Fisheries Management — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:42 am on 13th July 2021.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:42 am, 13th July 2021

Of course, Sir Charles. It is always a pleasure to take part in a fisheries debate, and I thank Mr Carmichael for organising it with our friends on the Backbench Business Committee. I thank all who have spoken today. If I may class them together, they are a group of colleagues with whom I deal very frequently on fisheries matters—I would include you in that as well, Sir Charles. It is always good to hear from colleagues, and my door is always open. We have had many bilateral and trilateral meetings over the last few months, and I encourage colleagues to continue to get in touch on behalf of their fishing industries.

I pay tribute to the fishing industry for its resilience, and to all who work in the seafood supply chain. I am reminded of that by my hon. Friend David Duguid, who represents Peterhead and who is sitting in the Public Gallery. It has been a very difficult 18 months for the industry. The pandemic forced the closure of hospitality both at home and abroad, which has led to an abrupt loss of our markets. As we have heard again and again, exporters have had to adapt to the new conditions that we were subject to as we left the single market. On recent visits to Brixham—my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall was kind enough to mention that—and Grimsby, I met many people, including the great Jim Portus, who were really impressive and dedicated to this industry. Their expertise and knowledge will allow us to manage our fisheries in a way that is flexible and sustainable, and that enables us, I hope, to take advantage of our new opportunities.

On the future of fisheries management, there is a great deal to do about the administration. The 2018 fisheries White Paper laid the foundations for devising our new fisheries management rules. The Fisheries Act 2020 provides the regulatory framework. The TCA recognises the UK’s regulatory autonomy and that means that each of the four Administrations can reform fisheries management.

Fisheries management plans will allow better spatial management within a very complex marine environment, identifying where fishing can take place in an area while minimising environmental impact. We will start to develop our first fisheries management plans in England this year. We are also preparing a full list and timetable for the implementation of fisheries management plans in the joint fisheries statement that we plan to consult on in the autumn.

Quota was mentioned by many hon. Members, including the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton. We have put in place a new method to apportion additional quota between the fisheries administrations. In England, we have allocated additional quota in 2021 based on a new method that gives the fleet segments of quota in the stocks that are important to them and also takes into account their capacity to fish that quota. My hon. Friend represents England very well, if I may say so—as do many hon. Members in this room and outside it—and he need have no fears on that front.

Quota swaps, which were also mentioned by many Members, are important. That is why the TCA provided for an in-year quota exchange mechanism, which will be established by the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. In the future, we expect quota exchanges just to be part of annual negotiations. I am very pleased to say that we have agreed with the EU an interim basis for fishing quota transfers, before the specialised committee establishes a longer-term mechanism.

The details are still being worked out, but we expect an exchange of lists to take place next week on 20 July, when the UK and the EU co-chair the first meeting of the specialised committee. Lord Frost has assured me and others that the devolved authorities and Crown dependencies will be fully involved in the process, which obviously matters to them. I am pleased to say that we have now got to a point of real resolution on this issue, and I know that many people within the fishing industry are working up—PO to PO—the details of exchanges at the moment.

On control and enforcement, which was also raised by many Members, we have a 24/7, effective and intelligence-led enforcement system, which is co-ordinated by the Joint Maritime Security Centre. In English waters, we have really increased resource dedicated to fisheries protection and we continue to work on this. We have made additional Government investment of £32 million in this space over the last three years. The MMO has doubled the number of marine enforcement officers since 2017, and it has two dedicated offshore patrol ships at sea and increased aerial surveillance. All this complements the existing electronic monitoring system. In terms of landings to inspect at sea, in the first six months of this year there were 228 inspections by the MMO at sea, of which 131 were on EU vessels.

The safety of the UK fleet remains our highest priority; the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has raised safety with me repeatedly and rightly, and I am always very keen to hear from him on it. We continue to monitor the presence and activity of vessels across our waters. I am aware of recent reports raised by the right hon. Gentleman and others of UK vessels being subject to bullying behaviour. It is really important, and I have stressed this to Jamie Stone and others in the past, that any such incidents are reported in real time, whenever possible. It is true that there is an area where, if the threshold for criminal activity is reached, UK police require, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the consent of the Home and Defence Secretaries and the flag state to take action. However, that does not preclude communications going straight to the vessel immediately, nor the gathering of evidence, which can be done by MMO officials, Marine Scotland officials or the police. That is why it is so important that these incidents are reported immediately.

That is a matter of great concern to both me and ministerial colleagues. I speak regularly about it to colleagues at the Department for Transport; we met at the end of last year to discuss it. We continue to work on a long-term solution. Last week was Naval and Maritime Security Week, which is a reminder that we need to continue to focus on this important issue. We work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Seafish and the Fishing Industry Safety Group to lower the number of preventable accidents and deaths at sea.

I turn to funding. This year, the Government have spent £23 million on emergency compensation and £32 million on the replacement scheme for the European maritime and fisheries fund. We have also announced new funding, aligned with our reform of fisheries management.

The £100 million announced by the Prime Minister at the very end of last year will support investment to modernise and develop the seafood sector. It will focus on three pillars: infrastructure projects for the development and modernisation of ports, harbours and landing sites across the UK; the advancement and roll-out of science, innovation and technology across the catching and processing sectors; and projects that develop tailored training and qualifications. We will be hearing future announcements about that investment—probably starting with the science, innovation and technology strand, or pillar, of the £100 million—very shortly, certainly this summer. A large amount of money is involved and it is important that we get this right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes raises the issue of live bivalve molluscs with me several times a day. I am as angry as any colleague present that the EU changed its rules on the importation of our class B molluscs; I take that up with it at every opportunity and will continue to do so. We are looking at a number of options to support the industry, including grant funding in England to facilitate business adaptation through the fisheries and seafood scheme. We are working on securing access to new markets, promoting domestic seafood consumption and reviewing the classification of shellfish harvesting areas while—of course—protecting public health.