Fishing debate

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has warned that there is still a lot of work to be done to secure a more sustainable future for Lowestoft fishermen. 
 
In the Annual Fisheries Debate in the House of Commons on Thursday 11th December, Peter highlighted the potential benefits of the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which came in to effect at the beginning of the year. These include:-
  • A legally binding commitment to encourage sustainable fishing.
  • Giving local fishermen a greater say over the future of their industry and moving away from a centralised “one size fits all” Brussels based approach.
  • Securing a ban on the obscene practice of discards.
However, Peter argued in his speech that there is “a great deal of work to do to secure a better future for both the industry nationally and also locally in Lowestoft. There are numerous hurdles to overcome to successfully implement the new CFP”. This is an issue which the Minister will have to address along with increasing the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) quota and addressing the parlous state of bass stocks at this weeks meeting of the Agriculture Fisheries Council.
 
Peter went on to highlight the need to prevent electric fishing by Dutch trawlers inside North Sea Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), particularly in the Hainsborough Hammond and Winterton SAC and in the North Norfolk SAC.
 
He urged the Government to focus its attention on the needs of the inshore fleet of under-10 metre boats, including those who fish out of Lowestoft, where the fleet is “a very pale shadow of what it used to be”. Whilst nationally under 10m boats comprise 77% of the UK fleet and employ 65% of the total workforce, they only receive 4% of the total quota available. At present under-10 metre boats fishing along the Suffolk Coast receive what was described to Peter by one local fisherman as a “miserable share of catch quotas”. Emphasising the potential of the Under 10s to deliver economic, environmental and cultural benefits for their communities, Peter said that “unless the problem is addressed, they will continue to dwindle and this will be a real tragedy for so many communities”.
 
Whilst the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) allocate catch limits on a month to month basis to each vessel in the under-10 metre pool, in practice, what so often happens is that the vessels can end up with high levels from one species when it is not available and low levels for others when they are abundant. Reallocations of quota from the Producer Organisations (POs) to the under-10s do take place but they are neither predictable nor permanent. This “month to month” “hand to mouth” existence is not conducive to building a business.
 
Peter compares the Lowestoft fishermen in the inshore fleet to the seven affiliated vessels in the Lowestoft Fish Producers Association, which are controlled by interests based in the Netherlands and Aberdeen. These boats have fishing licenses and hold Fixed Quota Allocations (FQAs) totalling 79,097 units, but their contribution to the local economy is limited. When such larger vessels were actually based in Lowestoft they helped sustain the smaller boats and their departure has contributed to the decline of Lowestoft as the major fishing port in the southern North Sea. 
 
In total across the UK, Dutch controlled vessels fishing British quota have an annual turnover of £48 million, only 1% of the fish they catch is landed in the UK.
 
To tackle the challenges facing inshore fishermen, Peter called on the Government to:-
 
Carry out a “root and branch” reform of the allocation of quota, based on the finding in the approved judgement in the High Court in July 2013 that fish are a public resource.
 
  • Obtain more information and a better understanding of what is happening in the industry. Whilst the Fixed Quota Allocation [FQA] Register published last December is a step in the right direction, more information is needed on how much quota is held by non-working fishermen and on quota transactions to help show who actually benefits from UK fish resources.
  • Acquire a full understanding of the under-10 metre fleet in terms including what percentage of license holders in receipt of monthly catch limits are active and how many have made no or minimal landings in the past 6-12 months and if not why not. In addition it is necessary to know the amount of under-10 metre fleet quota that is ‘gifted’ by the POs and its effect if it were to be withheld. Peter argues that it is not fair that one sector of the industry is so dependent on another for its very existence.
 
Peter concluded by outlining those issues that need to be addressed in reallocating quota:-
 
1.    The inshore fleet should have proper representation on advisory councils; 
 
2.    Skippers of inshore boats should receive an increase in their monthly catch limits, so that they are no longer beholden to Producer Organisations for handouts;
 
3.    Quota should only be held by active fishermen who bring real benefits to their local communities not by foreign vessels nor non-active fishermen who only hold quota as an investment. 
 
4.    Ahead of a Referendum on the UK’s future membership of the European Union in 2017, any renegotiation beforehand of our terms of membership should include as a priority demand the reclaiming of the UK’s territorial waters in the 6 to 12 nautical mile area. This would allow fish stocks to be properly protected with priority access being given to local fishermen who depend on these waters for their survival.. 
 
The Fishing Minister, George Eustice MP, responded by affirming that the Government has pledged to realign quotas, take a regionalised approach to the discard ban in 2016 and launch a consultation with industry representatives so that views of the under-10 fleet can be heard.  
 
Peter Aldous MP commented:
 
“Whilst the fishing industry in Lowestoft is now a shadow of its former self, with the right system of management put in place as soon as possible, fishing will be able to play a continuing role in the future of the town. I welcome the Minister’s reassurances that the Government will bear in mind all the issues raised in the debate at the EU Council meeting this week to secure a better deal with fishermen across the UK. Thereafter there is a need to get on straight away with the task of reallocating quota to the inshore fleet.”
 

Surgeries

Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018:
Lowestoft, Thursday 4th January
Beccles, Saturday 3rd February

 

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