13 October 2020
Peter Aldous backs the Fisheries Bill as a useful framework to revitalise the UK fishing industry

Peter Aldous backs the Fisheries Bill as a useful framework from which to build the policies and initiatives needed to revitalise the East Anglian and UK fishing industry.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie).

In 2018, a community-led group came together to produce a long-term strategy for the fishing industry in East Anglia. The REAF—that is, the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries—report was launched in Parliament on 17 October last year. The report concludes that there is an exciting future for the local industry, which has declined dramatically in the past 40 years, but that there is a great deal of work to do.

My interest is to ensure that this Bill provides the framework within which to deliver REAF. On the whole, it does. The Bill is by no means perfect, though it is an improvement on its predecessor from the last Parliament. It has been said by some that, at present, the Bill is a picture frame without a painting, and that there is a need for Government to articulate a compelling vision for a revitalised fishing industry, both leading the world in marine conservation and promoting the revitalisation of our coastal communities.

It may well be that that is what lies behind the amendments put forward by the Opposition. I can understand why the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and his colleagues have tabled them; I have some concerns of my own, which hopefully the Minister will address. However, on the whole, I do not think these amendments are necessary, and we need to get on with delivering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalise our fishing industry, which can bring so many benefits to coastal communities all around the UK.

Amendment 2 seeks to make the sustainability objective a prime fisheries objective. I can understand the rationale for this amendment, but of the eight objectives, six already relate to the environment, one provides for equal access for UK boats to any area within British fisheries limits, and the other seeks to ensure that fishing brings social and economic benefits to UK communities. There is thus already a clear emphasis in the Bill on the vital importance of sustainability.

There is an alternative view that we are in danger of having too many objectives and that there should be just one straightforward duty to prudently manage a public asset using sound science. However, as it stands, the Bill provides a very clear direction of travel, and it should be noted that the REAF report’s recommendations, based on the feedback from those working in the industry, have sustainability at their core.

I have much sympathy with the intention behind amendment 1, as one of the main purposes of having a fishing industry is to provide jobs and to bring benefits to local communities—to support the whole supply chain, from the net to the plate, and not just to support those fishermen who sell their fish directly abroad. To address that concern, the Government should put in place policies and funding streams that will enable us to deliver meaningful social and economic benefits for coastal communities. That requires a review of the economic link, and I therefore welcome the consultation on proposals to strengthen the condition and to increase the economic benefit.

There is also the need to invest in infrastructure, in ports and in processing plants, and it is good news that the Bill contains provisions that allow Ministers to set up new grants and funding streams. But time is marching on; the transition period ends in two and a half months, on 31 December, and the industry needs to start planning for what can be a new and exciting future. We need the detail of what will replace the European maritime and fisheries fund. What will be the role of local enterprise partnerships? In Suffolk and Norfolk, the New Anglia LEP is fully engaged in REAF, but its remit needs to be clarified.

Reference has been made to the coastal communities fund and the role that it can play, but its terms of reference need to be changed. The commitment to invest in port infrastructure is welcome, but that crosses the boundaries of other Departments, including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport. The latter is currently focusing on this issue, and I would be grateful if the Minister could advise us of what discussions her Department has had with those Departments.

Amendment 3 aims to prohibit fishing in English waters by boats longer than 100 metres—so-called supertrawlers. That is in line with the REAF recommendation, which actually went further: to ban beam trawling, including electric pulse fishing, which has caused so much devastation off the East Anglian coast. Again, I understand why the Opposition have tabled that amendment, but it should not be necessary, as with control of our own waters back in our own hands the Government are able to put a stop to that immediately.

It is good news that the Government have legislated that foreign pulse beam trawlers will not be permitted to operate in UK waters after 31 December, and that they have given notice to the four English-registered vessels that their authorisations will be withdrawn at the same time. I urge the Scottish Government to do likewise for their single pulse trawler. Studies have shown that pulse fishing has had a devastating impact on cod in the southern North sea, and thus I welcome Government amendment 55, which allows the UK to adopt its own measures with regard to the catching of cod in the North sea. That should help to restore stocks insofar as it is possible to do so, taking into account the impact of climate change.

The Bill is not perfect, in that it draws attention to loopholes that need to be plugged and provokes questions that need to be answered, but as a framework Bill it is more or less fit for purpose, and we now need to get on with putting in place the policies and initiatives that will arise out of it, which will revitalise the UK fishing industry, not just in Lowestoft or in East Anglia but all around the UK.