UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement 10:27 am, 12th February 2020

I do not know whether hon. Members have had the pleasure of visiting Fleetwood, eight miles north of our famous neighbour, Blackpool, on the Lancashire coast. The town boomed in the first half of the 20th century, mainly down to the deep sea fishing industry, which at its height employed around 9,000 people in the town. Unfortunately, the second half of the 20th century was less kind to Fleetwood. Anyone who knows anything about fishing will know that the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the cod wars and the decline of the deep sea fishing industry.

Because Fleetwood was a deep sea fishing town, the loss of trawlers and fishing grounds in the north Atlantic hit our town hard. The last deep sea trawler left Fleetwood in 1982, three years before I was born. We now have only a small number of inshore fishing boats in the port. However, there being so few left does not mean that we do not have an emotional connection and a sense of identity around fishing. In fact, there are still many fishing industry jobs in the town, including in fish processing—and, of course, there is the biggest employer in the town, Lofthouse of Fleetwood, which manufactures the famous Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, which I am sure everyone is familiar with.

I cannot claim that the loss of the deep sea fishing industry is alone responsible for Fleetwood’s decline—the empty shops on Lord Street, the lower than average life expectancy and higher unemployment rates. It has to be seen in a wider context, with things such as cheap package holidays taking away from the tourist industry on the Lancashire coast and the Beeching cuts severing us from the national rail network—although I am optimistic that we might see some progress on that. The decline in the fishing industry in Fleetwood is an important part of the story of our town, and why so many of my constituents will be following today’s debate and the Fisheries Bill closely.

There are high hopes riding on the Fisheries Bill. Communities like mine have an emotional connection to fishing, despite many decades of decline. When communities such as Fleetwood voted to leave the European Union, under the banner of “take back control”, many were thinking about the fishing industry. Those people do not want to see us taking back control of our waters only for those waters to be ceded in a trade negotiation with the EU. That is what they fear. If that fear is realised, I cannot overstate the sense of betrayal that will be felt in coastal communities, not just in Fleetwood but up and down the country.

Turning to the Fisheries Bill, which has been the main focus of the debate today, I have two main asks that I would like the Bill to deliver. First, it has to be a requirement for fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in a UK port, because every one job at sea supports 10 jobs on shore. That could be a huge part of the regeneration of coastal communities up and down our islands.

We also want to see a redistribution of the UK quota away from the large multi-national companies, because two thirds of employment is generated by boats under 10 metres, which have only 6% of the quota. It would not take that much of a redistribution to have a disproportionately large effect in terms of regeneration and supporting jobs on shore, as well as at sea.

If we are truly to grasp every opportunity outside the common fisheries policy and to look to the long term, we need to look at how the fishing industry is supported to grow. That will require a holistic approach to issues such as safety: commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

I will finish my remarks, Sir George, where I started: Fleetwood. On the Esplanade two bronze figures stand on the seafront looking out to the Irish sea. They are a memorial to all the fishermen who did not make it home. If, as I hope, we see a revival in fishing in the UK, it has to be one in which the Government take safety seriously and that supports the people who fish our seas, to put food on the plates of our nation.