We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:49 pm on 2nd December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:49 pm, 2nd December 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, for what I think is the first time. I congratulate Dr Whiteford on securing this important debate before the annual European Fisheries Council later this month. She has spoken with great fluency and passion about the crucial link between the fishing industry and the local economy in Peterhead and across her constituency and, indeed, Scotland, which constitutes about 70% of the UK fisheries industry. However, as we have also heard in the debate, fishing is crucial to community life in much of the rest of coastal Britain, from the south-east to the south-west and, indeed, to the north-east of England, too.

Let me commend the contributions that have been made by my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. I thought that Mr Reid spoke with great authority on the issue of decentralisation and the need to emphasise decentralisation in CFP reform. My hon. Friend Mr Doran, Sheryll Murray, my hon. Friend Mr Campbell and the hon. Members for St Ives (Andrew George), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) all spoke eloquently about the importance of fishing in their communities, which range from the north-east of Scotland to the south-west of England. I think that the theme that ran through all their remarks was the need in CFP reform to tackle the shameful issue of discards.

My hon. Friend Tom Greatrex spoke, of course, with the authority of an "insider" from the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food days. I thought that he spoke extremely well and insightfully about the need for CFP reform.

Let me also associate the Opposition with the remarks made by several hon. Members about the contribution that the RNLI and other coastal services make to the fishing industry and indeed to Britain as a whole.

This has been an exceptionally enlightening and consensual debate and the only thing that would have improved it would have been if it had taken place in the main Chamber. I hope that that will be remedied in future years.

As the EU prepares to consider radical reforms of the CFP, there are several factors that the Opposition believe should inform that debate. First, the status quo on the annual setting of fishing quotas should no longer be an option. A longer-term approach is required to provide greater sustainability and certainty in the conservation of fish stocks, particularly cod stocks, regarding the connected threats of ocean acidification and climate change, and to provide greater security for the fishing industry itself. Multi-annual management plans might cover 30% of total EU catches for 2011 and indeed 80% of fish by weight caught by EU fishermen this year, but the ambitions of the Government and the EU must be to raise those levels quickly.

Secondly, EU Fisheries Ministers should be moving towards greater regional management of fishing waters, as many hon. Members have reflected upon during this debate. Thirdly, a reduction in the unacceptable levels of discards and by-catch is vital. The EU must reform the system so that the levels of fish caught are given greater priority in the regulatory approach that is adopted, as opposed to the quantity of fish that is landed onshore.

Let me develop each of those points in turn. There is an overwhelming priority to preserve our fish stocks within safe biological limits and to consider sustainability in the overall context of the ecosystem. That means examining the effects on the habitat and the other species in the waters from which particular species of fish are taken. Therefore, the view expressed by Commissioner Damanaki, rejecting the old belief that environmental conservation and development of fisheries are incompatible, is welcome. The EU Commission's statement of 11 November makes it clear that only 40% of assessed EU fishing stocks have been fished sustainably, so we have an important issue to tackle in that respect.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that almost 28% of global stocks of fish are overexploited or depleted, with another 52% fully exploited. The World Bank has estimated that the annual cost of global overfishing is about $50 billion per year; cumulatively, that amounts to $2 trillion during the last three decades.

The Commission has proposed that the level of total allowable catches and quotas for 2011 will amount to a 10% reduction overall. Some 80% of global fish stocks are at or beyond the limit of sustainable use; many are beyond that limit. The challenge for the EU is to reduce structural overcapacity in fishing, yet incentivise those fishing fleets that are doing the right thing. Such fleets have invested in new nets and new technology and have adopted new fishing practices, as has been demonstrated by the industry in Scotland and beyond and which has rightly been praised by hon. Members today.

In 1995, the EU imported 33% of the fish consumed in Europe. In 2006, importation levels increased to 48% and are now at approximately 50%. Dr Peter Jones, a senior lecturer in the geography department at University college London, addressed a Westminster food and nutrition forum last month that I chaired. He said:

"We are importing more and more fish from developing countries, and that proportion is likely to increase if we see further quota reductions and perhaps the introduction of Marine Protected Areas into European waters, at least in the short term."

A crucial element here is the future of small-scale fishing, as we heard from Zac Goldsmith in an intervention and from the hon. Members for Waveney and for Totnes. The 2027 vision paper published by the previous Government in 2007 supported the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of small-scale fishing. A key issue if it is to thrive is improved accessibility to capital, particularly where short-term quotas are involved.