Examination of Witnesses

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 6th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Dr Amy Pryor and Elaine Whyte gave evidence.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 3:00 pm, 6th December 2018

I welcome our next witnesses and remind Members that we have to finish this session at 3.30 pm. Could the witnesses introduce themselves and their organisations?

Dr Amy Pryor:

I am Amy Pryor. I am the programme manager at the Thames Estuary Partnership, chair of the national Coastal Partnerships Network, and a member of the Coastal Communities Alliance.

Elaine Whyte:

I am Elaine Whyte. I am a member of the Community Inshore Fisheries Alliance, and also of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association.

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

Q Obviously, a number of the areas that you cover will be highly influenced by the work of the IFCAs—the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. What is your view of how that model works?

Dr Amy Pryor:

From a wider stakeholder coastal communities perspective, we think IFCAs have grown from strength to strength since they were set up under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. I lived through them being set up, and they have grown in terms of gaining the respect of the local fishermen and putting in place fisheries partnerships with those fishermen to get better data and better science. I attended an IFCA meeting just last week, and the representation on the IFCA boards is second to none—it is absolutely fantastic. The only thing I would say is that there is an opportunity to get even better locally managed inshore fisheries by formally empowering the IFCAs within the Bill, certainly within England, instead of focusing just on the national fisheries administrations.

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

Q Obviously, IFCAs now have the power to make bylaws through their local authority sponsors. What additional powers would you be seeking through the Bill?

Dr Amy Pryor:

First and foremost, I was referring to formal recognition in the wording of the Bill. However, if we could move to a more nimble, agile approach—as the scientist before us was saying—and have more locally based management of the fisheries based on local science, that ecosystem-based approach objective could be realised much more easily. There could maybe be more formal powers in terms of quota allocation based on the science of the local fishery.

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

Q You would like almost a consultation role for the IFCAs in the way the quota allocation is done.

Dr Amy Pryor:

I am not sure about a formal consultation role. Yes, that would probably work, but there could be a better link between the fisheries data and the local situation, because each coastal environment has a unique set of challenges. Take the Thames estuary, for example. It is an estuary; it is a highly dynamic mixed fishery. All of the fishing communities around the Thames estuary are non-nomadic: they cannot go much further than a few nautical miles offshore, so they are very restricted by their quota allocations, which results in a large amount of discards and a large amount of bycatch. They are the first ones who do not want to see that happen, so having additional powers within the IFCAs to work with the science on a more local, regional level would lead to more agile and much more relevant fisheries management in the local setting.

Elaine Whyte:

It is slightly different for Scotland: we have the inshore fisheries groups, which are also fairly new in terms of taking on the same kind of role as the IFCAs. However, I agree that they have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. Local management is absolutely key, as is the socio-economic link to local communities. For instance, we often talk about choke species; we hear a lot about whiting and cod on the west coast, but down in the south-west, it is spurdogs. Those are the regional issues that we can work through with bodies like IFGs or IFCAs.

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

Q We have had some representations about the suitability of more of an effort-based quota, particularly for the inshore fleet, rather than a tonnage quota. As we set out in our White Paper, we certainly want to pilot and explore that for the inshore fleet. Do you think that would make more sense as a management tool for fishing effort?

Elaine Whyte:

Again, it is regional, and it depends on the fishery, but trials should certainly happen. We often say that the Clyde is already operating a days at sea scheme; we go to sea only five days a week in the mobile fleet. There are various ways to look at it, but going regionally, looking at what works for each specific fishery, and ensuring that we have trials is the right way to go.

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

Q Finally, some shellfish, particularly crabs and lobsters, tend at the moment to be managed predominantly by IFCAs through technical conservation. We also have the western waters regime, which is effectively a days at sea quota regime, which is not very satisfactory. A number of people have said that we should move either to a catch quota system for crabs and lobsters, or to restrictions on the number of pots that can be used, for instance, and try to do that nationally. Do you think that that is worth exploring, or should it just be left to the IFCAs?

Dr Amy Pryor:

I really think it should be left to the IFCAs. I must admit that I am not very up on lobster and crab fisheries. We do not have them here in the Thames estuary, as much as we would like them. It comes back to my point that, if it is locally managed and the IFCAs are running those decisions, they will have all the information, along with the stakeholder engagement consultation from the wider coastal community, to input into those management decisions. I think regional and local would work best.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

Q Coastal communities have been among the hardest hit by austerity since 2010, but there is a real chance that fishing could be part of a coastal community renaissance, if it is delivered in the right way. What are the things that you are looking for in the Bill to deliver the renaissance that, whichever side of the House Members are on, we all want to see in our coastal communities?

Dr Amy Pryor:

There is actually a very large correlation between small inshore fleets and coastal deprivation in some of our most deprived areas along the coast. There are two things. First, there is a lack of join-up between marine planning and land planning processes. Each goes to the relevant high or low water mark, but they have different types of indicators and they do not link in any meaningful way.

Coastal areas tend to fall down the cracks between two planning systems, and what goes hand in hand with that are the financial funding streams that go along with it. The coastal communities fund, for example, is fantastic for the coastal communities that can access it, but if you look at the local economic plans of each of the coastal community teams, very few of them even recognise fisheries as an industry that is relevant for the area. That is obviously a massive missed opportunity. They also do not really recognise the water—the role of the health of the marine environment—in driving the tourism that is central to their local economy.

In terms of the financial assistance elements of the Bill, it would be fantastic to see recognition of the need for a more holistic, integrated approach to our funding streams that recognises those multiple benefits so that we can really generate them. That would ultimately benefit the fishing industry, but in a way that better embeds it in the wider coastal community and opens up the routes to market and the innovations in marine businesses that we would all like to see on the coast. That could contribute to the local economy, instead of thinking that tourism alone will drive that. It would also recognise that fisheries are a major part of tourism. They shape the cultural identity of—

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Order. Apologies—with two witnesses, we have only half the time, so we have to keep the answers short.

Elaine Whyte:

I see potential, because I see those communities that are quite sea-blind at the moment. Local authorities are saying that they have never had a fisheries policies, or that they do not know that they have active fishermen on their doorstep. That is a massive opportunity. We just have to look at how Norway has taken 60% of quota allocations and given them to the coastal communities to see them thrive. I would like to see that.

I am slightly worried about the concept of auctions, which is obviously more English-based. I do not know how that will be reflected in UK fisheries in general. However, I see potential here for all communities around the coast.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

Q In terms of supporting small fleets, which generally speaking are the ones that have the potential to have the biggest impact as quickly as possible in coastal communities, what measures do you feel we need to ensure are in the Bill to support the small fleet in particular?

Dr Amy Pryor:

It depends on what you call the small fleet; I prefer to call it a coastal fleet. Again, I would say that you should look at what Norway has—their coastal fleet is 5 metres up to 30 metres. I think the definition can be quite wide. We have mobile guides and keel guides. We have to be just a bit more flexible about opportunities. It is about ensuring that we have the quota and licences available and that we are providing grants to get new starts into the market and giving them a leg up.

Dr Amy Pryor:

I agree with all of that. I also second what NEF said about using transparent and objective criteria in quota allocation so that you really do start to recognise the sustainability credentials of the small-scale inshore fleet; it is common sense that they are much more sustainable by being local and non-nomadic and using smaller vessels. Seafarers UK is very concerned, though, that that can lead to a lack of safety at sea, where individual fishermen are piling as much gear as possible on to tiny vessels and souping up the engines, which is highly dangerous. It is about finding a balance between keeping fisherman safe and having a fairer distribution of quotas.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Q You referred to the need for co-ordination between marine and land-based planning. Would you say that the same would apply for economic regeneration and a role for local enterprise partnerships?

Dr Amy Pryor:

Gosh, absolutely. In the last year or two, some LEPs with coastal areas—in fact, most have them—are starting to look towards the coastal communities, but it certainly has not been that way since the beginning. It was a fight to get them to take notice of the coastal areas and the role that they play. I see a role for LEPs and for coastal partnerships, because they have a lot of trust from the local community and have been around for about 20 years; they pool all the different strengths together. I would like to see more formal recognition in the Bill—perhaps an extra marine planning objective that could actually set out these things. The Fisheries Bill cannot remedy everything, but it could take steps towards providing that integration, which would also achieve the objectives of the 25-year environment plan that the Government are committed to.

Elaine Whyte:

To be fair, it is not just in marine planning, but in science. We always find that the science is lacking at local inshore levels. Again, we should be looking to Norway and look at our local fleets as reference fleets and get the fishermen working with the scientists to provide that reflexive data that is needed. A lot of planners and other people sitting around the table do not quite understand what is happening. There is a major problem there for stakeholders as well. What we do have around these timetables are a lot of stakeholders; we are very happy to have them, but sometimes they bring their own science and ideologies. What we really need is an honest broker—that is how we can do it through marine planning and through local authorities.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q This is more to Elaine. Clause 10 is about the power to grant licences. Scottish Ministers and Northern Ireland Departments can do it. The Scottish west coast fishing fleet is in close proximity to Northern Ireland; they fish in the same water for the same stocks. How concerned are you and your members about the possibility of different regulatory frameworks for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and what damage could that do to the west of Scotland fleet?

Elaine Whyte:

With the greatest respect to Northern Irish colleagues, who we have fished with for a long time and whom we respect entirely, we are concerned about this, because it is the same stock from the same area. If there are different tariffs and different rules are applicable, that will of course impact on our trade and our entire ability to fish. It is a massive concern.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q Has there been any analysis of what damage that would do to places such as Tarbert or Oban?

Elaine Whyte:

No, but there really should be. There is socio-economic work on the marine protected areas going on at the moment, but we really need to look at what we are landing from such areas. Nephrops are the second most valuable shellfish that we have in the whole country and we really have to look at where they are being landed—a lot of them coming from Scottish waters are going to Northern Ireland at the moment.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q How important to Community Inshore Fisheries Alliance members is keeping current access to EU markets, and is there any analysis of the damage that time delays would have on your ability to export?

Elaine Whyte:

As an alliance we are constitutionally and politically neutral. We have always said that and we will work with the best outcomes possible, but we are very worried about market access, as we have said from the start. We are looking at the delays. A lot of people are saying that maybe there will be six months and that that will be a problem. Our fleets could not really handle six months. We are more aligned with the Federation of Small Businesses in the sense that a month or two would be enough to harm our fleets.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Amy, do you have any comments on that?

Dr Amy Pryor:

I am going to leave that to the Scottish and Irish experts.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q You started off by talking about the local fisheries management, which was very interesting. Harking back to what Dr O’Brien said about the data and how, by the time you have collected it all from the whole country, a lot of it will be out of date, do you think the local fisheries management approach would help that agility in making sure that the data is more up to date, particularly if the local fishermen are working with the scientists on a more real-time basis?

Dr Amy Pryor:

I personally do, yes. There are great examples all around the country where it is already happening. The next step is for that to actively inform fisheries management. The IFCAs can create a byelaw using that data, but if there was a more proactive approach rather than a reactive approach, we would have very agile fisheries management.

Elaine Whyte:

A lot of people talk about environmentalists and fishermen, and I think a good fisherman should be an environmentalist. We have been to Norway, looked at their system and studied real-time closures, and they can close a fjord based on the patterns that they see the fish recording. We could be far better at that, in terms of real-time closures, and that is something that we would support.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I would like to get your take on the prospect of the redistribution of quotas. Obviously, on the west coast of Scotland there is a pattern of under-10s and smaller boats prevailing, and they tend to land, by volume, a much smaller share of the UK catch, given the quantity of the fleet. What opportunity do you think there could be to enhance the distribution of quotas among the smaller boats, particularly those on the west coast of ScotlandQ ?

Elaine Whyte:

Again, a coastal fleet is not particularly just under-10s. Our median weight is probably about 14 metres, so I would consider them all in the same category. There is massive potential. We had some members who are quota holders, and we spoke to them at the beginning, thinking that they would want to protect their asset. They said to us, “We’ve had our money 10 times over. Let’s look at doing something fairer for the new guys who weren’t born when the system was brought in.” So yes, absolutely we see a fairer way to do this.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Q That is great. It is encouraging. The Department for Work and Pensions defines fishing as an unskilled industry. What is your take on that view?

Dr Amy Pryor:

That is nonsense. Our fishermen have survived all sorts of adversity throughout the years. They are a massively untapped skill resource. You can learn all sorts of skills through working in the fishing industry and not necessarily become a fisherman. You can also learn a lot of skills that are peripheral to the fisheries industry so that you are more agile as a fisherman. When you do not have a quota or you have run out of days, whatever system is in place, you can move into another sector like boat engineering or boat maintenance—all sorts of stuff. Just because they do not want to talk to you, and they might be secretive about what their skills are, does not mean they do not have a huge amount of skill.

Elaine Whyte:

I would add that if you can do your accounts and write a scientific report in a gale force wind while at sea, you are a very skilled businessman. That is something we should think about. We have a gap at the moment in skills, and we possibly need to look at foreign workers. It is important, particularly for rural areas. I would look at things like the “become a fisherman” scheme in Denmark, and how they have managed to turn things around in their country and repopulate rural areas just by proactive marketing. We need to do that. They are very skilled.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Q This question is for Elaine. You will notice from my accent that I am a west coaster. I am of an age where I have seen the demise of the fleets running from Stranraer way up through to Oban, and I would love to see that return. Do you think this Bill and other changes to the CFP, or the absence of the CFP, will give us an opportunity? Should we have better training to make that industry more skilled than people perceive it to be? Should we have courses to encourage young men and women to go to sea and secure the fish that we have in relative abundance?

Elaine Whyte:

Yes, absolutely. There is a generational issue. We have missed a generation, but we can catch up. We should have young men coming out of places such as Glasgow, where there is a port 30 minutes away, and thinking, “Actually, I could go to sea.” That is something that we have to be proactive on with Government. But I think we need to look at what has gone wrong. We can look at somewhere such as Stornoway. Pre-1974, it was landing more than 85% of fin fish; it is now landing 1% of fin fish. That possibly has something to do with the EU; it possibly has something to do with domestic allocations as well, so we have to look at it in a holistic way and try to give men, and women, a reason to want to go into the job. Nobody wants to tail prawns on minimum wage forever; people want the opportunity to have their own boat and to progress.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Q We should make the conditions and the financial rewards better and we could grow the industry in due course.

Elaine Whyte:

Absolutely.

Dr Amy Pryor:

I absolutely agree. The only thing I would add is that I think this is an opportunity to think about a more integrated approach to the way we do our training. I am talking about cross-sectoral training schemes and apprenticeships not only to spread the skills and highlight the fact that you can have multiple transferable skills, but to build relationships across sectors. We can build those better relationships between the different coastal sectors. To back that up, Sir John Armitt recommended this, as part of the Thames growth commission, as a way forward, because we are lacking skills in all our coastal and estuarine areas.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Q We heard earlier from one of the big shellfish companies and we asked it about the impact of tariffs—potentially, 8% tariffs on shellfish. How would that impact on smaller producers?

Elaine Whyte:

We are extremely worried about that and always have been. And apart from the tariffs, we are extremely concerned about disruption and action, possibly, by French and continental fishermen, who might not be too happy about us getting access. That could be just as big a problem as the tariffs, to be honest, so yes, we are very concerned.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Q This is an enabling Bill, but what degree of certainty do you feel about what fishing is going to look like in Great Britain in the years to come as a result of the Bill? Are you confident?

Elaine Whyte:

I heard a comment yesterday, I think, or the day before about how the market will take care of fishing. I do not think that is fair. I think that we have to try to support our industry, to get the best of national benefit for our fishermen. I am confident that we could have a better future, but it depends on a lot of things. We are not quite clear when we are coming out. We are not quite clear what this financial framework means, across all the sectors, for the UK. And what does that mean? Does it mean that every year that we are negotiating a deal with the EU we could barter fishing rights away for another sector? Those things are still a concern for us.

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

Q I want to come back to something that Elaine Whyte said earlier about the concern that there might be different rules for different parts of the fleet, with Northern Ireland having access to west of Scotland waters, for instance. Could you explain a bit more what your concern is? Obviously, the Bill is trying to resolve quite a difficult tension, which is that fisheries is a devolved matter, yet it is also highly affected by international negotiations, which are reserved. The way it does that is by giving each Administration the ability, through clause 10, to have licence conditions, but then separate to that, in clause 31 and schedule 6, it gives the Administrations the ability to set their own technical conservation measures, so if they wanted to have a closure, for instance, that would apply to everyone, whether or not it was on the vessel licence. There are two means of doing it, and I think the Bill squares that rather difficult circle through that means.

Elaine Whyte:

It potentially does, but it does not square the tariff issue, so that is something that we would still have a concern about. Some of our members have mentioned the issue of nomadic rights, and of course we understand that, but we always think that there should be some link to the coastal communities around about. They should not be disadvantaged by lack of access to their own stocks, in a sense, as well. That is important to us domestically as well as between different countries and the UK.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q Mr Grant said, and I think we would all agree, that we hope to see young men and women from throughout Scotland going into a revived indigenous fishing industry, but we need to have an industry there for them to go into. How do we bridge that gap? Who will crew the boats and the fish processing plants while we wait for that throughput? Given the geography of the west of Scotland in particular, the inshore fishing fleet is now at a critical point, is it not?

Elaine Whyte:

Yes, it is. We have some boats that are about 60 years old, which is not right, so we have to look at how we can help our infrastructure. There are ways to do that. The Western Isles had a very good boat-building scheme, which was very low-risk and allowed people to come in. We need to start building up those facilities along the coast. I would say that we need that not just on the west coast but all around the coast.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q But, particularly on the west coast, how do we crew or keep that—

Elaine Whyte:

We have a gap at the moment, and we have to make sure we are getting skilled workers in from wherever they come from. I would say that we are working towards a long-term domestic policy through marketing. I would use the example of Denmark again and say that, 10 years from now, that is what we should have. For now, we have to be realistic and make sure we have got people there to teach the new guys coming up.

Dr Amy Pryor:

Can I add something to that? Certainly within the south-west and the south-east, fishermen have told us that there are plenty of skilled crewmen out there, but they move around a lot. They go where the opportunity is. Something as simple as a database that tells young fishermen where there is a fishing opportunity, and for how long, would go a long way towards filling those gaps and making it a bit more attractive to be a nomadic land-based fisherman going between different fishing communities to fill those holes.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Q I would just like to ask for your view of the grant system offered in the Bill. Do you think it may support smaller fishermen, particularly when we are looking at fleet renewal and the potential industrial benefit to the UK? Do you think it is an opportunity? Do you think it needs better definition, or is it too vague?

Dr Amy Pryor:

I personally think it is a bit too vague at the moment. The examples that we have had through the European fisheries fund and the European maritime fisheries fund have gone a long way to enabling fishing communities—especially the community-led local development mechanism and fisheries local action groups. Where they have worked well, they have worked extremely well. They have had a huge impact and have gone on to bring millions in investment into the local economy, benefiting the whole coastal community. As an enabling Bill that says, “We are committing to provide financial assistance,” it is great, but it could be a lot more prescriptive and detailed. It could break that down and really represent the different sectors of the wider coastal community, as well as the fisheries.

Elaine Whyte:

I would add that it is important that we somehow define fisheries through this, because I know a lot of instances where fisheries funds have been used for something that fishermen on the ground have probably never had any benefit from. It is good that we consider who the stakeholders are, how we want this to be used and whether fishermen will ultimately get the benefit of it. It is particularly important at a time when there is a lot of money coming into the fisheries policy sector from environment non-governmental organisations and charities and whatnot—I counted about £4 million into Scotland in the last couple of months for people influencing fisheries policy. We need to be enabling our fishermen to do something positive.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Q Do you think that the ending of the European funding is a risk? It is not clearly defined what will substitute for it in the future. If anything, there might be a cut in the overall level of state aid into the sector.

Dr Amy Pryor:

Absolutely. There are no other funding streams that are specifically for fisheries. There are none—absolutely none. Fishermen cannot access any of the other regional development growth funds or even the other European funding streams. Having something to replace it is essential, but there is an opportunity here to do things in a bit more of a holistic way, while benefiting the fishing industry.

Elaine Whyte:

A small investment can make a big difference. Some of the ports in the Western Isles, such as Ceallan, have been European funded, and that has been a massive benefit to the community. Particularly in rural communities, it is a lifeline.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Q I think we have come to a natural conclusion, unless there are any final 10-second points that witnesses wish to put to the hon. Members.

Elaine Whyte:

My colleague would never forgive me if I did not mention this. We would like to see communities having an opportunity to access things such as bluefin tuna, because it could make a difference to artisanal fisheries around the coast.

Dr Amy Pryor:

We would like to see better recognition of our estuaries and the links with the land. Estuaries are the ovaries of the sea, and having them recognised formally as part of this, with potentially better and more sensitive management, would definitely be the way to go to safeguard our stocks for the future.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I am grateful to both witnesses for their evidence, and I thank them for their attendance today.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Iain Stewart).

Adjourned till Tuesday 11 December at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

FISH04 Historic England

FISH05 ANIFPO/Sea Source

FISH06 Professor Richard Barnes, The School of Law and Politics, University of Hull

FISH07 Heritage Alliance

FISH08 Daniel Whittle, Whitby Seafoods Ltd

FISH09 Greener UK