Power of Secretary of State to determine fishing opportunities

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 13 December 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 2:00, 13 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 58, in clause 18, page 9, line 40, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to determine fishing opportunities.

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr Hanson. The amazing thing about fish is that they are a replenishable resource if used correctly. We can all agree that if there were no fish in the sea, there would be no fishing industry. It is one of those inalienable truths that the Minister spoke of on the first day in Committee that Parliament is sovereign, which is a good debate to have, and that fish are a public good, as I hope to see in the Bill in due course.

This amendment would turn clause 18 into a duty and force the Secretary of State to commit to determining fishing opportunities annually, to determine the maximum quantity of fish that could be caught by British boats. If we are serious about preventing overfishing, the amendment is vital.

This is another example of the Government’s failure to take the issue of sustainability seriously, as it has not been included in the Bill. If it had been up to Labour, we would have called the Bill the “Sustainable Fisheries Bill”. The short title would have been the “Sustainable Fisheries Act 2019”. I understand we are not allowed to change the short title, so we could not table an amendment to do that.

In yesterday’s sitting of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Martin Salter, formerly a Member of the House who now represents the Angling Trust, raised concerns about the lack of care given to sustainability, when he said that the Fisheries Bill falls short of the White Paper and is much weaker than the common fisheries policy in binding Ministers to fishing sustainably. In July 2017, the Environment Secretary, the self-described “shy green”, said on “The Andrew Marr Show” that the common fisheries policy was an “environmental disaster” and that leaving it would ensure that Britain could

“have sustainable fish stocks for the future.”

Given that, it is important that there should be a commitment to stop overfishing.

On global fish stocks, 29% are overfished, 61% are fully fished and 10% are underfished. The UK has a leading role to play in stopping that overfishing. A 2006 article by Charles Clover, the then environment editor of The Daily Telegraph, who now heads the Blue Marine Foundation, said that if the rate of overfishing continued the world’s currently fished seafoods would reach what is defined as collapse by 2048. The World Wide Fund for Nature said this year that, worldwide, overfishing is one of the biggest threats to the health of seas and their inhabitants.

Today, each person eats on average 19.2 kg of fish a year, which is quite an image to put before ourselves—that is twice the amount people ate about 50 years ago. In 2013, about 93 million tonnes of fish were caught worldwide. Illegal and unregulated fishing constitutes an estimated 11 million to 26 million tonnes—about 12% to 28% of fishing worldwide. Almost 30% of fish stocks that are commercially fished are overfished. More than 50% of our imports are fully fished from developing countries. Over just 40 years, there has been a decrease in recorded marine species of about 39%. That is very worrying.

Overall, according to the Government’s own data, there has been a decline in commercial landings in the UK from around 300,000 tonnes of demersal species to less than 20,000 tonnes during the past 40 years. When thinking about landings, we should bear it in mind that in 2015-16 technology in relation to fish location and fishing gear was of an altogether different magnitude compared with the ’70s, making many of the figures all the more alarming.

There is a global crisis and the need for the UK to lead the way is quite apparent. We cannot hide away from our responsibilities and the amendment would close the loophole that allows for overfishing beyond scientific levels. I urge Members to vote with us to protect our oceans from the curse of the “tragedy of the commons”.

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

There are a number of other amendments to clause 18 and I would like to cover some of the broader issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in relation to those later amendments.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Those later amendment will be taken later, Minister.

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

Yes, exactly, but I shall address the point of amendment 58, which is simply to provide that under clause 18(1) the Secretary of State “must” rather than “may” make the determination in question for a calendar year.

The amendment is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. Subsection (2) already makes it clear that the power will be used only in the context of international negotiations on quota species. The difficulty with introducing the word “must” is that that would have the perverse effect of requiring the Secretary of State to set the maximum quantity of sea fish for all sea fish, whether or not they were subject to quota. Species such as pilchards, which we get a lot of in the west country, and lemon sole and squid, which will be important to many fishermen in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, are not currently subject to catch quotas. We do not want to introduce a requirement that they should be. We intend to use the power only for quota stocks.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not see a need to press the amendment, which would require us to set limits on all sorts of species where limits are not currently deemed necessary.

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

The amendment is intended to get a commitment from the Minister to seek not to set levels above those that are scientifically proven, and to prevent overfishing. The requirement to set that level is important and one we will revisit in future amendments. On the basis of the Minister’s comments and the fact that we will come to those other amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 60, in clause 18, page 10, line 2, after “boats” insert “or foreign fishing boats holding rights to use British catch quota”.

This amendment would add foreign fishing boats to the determination made by the Secretary of State of the maximum quantity of sea fish caught, or of the maximum number of days at sea.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 61, in clause 18, page 10, line 3, after “boats” insert

“or foreign fishing boats holding rights to use British catch quota”.

This amendment would add foreign fishing boats to the determination made by the Secretary of State of the maximum quantity of sea fish caught, or of the maximum number of days at sea.

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

Forgive me, I had no idea that I would be speaking so frequently. In Tuesday’s sitting, the Opposition were shocked to see the Government vote against an amendment that would have secured a level playing field in environmental standards for UK boats and non-UK boats using a UK licence in our waters. Time and again, the Minister’s tagline when it comes to fisheries has been “take back control,” but without this amendment we will have little control over what non-UK boats do in our waters, if the maximum of fish they can catch is not set.

In speaking to these amendments, we want to reacquaint ourselves with that notion of a level playing field and to have it in the Bill, so that there is no doubt about the difference between UK boats and boats from our European Union and Norwegian friends, in ensuring there is a level playing field at all times.

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

Although I understand the intention behind the amendment, I am afraid that it is, in my view, misplaced and this point is being raised with respect to the wrong clause, for reasons I will explain.

Foreign boats do not fish against UK quota limits, so they do not hold any rights to be managed under the terms of the clause. Only British fishing boats can fish against UK quota. British fishing boats are defined as those that are registered in the UK, are British-owned or are registered in the Crown dependencies. UK-flagged boats that are owned or part-owned by foreigners, as we discussed earlier, are covered by the economic link, but foreign-flagged vessels that have access to UK waters gain their quota from the foreign state that issues its share of the quota.

A French vessel fishing in UK waters off the coast of Devon is not accessing British quota, but is fishing against a quota allocated to it by the French Government. Clause 18 is very much about giving the British Government the power to set limits for British fishing boats. Separately, in other parts of the Bill, there are powers to grant access to foreign vessels, but we will not be giving British quota to those foreign vessels; they will be fishing against the entitlement from their flag state.

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

I thank the Minister for that clarification, but looking at the Public Gallery I see a few screwed-up faces, as if to say that foreign boats have to fish under British quota currently.

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

As I explained, there are foreign-owned British vessels, but that is different from saying that foreign vessels fish against British quota. They simply do not. French vessels in UK waters are not fishing against British quota; they are fishing against quota allocated to them by the French Government.

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

I suspect that this is an item we will revisit when considering a later amendment, so on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 25, in clause 18, page 10, line 3, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(1A) Determinations under subsection (1) must by 2020 at the latest must not exceed the FMSY reference point and be in accordance with international law, having regard to the interdependence of stocks, in order to maintain the stock population above a level capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield and to ensure long-term viability of the stock population.”

The purpose of this amendment is to set a target of 2020 for catch limits to be set at sustainable levels. It also removes the power of the Secretary of State to set fishing limits in line with the “days at sea” approach which can lead to overfishing.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 59, in clause 18, page 10, line 4, at end insert—

“(1A) In making a determination under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must ensure that any maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats does not exceed the amount that, in the Secretary of State’s view, the best available scientific evidence suggests would ensure that populations of harvested species are restored and maintained above biomass levels and harvested at mortality rates capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure that the determination of the maximum quantity of sea fish caught does not exceed the level required to produce a maximum sustainable yield, based on scientific evidence.

Amendment 105, in clause 18, page 10, line 4, at end insert—

“(1A) No determination of effort quota under subsection (1)(b) may be made until the completion of a trial for the relevant area of sea, stocks fished, fishing methods used, documentation methods used and any other relevant considerations that demonstrates that there is no possibility of such a determination causing—

(a) a detriment to the achievement to any of the fisheries objectives;

(b) exceeding the maximum sustainable yield of any stock;

(c) reducing the accuracy of the recording of catches;

(d) increasing the risk of danger to the crew of fishing boats.”

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State making a determination of effort quota until a days at sea trial has been completed and shown not to cause adverse impacts.

Amendment 26, in clause 18, page 10, line 19, leave out paragraph (b).

The purpose of this amendment is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to set fishing limits in line with the “days at sea” approach which can lead to overfishing.

Amendment 27, in clause 18, page 10, line 29, leave out subsection (8).

The purpose of this amendment is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to set fishing limits in line with the “days at sea” approach which can lead to overfishing.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. Amendment 25 would reassert the commitment to reaching the maximum sustainable yield threshold, to which we are currently permitted as part of the common fisheries policy, by 2020. The amendment was drafted by Greener UK and it has the support of a number of environmental lobby groups.

This is probably one of the most significant amendments that we will consider; it certainly comes to the heart of the matter. The lack of proper reference to the maximum sustainable yield is one of the most worrying aspects of the Bill. There is a nod toward this early in the Bill, but otherwise it is pretty well absent. I know there are concerns in the industry about maximum sustainable yields, but this is a commitment we have made and I am concerned that, at the very least, the Committee should hear an explanation from the Minister of why, at this stage, we should seek to walk away from it. I suggest that that is a somewhat poor signal to send.

Amendments 26 and 27 effectively remove references to setting days-at-sea limits. These are probing amendments; I have concerns about the workability of days at sea, the principal concern being that they risk leading to overfishing of stocks. I am aware that some parts of the industry in some parts of the country see days at sea as a preferable route. I am open to the idea that, if we can do it in a way that does not risk overfishing, there is no reason why we cannot have a multiplicity of different management regimes, but I have not yet been fully persuaded that that is necessarily the case.

Amendments 26 and 27 are offered essentially as probing amendments, but amendment 25 deals with a more substantial concern. I will not rehearse all the arguments about maximum sustainable yield, as I rather thought that we had finished that debate some years ago.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy) 2:15, 13 December 2018

Will the right hon. Gentleman advise us how amendment 25 would work in relation to the devolved Administrations managing stock and quotas?

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

I would very much hope that they, too, would be working with a maximum sustainable yield principle. I am not aware of any suggestion that they would not.

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

We appreciate the argument for amendment 25. The Opposition have committed to leaving the European Union without any roll-back of environmental standards and MSY by 2020 seems to be a glaring omission from this Bill. The Minister will know that we are signed up to that under the common fisheries policy and that it is Government policy under the UN sustainable development goals to continue to be signed up to MSY by 2020. However, I suspect he will say that, given that the Bill is set to come into force beyond that point, it is no longer necessary to have that commitment in the Bill. While I see his argument there, it is not good enough; we must strive to ensure that MSY is a guiding principle of how fisheries are looked at. That is why the Opposition have tabled amendment 59, in a similar vein to amendment 25, tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.

We note that amendment 25 seeks to remove days at sea and effort-based quota provision. We will discuss days at sea in more detail later, on amendments 26 and 27 and our amendment 23, but in short, we do not want to exclude it from the Bill entirely, as some fisheries are already captured by this form of fishing. Any new effort-based quota allocation should be able to take place only following a robust trial—something that was featured in the White Paper, but which has mysteriously disappeared from the text of the Bill. We think amendment 59 is better placed than amendment 25: fishers need fish to fish, and thriving fish stocks are critical for a profitable and prosperous industry. They are affected by factors outside our immediate control—the temperature and acidity of the sea, for instance—but one thing we can and do control to ensure thriving and healthy fish stocks is how much fish we take from the seas.

Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, a lecturer in marine conservation at the University of Plymouth, in the patch I represent, said:

“Decisions about how much we take from marine environment has to be based on scientific episode and needs to be a duty not an objective.”

The view that MSY is not firmed up enough in the Bill is shared by key environmental stakeholders and across the industry. Griffin Carpenter, from the New Economics Foundation, who gave evidence to this Committee, said,

“Something I think is missing from the Bill…is commitments to maximum sustainable yield—not just the stock commitment but the flow…Many of us were surprised that was not in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee, 6 December 2018; c. 107, Q205.]

Helen McLachlan, also speaking to the Committee, said that the 2020 deadline turned things around in the EU from short-term policy making that overshot scientific evidence and increased biomass and decreased mortality and that, if we lose it, we take a backward step.

It is important that the debate around MSY is comprehensive and based on sound evidence. We must not lose that from the debate. We need to ensure that tone and that sentiment, which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised, throughout the Bill and in the messaging we give. That is why MSY by 2020 is such an important consideration.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the spirit and intention behind all the amendments.

It seems to me quite straightforward that the Bill takes a retrograde step by not including MSY, which is so clearly hard-wired into the CFP and into UN sustainability goal 14. The Minister has on other occasions argued that including it is unnecessary, on the basis that it is captured by the Bill’s intention to not harvest biomass at levels above MSY.

However, it should worry us all that the real experts in this area—those in the third sector concerned with conservation in our seas—clearly see it as a mis-step by the Government not to put MSY in the Bill in the way that other legislatures have, including in Australia, New Zealand, the States and Canada, especially as the evidence from our own waters and elsewhere is that MSY targets have been very effective. Hake and North sea plaice are two recent examples of stocks recovering brilliantly as a result of MSY policy. I therefore cannot understand why the Minister is so coy about maintaining this standard.

The concern, bluntly, is that not including MSY in the Bill will give this or any future Government the wriggle room not to pursue sustainable fishing policies and to set catch levels above MSY, out of line with scientific evidence. If that is not the case, the Minister, who is evidently very expert in this field, has to explain to us, the House, the wider industry and those concerned with conserving stocks in our seas why he is determined not to put MSY in the Bill, which seems to fly in the face of the evidence.

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

Let me make clear from the outset to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that we are not walking away from the principle of MSY, and to the hon. Member for Pontypridd that MSY is indeed in the Bill. It is right there in clause 1(3)(b):

“to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.”

The only bit that is not in the Bill but is in the current EU regulation, which was drafted as long ago as 2013, is the 2020 target.

As I have described, it makes no sense whatever to include a statutory target that will already have lapsed and expired in a Bill that will probably not commence until January 2021 or the end of 2020. The right place to reflect any kind of timescale or commitments, or even on species, is in that joint fisheries statement, which will describe how all the Administrations will work together to deliver those objectives, including MSY. I therefore put it to hon. Members that the right way to replace the EU legislative commitment of 2020 is not to have an already-expired date in the Bill, but to reflect that commitment in the joint fisheries statement.

The other issue relates to effort and setting the maximum number of days that British boats may spend at sea. All the amendments, including the one tabled by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, would delete clause 18(1)(b), which covers the maximum number of days at sea. As he seemed to acknowledge, that would be counter-productive, as we already have something called the western waters regime, which is an effort-based regime that regulates the catches of crab, and in particular of scallops, of the over-15 metre sector.

Hon. Members may recall that scallops are a part of the fishery that can lead to conflict at times, not least over the summer. There are fishermen fishing out of Brixham, not far from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, who have an allocation of kilowatt-hours at sea to catch scallops in the EU exclusive economic zone—in other words, on the French side of the channel. If we were to make it unlawful to allocate days at sea, the hon. Gentleman would have a scallop war of his own, probably outside his constituency, because he would find that those scallop fishermen would no longer be able to access French waters because we would no longer be participating in the western waters regime.

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

I invite the Minister to look at amendment 105, because we do not actually suggest deleting clause 18(1)(b). We suggest that

“No determination may be made” under it, unless a trial has been completed. I would be grateful if he corrected his remarks.

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

My understanding, on the basis of my notes, is that amendment 59 would also delete clause 18(1)(b). It may be that the hon. Gentleman did not intend that to happen, but that amendment, which I understand is in his name, would also remove it.

I will make a point about amendment 105. Again, the western waters regime is already established and happening, so we would not necessarily want to subject it to a trial before being able to make any such determination, because if we were to leave the EU without an agreement at the end of March, we would nevertheless want to have some discussions and reach some agreements on scallops quickly.

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

Amendment 59 would actually be added at the end of line 4, rather than replacing it, so it would not remove it as the Minister has said. I appreciate that his notes on the amendment may be somewhat different, so perhaps he wants to reflect that in his remarks.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

It may help the Minister and the Opposition if I say that, as far as I can read, there are no deletions, only additions in amendment 59.

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

In which case, I withdraw the comments that I made in the context of amendment 59. I am afraid that the speaking notes that I have been given have an error in them.

On an effort-based regime, the wider point is that we made a clear commitment in the White Paper to explore the idea of using an effort-based regime, particularly for the inshore fleet. Sometimes, when small amounts of quota are attached to vessels—for instance, little more than 20 kilos of cod a month—it is very difficult and administratively burdensome to operate such a scheme.

We were clear that we would pilot an effort-based regime, because we recognise that there are also risks in moving to one. Generally speaking, such regimes work well for low-impact mixed fisheries where it is harder to run a quota scheme. Quota schemes work best in the pelagic sector, where a single species can be accurately targeted.

We have not made reference to an effort-based regime in the Bill because we do not need to. The Bill gives us all the powers we need to run such a pilot before considering rolling it out. Our White Paper was also clear that, for the time being, we will use existing fixed quota allocations as the basis for fishing opportunities. It is already implicit in our commitment to that effect that we are not going to make a rash move to an effort-based regime, but it could have a role for some of those inshore under-10 metre vessels. That is why we have said that we will consider a pilot.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

I may have missed my chance, as the Minister sat down rather briskly, but I was merely trying to ascertain something. I fully accept that the Government are clearly trying, in the language in the initial clause in respect to objectives, to state that they want to set catch limits in line with MSY, but is there anything in the Bill that would prevent Ministers in future from diverging from that and setting catch limits above MSY? As far as I can see, there is nothing that would stop Ministers from doing that, if they chose. That is the reason for wanting a rather tougher duty on Ministers to ensure they adhere to those limits.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30, 13 December 2018

We received some interesting evidence on this from Dr Carl O’Brien from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, who is the leading expert on this. I know that a number of green NGOs have suggested that they would like to see the language tightened here, but we have to listen to those who have the greatest experience in managing maximum sustainable yield and in calculating the measurements, and direct experience of the negotiations. As he pointed out, there are two dangers. In a mixed fishery it is simply a scientific impossibility to set every species at MSY. When they are in a mixed fishery, it is necessary to place some at the lower end of the MSY range and some at the upper end. There will be challenges, as we have heard with choke species.

Secondly, Norway, for example, uses MSY as one of its guides, but not its only guide—it uses other scientific metrics as well. There will be times when it will make sense for us to reach an accommodation with countries such as Norway about the shared management of a shared stock, in order to ensure we have sustainable fishing. If we do not allow ourselves any flexibility to broach such a discussion with Norway and reach such an agreement, the only outcome is that everybody walks away from the table without an agreement and unilaterally sets their own fishing opportunities, which is the worst of all worlds for our marine environment.

This is a complex area, but it is right to have that statutory commitment in clause 1—a statutory requirement to have a plan that demonstrates how we will reach that commitment, while recognising that we will always needs some flexibility, due to the complexity of the marine environment.

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

To deal with the question of days at sea first, as I said, these are probing amendments. The Minister’s comments are helpful and it is useful to have them on the record, so, as I indicated earlier, I do not intend to push the amendment to a Division.

However, I want to tease out the Minister’s thinking about amendment 25 a bit more. His objection to amendment 25 is twofold. First, he says these things can be put into the fisheries statement, which is absolutely correct. Secondly, he says that this commitment will have to be met by the time the legislation comes into effect. I see no problem with that. For us to say that by the time we implement this we should have got to this point is not a criticism of the amendment at all.

The Minister’s point about the fisheries statement is interesting. He is right: that is the good and sensible place for maximum sustainable yield to be enshrined, but there is no guarantee that it will be. As we know, the fisheries statement will be subject to a negotiation between four Administrations. There might be any number of reasons why maximum sustainable yield might fall from that particular safety net. If, for any reason, it were not to form part of the fisheries statement, there is nothing else in the Bill that would enshrine maximum sustainable yield as the guiding principle. For that reason, I am not persuaded by the Minister’s assurances and will press amendment 25 to a division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 7 Fisheries Bill — Power of Secretary of State to determine fishing opportunities

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 18, page 10, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) When determining fishing opportunities under this section, if the current biomass of the stock or the maximum sustainable yield are not able to be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, the Secretary of State must—

(a) not use the uncertainty in that evidence as a reason for failing to determine fishing opportunities for the stock, and

(b) determine the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats which functions as a suitable scientific proxy to maximum sustainable yield, and is consistent with the scientific evidence and precautionary objectives.”

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that a suitable proxy is used to determine fishing opportunities for data-deficient stocks.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 29, in clause 18, page 10, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) For those stocks for which fishing opportunities are not determined, fisheries policy authorities must—

(a) ensure that exploitation does not exceed the level associated with maximum sustainable yield, or

(b) if the current biomass of the stock or the maximum sustainable yield are not able to be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, ensure that exploitation does not exceed a suitable scientific proxy to maximum sustainable yield, and is consistent with the scientific evidence and precautionary objectives.”

The purpose of this amendment is to set a target of 2020 for fishing mortality to be set at sustainable levels for those stocks that are not subject to catch limits, such as shellfish.

Amendment 62, in clause 18, page 10, line 11, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State must ensure that a baseline stock assessment has been made for all non-quota species by 2030 and he must report on progress on an annual basis.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to gather a baseline stock assessment for those stocks that are not subject to catch limits.

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

Amendments 28 and 29 can, I think, be dealt with in fairly short order. Again, they try to put a bit more environmental rigour into the Bill—the sort of thing that we saw in the White Paper, but which does not seem to have survived the translation from policy into legislation.

In relation to amendment 28, the Minister and the Committee will doubtless be aware that there are a number of species that are, to use the jargon, data deficient: that is to say, we do not have the useful data that we would require in order to set them as quota species. The procedures outlined in the amendment are guidelines that are to be applied to ensure that a lack of sufficient data is not used as an excuse, or a reason, for fishing those species irresponsibly. The amendment really is self-explanatory.

Likewise, amendment 29 sets a target of 2020 for fishing mortality to be set at a sustainable level for stocks that are not subject to catch limits, such as shellfish. It would bring to the overall framework of fisheries management a coherence that is currently lacking.

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

The principles contained in amendments 28 and 29 are good ones, as they deal with how to make sure that we are fishing sustainably.

Amendment 62, which we are also considering, talks about the need for baseline stock assessments by 2030. The reason I tabled that amendment is to try to get the Minister to set out his position on making sure that we are addressing data deficiency. A key reason why our fisheries cannot be classed as sustainable—as we have spoken about in previous sittings of this Committee—is that there is a deficiency of the data that guarantees those fish stocks are sustainable. Making a baseline stock assessment, especially of some of the non-quota species that are under severe pressure, is an important step towards achieving fully sustainable fisheries.

The Minister will know, for instance, about the importance of cuttlefish to the south-west’s mixed fisheries and to fishing fleets in the west country. The lack of a decent level of data regarding cuttlefish is one of the concerns about the future sustainability of that industry, especially as stock levels are going up and down. This year in particular, fishers have reported an alarming rise in smaller cuttlefish coming through where, in the past, they expected larger ones. The purpose of amendment 62 and, I believe, of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—the sentiment of which we can support—is to get better data, to make sure that no fishing levels are being set above the scientific data level.

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

I am grateful for this opportunity to explain the approach that we currently take to data-limited stocks, how we have refined that approach in recent years, and what we might do in future.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has six categories of stock, according to the level of data and the analysis that are available. Categories 1 and 2 cover those stocks for which there is judged to be sufficient data for us to do a full forecast or a full stock assessment. Those are the stocks for which we use the maximum sustainable yield approach. Categories 3 and 4 cover the majority of our so-called data-limited stocks—those for which we have some reliable stock indicators but cannot do a full stock assessment. Category 5 covers those stocks for which we have little or no scientific data available other than the landings data. Category 6 covers those species for which there are negligible landings—typically those that are a bycatch only.

For category 3 and category 4 stocks, where we have some reliable stock indicators, the UK has been in the vanguard in the last few years in developing a methodology based on stock trends and biomass trends. My argument has always been that we should make the best assessment that we can with the knowledge that we have, rather than use too many other arbitrary proxies. Stock trends have therefore become the new methodology that we have tended to adopt for most of our data-limited stocks, where we have reliable stock indicators.

For category 5 and category 6 stocks, for which we really have only landings data, we do not really have any other option than to adopt quite arbitrary approaches to how we manage them. Typically, they tend to fall into two categories. One is called “use it or lose it”—if a stock is not caught in sufficient quantities in the previous year, the quota is simply reduced to the level at which it was caught, and the landings are used as a proxy for the health of the stock. The other is the so-called precautionary principle, which is an automatic 20% cut, year on year, in the absence of data. That is also used on some of those very data-poor stocks.

Obviously, we want to improve the quality of the data, and we want to move more species to a full stock assessment so that we can do MSY. For instance, in the last two years we have moved megrim in area VII to a full stock assessment—previously it was data-limited. We want to make further progress on that. Dr Carl O’Brien explained some of the difficulties in his evidence. Some species are quite difficult to age, because the methodology where their eardrums are measured to work out their age is hard to use. With some species, there are technical challenges to getting to a full stock assessment. Nevertheless, we should continue to work to improve that, and to get more of those data-limited stocks into categories 1 and 2.

Finally, in his evidence, Dr Carl O’Brien said:

“I think you would be surprised how much evidence has been gathered for non-quota species. Seafish had a project called Project Inshore, which I think is now in its second phase, looking mainly at shellfish species.”––[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee, 6 December 2018; c. 112, Q216.]

There is a lot of work going on to assess the health of scallop stocks and crabs, for instance. Quite a lot of data has been collected through Project Inshore. Obviously there is more to do, but a lot has been done, and work continues to be done in that space.

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

I am grateful for those remarks. The purpose of amendment 62 was also to try to put a date on when we will have better evidence. The fact that we have better science than people are aware of is useful, but does the Minister have any idea when we will have firm dates when data-deficient species will reach those points?

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

I do not have that data now, but I would be willing to bring the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science’s current projections to the House on Report. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, although I have been in this job a number of years and understand quite a lot about the science, I am not a fisheries scientist. It is an incredibly technical, complex area, and I rely on advisers such as Carl to assist on it. I will happily give the most detailed update that we can on Report about the progress on moving some of the data-limited category 3 and 4 stocks to full stock assessments.

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

Every day is a school day. Who knew that we could age a fish by measuring its eardrums?

I am grateful to the Minister for a very detailed answer. These amendments are a bit more than probing amendments; they are about serious issues, which require full consideration. Again, this is another area where we see the general deficiency of the approach that the Government have taken to the Bill. I would be more impressed with the Minister’s views on getting more data in relation to data-poor species if he had taken a different attitude towards the amendments that we have tabled to document all fish that are caught.

Notwithstanding that, and to allow the Committee to make some progress, I will not press this matter to Division today, with the caveat that we will probably wish to return to it on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 2:45, 13 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 23, in clause 18, page 10, line 36, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr Hanson.

I will speak relatively briefly about this amendment. It is a tweak, but I sense that it is quite an important tweak. It is on an issue that was brought to my attention by Fishing for Leave and I know that the Opposition will also support it.

Clause 18 gives the Secretary of State the authority to determine fishing opportunities. It proposes that the regulations for determining the number of days that a boat can fish are to be established by negative resolution; we talked about that this morning. Given the importance of this issue—views on it are held passionately, both by those who favour a days-at-sea regime and those who oppose it—there is a strong case that the regulations should be established by affirmative resolution, so that any decisions can be taken in a transparent way, and do not just go through on the nod and under the radar, so to speak.

My concern is that I sense we could be storing up a problem for later in the day. I would welcome a bit of clarification from the Minister as to how he reached this decision and whether he might review it.

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

I rise to speak, briefly, in support of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. When we are talking about allocating fishing opportunities, it is important that Parliament is given the opportunity to scrutinise them, especially at the start of a new fisheries period for our country, to ensure that the allocations carry the confidence of the fishing industry that they are being allocated in a robust way.

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

This is a similar discussion to the one we had earlier on the use of the negative resolution procedure rather than the affirmative resolution procedure.

As I said earlier, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the Bill and said that of its 15 delegated powers that require a parliamentary procedure, only four are solely governed by the negative procedure, and justifiably so. I will explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney why I think the negative procedure is justified in this particular instance.

Clause 18(1) replaces powers that are similar to those set out in section 4(6) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, and those are also made under the negative procedure. We followed the approach that has been taken not only while we have been in the European Union, but even before we were in the European Union, to have the negative procedure in relation to this measure.

I point out to my hon. Friend that the actual power to determine the number of days at sea is a straightforward power that the Secretary of State has without even the need for regulations, under clause 18(3), and the issue in subsection (8) is that,

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for determining, for the purposes of this Act, the number of days in a calendar year that a fishing boat is to be regarded as spending at sea”.

The purpose of the regulations is to establish what happens if they do six hours. Is that half a day or part of a day? The regulations basically govern how we measure a day at sea and whether it should be, as in some cases, kilowatt-hours at sea or a straightforward days-at-sea measure. It is because we may use slightly different effort measurements in different sectors that we need to be able to define in the regulations what a day at sea is. The power to determine the days at sea is a flexible power that the Secretary of State will have, and always has had, so that we can manage our fisheries effectively.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. He went into a fair bit of technical detail. As I mentioned, this is a big issue for our new regime and there are organisations on both sides of the argument that feel passionately about the issue of days at sea. I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but I will take counsel between now and Report. If I have any concerns, I will pass them on to the Minister then. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

We now come to clause 18 stand part. We have had a reasonable discussion, but it is a central clause with lots of subsections. If Members wish to speak to it, I am happy to take contributions.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

Briefly, clause 18 sets out in legislation the power of the Secretary of State to determine the UK’s fishing opportunities. He can do that by setting out the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats and of days that British fishing boats may spend at sea in a calendar year. The effect of clause 18 is that the Secretary of State can ensure that the UK complies with its obligations to determine fishing opportunities, in line with international agreements.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19