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[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Backbench Business — Fisheries

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 2nd December 2010.

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Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Fisheries) 2:30 pm, 2nd December 2010

It is my great privilege to open this afternoon's debate on fisheries, and I am grateful to see so many hon. Members, who I suspect have postponed rather arduous journeys home to far-flung parts of the UK to be here. I am very grateful to them all.

With the EU Fisheries Council talks less than two weeks away and with officials, I believe, already in Bergen ahead of the talks, this is a timely and very necessary debate. It is likely that we are facing reductions in total allowable catches for some of our key stocks in the year ahead. That means that, in spite of having made substantial progress in conservation, certain parts of our fishing industry are facing a very bleak outlook next year.

As I am sure most Members would agree, fishing is part of the DNA of our coastal communities. It is a multi-million pound industry, and it employs thousands of people-5,500 people in Scotland alone. In addition, fishing directly supports many more thousands of jobs onshore, in processing, retail, supply, maintenance, boat building and so on.

However, we must remember that fishing remains an inherently dangerous and demanding occupation that takes place in a hostile marine environment. Last year, 13 men on UK-registered fishing vessels lost their lives. It is important today that we remember them; that we express our condolences to their families and communities, and that we pay tribute to the Fishermen's Mission, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, our coastguards and all those who offer support to our fishermen in their hour of need.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to lead this debate today, so I am disappointed that it is not taking place on the Floor of the House. In my view, it is very important that the Government should have the chance to inform our discussions this afternoon by setting out their priorities for the EU negotiations. Nevertheless, I hope that we will have a full and productive debate.

As I am sure Members are well aware, this year's EU talks are taking place against the backdrop of ongoing consultation on reform of the common fisheries policy. At the outset, I think that we have to acknowledge that the CFP is an abject failure. It has failed the fishing industry, it has failed as a conservation strategy and it has failed our coastal communities.

The significant challenges that we now face have to be seen in the context of a CFP that, for more than 30 years, has been systematically damaging our marine environment, systematically undermining the livelihoods of those who seek to earn a living from the sea and has been inconsistently applied across the member states of the EU. It is simply not fit for purpose. It is my belief that we will not realise an economically and environmentally sustainable fishing industry until the CFP is consigned to history and replaced with a workable model of fisheries management.

There is growing consensus in the fishing industry among fishing leaders, fishermen, scientists and environmental non-governmental organisations, that a regionalised approach offers a better way forward than the "one-size-fits-nobody" approach that we have at the moment.