New Clause 20 - Coronavirus and the fishing industry: report

Part of Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:15 pm, 15th September 2020

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

New clause 20 addresses the impact of covid-19 on the fishing industry. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly caused immense disruption across different sectors of our economy, but the fishing industry has been affected by a particular set of challenges. They include a significant hit to demand for fish in key domestic and overseas markets, with the closure of the restaurant sector and many supermarket fresh fish counters during lockdown; the challenge of getting fish to market; a collapse in prices, with falls of as much as 85%; and disruption to supply chains.

Alongside those challenges, many fishers have faced labour shortages caused in part by overseas workers leaving the UK. Many small fishers were unable to adapt to these challenges, as throughout the lockdown period their quota allocation and the fish they catch remained unchanged. All of that has been exacerbated by what happened earlier this year, when many boats were grounded by storms and high winds.

The difficulties are well known to the Government. On 24 April, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs heard from experts in the fishing industry, who highlighted some of the challenges. We have broadly welcomed the Government’s economic support measures during the pandemic. However, in many cases, the measures have not addressed the particular challenges faced by the fishing industry, where smaller businesses often have very tight profit margins, continually reinvesting in their businesses and vessels. As Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said, “broad brush” Government support left many smaller fishing businesses struggling.

The Government’s £10 million fund for England’s fishing and aquaculture sectors came too late, while the bounce back loan scheme, capped at £50,000, did not cover fixed costs, from maintaining boats to funding berths for charter boats in marinas and ports, which were necessary to ensure the long-term viability of businesses when they were not operating during lockdown. Cash-flow problems and ongoing costs have impacted not only fishers, but fish processing businesses and ports, with the British Ports Association finding that only 36% of UK ports are confident about their business outlook over the next 12 months.

The Government have made support for the fishing industry one of the key elements of their programme, and that has taken on even greater importance in the context of coronavirus. The new clause presents an opportunity to provide greater certainty for an important industry in uncertain times. It would require the Secretary of State to lay before the House a review of the impact of coronavirus and the coronavirus disease on the fishing industry within six months of Royal Assent.