Thank you, Sir Charles, and I thank Mr Carmichael for setting the scene.
I am pleased to speak in a fisheries debate. I represent the village of Portavogie in my constituency. I am familiar with it. At the advice centre there fishermen give me their updates every month on the issues that are hurting them and the fishing sector. I am also pleased to speak on behalf of many fishermen across Northern Ireland—not just those in Portavogie but those in Annalong, Ardglass and Kilkeel as well—because they come to me with those issues through the fishing organisations.
Some good news to start with reached Northern Ireland on Friday afternoon: an email from the Marine Management Organisation advised fishermen that access to Ireland’s inshore waters—those between nought and six nautical miles off shore—had been restored, thus reflecting their traditional fishing patterns around the island. Some 140 fishing vessels from Northern Ireland and some 190 fishing vessels from the Republic of Ireland have been licensed to fish in each other’s waters. That is just getting things back into line again on that one issue.
I always start with the good news, before any other news, which is perhaps not as positive. Part of the hard sea border erected against our fishermen has been removed, and we are grateful for the efforts of all involved in securing that. We must now redouble our efforts to restore access for all Northern Ireland and southern Irish fishermen to territorial seas round the island of Ireland, especially between six and 12 nautical miles offshore.
An irony of the trade and co-operation agreement, the TCA, is that access to territorial waters inside the 12 nautical miles for EU fishermen was written into the agreement in an area stretching from the Humber to Saint David’s head in Wales. Mutual access is not available for UK fishermen to access waters off the County Cork coast, in waters known as ICES—International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—sub-area 7.g. Regardless of the historical nature of the fishing industries in both parts of the island of Ireland and the call to avoid a hard border on the island, access for our fishermen in Northern Ireland—from my port of Portavogie, and Ardglass and Kilkeel—has been denied.
Last Friday’s announcement, therefore, was a partial fix and I repeat calls to the Minister. I have the utmost respect for her and—I say this honestly—she is very responsive to the issues that I bring to her attention, and to the fishing organisations, and we really appreciate that. I want to put that on the record. I again call on the Minister to seek a resolution. I ask her to make this matter a top priority at the UK-EU specialised joint committee on fisheries.
What we are seeing in the Irish sea as a result of the hard fisheries sea border is displacement of fishing effort. Geographically speaking, the Irish sea is a small area and increasing competition for space is bringing all kinds of pressures to bear. At least 80% of the UK’s fishing effort throughout the Irish sea emanates from Northern Ireland, but sometimes, regretfully, at least a perception exists that there is a communication problem between the statutory authorities in England and the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. Again, I call on the Minister to ensure that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England and the marine planning division of the MMO all fully engage with industry representatives in Northern Ireland.
I again wish to commend the Minister for being in contact and working with the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation, in particular Alan McCulla and Harry Wick under the NIFF banner. It is a good relationship, which is working, although perhaps we need to tighten it up a wee bit.
I also call on the Minister to encourage our officials in the various statutory authorities to give more than simple lip service to terms such as “adaptive management” or “co-management scheme”. Nature is an evolving ecosystem and its management must not be set in concrete for generations to come. I want to reflect on what was said earlier about the management of MPAs, which complicates fisheries management, as does the construction of offshore wind farms. Increasingly, the eastern Irish sea is presenting itself as one giant offshore energy generation scheme. The Crown Estate’s fourth round of offshore leasing reinforces a squeeze on fishing operations in the Irish sea. There is a real danger that these developments are impinging on fish spawning and nursery grounds. It is not good enough to tell fishermen to reduce or move their fishing activities through the MPA process, when that creates a sense that they have been told to move on to make space for windfarm developers.
Over the past few years, ICES set out to track ecosystem interactions in the Irish sea, through its WKIrish programme—the workshop on an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management for the Irish sea—without, it would seem, any further discussion on how the ecosystem model could be incorporated into fisheries management. This point was raised last week at the UK sea fisheries science panel, with reference to an annual briefing to industry and other stakeholders about the ICES fisheries science advice for 2020. Perhaps the Minister could respond on that point as well.
Fisheries management boils down to livelihoods. We talk about the quota system. How that dividend is allocated within the UK has not been finally settled. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will soon be launching a further consultation on the allocation in 2022. Fishermen in Northern Ireland were let down by the allocation methodology used in 2021. We know that the Secretary of State is supportive of zonal management, but, like him, the Minister is well aware that that would penalise Northern Ireland because our maritime economic zone is small. I suggest to the Minister that, if special cases can be made for other parts of the UK—for example, Wales; I welcome that—a similar case should be made for Northern Ireland, given its relatively small part of the UK quota share.
Neil Parish spoke about Norway. I will not repeat that, as time does not allow. Will overfishing of mackerel by Norway result in reduced catches for UK fishermen? That is practical fisheries management in action.