Peter Aldous calls on the Government to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to rejuvenate the fishing industry in Lowestoft and calls for Lowestoft to become a pilot for a new science-based, sustainable fishing system monitored by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in the town.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing this debate.
Although this is annual event each December, this particular debate stands apart from those that have been held in the past 40 years. These debates normally focus on putting steel in the Minister’s backbone ahead of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. This year, as well as having that immediate task to perform, the Minister and the Secretary of State have before them a great opportunity, with the White Paper and the fishing Bill, to reset the framework within which this great industry operates. This provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rejuvenate the East Anglian fishing industry, with Lowestoft in my constituency at its hub.
Lowestoft used to be the fishing capital of the southern North sea, but it has lost this title over the past 40 years, and East Anglia currently derives very little economic benefit from the fish stocks on its own doorstep, which are among the richest in Europe. The fisheries Bill must provide the policy framework within which the East Anglian industry can be revitalised. That means East Anglian boats having fair and equitable access to fisheries in all UK waters, but particularly the southern North sea. It requires supporting local infrastructure to be developed so that local communities and local people fully benefit from the fish that are landed in their ports. It needs a fisheries management system to be put in place in which local fishermen, scientists and the authorities collaborate in overseeing fisheries—a system that not only provides those working in the industry with a reasonable living, but ensures that the fisheries are passed on to the next generation in a better state.
At present, the East Anglian fleet is largely made up of under-10 metre boats that have access to a limited amount of fish to catch. This inequity and imbalance must be addressed. With the EU fleet today taking around four times more fish from UK waters than UK vessels take from EU waters, our departure from the EU means that it is likely that more fish will be available for UK fishermen to catch. But that will be of no benefit if we retain the existing system of allocation. The inshore fleet—the under-10s—need a fairer and larger slice of the cake. If the quota system is to be retained, there must be a significant reallocation.
It has been suggested that producer organisations will have a key role to play. If this is to be the case, the system needs to be reconstituted, as the Lowestoft PO has only six vessels, none of which lands fish in Lowestoft. There is some debate as to whether we should move to a new system of effort control, based on days at sea. If this is to be looked at again, Lowestoft could be a suitable pilot with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in the town, monitoring its impact.
To ensure that local people and businesses benefit from more fish being landed in Lowestoft than in other East Anglian ports, it is necessary to upgrade the local supporting infrastructure. This means safe berths and better landing points, and modern markets and upgraded freezer facilities. It involves strengthening the supply chain and providing new job opportunities for boat builders, repairers, chandlers, engineers, smokeries, merchants and mongers. June Mummery and Paul Lines, representing the local industry, have already met the Minister to outline their plans for securing this investment. I anticipate that it will be worked up locally in the coming months, and I will keep the Minister informed of progress, and seeking his guidance and assistance where necessary.
The current fisheries management system must be overhauled. We must move away from the current policing system to a collaborative approach involving fishermen, authorities and scientists. With CEFAS in Lowestoft, there is the potential to put in place on the East Anglian coast a new science-based, sustainable fishing system that can be an exemplar—a system that can be operated around the world and play an important role in sustaining the blue planet for the next generation.
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