Waveney MP Peter Aldous last week backed reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in a Debate in the House of Commons.
Aldous called for a decentralisation of the failed Common Fisheries Policy telling MPs that local fishermen, fishing sustainably, are an important part of the solution and should work alongside the scientists to tailor solutions to fit the needs of individual fisheries and local communities.
Aldous has been campaigning since his election in May 2010 to secure a better deal for Lowestofts under-ten-metre fleet.
Peter argued in his speech that the quota system is discredited:
“The fish in our seas are a public resource yet they seem to have acquired proprietorial rights with companies and organisations, often with no connection to fishing, leasing them out for substantial profit. The under-10 metre boats that make 76% of the domestic fleet have access to only 3% of quota.
“when the under-10 metre boats in my area have used up their quota they have been reduced to going to these slipper skippers with a begging bowl to rent quota, so that they can continue to go to sea to earn a living. It is not reasonable to expect people to run a business and invest in it while such a bizarre scenario prevails.”
On discards Peter argued that:
“The campaign to eliminate discards should be stepped up as soon as practically possible. That is what the nation wants and as their representatives we must do all that we can to deliver.”
Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I welcome this debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing it. It provides an opportunity to review the progress and speed of CFP reform, a subject in which many people across the country, and not just in coastal constituencies, are extremely interested.
My initial thought was to start with an apology for being parochial, as my main objective is to promote the interests of the under-10 metre fleet and local fishermen fishing out of Lowestoft in my constituency. I then thought again, however, and concluded that there is no need for an apology because local fishermen, fishing sustainably, are a very important part of the solution. They are best placed to help manage fisheries sensibly and responsibly and to promote what is an important part of the economy in coastal communities.
CFP reform is long overdue, and it is right that this issue is now centre stage and that there have been a number of debates on it during the first two years of this Parliament. A number of groups and people are responsible for raising the profile of the issue, but I shall single out four. The first is the Minister, who may represent a constituency as far from the coast as one can get, but who has approached his task with determination, sincerity and understanding. The second is Maria Damanaki, whose approach has, in many respects, been a welcome breath of fresh air in the corridors of Brussels. She understands the problems and has come up with proposals, which, although they may need some amendment, provide a foundation stone on which reform can take place. The third is the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh)—
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The exemplary chairmanship.
Peter Aldous: The exemplary chairmanship, indeed. The Committee has now carried out two inquiries and has published two detailed reports setting out the challenges that need to be tackled. My fourth mention goes to the fourth estate, in the form of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He has brought the scandals and obscenities of the CFP into the nation’s living rooms. He has reached the parts that politicians today cannot reach on their own.
The stage has now been set. It is accepted that the system is broken and that it has failed both fish and fishermen alike. We now need to press ahead with putting a new system in place. That will not be easy, as there are those with vested interests, such as other countries in the EU and those who hold quotas and do not fish, who will resist reform.
As the motion sets out, there is a need to move from a centralised, bureaucratic decision-making system to decentralised arrangements that respond to the needs of local fisheries and local communities. If we go on as we are now, fishing communities around the country, such as the community in my constituency, which is in any case a very pale shadow of its former self—
Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that the port of Lowestoft has probably lost more vessels than any other? I am particularly thinking of the Colne fleet and a lot of the inshore vessels, too.
Peter Aldous: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I am conscious of the fact that Samuel Richards, who built a lot of the trawlers over the past century or so, was originally a Cornishman who moved up to Lowestoft where he set up his shipyard. In Lowestoft, people used to be able to walk across the trawl basin, from one trawler to the next, but now we have no more than 15 under-10 metre boats and we cannot do that. It is not just trawlers and the fishermen who go; the whole supply chain is affected, too. Remarkably, despite that utter devastation, the infrastructure is still in place in Lowestoft, and that is what we now need to save.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. My constituency is miles from the coast, but it does seem that the CFP is a disaster and that things are going to be really dreadful. A little fisherman—one in the under-10 metre fleet—will have to be illegal or will go out of business, as is clear in Lowestoft. Does he agree with that perception?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) starts speaking again, may I remind hon. Members that we have an 11-minute time limit? We are going to overshoot because of interventions, so either the interventions will have to decrease or the time limit will go down. Time has not been docked from the hon. Gentleman, but we will not conclude this debate on time if we do not follow that approach.
Peter Aldous: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has just said.
We also need to have regard to our fish stocks. Three quarters of the EU fish stocks are overfished, and only eight of 47 fish stocks in UK waters are in a healthy state. There is a need to protect spawning grounds and to manage fisheries responsibly.
Fisheries from the Mediterranean to the sub-Arctic are so varied that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot continue. There is a need for a range of tailored measures designed to suit the needs of individual fisheries. Maria Damanaki’s vision of the EU as a lighthouse, with member states steering the ship, is the course that we should look to pursue. There is a need to involve local fishermen, such as those in Lowestoft, to make full use of their expertise and knowledge, which has been built up over generations. They should be working alongside scientists, such as those at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is also in Lowestoft.
The European Commission has stated that it wants a scientifically set maximum sustainable yield for all fisheries to be in operation by 2015, while the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee has questioned whether that is realistic and whether we should instead be aiming for 2020. I am aware that in reaching that conclusion the Committee has carried out much research and its approach is underpinned by pragmatism, but I am worried about whether the recommendation sends out the right message. Commercial fishing in many of Britain’s coastal communities is in the last-chance saloon and some fish stocks are severely depleted. There is no time to waste. We need to be tackling the problems that we face now, putting in place a more sustainable management regime as quickly as possible.
The campaign to eliminate discards should be stepped up as soon as practically possible. That is what the nation wants and as their representatives we must do all that we can to deliver. There is no single solution; there is a need for a range of measures. We should develop new markets for less valued species. Consumers and retailers have responded positively in this regard in the last year and the Government need to work with them to go a step further. For example, we should be considering clearer labelling so that shoppers can make informed purchasing choices. An extension of the catch quota system that the Minister has piloted should be considered, alongside the adoption of more selective fishing practices as trialled in CEFAS’s Project 50%. Fishermen should also be making full use of modern technology, using the equipment that organisations such as CEFAS are developing.
There is a need to win over the hearts and minds of groups and countries that might see things differently. MEPs have a role to play and, indeed, in the east of England, Geoffrey Van Orden is doing that work in Brussels, while through the media Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is taking his campaign on to the international stage in France, Germany and Poland and, some might say, going into the lion’s den in Spain.
An issue about which I feel strongly is quotas, the system through which the domestic industry is managed. The current arrangements are discredited and do not work in a fair and equitable way. The fish in our seas are a public resource yet they seem to have acquired proprietorial rights with companies and organisations, often with no connection to fishing, leasing them out for substantial profit.
The under-10 metre boats that make 76% of the domestic fleet have access to only 3% of quota.
Dr Wollaston: Does my hon. Friend accept that Marine Management Organisation statistics reveal that only 33 English vessels caught more than 80% of the monthly catch limits for quotas for more than six months in each of the past four years?
Peter Aldous: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was going to come on to the fact that when the under-10 metre boats in my area have used up their quota they have been reduced to going to these slipper skippers with a begging bowl to rent quota, so that they can continue to go to sea to earn a living. It is not reasonable to expect people to run a business and invest in it while such a bizarre scenario prevails.
We also have the bizarre situation whereby we do not have a register of who holds quota and do not know what proportion of it is used each year. In the 21st century, no industry should be regulated in such a lazy way with such a lack of transparency. The CFP reforms envisage quota being traded at a national level, and although I can question whether such a rights-based approach is appropriate, I believe that if we are to go down that road, we must wipe the slate clean and start again. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), I urge the Minister to give full consideration to commissioning a full independent inquiry on the quota system, providing the inquiry team with a brief to make recommendations as to the future form and use of the system which takes account of the needs of the whole national fleet, not just a small part of it. We should not just tinker with a system that was originally devised in the 1970s, when conditions were completely different and the under-10-metre fleet were not as prominent as it is today.
In the past two years, the Minister has achieved a great deal. The proposals coming forward offer the prospect of a new deal for fish and fishermen, although an awful lot of work is still required on the detail of new schemes, both at European and domestic levels. I am concerned about the pace of reform and that vested interests could delay progress. My concern is that we cannot afford to wait. Fishing has been part and parcel of Lowestoft for centuries; if we delay reform, there will not be an industry left.
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