Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries Study

– in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 4:00 pm, 5th November 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the recommendations of the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries study.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his place. He has been very supportive of proposals to revitalise the UK fishing industry, and through the Fisheries Bill, which I hope is only temporarily stalled, he has provided a framework for doing that.

My interest is in the East Anglian coast, which runs for 208 miles from King’s Lynn in Norfolk to Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, with Lowestoft in Suffolk, in my constituency, geographically at its centre. Lowestoft is historically the fishing capital of the southern North sea, and the hope is that in the future, if we make the most of the opportunity that Brexit presents, it will be the regional hub port at the heart of a revived but modern fishing industry that plays a key role in the regeneration of coastal communities.

REAF—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries—is a community-led group that has come together to produce a long-term strategy for fishing in the region. Work began in 2018 as a result of the joint endeavours of East Suffolk Council, June Mummery, Paul Lines and me. A partnership was formed between the regional industry, East Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, Seafish, and Associated British Ports. Funding was provided by the participating councils, Seafish and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, via the Marine Management Organisation. East Suffolk Council has given invaluable administrative and project management support and has hosted our meetings.

The REAF report was prepared by its members, with advice from Rodney Anderson and research and analysis from Vivid Economics. The strategy builds on the insights of numerous stakeholders and expert interviews across the whole industry, as well as conversations with regulators and public bodies. Special thanks go to all those who have contributed to the project.

There is a long history of fishing along the East Anglian coast. However, over the past 40 years, its importance to the area has significantly declined, and in Lowestoft, where it used to underpin the local economy, the industry is currently a very pale shadow of its former self. Across the region, the industry covers a diverse range of fleets and activities, including a shellfish fleet; an inshore fleet catching flatfish; some offshore demersal and pelagic fleets; processing, with some international exports; port and market services; and various other ancillary activities.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for initiating the debate. Is he aware that UK vessels land some 40% of the catch from UK waters, whereas Norway and Iceland, for instance, land 83% and 90% respectively of theirs? The report to which he is referring makes it clear that East Anglia’s inshore fleet does not get a fair slice of the cake and there is scope for renewal of the fisheries employment sector in that area. It is very similar to my own area, the constituency of Strangford, and indeed my own village of Portavogie, which once had two fish processing plants. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with the correct exit policy—the Minister will probably confirm this—we could again see business opening up and thriving in all our fishing ports and surrounding areas across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I shall cover a lot of the issues that he has raised in my speech, but I will highlight two things immediately. First, he is correct to say that, with the opportunity to land more fish in UK ports, the whole of the country and particularly our coastal communities could benefit. Secondly, the point I will be making is that although the REAF report is very much bespoke to the East Anglian area, there is no reason why similar reports could not be produced for other regions, such as the one that he represents.

The total reported value of the catch of commercial species from the southern North sea has in recent years varied between £190 million and £260 million, and only between 7% and 8% is landed by the UK fleet. Most fin fish are currently landed overseas, in ports in the Netherlands and France, with shellfish landings taking place off the west Norfolk coast and in the Essex estuaries. A varying but low number of UK-registered offshore vessels are operating in the southern North sea, but the vessels land only low values into regional ports because of their foreign ownership. The Lowestoft Fish Producers’ Organisation lands its fish in the Netherlands, not in Lowestoft.

The specialist modern vessels represent a substantial investment, made possible by access to UK waters under the common fisheries policy and through the purchase of access to UK quotas. They are said to comply with the CFP’s economic link obligation, mostly by gifting some quota to the UK. However, although East Anglia sits next to one of the richest fishing fields in Europe, very little local benefit is in practice currently derived from it.

Some Dutch demersal trawlers have used pulse fishing, which employs electric currents to force fish from the seabed—a technique that the European Parliament voted to ban with effect from January of this year, although 5% of the fleet of the North sea is permitted to continue for scientific purposes until 2021.

At present, we have a system that not only brings very little benefit to the East Anglian fishing industry, but is extremely environmentally damaging. This study’s main finding is that the UK’s departure from the CFP provides a remarkable opportunity to bring about a renaissance of East Anglian fisheries. However, that will be achieved only if our leaving the EU is accompanied by well-designed national policy and regulation that provide the framework for regional strategies such as REAF.

The report concludes that there is the opportunity to increase UK vessel quota catch in the southern North sea by seven times its value and UK vessel non-quota catch by 25%. That will together add 25 or more vessels to the UK fleet, creating jobs both offshore and onshore. Up to 13,300 additional tonnes per year of allowed catch will become available to UK-registered vessels in the southern North sea, potentially being able to be landed and processed in the UK. That will come about through a change in the way the fishing opportunity in the North sea is allocated between countries as we move to a geographic area allocation under the international law of the sea, known as zonal attachment, replacing the current basis for fish catches, known as the relative stability rule of the common fisheries policy. It is vital that zonal attachment and a requirement to land fish in the UK are the basis of any future agreement with the EU. Such a change would allocate the aforementioned sevenfold greater catch of quota stock value to the UK from the southern North sea; it would be worth approximately £28 million to £34 million at the quayside. That includes an eightfold volume increase in sole, a tenfold increase in herring and an elevenfold increase in plaice.

In addition, the economic link rule, which the UK uses to regulate the activities of vessels fishing UK fish stocks, should be strengthened so as to promote the landing of fish in UK ports. The potential benefits could increase further as fish stocks improve through effective management and as the regional fleet becomes more competitive and more efficient. In addition, there may be more opportunities to start harvesting crabs further offshore and to expand oyster cultivation.

To realise that opportunity, the REAF strategy makes 11 recommendations, which I will briefly outline. They fall into three categories of change. The first is economic change, bringing potentially rewarding and well-paid jobs to the East Anglian coast for not just the catch sector, but the whole length of the supply chain, from the net to the plate.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s strong advocacy for his fishing fleets in Lowestoft, which he has always demonstrated in his time as the Member of Parliament for Waveney. In East Anglia, we are proud of our food and drink produce. Does he agree that the opportunities he has just outlined would have an impact in constituencies further in-land, such as mine, where we have the UK’s biggest producer of sushi, Ichiban, which produces 60% of the UK’s sushi?

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

My hon. Friend and neighbour is right. While I concentrated on the coast, where my constituency is located, the supply chain goes much further inland in East Anglia, into those constituencies, such as his, which are landlocked, for example the merchants and the type of processing industry he highlighted. The tentacles of the industry’s supply chain extend a long way.

The second category into which the recommendations fall is environmental—the importance of promoting sustainable fishing, helping to avoid the overfishing mistakes of the past, so that we leave our fisheries to the next generation in a better state than we inherited them. The third category, linked to that second objective, is regulatory change, putting in place a local, bespoke system of management, which includes fisherman, and which avoids the past mistakes of the common fisheries policy, which was too centralised and distant at times.

In brief, the 11 recommendations can be summarised quickly as follows: introducing a new system of control in the inshore fleet through hours-at-sea restrictions and the use of gear; requiring the offshore fleet to land its catch in the UK and restricting it from fishing within 12 nautical miles of the coast; considering restricting offshore vessels to 500 hp and banning beam trawling; investing in a regional hub fishing port in Lowestoft; providing access to finance for the scaling-up and automation of the processing sector; upgrading the control regime for anglers; removing barriers to aquaculture expansion by de-risking developments and improving access to finance; setting up an apprenticeship scheme; combining the two inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and the Marine Management Organisation into a new single East Anglia regional fisheries authority; managing fishing stocks as a mixed fishery and introducing more effective controls over fishing mortality; and, finally, making more use of data to manage potential conflicts between fishermen and other marine activities, such as wind farms and dredging.

The REAF study is very much a living document. It is not a piece of academic research purely designed to provoke contemplation and debate. It sets out a range of practical recommendations that, if implemented, could bring significant benefits to local people, communities and businesses. Brexit on its own is not a magic wand that will revitalise our fishing industry, but it gives us the opportunity to start again with a clean sheet of paper, to pursue innovative and radical policies that can bring real benefits to East Anglian coastal communities. We need to get Brexit done, so that we can get on with putting in place strategies such as REAF.

So that East Anglia can get on with this work, I ask the Minister in his response to confirm support for the following first steps. First, it would be appreciated if he could ask his officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—who have been extremely helpful in this process—to continue to work with the REAF team, so that a strategy can be agreed for starting work on implementing the study’s recommendations. This regional approach to fisheries management will help to secure the Brexit dividend, and REAF provides a blueprint that could be used elsewhere around the UK coast.

Secondly, seedcorn funding should be provided, so that REAF can carry on into its next phase. East Suffolk Council has confirmed that it is prepared to continue to offer support and host meetings. It will convene a new REAF group and oversee the preparation of the first year’s programme of works. However, it does not have a budget to fund anything more than basic secretarial support. To take the project forward, there is a need for a full-time outreach worker, a liaison officer, who will foster, galvanise, encourage, interpret and explain. This person would spend the first six months of their time visiting ports and landing places, working with fishermen, talking to processors and hauliers, and generally obtaining further background information. This person will play a crucial role in advising the steering group about the practicalities of what is or is not happening on the ground. They will feed back to the different sectors of the industry and ensure that they continue to be fully supportive of the project. This will mean constantly getting out and about at times that suit the industry, not standard office hours. They will be the linchpin of the project. A dedicated project manager and administrative backup are also required, as well as a modest level of specialist consultancy support.

Thirdly, we need to promote a new approach to managing mixed fisheries by controlling the inshore fleet through hours-at-sea restrictions. The Minister has previously indicated that the Government will carry out an hours-at-sea pilot; we ask for that pilot to take place in East Anglia.

Fourthly, it is important that we put in place an apprenticeship scheme for those wanting to pursue a career in the industry. That will include establishing an apprenticeship training programme for future skippers, funded by the national apprenticeship levy; preparing a careers in fishing brochure to accompany the scheme; and making available finance for graduates from the scheme, to support them in acquiring a vessel and a licence. East Coast College in Lowestoft wishes to be involved in this scheme, and there is a need to forge the proposals into a deliverable project.

Fifthly, Lowestoft wants to regain its crown as the capital of the southern North sea. That will require a fishing port development study to be prepared, working in close collaboration with Associated British Ports, the owners of Lowestoft port. The scope of the project could include a new fish unloading quay, berthing and provisioning facilities, and the creation of a new fish market. This would provide the port with the capacity to handle shellfish and both inshore and offshore vessels.

Sixthly, following Brexit, there will be a need for investment in the processing sector, not just in East Anglia but nationally. A scheme needs to be set up for which East Anglian processors can apply, and it should mirror the support that Marine Scotland provides to Scottish processors. My seventh and final ask is that we start work on forming the new single East Anglia regional fisheries authority, which will provide clear and visible signs on the ground of improvement in regulatory operations.

I suspect that I have spoken for too long and I apologise. I hope that I have illustrated that we have a detailed plan for securing REAF—the renaissance of East Anglian fisheries. We now want to get on with delivering that plan, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister that he supports that local ambition and that his Department will work with us to secure what I believe is a very exciting future.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:18 pm, 5th November 2019

We are all very privileged to be in the final Westminster Hall debate not only of this Session but of this Parliament, as we prepare for a general election. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, with whom I have had many debates on these issues. He has been a champion for the inshore fleet, particularly around East Anglia. Of course, his constituency is also home to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is the national headquarters of our fisheries science agency and has a truly global reputation.

My hon. Friend was also with me on the Fisheries Bill Committee, which he mentioned, so he is familiar with our White Paper and our approach in the Bill. Sadly, that Bill has now fallen with the end of this Parliament. However, I believe that the principles we debated in Committee will be as relevant as ever when Parliament returns and when we leave the European Union. That is why the Government are committed to bringing back a fisheries Bill.

In the original Bill, we set out a number of important approaches. Clause 1 set out a whole series of fisheries objectives, including objectives for fishing sustainably and towards maximum sustainable yield. It was also very clear that we would take control of our exclusive economic zone, which means controlling access out to 200 nautical miles or the median line.

There were also ideas to improve the way in which the discard ban works. For example, a discard disincentive scheme would create a national reserve that fishermen with out-of-quota stock could access, and they would have to pay a penalty so that there was no incentive for them to target vulnerable stocks. In addition, we would have made it easier for them to avoid their current problem of choke species. Our fisheries White Paper was also clear that we would depart from relative stability—the EU sharing arrangements—and move to a new and more scientific sharing arrangement, based on zonal attachment, to which my hon. Friend referred.

We have also been clear that as we depart from relative stability and transition to this new and more scientific approach, under which we will have additional catching opportunities, we will use a different methodology to allocate any new quota coming into the UK. Although we want to keep some stability in the short term by keeping the current fixed quota allocation units for existing quota, additional opportunities will be distributed using different criteria. We are interested in giving additional quota to the inshore fleet—the under-10 pool, as it is currently described. We may tender some quota to existing producer organisations, based on their track record of sustainability. We will also, as I have said, keep some of that quota back for a national reserve.

Into the mix of this quite exciting change for our fisheries policy comes the Renaissance of East Anglia Fisheries initiative. As my hon. Friend said, there are many groups involved, including the local authority, Seafish and a number of local groups. I commend the work he has done in holding the ring and organising many events to promote its objectives. Indeed, I was very pleased to be able to attend the launch of the report.

The historic reason why relative stability does not work for many of our coastal communities, in particular those around East Anglia, is broadly as follows. During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, most of our fishing fleet were catching cod in Icelandic waters, we were fishing less in our own waters, and other countries—mainly near neighbours in Europe—were fishing in those UK waters. It was very unlucky for us, in the way that sometimes happens to our country, that just as we were driven out of our Icelandic fishing grounds, where we had historic rights—we were driven right out to 200 nautical miles, following our defeat in the third cod war—we had already given the European Union control of our waters. The sharing arrangements were therefore set in concrete. To compound matters, the catch data that some of our smaller vessels had was not as comprehensive and detailed as the data that other EU countries purported to have. That created an unfairness in the sharing methodology, which, as my hon. Friend pointed out, has continued to this day.

I turn now to the points raised by my hon. Friend and the report. I have to say that he had many asks, but I will try to deal with as many of them as possible. First, there was a proposal to close the inshore pool and to have instead a system based on effort or hours at sea. As my hon. Friend knows, our White Paper was clear that we want to pilot such a system. When it comes to the inshore fleet, there is a case to be made that sometimes an effort-based regime is more appropriate for those smaller inshore vessels, because they have a small amount of quota for a large range of stocks, and a quota system does not work that well for them. There are, however, drawbacks to an effort-based system. A pilot in Ramsgate about seven years ago was not particularly successful, so we need to learn the lessons. Nevertheless, I am open to doing it. A quota system will always be the right approach for larger trawlers and offshore vessels, because an effort-based regime is not the correct approach when it comes to pelagic fish, which have very large stocks.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asked that we require offshore vessels to land their catch in the UK and to restrict their fishing within the 12 nautical miles. He will be aware that we have given notice to quit the London fisheries convention. That expired in July. Therefore, when we leave the European Union, the historic access rights that some foreign vessels have had to fish within the six to 12-mile zone will expire. It is our intention that the 0 to 12-mile zone—our territorial waters—will be predominantly reserved for British vessels, and we will seek to restrict the access of foreign vessels to those waters.

We are also reviewing the economic link. That could include requiring vessels to land a greater proportion of their catch in the UK, so that what they catch is of benefit to communities such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We must, however, take into account certain considerations when adopting such an approach. Last year I visited the Faroes, which required 100% of catch to be landed in the Faroes. However, their fishermen complained that that meant that they were, in effect, captured by processors and did not have other market alternatives. There are, therefore, reasons for allowing some catch to be landed outside the UK, but we are seeking to strengthen the economic link.

A number of the other issues raised by my hon. Friend relate to funding. We will replace the European maritime and fisheries fund. We have also announced a new domestic maritime fund, precisely to support fish processing and harbour and port facilities to help projects such as that under discussion.

The report proposes that the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and the Marine Management Organisation should be combined into a single force. There is a reason why IFCAs were created. Previously they did not have an enforcement role; they had a management role and the MMO did all the enforcement. There was criticism that individual localities did not get the attention that they felt they deserved, and that is why IFCAs were given an enforcement role. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right that there is a case for joining up more closely the efforts of the IFCAs and the MMO. That is why we formed the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, where everybody—from the coastguard to the MMO and IFCAs—can work together to co-ordinate their assets in a single approach to the issue of enforcement.

Finally, my hon. Friend says that we should manage stocks as a mixed fishery and implement more effective controls for fishing mortality. CEFAS, which is based in Lowestoft, has done a lot of groundbreaking work. Our chief fisheries scientist, Carl O’Brien, has been a leading light in developing some of the methodologies for mixed fisheries analysis, and this is something that the UK is keen to pursue.

In conclusion, I welcome the REAF report commend my hon. Friend for his work. As for where we go from here, I stand ready to work with him in the future, should we both be returned to this place, to further develop the thinking. When it comes to administrative support for the project, I know that Seafish has been involved and I think it would also be good to engage the local enterprise partnership in the process, to help to support bids. The time will come, however, when REAF will, I presume, want to turn its ideas into a grant bid to one of our maritime funds—either an existing fund or a future one—and at that point my Department and the MMO would stand ready to assess that application. My hon. Friend will be fully aware that I cannot give any cast-iron guarantees that it will get support, but I can guarantee that it will be given full consideration. I thank my hon. Friend again for his work and I commend him for the points he raised.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Before I adjourn this sitting, I would like to thank, I am sure on behalf of all colleagues, the Clerks, the attendants and the security officers outside, the sound and broadcasting staff, who of course are never seen but do an excellent job every time we sit in Westminster Hall, and the Hansard staff for their excellent coverage of our debates. Indeed, I thank all the staff of the House in what has been a very short parliamentary Session following one of the longest parliamentary Sessions in the last 450 years of our history. I thank you all.

I can now say, for the last time in this Parliament, that the sitting stands adjourned.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No.10(14)).