resource we have got. We would like to see 60% landings into the UK, sold and processed, because otherwise people will just put them on the back of a lorry and run them down the road. We want to see 60% beneficial ownership of any British vessel—that is no different from the other Nordic countries—to avoid foreign nationals or conglomerates buying out the UK fleet.
We would also like to see 60% British crew, but with a five-year or thereabouts dispensation for foreign crew, until we rebuild the future generation back into the industry to replace the one we have lost. The economic link absolutely needs to be there and we implore you to accept that that is an amendment that needs to go in. The Conservatives tried to do it in 1988 with the Merchant Shipping Act. I argue that if it is good enough for Mrs Thatcher, then it should be good enough for this Government as well.