It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend Douglas Ross on securing this important debate, one that is significant to his constituency and to my own. He has been a champion of the fishermen and the fishing industry in the north-east.
The fishing industry in the UK is a key component of our economy. In 2016 alone, the value of landings by the UK fleet was worth approximately £l billion, with more than 10,000 jobs resting on the industry, and many others in the supply chain. Just last month, the Secretary of State for Scotland and I had the pleasure of visiting the Dawnfresh Seafoods site in Angus, a thriving business and a key employer in the region. That business demonstrates every day how fishing touches every corner of Scotland. Drawing its stock from the north-west of the highlands, with processing in both Uddingston and Arbroath, sustainability is at the core of what it does—a reflection of how Scottish fish management has improved dramatically in recent years.
Unfortunately, it is undeniable that the UK fishing industry has faced its difficulties over the last few decades, but our fishing fleets are largely family businesses that have devoted many generations of service to the industry, and we must do all we can to harness the potential going forward. In the wake of the recent difficulties, and given the importance of this industry to the UK Government, the Government must do everything possible to encourage and nurture this important sector. Ease of access to suitable labour is one area where change is desperately needed. We need a system that reflects the skills that this country needs.
As it stands, non-EEA workers play an indispensable role in assisting UK fishing crews in delivering fish from the ocean to our dinner tables. These foreign workers, frequently from south-east Asia, possess a level of skill and knowledge unmatched by potential workers already in the UK. This is skilled work, necessitating years of experience, but it is wrongly classified as unskilled.
We must not suggest that local workers must take up these jobs, as other Members have said. Just as for the soft fruit industry in my constituency, we need to bring in that labour in order to secure the long-term future of the industry. As I said before, if a job is available in the UK, it goes without saying that any British citizen should have the opportunity to apply for it. However, there are all too frequently not the candidates or even the necessary numbers to allow UK fishermen to carry on their trade. I hope the UK Government will take the necessary steps to ensure that non-EEA labour is made more readily accessible to the UK fishing industry, not only to protect our economy but to allow this vital sector the opportunity to enjoy fully the benefits of leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy.
All the evidence suggests that the current situation is having a detrimental impact on our fishing industry, and I urge the Minister to give a glimmer of hope that the Home Office is seriously looking to mitigate the issues unnecessarily posed towards it. We need a resolution sooner rather than later.