Fishing: East Anglia

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:17 pm, 18th April 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, on securing this debate. I know that our fishing industry is of huge importance to him, his constituents and the many other coastal communities around the UK. His has been an important voice in the wider fisheries debate, particularly at the recent REAF conference in Lowestoft.

Unfortunately, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice, cannot be here because he is in the Faroe Islands discussing potential future fisheries arrangements. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney pointed out, the Fisheries Minister spoke at the recent REAF conference. As the MP for an East Anglian coastal community—there are fishermen along the Suffolk coast—I am delighted to be able to reply to this debate about the REAF campaign. As my hon. Friend knows, this issue is not only of great importance to my constituents, but arguably one of the most totemic issues following the decision to leave the European Union.

The Government absolutely recognise that leaving the EU presents us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the future of fisheries in the United Kingdom. I am encouraged by the passion and enthusiasm of people throughout East Anglia to build up the industry for the benefit of their communities. The REAF campaign is strong and inspiring evidence of that passion.

I congratulate the applicants on submitting their initial bid for EMFF funding to support the REAF campaign, and I understand that it will be considered through the normal processes. I hope my hon. Friend understands that I cannot make any commitments to funding in this debate—most of all because I would probably have to declare some kind of constituency interest. However, I am sure he will be aware that the bid will be considered carefully. I understand the apprehension of some hon. Members during this period of uncertainty, but we recognise that the drive of the people in Waveney and other fishing communities around the country will be one of the main determining factors that will result in a thriving and prosperous local industry.

I know the outcome of the implementation period negotiations was not the one that many hon. Members of this House wanted; it was certainly not the one the Government sought, either. We were clear at the outset of negotiations that specific arrangements should be agreed for fisheries during the implementation period. We pressed hard during negotiations to secure the outcome, and we were disappointed that the EU was not willing to move on that point. When the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, we will no longer be a member state, and we will formally leave the common fisheries policy. However, as my hon. Friend pointed out, under the agreement current fisheries rules will continue to apply during the implementation period.

In regard to the annual negotiations of fishing opportunities, the agreement clarifies that the UK’s share of quotas will not change during the implementation period and that the UK will be able to attend international negotiations. That means we will continue to follow existing CFP rules for technical conservation as well as total annual catch and quota. Furthermore, the agreement includes an obligation on both sides to act in good faith during the implementation period. It is really important to recognise that while there may be a perception that all of a sudden UK fishing will be done down, we should not accept that assertion—not least because there is a dispute resolution mechanism where we can make a challenge if we feel the EU is not acting in good faith. However, I stress again that such arrangements will apply only to negotiations in 2019.

By December 2020, we will be negotiating fishing opportunities for 2021 as a third country and an independent coastal state, and at that point we will be completely outside the common fisheries policy. Any decisions about giving access to our waters to vessels from the EU and any other coastal states will then be a matter for negotiation.

The Government’s future vision for fisheries will be laid out in a White Paper, to be published in due course, which will be followed by a fisheries Bill that will give us the legal powers necessary to manage our fisheries in the future and enable us to develop a truly UK fisheries policy, in particular by controlling access to our own waters and setting fishing opportunities. Arrangements are well under way to put in place domestic preparations to ensure that we are ready to take advantage of the opportunities from leaving not only the EU but the London fisheries convention.

In general, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that that we will have the necessary rules in place on the day after exit. That provides the maximum possible certainty and continuity to businesses, workers and consumers across the UK. The fisheries Bill will then enable us to develop a truly United Kingdom fisheries policy—in particular, as I said, by controlling access to our own waters and setting fishing opportunities.

When we think about the future, it is important to ensure that we have a sustainable fishing industry. It is helpful to reflect that overall many aspects of the UK marine environment are improving. About 30% of fish stocks are now at sustainable levels, and the proportion of large fish in the North sea has climbed steadily since 2010 to levels not seen since the 1980s. That is a valuable reminder of what we can achieve to help build a sustainable resource for future generations.

While our role in fisheries management will change, we remain committed to working with the EU and other coastal states to manage those shared fish stocks sustainably, in line with our international commitments. We want to be a responsible coastal state and to develop a collaborative working relationship with our international partners. We are proud of our record of championing sustainable fisheries and the end of wasteful discarding. However, we fully recognise the need to ensure that the future UK discard policy has the necessary flexibilities to avoid the problem of choke with species such as cod and saithe.

As I pointed out, we will shortly set out our vision for sustainable fisheries management in our White Paper. During that time, the Government and the Marine Management Organisation will work together in closer partnership with industry, scientific organisations and other stakeholders as well as our colleagues in the devolved Administrations to help shape our future management strategy and ensure it is evidence based. That is a strong point that my hon. Friend affirmed is necessary.

My hon. Friend pointed out concern about the article 152 precedent and relative stability. Our advice is that the implementation period and what is agreed then will not set a precedent for the future. I assure him that we are committed to ensuring that, as I have set out, we will be able to shape our future management strategy and negotiate on who is in our coastal waters and the fishing opportunities there.

We absolutely want to safeguard the long-term profitability of the industry. Through the ongoing negotiations, we will work hard to ensure the best deal for the whole of the UK fishing industry and support the needs of inshore fleets and coastal communities such as those in East Anglia. Since 2012, to help support the under-10-metre fleet, the Government have realigned quota that had not been fished, leased, gifted or swapped by processor organisations and was considered unused. My hon. Friend will be aware of the huge court battle that ensued, but the Government won, and that has delivered a 13% increase in quota for the under-10-metre fleet. In 2016, that equated to almost 700 tonnes of additional quota.

Our new fisheries policy must be forward looking, responsive, sustainable, resilient and competitive. We should all look towards the innovation and diversification taking place in other coastal communities in order to help build a profitable and stable career choice for a new generation of fishing businesses in East Anglia. As well as changes in quota, I agree that investment in vessels, infrastructure, skills and the wider supply chain will be needed to improve fisheries management and the sector’s profitability.

In October 2016, the Chancellor announced that all projects funded from the EMFF approved before March 2019 will be fully funded, even after the UK has left the EU. It is expected that the EMFF will continue to be open for new projects until 2020. I am aware from my hon. Friend that the valuable information he gathered at the conference in his constituency will be used to shape the design of any possible future funding schemes.

I am conscious of the local community where fishing is totemic. It is more than that; it is the livelihoods of many people there. It is about people who fish, people who process and the ongoing economic security that brings to their families. I am aware that alternative careers have been developing at Lowestoft and surrounding ports to support the offshore wind farm, but my hon. Friend and I agree that that should not be at the expense of a secure future for fishing in East Anglia. We want to ensure that.

With more than 10,000 miles of mainland coastline—quite a lot of it is in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend—the UK has some of the most varied marine habitats of any coastal waters. He is right to pay tribute to CEFAS, which undertakes a strong role, and I am pleased that investment is under way.

Our habitats in coastal waters make a critical contribution to biodiversity. Our seas support the national economy and our local economy with jobs, providing us with food, raw materials and beautiful, irreplaceable recreational destinations. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that in leaving the European Union we must take the opportunity to create a world-class fisheries management system based on the principle of maximum sustainable yield and help to restore and protect the marine ecosystem. Both ends are compatible. It is our ambition to take the opportunity presented also to reflect our proud maritime heritage in policies that create a stronger, resilient, more productive fishing industry—for the next generation in East Anglia, and for generations to come.

Question put and agreed to.