Fishing: East Anglia

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 4:00 pm, 18th April 2018

The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made.

It is important that our region derives the maximum possible economic benefit from Brexit. REAF is seeking to achieve that goal, with the local industry taking the lead in planning the future of East Anglian fishing. The intention is to set out our stall, and to work with Government, to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That approach is consistent with the Prime Minister’s desire for the Government to work with the fishing industry to secure a better deal for coastal communities.

I shall briefly outline what I believe are the three ingredients to deliver REAF. First, East Anglian fishermen must be given the opportunity to catch more fish. The region’s catch sector predominantly comprises the inshore fleet, which, as has been well documented, does not get a fair slice of the cake. The six vessels in the Lowestoft Fish Producers Organisation land their catches in the Netherlands and Peterhead. We need to be in a position whereby fish caught in the exclusive economic zone off the East Anglian coast are landed in local ports, thereby benefitting local people, local businesses and local communities.

If the quota system is to continue, there needs to be a radical reallocation in favour of locally based fishermen, so that they can earn a fair living and the full benefit of their hard work, which often takes place in extremely harsh conditions, can be secured for the ports and communities in which they live and work and for allied industries, such as local processors, merchants, ship repairers and maintenance services.

Secondly—this goes hand in hand with landing more fish in East Anglian ports—there is a need to invest in infrastructure, skills and supply chain businesses in those ports and their surrounding areas. Although in many respects it is surprising how much of the supporting sector remains in Lowestoft and other East Anglian ports, there is concern that it does not have the capacity to cope with a significant increase in landings. There must be a whole-industry approach from the net to the plate.

Thirdly, a new management system must be put in place that has the full confidence and respect of all those working in the industry. The system must be based on science and be local, sustainable and collaborative. Being based on science means making decisions that are established on scientific evidence, not political expediency. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which has its headquarters in Lowestoft, should be at the heart of that locally, nationally and internationally. The Government are to be commended for their foresight in investing in the redevelopment of CEFAS’s Lowestoft headquarters, which is now getting under way.

The system must be truly local and tailored to ensure the bespoke management of individual fisheries—a bottom-up approach to replace the top-down strategy. The new system must have sustainability ingrained in its DNA, it should guard against unsustainable practices such as electric pulse fishing, which is having a particularly devastating impact on local fisheries in the southern North sea, and it should ensure that those working in the industry can plan and invest for the future. Fisheries management must be a tripartite partnership of fishermen, scientists and regulators, collaborating and working together. We must do away with the current “them and us” approach that pervades much of the current regulatory system. That will mean fishermen taking on new responsibilities and regulators working with them.

People left the conference of 15 March in an upbeat mood. The following week, the Government published the implementation agreement for leaving the EU, which provides for the UK to leave the common fisheries policy on 31 December 2020, rather than at an earlier date, as so many had hoped. As a result, that positive outlook was replaced by anger and despair. Helpfully, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State subsequently have made assurances that on 31 December 2020 the UK will resume full control of the seas in our exclusive economic zone, that we will decide who can access those waters and on what terms, and that no deals will be done beforehand that use fishing as bargaining chip as part of the wider Brexit negotiations.

That said, there are issues arising from the implementation agreement that need clarifying. Notwithstanding the wording of article 125 of the implementation agreement, which sets out the specific arrangements on fishing opportunities during the implementation period, there is a real worry that the best interests of the fishing industry will be irretrievably compromised during this period. We will be subject to the common fisheries policy and the landing obligations with the maximum sustainable yield target, but we will have a significantly reduced influence on the annual negotiations. The discards ban will be implemented during this period and its negative impact on the inshore fleet will be significant, yet we will have a very much diminished opportunity to promote measures to alleviate its impact. In effect, we will be bound by the CFP during this period, but only consulted on fishing opportunities in UK waters.

There is also a concern that the provisions of article 125 may set a precedent for future policy and negotiations with the EU. There is a worry about paragraph 4 of that article, which refers to maintaining

“the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunities” during the implementation period. The main challenge for East Anglian fishermen is that they are unable to land enough fish to earn a fair living or supply the local processing industry. “Relative stability” in many respects underpins the status quo, and it is important that, after we leave the CFP, we start again with a clean sheet of paper for allocating fishing opportunities. If we do not, any gains will be enjoyed by the few, not the many.

As I mentioned, the East Anglian fishing fleet is predominantly inshore, comprising what have become known as the under-10s. That part of the industry is hanging on by its fingertips, and there is a worry that it will struggle to survive to the end of the implementation period. Action is needed to address the situation. It is important that we use the additional preparatory time wisely, and I make the following suggestions for how we might do so.

First, on 29 March 2019, the UK will become an independent coastal state with duties and obligations under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. We must be fully prepared to discharge those rights and responsibilities. Secondly, the fisheries White Paper and fisheries Bill should be published as soon as practically possible so that the industry and parliamentarians can help shape a future policy framework, which should have the flexibility to respond to local needs and demands.

Thirdly, East Anglian fishermen need to be able to land more fish so they can earn a fair living. In the short term, that can be achieved by reallocating a share of existing quota to the inshore fleet. In the longer term, we need to tackle the situation that fish caught in UK waters are not landed in UK ports. Much of Britain’s quota is currently held by overseas businesses. The economic link requirements of vessel licences must be reformed and then enforced. Fourthly, the UK will withdraw from the London fisheries convention on 3 July 2019, providing us full access rights to our fishing grounds in the zone between 6 nautical miles and 12 nautical miles from our coast. Consideration should be given to how best to take advantage of that opportunity.

Last Friday, Waveney District Council submitted REAF’s application for a European maritime and fisheries fund grant to the Marine Management Organisation. The proposed project will enable us to develop a long-term strategy for the future of the East Anglian fishing industry. It is a bottom-up initiative with widespread local and industry support. It is an exciting, innovative and compelling proposal that is a beacon of positivity at a time when the fishing industry is under intense pressure and there is anger and disappointment about the Brexit transitional arrangements. The project is designed to help shape a positive and profitable future for the industry as a whole, from the net to the plate. Its objective is to establish how the economic and social benefits of the fishing industry in East Anglia can best be captured and optimised locally and regionally.

There are three elements to the project: data and information gathering and analysis; a forward look at the prospective changes and the development of possible options for bringing benefits to the region’s fishing industry and coastal communities; and the preparation of a regional fisheries strategy. The project will examine why, despite the profitability of the UK fleet overall having increased year on year for the past 10 years, that improvement has bypassed Lowestoft and East Anglia. It will analyse the fishing fleets across the region to provide a starting point for developing a regional strategy. At local level, it will look at how a new management system can be put in place that takes into account the different sections of the fleet and ensures that they are managed in the most efficient and effective way. The project will assess the catch potential for East Anglian vessels and what changes should be made to the economic link requirements, and analyse the whole supply chain to establish how best to maximise the opportunity presented by Brexit.

In short, this is prudent and long-term strategic planning at its best. It is estimated that the project will cost approximately £160,000 and take nine months to complete. The application is for 75% of the cost of the project to come from the EMFF, and we are looking to the Government to contribute the remaining 25%. There is sound justification for them to do so, as the proposal has collective interests and beneficiaries and is highly innovative. We have looked at other sources of funding, such as councils, the coastal communities fund and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, but those options cannot be pursued, either because the money is not there or because a bid would not satisfy the various eligibility criteria.

The bid is compelling. It is exactly the sort of sensible long-term planning that should be done as we leave the EU to open up new and exciting business opportunities. It would be unfortunate if this highly innovative project stalled at a time when the industry is badly bruised.

Special thanks are due to the local community champions who came together to form REAF, some of whom are here today. There are many of them, but I pay special tribute to June Mummery and Paul Lines, whose passion and determination have been so important. REAF provides a great opportunity to revitalise a uniquely East Anglian industry for the benefit of local communities that feel they have been dispossessed and ignored for too long. In policy terms, the Government need to provide a national framework for fishing that has the flexibility to respond to different local demands and allows the industry to flourish all around the coast. REAF is looking to provide the cornerstone for that in East Anglia, and I hope that the Government can work with and endorse its locally derived, innovative and well thought-through initiative, which has strong local backing.