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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 2nd December 2010.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives 3:30 pm, 2nd December 2010

I am very grateful to the Minister for that intervention and much reassured. He replied to me on 17 November about the issues that I raised on behalf of the industry in Cornwall. I understand that what was undertaken was not done at his discretion, but was undertaken by the Marine Management Organisation, perhaps on his behalf. The point that I think he fully understands now is that it was undertaken without any consultation or negotiation with the mackerel hand-liners themselves. There was no effort at all to engage with them before the decision was taken to reduce their quota-to swap their quota-which put them in a parlous position. That is clearly absurd, given that it is the very type of fishery that we should be trying to encourage, not discourage.

My next point-again, I have given the Minister a note on it-is about protecting the engineless, under-10-metre fleet from having to face the regulations that other fisheries face. We have a very low-impact fishery in the Fal estuary-the Fal oyster fishery-which my honourable colleague the Member for South East Cornwall is well aware of. That is a sailboat-based fishery; no engined boats are engaged in the oyster fishery in the Fal. It is a Truro-based fishery. Travel difficulties have meant that my hon. Friend Sarah Newton is unable to be here, but had she been here, she would have been arguing this case as well. I know that the European Commission will be reviewing the exemptions that have been granted to that fishery and potentially others.

The Minister will be aware of another fishery that is in my constituency-the traditional St Ives Jumbo fishery. Those traditional boats, which have been rebuilt in recent years and are extremely popular in St Ives bay, are a potential source of income. They, too, are engineless, 7-metre vessels, which have a very low impact on their environment. I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully the case that people will be making in that respect.

The Minister will also be aware that excellent work has been going on in the south-west, including Cornwall, with the Finding Sanctuary initiative. The purpose of that is to bring together stakeholders-fishermen and other industries, as well as environmentalists and scientists-to help to identify the potential for candidate marine conservation zones, which will be registered under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. However, a great deal of concern has been expressed to me by stakeholders that there has been insufficient instruction, advice and guidance to those engaged in the stakeholder consultation, in that all the industries that will be affected by the proposed candidate marine conservation zones are in effect adding a number of assumptions whenever they agree to those potential candidate zones. They are being led along the garden path to saying, "Yes, we agree with this, on the assumption that we can carry on doing x, y or z," whether that be aggregate dredging, towing gear in a particular area in the fishing industry or, in the recreational boating or yachting community, anchoring in a particular area in certain conditions.

Of course, all those assumptions are being accepted and recorded in the process, but there has been insufficient instruction from the Department to guide people in that process. I suspect that confidence in the registration of the marine conservation zones-and indeed the MPAs-will be significantly undermined if and when, further down the track, it becomes clear to stakeholders engaged in the process that not all the assumptions that they have had recorded in the process can be granted when the marine conservation zones are finally designated.

The Minister and I debated this issue during the Committee that considered the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. It was always my concern that stakeholders should be entitled to have a significant say on the management of the zones, as well as on the designation of them. Their designation is important, but it is important to recognise that their management is as well.

I wish to make two broad points on the negotiations that the Minister will go to in a couple of weeks-the December Council. One is on the issue that my honourable colleague the Member for South East Cornwall raised about cod. The overarching point is about the basis of the science from which the proposals for the recommended TACs come. In the case of cod, there has been the tremendous success of the initiative-which was actually industry-led-to close the Trevose grounds off the north coast of Cornwall during the early months of each year, which has been happening for more than four years. We believe-although there is insufficient science to be able to put two and two together, as it were, and to draw conclusions-that, as a result that, there appears to be very significant recruitment of cod around the coast.

The enormous abundance of cod is astonishing, especially for the inshore fleet in our area, and entirely echoes the point that my honourable colleague the Member for South East Cornwall made. For example, my constituent, Chris Bean, who has the Lady Hamilton, which is well known in our area, has had scientists from CEFAS aboard his boat for the past three weeks. They have witnessed the same things that he has; in spite of the fact that he is not targeting cod, three out of every four fish that he catches are cod-landable and of a good size. However, he cannot land them because the quota for cod is absolutely minuscule. As my honourable colleague knows, the British fleet has a tiny fraction of the available quota in area VII, because the other nations seem to take the lion's share-especially the French.