Fisheries Management — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 13th July 2021.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 am, 13th July 2021

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say thank you to my stepmother, who is one of those officers along the coast in Boscastle in North Cornwall. I thank him for that.

This is a debate that has been prompted by Brexit. It is because of the promises made by Ministers about fishing—the sea of opportunity, the additional fish—that we are here today. It is interesting that those who attended these debates before Brexit have not always done so after Brexit. Having made the case for Brexit, and then made the case for a harder form of Brexit, many of them are not here to stand up for their fishing communities in the way that those communities now need. As a small but perfectly formed representation of the south-west, we know that that is really important and we need to do it.

The betrayal of the promise on the six to 12 nautical miles is something that fishers find unforgivable. Wendy Chamberlain was right to say that we should assess this on how fishers feel. Well, let me tell you: fishers feel betrayed, they feel abandoned and they feel lied to. That is because they have been betrayed, they have been abandoned, and in many cases they were lied to by prominent people whom they respected because of the offices they held and whom they believed would tell the truth, when that was not always the case. That is why the Members in this room, whom I genuinely believe care about their fishing communities regardless of which party they are in, must now clear up the mess that has been made by the Prime Minister and his botched Brexit deal. If we do not, fishing businesses will go under, and that is simply unforgivable.

I want to address a number of issues and to pick out others that have been raised by colleagues. The first is the plight of small boats. Throughout this debate, hon. Members have alluded to the extra difficulties for those people who work on our small boat fleet—the backbone of the British fishing fleet. In 2019, the Seafarers UK report, “Fishing Without a Safety Net”, found that many of those small businesses were struggling to afford the vital safety equipment that has been put in place. I very much enjoyed the Minister’s foreword to that report, which said:

“Small-scale fishing is a cornerstone of local coastal communities around our shores.”

She was right then and she is right now, but that is why I am so confused about why so much of the support provided by the Government throughout the covid period went to large fishing companies and not to the smaller fishing companies. So much potential help for those small businesses escaped them because of technicalities and because the people who sat on those boards did not value sufficiently those small boats and initiatives such as the brilliant Call4Fish, which came from Plymouth and helps provide those small boats with a domestic market. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, those small businesses were subsequently penalised because of how those rules were drawn up. I do not think that that is right. Anthony Mangnall is right to say that the delays in bringing forward that money are unacceptable. The Minister and I will no doubt pick that up when we discuss the statutory instrument on MMO funding tomorrow morning. It is unacceptable that, eight months after we left the European Union, fishers have not been paid the money that was promised to them. Ministers need to sort that out pretty fast.

Ministers have been speedy to enforce on those small boats the catch app—a needless piece of home-grown, Conservative digital bureaucracy that is sinking many of those businesses. The catch app requires fishers to weigh their fish before they are landed, on scales that do not exist on small boats and that are not marinised. When those same fish are landed and get put through a grading machine, the same information is provided. We know that handling fish for extra time reduces their quality and price, yet the Government are forcing needless Conservative digital bureaucracy on fishers. It is simply nonsense, and I encourage the Minister to please look at that again.

I am also really concerned that much of the so-called windfall stock—the uplift in fish quota—does not exist. They are paper fish, deliberately enhanced and inflated in the stock assessments leading up to Brexit. We will not get them. I am not convinced that we are getting those extra fish; indeed, because of problems with quota swaps and with the science, many of our fishers up and down the coast are now seeing reduced quota. It is not the sea of opportunity that they were promised.

The hon. Member for Waveney, who knows that I am a big fan of his, praised his REAF initiative, and I would also like to praise it. It is a great example of what happens when communities come together. There are similar examples around the country and he does a good job of promoting his.

I would like briefly to pick up on shellfish. We are facing the potential collapse of the shellfish industry because the Government failed to negotiate a proper export arrangement for our shellfish. Live bivalve molluscs are a really important part of the industry not just in the south-west and in Wales but right across our coast. It is simply not acceptable that they were excluded and that a solution has not been put in place. Simply blaming the EU was the tactic before we left the EU. We now need solutions, not blame. Simply reallocating class B waters does not make those waters any cleaner or any better. If anything, the Government are opening themselves up to legal risk by saying that these waters are no longer as dirty as they were. We need a proper solution to the issue of the export of live bivalve molluscs. If that does not happen, businesses in the south-west and around the country will go bust within months. That simply has to be addressed. I encourage the Minister to listen very carefully to Conservative, Labour and other party Members who represent coastal areas.