I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of UK fisheries.
Since the Fisheries Bill is currently proceeding in the other place, I felt that it was timely to call for this debate to discuss the massive opportunities that a future fisheries regime can provide the UK as an independent coastal state. The Fisheries Bill means that, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Minister will have autonomy under international law to set the rules that apply to fish stocks and access for fishing vessels operating in the UK 200 mile to median line exclusive economic zone. That should be seen as a massive opportunity for the UK fishing industry and allied industries. It will offer great potential for small boatyards such as C Toms & Son and Mashford Bros in my constituency, as well as others in constituencies right around the UK coast.
The purpose of this debate is to explore the many opportunities for the industry, which, although contributing a small proportion to UK GDP as a whole, has a disproportionate impact on the economies of small coastal communities where fishing is a prime industry. I urge the Minister to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, and that the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state is treated as a great opportunity. I reiterate my message in previous debates: access to UK fishing waters must not simply be squandered to buy a trade agreement with the EU in other areas. I will do my best to keep my points as brief as I can, as I am sure that other Members will have their own points to make.
I welcome the reassurance by the Prime Minister last week that there is no need to abide by EU rules. He went on to say that British fishing grounds are “first and foremost” for UK boats. As someone who has campaigned for almost 40 years to highlight the gross disservice heaped on the industry when we joined the European Economic Community, it is refreshing to hear a Prime Minister say those words. I hope there will be determination to ensure that any future arrangement with the EU looks similar to that of Norway, and that access for non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be subject to annual agreements.
The Norway agreement sets a precedent for the way an independent coastal state works with the EU. We must not stray from that. The EU will not be happy, but let us look back in history to a precedent that it set when Spain and Portugal joined: the EU fleet needed to rebalance its size to the available resource, because those two member states brought with them very little resource of their own but very large fleets. The rest of the EU member states had to introduce a number of decommissioning schemes in order to balance the whole of the EU fleet to the available resource. As a consequence, many UK vessels were broken up and scrapped.
Faced with the loss of access to UK waters, the European Union must now reduce its own fleet to adjust. As an independent coastal state, we could be generous and give them time year-on-year to adjust; at the same time, the UK fleet could be allowed to grow. The annually set total allowable catches will allow the Minister and his Department to establish the real catching capacity of the UK fleet, which has been artificially suppressed from achieving its full catching potential because of the share it received under relative stability, set in 1983. Given that there is potential for the UK fleet to expand, fishermen could even invest in newer, more modern, safer and more environmentally friendly vessels.
Much has been heard about the lack of quota available to the under-10-metre fleet. It is worthwhile looking back to what led to that situation. Under the original common fisheries policy, the catches of that sector were estimated, and the fleet fished relatively unrestricted until the total catch was deemed to have been used. There would then be a total ban on landing a certain species, which incidentally also prevented shoreline leisure fishermen from landing that species.
The introduction of the Registration of Fish Buyers and Sellers and Designation of Fish Auction Sites Regulations 2005 changed that. Suddenly, it became clear that the present-day catch of the under-10-metre fleet had been underestimated, and officials held a number of meetings around the coast to try to find a solution. It was a former Labour Minister, the former Member for Scunthorpe, who failed to take timely action. After introducing fixed quota allocations for the over-10-metre vessels, he was left with no additional quota to allocate to the under-10-metre fleet. That was the beginning of this travesty. I pay tribute to the former right hon. Member for Newbury, who tried to provide additional quota to the under-10-metre vessels by top slicing any uplift in quota gained from each annual Agriculture and Fisheries Council—something that this Minister has continued.
Perhaps Ruth Jones would like to apologise to the under-10-metre fishermen for the action of her predecessors, rather than simply making statements, as members of her party have in the past, that are no more than political posturing. I remind her and the shadow Secretary of State that Plymouth fishermen, just like my late husband, have long memories: they will remember the proximate cause of the under-10-metre miniscule quota.
I turn to conservation. I recognise that we need to record how much catch each vessel lands if we are to comply with our obligations under international law. While we have protection under the UN fish stocks agreement about minimum fish size and gear that can be used, where we have a median line between us and a member state we must adhere to international law and ensure that any management regime respects the sustainability of fish stock in our waters. We must respect science and the maximum sustainable yields recommended. Larger vessels have a satellite-based vessel monitoring system introduced under the CFP, which has provided and continues to provide information on catch composition.
It is essential that smaller UK vessels receive their fair share of the quota. They should be allowed to fish regardless of quota for a number of days a year, provided that they have enough days to ensure that their annual fishing pattern can continue throughout the whole year. The minuscule share of quota for some species under the CFP for south-west fishermen is often attributed to the lack of historical catch data. I fully understand the intention of the new app the Minister has introduced. However, a trusted friend with vast knowledge of the fishing industry recently wrote to me that the Marine Management Organisation has introduced a new licence condition that requires skippers of under-10-metre boats to estimate, or guess, within a 10%—