UK Fishing Industry — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:55 am on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan 9:55 am, 12th December 2018

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course, there is nothing in the withdrawal agreement that specifically states that any shares will be given up. As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall said earlier, we should start from the default position of, “We have full access and that is our access to negotiate in the annual negotiations going forward.”

I will move on. The Scottish demersal sector has performed reasonably well during 2018, but the prognosis for 2019 is less buoyant, given the reduction in total allowable catches for some of our key commercial stocks, such as North sea haddock and cod. The TACs for the jointly managed stocks with Norway, which were set as a result of negotiations that have been concluded, have already been listed by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.

The TACs for stocks such as anglerfish, hake and so on are due to be set at the December Fisheries Council. Such reductions, at a time when the landing obligation is due to come fully into force, could be problematic to say the least. The reduction in North sea cod could make it a choke species for the fleet. The landing obligation is explicit in the demand that catches of all regulated species must be landed ashore. Once the quota of North sea cod is exhausted, the fleet will be required to stop fishing for the other major species, such as haddock, whiting, saithe, hake and anglerfish.

There is a significant and real risk that tens of millions of pounds of fish could go uncaught as a result. I ask the Minister to give some clarity today about the action he will take to avoid early closure of our fisheries. What discussions has he had with the devolved Administrations on this matter?

There is real concern about the number of non-UK vessels operating in the Scottish sector, mostly in the waters around Shetland, as Mr Carmichael will appreciate. A recent analysis carried out by the industry set the numbers of vessels catching whitefish as follows: 19 UK- based but foreign-flagged vessels; 12 Spanish vessels; 33 Norwegian vessels; eight German vessels; 27 French vessels; and 23 Danish vessels—a total of 122 vessels. To provide some scale, the Scottish fleet has only about 85 vessels targeting whitefish. Does the Minister agree that an influx of foreign vessels at this level is unsustainable for stocks and clearly unfair to our fishermen? What does he plan to do to protect our stocks from being plundered by foreign vessels?

Finally, as Brendan O'Hara mentioned, access to non-EEA crew continues to be an issue for a number of our vessels, given that they are prohibited from operating within 12 nautical miles of the shore. Non-EEA workers enter the country to work on a fishing vessel using a transit visa, the current definition of which allows vessels to operate out of the UK without entering a foreign port, so long as they stay outside of 12 miles while fishing. The skipper of a vessel is required to demonstrate to the overseas British embassy that his vessel has operated for the previous three months outside of 12 miles; only then will the fisherman be granted his visa.

The situation has led to a number of vessels being sold due to crew shortages, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. We have made several representations on a cross-party basis to the UK Immigration Minister for the 12-mile restriction to be removed, so that every segment of our fleet can get access to the same pool of labour. There are currently 4,900 full-time fishermen in Scotland, of which over 800 are non-EEA. Given the current plight of our vessels when it comes to finding suitable crew, I ask the Minister to push for that 12-mile restriction to be lifted.