It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Mrs Murray on bringing forward this important debate.
I will make a few points. With devolution re-established in Northern Ireland, the Minister will have a friend in Northern Ireland under the Ministry of Edwin Poots, who has a proven track record in dealing with environmental issues as a farmer himself and as a person who has dealt with the fishing community over the years. I hope that that leads to a good rapport between the Department here and the Department in Northern Ireland, because we require good partnerships between Westminster and the devolved regions to make sure that we get our act together and that fishing interests across the entire United Kingdom are properly and fairly met. That is absolutely essential.
Northern Ireland promotes evidence-based protection of our marine environment, side by side with a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, which can only be done when there is good co-operation between fishermen, producers and processors, industry leaders and advisers and the Department. It is essential that those good relationships are honed and developed.
In the Irish sea, 80% of the UK’s fishing effort comes from Northern Irish fishermen, who need to be treated fairly and allowed to continue to have a profitable industry. The fishing industry expects to be part of realising the full potential that Members rightly alluded to, and the opportunities that people say will exist with Brexit have to become tangible and meaningful. As with Norway 40 years ago, the EU will have to accept a diminution of the share of catches from EU waters, which means that catches for non-EU boats will have to be properly negotiated and shared out. We want to make sure that our fishermen’s rights are properly enforced and protected by our Government; that sovereign British waters remain sovereign British waters; and that we get the lion’s share of the catch in those waters.
The Irish election throws up a particular challenge for Northern Ireland. With Sinn Féin now the largest party in both parts of the island, will it defend the EU policy that annually loots Northern Ireland fishermen’s rights? Let us see if it actually protects the interests of fishermen in the Republic of Ireland against the rights of fishermen in Northern Ireland. That will be a huge challenge for Sinn Féin, and no doubt for the Minister whenever he negotiates arrangements and agreements between our nations. It will be interesting to see what side Sinn Féin falls on. I would not like to hazard a guess; I suspect I know, but let us wait and see what ultimately happens.
There are four or five key issues that the Minister has to address. Crews have already been alluded to by several Members, and I know he will want to speak on that. However, there is a challenge for the Government as to how they will apportion catch within the UK to UK regions. That is absolutely essential. Fishermen are waiting to know the plan, and trust that it will be fair and proportionate. While the crews issue needs to be finalised, remember that Northern Ireland stands on the frontline with the EU, in terms of its land border and its sea border, and it is therefore absolutely essential that Northern Ireland’s fishermen are given protections and the absolute right to fish our sea without being encumbered by threats from Ireland.
A 2018 Select Committee report mentioned that we need a proper processing hub and a new harbour at Kilkeel, and I encourage the Minister to deliver that. Finally, what plans do the Government have to manage catches of lobster, salmon, mussels, oysters and other crustaceans on the north coast for smaller fishermen?