It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael on securing this highly important debate—one that is very important to my constituents. As an aside, I have to say that I am personally very grateful that my right hon. Friend is where he is, because he has a considerable knowledge of fisheries from his constituency and that is very helpful to me. I do not have as great a knowledge, which is why I am glad that he is where he is.
I want to use three examples to underpin what I am about to say. The first is that of a gentleman whom I have mentioned before in this place. I had a conversation with him this morning. He is Mr William Calder, the owner of Scrabster Seafoods—the Minister and I have spoken about this gentleman. Today, Mr Calder has put it to me pretty starkly by saying that the cost of getting a 30 kg box of fish, such as monkfish, to his market in Brittany has just about doubled, and that is really eating into his business. It is a local business that employs locally, and it has been in existence for some time. By coincidence, yesterday he had an email from one of his hauliers, saying, “I am really sorry. Because of the situation and the way business has dwindled a bit, we are going to have to up our prices to move your fish from A to B.” Then there is something that I have mentioned several times: every hour and every day of delay cuts into the product being sellable at the end of it all, because absolute freshness is key. So that is Mr William Calder, my good friend, and anything that we can do to help him would be very welcome indeed. I shall return to him in a couple of minutes.
The second person I want to mention is my friend Mr Peter Sinclair, whom I have mentioned to the Minister before. He is the owner of a fishing trawler called the Reaper, and he has made the point to me that a boat owner is more likely to be inspected if they are British than if they are a foreigner. By means of a freedom of information request, my party has established that the stats say that a British boat owner is five times more likely to be inspected than a French or Spanish owner, which is not good.
That takes me to my third gentleman, who has had considerable newspaper coverage, not least in the Thunderer—The Times. Mr Ian Mackay is the skipper of the Loch Inchard. At the beginning of June, he rightly highlighted a most unfortunate incident—the sort of incident that my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland has referred to—whereby he went to his fishing ground expecting to be trawling, only to find that French boats, and sadly some boats flying the British flag, had established long lines. That meant that they pretty abruptly told him to get out of it and that he could not trawl, because he would damage their fishing gear. Eventually, after much aggressive toing and froing, he established an area of the ocean where he could trawl, but that sort of aggressive behaviour is simply not on.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland said, where is this going to end? Mr Mackay had boats cutting across his bows. We could well end up with deaths at sea, and that is something we cannot possibly countenance. I return to Mr Peter Sinclair, who has suggested to me that we should look seriously at some form of penalty for boats that have indulged in that sort of behaviour. Possibly an effective penalty would be to ban them from landing their fish in a British port. That would need to happen only once, and they would soon learn their lesson.
If we could have a meeting with the Minister, that would be very helpful indeed. I compliment the Minister on having had conversations in the past—I give credit where it is due—but promises were made to the fishermen about compensation and trying to sort out the problems, so I echo others’ call for a roundtable meeting involving the industry. That would be best. I have mentioned Mr Sinclair, Mr Mackay and Mr Calder because I know them personally from face-to-face discussions. If we have a roundtable discussion, it is absolutely important that they are at the table and are not just being spoken to remotely by an agency. I am afraid that Marine Scotland can seem a little remote in the way that it deals with fishermen. I am not aware that it has too many face-to-face conversations. I hope I am wrong in that; if I am wrong, I apologise, but that is the impression I get.
For your amusement, Sir Charles, I come from fisherfolk from the Black Isle on the highland side of our family. I think I might be the only Member in this place who actually once worked in a fish factory—I spent a winter in the Faroe Islands. We are a maritime nation. Salt is in our blood. Fish is good for the health of the nation. For hundreds of years we have taken our fisherman very seriously and we feel we owe them a debt. Now is the time for us collectively to pay that debt to them and show just how much we value them. They are brave people doing a difficult job. We do not want their lives to be made any worse.