Distribution of fishing opportunities

Part of Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:15 pm, 13th December 2018

I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney is a long-standing campaigner on these issues. He will know that the Government have taken a number of steps to give additional quota to the inshore pool. My predecessor took unused FQA units from producer organisations to give extra fishing opportunities to the inshore pool. For my part, I have top-sliced the discard ban uplift to give additional fishing opportunities to the pool, and we have made it clear that we intend to do more. As I outlined earlier, our approach to the allocation of fishing opportunities will be, for the time being, to retain some stability by allowing existing opportunities to continue to follow the FQA lines, but we have been clear that any new fishing opportunities that come as we depart from relative stability will be allocated on a different basis, as a first step.

I have made it clear that we have at least three approaches under consideration. One is indeed to give additional fishing opportunities to the inshore pool so that our inshore fleet, which, as my hon. Friend points out, often lacks fishing opportunities, will have more fishing opportunities as we depart from relative stability. Secondly, we have outlined our plans to create a national reserve of quota that can be used to help to make the discard ban work as well in practice as in theory. Finally, we outline in other places in the Bill the power to tender new fishing opportunities to producer organisations based on their environmental track record and on what they give back to communities.

I believe that all those things, taken together, mean that, in our White Paper and in the powers that we are taking in this Bill, we have the socioeconomic interests of coastal communities at heart. The Secretary of State plan outlined in clause 2 is explicit about ensuring that we take account of and have a plan for those coastal communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods. I have already given my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney an undertaking that we will seek to tweak some of the language in that provision, but when it comes to the question whether fish is a public asset, it is incontrovertibly the case that it is. We had a debate earlier about our common law tradition, and in a test case brought by the producer organisations, Mr Justice Cranston cited Magna Carta, no less, to say that fish stocks were a public resource. Specifically, he said:

“Consequently there can be no property right in fish until they are caught. That submission was a useful reminder but common ground.”

The fact that fish are a public asset is beyond question, and I do not believe that that needs to be placed in the Bill, but I am happy, as I said under an earlier group of amendments, to consider the Secretary of State fisheries statement to see whether we can more specifically address the point that my hon. Friend has in mind regarding fishing opportunities.