Plastic waste produced by fishing activities

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 pm on 17th December 2018.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations to control the creation and disposal of plastic waste during fishing activities.

(2) Regulations under this section may make provision—

(a) to prohibit the disposal of plastic items while at sea;

(b) to require plastic items to be disposed of at specified onshore processing facilities;

(c) to require the amount of plastic waste produced during fishing activities to be recorded; and

(d) to prohibit the use of certain categories of plastic item during fishing activities.

(3) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.’—

This new clause would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to control the creation and disposal of plastic waste during fishing activities.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We are nearly there now. We can all agree that more needs to be done to tackle the global crisis that is marine pollution, but better regulation is needed to ensure that the fishing industry plays its full role in tackling marine plastics.

The statistics on marine plastics waste are really shocking. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year—the equivalent of a truckload of rubbish every minute. The waste includes everything that you might expect from our throw-away society, from plastic bottles and bags, to fruit stickers and disposable razors. It also includes plenty of waste produced by the fishing industry itself.

It has been heartening to see the war on plastics go from being something of a fringe issue to entering the mainstream, particularly since the broadcaster David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II”. People across the country are switching to reusable bags, bottles and coffee cups, but the fishing industry has not yet fully faced up to the damage that some of its practices and its use of plastics are doing to the marine environment. The Environment Secretary found “Blue Planet II” so upsetting that he told The Guardian he had been “haunted” by images of the damage done to our oceans. I therefore wholeheartedly expect the Minister to support the new clause, which would help exorcise the Secretary of State’s demons.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool

My hon. Friend mentions plastics. In the light of the proven effects of microplastics on the marine environment and wildlife, does he agree with me and environmental movements such as Plastic Free Hartlepool that the Bill presents a perfect opportunity to introduce long-overdue protective measures?

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

I agree that to tackle microplastics, especially the plastic waste generated by the fishing industry, we first have to deal with the macroplastics that are breaking down to form microplastics in many cases.

To take one example, which shows the scale of the problem, a study by the conservation group The Ocean Cleanup looked at the so-called great Pacific garbage patch—an area of floating rubbish estimated to be three times the size of France. It found that most of the 79,000 tonnes of plastic in the patch is abandoned fishing gear, as opposed to the plastic bottles or packaging that we tend to focus our efforts on. That rubbish included fishing nets and a range of other abandoned fishing gear, such as ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates and baskets.

In the EU, it is estimated that approximately 20% of gear is lost at sea. The reasons for that range from accidents, storms and entanglement to intentional abandonment. A particular concern with fishing waste is that, by design, it will cause problems for marine life. Much of the waste has been dubbed “ghost nets”, a term that may be familiar to hon. Members, which refers to purposefully discarded or accidentally lost netting that drifts through the ocean and entangles whales, seals and turtles. Some estimates suggest that 100,000 marine animals are strangled, suffocated or injured by plastics every year.

Today, I met Christian Marr from Andrew Marr International—the fishing company, rather than the BBC journalist—who set out the extra steps to which his Jubilee fishing boats go to retrieve car tyres, plastic pollution and even washing machines from their nets while at sea. He also explained that he wants more ports to provide rubbish facilities so that waste generated by fishers at sea is landed and disposed of responsibly—which, to be honest, does not always happen—rather than discarded overboard. He made the good point that, if fishers leave for a week with their shopping delivery and get back without any shopping waste, there is only one place where that waste could have gone. The issue is partly about encouraging behaviour change in the fishing sector. Not all fishers do it, but some do, which is why tackling plastic waste is important.

It is clear that more can and should be done to tackle fishing’s plastic pollution problem, but progress has so far been slow. Conservation efforts would benefit from better data on the problem. The new clause would enable the Secretary of State to ensure that the amount of plastic waste produced during fishing activities is recorded and widely understood. It would also allow Ministers to regulate to prohibit the disposal of plastic items while at sea and to require plastic items to be disposed of at specified onshore processing facilities.

The new clause contains common-sense enabling steps that would strengthen the Secretary of State’s powers to tackle the problem. The Government like to say that marine waste is a priority for them, so I hope that the Minister will support the new clause.

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

The inclusion of such a clause should be supported. If someone walks along any beach these days, they will see discarded rope, net, broken floats and old floats. Unfortunately, a lot of the plastic waste on our beaches comes from the fishing industry. There is a mixed experience with regard to the industry and its approach to that. There have been several really good initiatives over the years, some of which I have supported, particularly Fishing For Litter. Such things should be encouraged.

It is in the industry’s interest to ensure that the amount of plastic in the oceans, which then breaks down and becomes the microplastics that the hon. Member for Hartlepool referred to, is not there, because it will have an adverse effect on the fish that are caught. What enters the food chain has a consequence. What we have here is a power—a stick that the Minister may hold behind his back—to concentrate minds in the event that the initiatives taken by the industry are not pursued as universally and rigorously as the gravity of the situation demands.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 pm, 17th December 2018

This is an important issue. We all know that the challenge of plastics in our ocean has risen up the agenda significantly since “Blue Planet II”. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, there are a number of important initiatives out there. We have supported, for instance, the Fishing For Litter initiative that he cited. In addition, the Government recently made available £200,000 to support a research project looking specifically at microplastics derived from tyres and clothing. However, we all know that in the context of fisheries the biggest challenge is perhaps that of ghost nets or lost nets, particularly when they have the monofilaments that can cause so much damage to our marine environment. I will address those areas specifically.

First, I draw hon. Members’ attention to clause 31(4)(i), which specifically cites

“the retrieval of lost or discarded sea fishing equipment” as one of the areas where the Government can legislate through technical measures to address a particular challenge. I believe that the Bill already, through that subsection, addresses the issue of lost fishing equipment, including nets.

In addition to that provision in the Bill, there are existing provisions that we intend to retain. Notably, the Council control regulation 1224/2009 is being brought across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That control regulation already requires that lost fishing gear retrieval must be attempted as soon as possible. It also requires that if retrieval is not possible, fishermen must inform the UK authorities within 24 hours —by notifying the UK Fisheries Monitoring Centre or through an electronic logbook. There is already a reporting requirement for lost gear that cannot be retrieved. The Marine Management Organisation also has guidance in place to assist fishermen to comply with those regulations.

I think that the combination of the powers set out in clause 31 and the retained EU law that already exists on the problem of lost fishing gear addresses the issue sufficiently, and there is therefore no need for the additional powers outlined by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport in new clause 16.

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

I thank the Minister for that response. Again, it is disappointing. Given that we have an urgent crisis around marine plastics, the strong voice of this House, united on a cross-party basis, should go out to say that extra steps will be taken to tackle marine waste. Putting that in the Bill, not hidden away in a subsection about the retrieval of lost gear—not something that I am convinced takes place in the way that the Minister suggests—would have sent a better tone to the industry, and to all voters concerned about marine plastics.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not picked this up. Again, I suggest that he looks seriously at the wording and considers tabling an amendment of his own on this matter later on. I would like to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 19 Fisheries Bill — Plastic waste produced by fishing activities

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 17