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 5:04 pm on 2nd December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:04 pm, 2nd December 2010

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. I am meeting and working with the Food and Drink Federation to ensure that we have a strategy that supports that industry, and I am going with the FDF to see some fish processing companies near his constituency to ensure that we are integrating the needs of the processing industry into our policies.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North was positive about other aspects. He was right to point out the GLOBE report, which I value. I appreciate his good wishes at a difficult time. People have been commiserating with me on my job, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Hon. Members sometimes say nice things about me, which is probably a kiss of death in this place, but the issue is not really about anyone in the House; it is about our marine environment and the jobs of people who do dangerous work out at sea. As we go into the December round, I am conscious that a lot of people will be looking on with great fear and trepidation for their futures. It is a great responsibility, but I take it on readily.

Many hon. Members raised marine conservation zones. Several, including my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, said that fishermen are sceptical and suspicious of the process. Yes, they are, but the point is this. Fishermen come to my office and meet me as I go around the country, saying, "We're concerned about this." People from green non-governmental organisations say, "The system is too much in favour of socio-economic activities." The fact that both groups have those concerns means that we may be getting it just about right. However, I assure the House absolutely that I want to ensure that at every stage, we have a balanced approach and that people have access. The good thing about today's debate is the feeling that the argument that conservation is on one side and fishermen and socio-economic activities are on the other is weak and old-fashioned. If we can get this right-the projects, although they have not been without difficulties, are proving that we can-it will be to everybody's advantage. I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and everybody who has raised the issue that at every stage right up until designation, we will ensure that everybody has access to the process.

We must remember that when we discuss management of marine conservation zones, we might be trying to manage the sea bed, in which case activities higher up the water column might be perfectly permissible, or we might be trying to protect features at the surface, such as bird life or harbour porpoises, in which case activities on the sea bed might be perfectly permissible. It is a question of working through the suspicion that my hon. Friend mentioned.

I intervened to address the point that my hon. Friend raised about hand-line mackerel. She has raised the issue with me before and is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of the fishing community in her constituency. She also mentioned dredged materials, a matter that is very relevant to Rame head. She has raised it with me before and it is currently under review. The point she makes is absolutely right: we have to get coherence, because that will bring credibility, and it is important that all parties link together to ensure that we have a credible system.

Mr Campbell made important points about his fishing community in North Shields, which I have visited. I will seek to get the best possible deal for fishermen there and around the country, as we face one of the most historically difficult rounds that we have ever faced. He raised a specific point on whiting, which is important. I know that it is a valuable stock for fishermen in his part of the world, as elsewhere. On the "use it or lose it" rule, there is a lack of understanding about what goes on, because the science is underdeveloped and it is assumed that just because a stock is not being caught up to quota, it is not there. We know that in our seas that is not the case, and I intend to make that point clearly.

A number of Members mentioned the interpretation of the science. The Commission makes the point that we have to debate on the basis of sound science, which is absolutely right, and we do and we will. However, there is a different interpretation of science when we talk about maximum sustainable yields. Are we talking about a particular figure or a band of probabilities? I agree with those who say that Europe should set a parameter, an aspiration to move towards MSY and have a sustainable stock by a certain date, and then leave it to regional bodies or even very local bodies, for example in the case of inshore fisheries, to put into effect an overarching plan. That has to be the way forward. That is the way to use science wisely and apply it to what we actually find in our waters, and I am determined to do that.

My hon. Friend Andrew George has had to leave, so I will address his points directly to him. I do not have time to mention them in detail now, but I think that I can give him some assurance on his three main points. His point about the closure at Trevose Head is absolutely right. Real-time closures can be a good tool in conservation management, and they are fishermen-led. The fishermen I speak with want their sons and grandsons to carry on their profession in the future, and it is only by giving them the tools to make the conservation opportunities that they know are needed that we will get a better and more sustainable marine environment.

Jim Shannon made an important point about nephrops in the Irish sea, which is a matter of particular concern to Northern Ireland's fishermen. I hope that we can come to some arrangement that gives them a sustainable future for at least the medium term until we see a recovery of that stock. I am working closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and others to ensure that we get the arguments across. It will be one of our priorities as we go into the December round. I take his point about cod and herring. He briefed me in a very focused way recently, and I can assure him that we will take those points forward. The weather is closing in, so I hope that he will be able to get home.

My hon. Friend Oliver Colvile spoke about the cluster of science excellence in his constituency. I have benefited from it, experienced it and met a number of scientists from Plymouth. I know how passionate they are about their work and will readily take up the invitations to visit Plymouth and see that work, which have come from several directions. He asked about Natural England and marine conservation zones. I can give him every assurance that I want to see proper systems through the marine conservation zone process, so I can give him assurances on that and on recreational angling. I am an angler. I have been invited to fish for bass in his constituency, or nearby, by one of his constituents and I give him every assurance that I will try to represent the benefits of recreational angling throughout the process of marine conservation.

I am conscious of the time and I want to get on the points that were raised by Mr Bain. First, I send him warm congratulations on his appointment as shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister and I look forward to working with him. Long-term management plans are the future and I give him every assurance that I will work towards creating those plans. Of course, that means losing political control, to an extent, and there are some people who think that the December round is the way that it should be, because politicians are holding the quota and can distribute it, which I think gives them a sense of patronage. That sense of patronage is not an attitude that I share and I want to see Europe move away from the rather bizarre antics that we are about to enter into.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of ocean acidification, which, in terms of our adaptation to climate change, is important. Regarding his question about mackerel, yes, we are being absolutely robust and I will be very happy to brief him in more detail on that issue.

On CFP reform, I have set out quite clearly our determination to work towards regionalisation and integration on a sea-basin basis, as well as integration of the industry. I have not had time to talk about the under-10s today, but I am determined to take forward a reform that sees those vessels getting a bigger slice of the action. However, I will do that in concert with the rest of the sector and I will try to rebuild trust in the industry. In the near future, I will announce some ideas that will be taken to consultation. At the centre of our CFP reform will be an end to discards and movement towards more catch quotas, and I am happy to keep the hon. Gentleman briefed at every stage. In conclusion, I offer him the pledge that we will be making a statement on the results of the December round.

There is much more that I would like to have said, but there is simply not time to give credit to everybody's contribution today.