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Distribution of fishing opportunities

Part of Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:30 pm, 13th December 2018

The hon. Gentleman’s point relates to the question whether fish is a public good. At the heart of it, as the Minister says, fish is a public good. The problem with our current fixed quota allocation system is that in many cases possessing a quota has become more profitable than using it for fishing. That seems to be an inherent flaw in the FQA system, so I am grateful that the Minister has set out his long-term intention to look at FQA and see where it gets to. The important thing is to provide determination and steel to the endeavours of the Minister—in his role not only as an English Fisheries Minister, but as a UK-wide Fisheries Minister— and of the devolved Administrations. Setting out the basis for any redistribution is really important, which is why our amendment states:

“The relevant national authorities shall distribute fishing opportunities made available to them, and may redistribute any fishing opportunities that were made available to them prior to the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. Any such distribution and redistribution must be carried out according to social, environmental and local economic criteria”.

There is a concern among many fishers, with and without a quota, that the current system does not work in the best way.

Our amendment would not mean big boats losing out—far from it. In all likelihood, only a small proportion of opportunities would be redistributed to the smaller fleet in the first instance, making a big difference to their livelihoods and the environment. We need to bear in mind that only 4% to 6% of quotas are currently held by smaller boats. Representatives of larger scale fleets told me that they comply with the principle of fairer distribution based on economic, social and environmental criteria. If they are living up to those aspirations they should have nothing to fear from this policy, because it is about incentivising best practice.

This is an opportunity to create a race to the top, rather than a race to the bottom, which is why the Opposition are bringing this measure forward. This new approach is entirely consistent with the White Paper’s recognition of fisheries as a public resource. It is also backed by Greenpeace, the entire Greener UK coalition, the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation, while 6,500 people in coastal communities called for this change to the distribution of quota in the White Paper consultation.

Many of the Government’s own Back Benchers support the principle of reallocating quota. Dr Offord said on Second Reading:

“Given that this fleet is not only more profitable to local economies, but employs more local fishermen and uses more sustainable fishing practices, will the Bill allow larger quotas to independent vessels under 10 metres?”—[Official Report, 21 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 905.]

If we are to make real that hon. Gentleman’s aspiration, we must provide the ability and incentives to redistribute that quota, as amendment 106 seeks to do. Denmark’s fish fund—the quota reserved for new entrants or those with good environmental performance—shows that that is already happening. It is time we caught up.

My hon. Friend Sue Hayman, in her excellent speech on Second Reading, mentioned the hope placed in the Bill by people living in coastal communities across the UK. Without quota allocation there is no hope of taking back control. This attempt to redistribute quota is an attempt to make real the promises given by the leave campaign, and indeed by Government Ministers since—that taking back control will have a beneficial effect on those small coastal communities. If we do not provide the ability to redistribute that quota in support of those coastal communities, what are we doing here? That is why the amendment is so important. I will be grateful if the Minister could back it in his remarks.