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

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

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

The hon. Lady details an important point. I certainly take it on board in terms of the formation of policy within my party's processes, and I am sure that the Minister will have taken great note of it, too.

It is important to illustrate the further assistance that Commissioner Damanaki has provided. In an address to the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee of the European Parliament on 29 September this year, she said that small-scale fisheries

"often contribute to a vital extent to the social fabric and economic well-being of our coastal communities. Small scale vessels often carry out fishing activities that are less harmful to the environment and often more selective than other parts of the fleet. For me it is therefore absolutely important to ensure that these coastal fleets do not lose out in the reform."

Another important point to be emphasised on CFP reform is greater regionalisation. That will involve integrating fisheries policy with other marine policy. Mike Park, executive chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producer's Association, said at the Westminster food and nutrition forum in November:

"Part of the problem we have had is the fact that it has been top-down...it has been prescriptive. The best way to resolve that is to actually incorporate fishermen into the system, allow fishermen to take part, build that policy from the bottom upwards, only then will you gain respect, and if you relate it back to the terms of what business does best, fishermen will then...help create policies that actually deliver a sensible, sustainable regime."

Those are wise words indeed. Commissioner Damanaki echoed that view in her address to the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee of the European Parliament to which I referred earlier. One mechanism that the Council could consider is setting targets at EU level, but then permitting the technical details of how these outcomes are to be decided and implemented at the local or regional level.

In addition, the Council needs to build upon the incentives introduced last December to cut the level of discard and by-catch by permitting fishermen who install CCTV on their boats, and use the excellent techniques that the hon. Member for Strangford said were being utilised in Northern Ireland fisheries, to receive increased quotas. In the Scottish fishing industry, trialling systems have been established incorporating cameras and data reporting as a means of basing enforcement on levels of fish removed from the sea, rather than on levels of fish landed. It is important because by-catch can have damaging effects on the marine environment as a whole.

At a global level too, marine conservation is an important concern for policy makers. The GLOBE International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems produced a marine ecosystems recovery strategy in June, which starts from the principle that marine conservation requires a globally co-ordinated response, with action needed at all political levels, including a review of fishing subsidies at World Trade Organisation level. It recommends:

"Within national and regional parliaments where fishing rights are held in common, measures are needed to address fleet efficiency and to ensure that the management of domestic fisheries is governed by a sustainable, ecosystem-based approach.

The largest importers of fish must also pass robust regulations to eradicate illegal fish from the market and promote sustainable sourcing.

Regional cooperation is needed between key port and coastal states in order to ensure there are no safe havens for illegal fishing."

Some of the specific ideas mentioned in the strategy include rights-based management, where fishing rights are allocated to individuals or communities, on either a transferable or non-transferable basis, which create incentives for resource conservation and economically efficient fishing, but pay particular attention to local communities. It also mentions cap and restore programmes for severely depleted fisheries, which involve a temporary moratorium on or drastic reduction in fishing effort and catches to allow fish stocks to recover, while paying compensation to fishermen either to leave the industry or to work in scientific assessment and enforcement activities. The EU could consider those issues as part of CFP reform.

Let me conclude by asking the Minister a couple of short questions. The first is on the hugely important issue of the dispute involving the UK, Iceland and the Faroe Islands over the shared mackerel quotas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan mentioned. The Minister will recall that he told me in a written answer on 23 November that further talks between the coastal states would take place on 25 and 26 November. What progress has emerged from that meeting about the unacceptable behaviour of the Icelandic fleet in unilaterally seeking to increase its share of the quotas? What are the priorities of the Government for reform of the CFP in 2012 and, in particular, which measures will they propose to tackle the problems of discard and the structural overcapacity of the EU fishing fleet, while protecting vulnerable fishing communities in the UK?

All Members, including Opposition Members, wish the Minister well in his negotiations in the Council. Will he pledge to make a statement to the House before it rises on 21 December on the outcome of the December Council, so that Members have an opportunity to scrutinise effectively how the Government have progressed in the areas that Members have outlined in this debate?

This is a time for EU member states, collectively, to grasp the nettle of thoroughgoing reform of the CFP. That is strongly supported by the Opposition. I hope that in replying to this debate the Minister can demonstrate that it is a key priority of the Government as well.