Speaking in a debate on the UK fishing industry, Peter Aldous highlights the opportunities offered by Brexit

1st December 2016
Peter Aldous highlights the opportunities that the forthcoming Brexit negotiations offer and outlines the features that need to be incorporated in a new UK fishing policy. He also urges the Government to raise the plight of sea bass and the decimation of fish stocks by Dutch electro-pulse beam trawling at the Council of Ministers meeting on 12th December.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for playing the lead role in securing the debate. Two weeks ago, I secured a debate in Westminster Hall on the future of the Anglian fishing fleet. I will not repeat in detail what I said then, but I shall outline the key factors that I believe should be taken into account in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations and the features that should be incorporated in a new UK fishing policy.

Many of us will have been on different sides in the referendum campaign. We now need to put that battle behind us and grasp the opportunity that has been presented to breathe life back into this great British industry. Before I consider that, I want to ask the Minister to raise two issues at the Council of Ministers meeting on 12 December. First, he needs to address the plight of sea bass. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers and increased commercial catch limits were bad for bass, bad for the charter boat fleet and bad for fishing tackle shops. Secondly, the Minister must do all he can to stop Dutch electro-pulse beam trawling, which is currently decimating our fish stocks in the North sea.

I urge the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that there is a fishing pillar in the Brexit negotiations. In the past, many have felt that the industry was the sacrificial lamb in negotiations. That must not happen again.

To ensure that the UK fishing industry has a bright future, the following issues need to be addressed. First, the Minister needs to secure what I know is his No. 1 objective of reclaiming control of our territorial waters, with the UK able to take responsibility for the seas out to 200 miles or the relevant median lines. Secondly, having done that, he should ensure that the 0 to 12-mile zone is exclusively available for our inshore fleet—the under-10 metre fleet that currently gets such a raw deal. Thirdly, it is necessary to address the flagship issue. It is not right that the six affiliated vessels of the Lowestoft producer organisation land no fish in Lowestoft. I know that the Minister is already looking into that and reviewing the economic link.

It is important to bear in mind that many fishermen in East Anglia and around the UK coast specialise in shellfish, which they export to the EU. The processing industry does likewise. Their interests need to be safeguarded in the Brexit negotiations, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should work closely with the Department for International Trade to open up new global markets, for example in the far east.

It should be acknowledged that the negotiations will not be straightforward. There will be a lot of devil in the detail and a disentangling of reciprocal fishing rights that have built up over centuries. That means that it will take time to complete the exit negotiations and it will be necessary to put transitional arrangements in place.

Although there is a great deal to do in the short term for Brexit negotiations, it is important to look ahead and think strategically about the shape of the new UK fishing policy and what it needs to incorporate so that fishing can play a lead role socially, economically and environmentally in coastal communities, many of which have had it tough in recent years. I suggest that the UKFP should include the following ingredients. First, we need to start with a clean sheet of paper, rather than simply transferring the common fisheries policy into UK law through the great repeal Bill and then amending it. We must have our own bespoke fishing policy, and I would like it to include promoting the end of discarding sensibly and pragmatically, and working with neighbouring countries to manage shared fish stock sustainably. I would also include policies that mirror articles 2 and 17 of the CFP, which promote a sustainable approach to fisheries management.

Secondly, the UKFP should be set in a wide context, recognising the role that fishing can play in regenerating coastal Britain, reversing years of social and economic decline, rebalancing the economy and improving productivity. Thirdly, the UKFP must be underpinned by science. That means a pivotal role for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in Lowestoft in my constituency. It has a key role to play in ensuring that we better manage our rich and precious marine resources, and in monitoring and enforcement. It is vital that the Government commit to ensuring that Brexit does not lead to a reduction in funding for scientific research.

Fourthly, the management of fisheries needs to be localised. The fundamental structural flaw of the CFP is that fisheries are managed from a distance. That said, I recognise the great work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) to address that concern. Local management needs to involve those working in the industry on a day-to-day basis, and could well mean a role for enhanced inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. If we put in place a management system in which we can be confident, it could lead to an enhancement of the British fish brand, which will be important in marketing fish both at home and overseas.

Fifthly, we need to address the elephant in the room of reallocating quota. I acknowledge that that is not a straightforward task, but it is not right that 61% of English quota is held by three foreign companies, and that only 1.5% of national fishing quota goes to the smallest category of boat, even though they make up 75% of vessels. Quota should be available only to active fishermen. I recognise that the Minister has done much to address that and to rebalance quota in favour of the under-10 metre fleet, and that there may well be legal issues to address, but the whole industry must come together to find a way forward. As things stand, I do not support a system of individual transferable quotas, but there could well be a case for setting up a small-scale producer organisation that can give smaller boats a voice and greater control to help to rebalance the industry. Finally, special emphasis must be placed on supply-chain building all the way from the net to the plate.

To sum up, we have a great opportunity ahead of us to put in place a new policy framework that gives the fishing industry all around the coast a fresh lease of life. To grasp that opportunity, we need to have in mind at all times the three R’s: repatriation, reallocation and regeneration.

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