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Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries Study

Part of the debate – 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

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.