Diolch yn fawr iawn, Sir Charles; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank Mr Carmichael for securing today’s debate. The comments by Peter Aldous were extremely pertinent—I am very much aware that he is in the party of Government and I am in the party of the Opposition, so perhaps I can express things in slightly different way, but I think his comments were very useful.
Having now come on to the theme of being in one of the Opposition parties, I hope that the Government will apologise to the UK fishing community for the disruption that has marked our departure from the EU, from the start up to the present day. There was, of course, no oven-ready deal. The Government left our fishing industry, and especially the Welsh shellfish industry, high and dry. Overnight, Welsh producers were cut off from their main export market, and that debilitating uncertainty is ongoing. Questions remain about how water is classified and the impact of that on the shellfish industry, particularly in England and Wales.
After years of promising control over our seas, the UK Government folded on the issue of access to UK waters. With asymmetrical interests within the UK fishing industry on access, perhaps one obvious route would be to better involve the Welsh Government in negotiations with the EU, so that we can ensure equitable and sustainable access to Welsh and European waters. However, I understand that the UK Government have seen fit to include the territorial waters of south Wales in an access region stretching from Grimsby in Lincolnshire, around the southern English coast and Cornwall, to Fishguard. Historically, only 10 EU vessels were licensed to operate in south Wales’ waters under the old area regime system. This huge new region opens up Welsh waters to 120 licensed EU vessels.
There is a series of questions here. Could the Minister explain why Wales’ devolved control over our territorial waters appears to have been swept aside? Were the Welsh Government consulted? Did they give up the means to manage conservation of Welsh fish stocks voluntarily, or did the Minister’s Government impose this action without consultation or consent? In addition, what assessment has the Minister made of the potential effect of displacement on Wales, especially on non-quota species, as the UK Government introduce marine conservation zones and highly protected marine areas around England?
If English vessels cannot fish locally, there is a real risk that they will put unsustainable pressure on Welsh stocks because of the Government’s actions. Equally pressing is the challenge of displacement facing our fishing communities as a result of a combination of measures, including a huge expansion in the area devoted to offshore wind farms and improved protection for marine environments. While the Welsh Government have control over marine protection—allegedly—they do not have control over the seabed on which offshore wind developments depend.
One solution would be devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales, as has happened in Scotland. That action would further holistic fisheries management in Wales and support not only our decarbonisation efforts, but the viability of our fishing industry. While I welcome the co-operation between the UK and devolved Governments on joint policy statements, it is essential that such co-operation is grounded in dialogue.
I cannot overstate this: the fishing industry has the knowledge and the vested interests to make conservation work, not from a distant office, but from the living environment of the sea. That would prevent a repeat of the key flaws within the common fisheries policy, such as the landing obligation, and would ensure that fair and sustainable practices were supported across the UK industry. I would particularly welcome any comment by the Minister on how the UK Government are addressing the issue of unlicensed fishing in UK waters, and what support they are offering to the Welsh Government on that issue.
I hope that today’s debate will improve the UK Government’s awareness and responsiveness to the challenges facing both the Welsh and the UK fishing industry, and I would welcome the opportunity to take these matters further in a meeting with the Minister. Diolch yn fawr.