I was on the Bill Committee for the last Fisheries Bill, which left Committee in December 2018, went off into orbit and was never seen again. This Bill, which is a variation of its predecessor, is in a better shape, but there are issues that need to be addressed if the Bill and the policies that it spawns are to revive the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry, a blueprint for which was provided in the report by REAF—Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries—of October 2019.
It is good news that the Government have commissioned both a project on the future of inshore fisheries and a study on low-impact vessels, which the New Economics Foundation is carrying out. However, it is concerning and disappointing that no East Anglian representative is on the project board for the former and that a workshop for the latter has not yet taken place in the region.
It is important that the benefits of the new UK fishing policy accrue to local communities. As I mentioned earlier, it is concerning that the economic link remains under review after three years. I accept that this is a complex subject, but the issue cannot remain in the long grass. Powerful companies may well be resistant to change, but with our departure from the EU, the status quo will become even more unacceptable. This criterion must be reviewed.
If we are to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset our fishing policy, we must recognise the need to invest in infrastructure right along the supply chain, from the net to the plate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) articulated so well. Eventually, we will have the answer the question of who owns UK fisheries. The Blue Marine Foundation takes the view that ownership has been squatted, not by those in need but by a combination of high-net-worth individuals and non-UK interests. It is good news that the Government are consulting on the distribution of additional quota, but time is running out for decisions before 1 January, and the indications are that any changes will be phased in over a number of years. I accept that this is not an easy task, but I would highlight the Blue Marine Foundation’s call for a commitment from Government to reform the current fixed-quota allocation system and ultimately to replace it with a more socially and environmentally equitable distribution mechanism.
My final point is about the need for the new UK fishing policy to be truly sustainable. Very simply, we will have failed if supertrawlers continue to fish in UK waters and if practices such as electric pulse fishing are allowed to continue.
In conclusion, I believe we are moving in the right direction, though we are not there yet. Post Brexit, fishing must be different. Benefits must accrue to local people and local communities, and we must ensure that we do not just carry on with the same old system in a new set of clothes.
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