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In last year’s Queen’s Speech, we were also promised a draft Bill, but we had nothing then and I doubt that we will get a Bill this year either.

The Environmental Audit Committee criticised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for not taking leadership on the marine Bill and my concern is that if DEFRA cannot show leadership on marine matters in the context of the UK, other Departments and the devolved Administrations, how can we expect it to lead the EU and world? Today I asked the Minister when we might expect the marine Bill and he told me that it would be before the next general election. The date keeps rolling back. In the absence of Government action, private and social enterprise and public demand are filling some of that vacuum, with some success. As the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has admitted on his blog:

Let us take, for example, the Marine Stewardship Council, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year. Set up by WWF and Unilever, the MSC has certified 21 fisheries as meeting its environmental standards, with a further 20 being assessed. It has its label on more than 400 seafood products, representing 6 per cent. of the world’s total edible wild capture fisheries. Bury inlet, the Hastings fishing fleet, and NESFC—north eastern sea fisheries committee—Lobster fishery are among those in the UK that are signed up. Given the growing commercial success of the scheme, I am sure that more and more responsible fishermen will want to sign up. The MSC accreditation scheme could be for sustainable fisheries what free range eggs are for poultry welfare.

I had the honour and privilege back in May of hosting the Greenpeace reception on sustainable fisheries. I could see how some producers, supermarkets and scientists were working together to create the sustainable fisheries that the Government and the EU are failing to establish. Those examples should be followed. Given the intensive regulation of
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fisheries management, the Government must be an important part of the change, rather than being a mere bystander, or even getting left behind.

When I visited the great fishing ports of Fleetwood and Grimsby recently, I could not help but notice the strength of character in those communities.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Particularly the MPs.

Bill Wiggin: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right about that.

In Fleetwood, I visited the motor stern trawler Jacinta. The Jacinta was a record breaker and part of the proud distant-water fleet of Fleetwood and Britain. While it might now be moored in Fleetwood’s fishing dock as a tourist attraction, people in Fleetwood, Grimsby and elsewhere do not want the entire UK fishing industry to be confined to history.

Mrs. Humble: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bill Wiggin: I am afraid that I have finished my speech.

2.21 pm

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I will say what I was going to say in an intervention on the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) in my speech. It is a pleasure to take part in the annual fishing debate again. I want to take the opportunity to outline the good and the not so good, and also the opportunities for Fleetwood’s future—I was going to question the hon. Gentleman on that last point. I tell the Minister that I will start with the not so good, which is the catching side of the industry. That links directly to his points about quotas and the December Council.

Sadly, the numbers of fishermen and vessels in Fleetwood have declined. The Minister said that there are now more fish to catch, but unfortunately there are not as many fishermen in Fleetwood as there were to go out and catch those fish. The document on fishing possibilities for 2007, which was issued by the Commission, proposes yet more cuts in the quotas for the Irish sea, with a 25 per cent. cut for cod, a 15 per cent. cut for haddock, a 15 per cent. cut for sole and a 68.17 per cent. cut for whiting, although I am assured that no one goes out to catch whiting any more. However, it also proposes a welcome 15 per cent. increase for plaice and recommends that the arrangement for nephrops should remain the same.

Such proposals are being made after we have had year after year of operating the cod recovery programme in the Irish sea. However, there is still no recovery in cod stocks. Fleetwood fishermen have faced slashed quotas, a reduced total allowable catch, a seasonal closed area at spawning time and extensive technical measures. Even under the programme, as I said earlier, large amounts of cod are caught as by-catch by beam trawlers. I am thus pleased that the Commission is examining the cod recovery programmes again to try to analyse why we have not seen the recovery in cod for which we hoped. The fishermen accepted those harsh measures because they
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hoped that they would lead to a sustainable industry for the future. When the Irish sea cod recovery programme is taken into account as part of the reviews, I urge the Minister to consider the change in circumstances from when the programme was first introduced and to listen to the concerns of the industry.

As these reviews are driven by science, we must make every effort to ensure that the science is correct and the uncertainties are few. The fishermen and the scientists need to agree so that they will be prepared to work together and believe in each other. As the Minister said, there is not a happy history of that. There should be an opportunity to move forward with fishermen and scientists working in partnership.

The Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation has produced a radical proposal for 2007 that would incentivise the involvement of fishermen in data collection on stocks through the provision of extra days at sea. I will take a few minutes to outline that programme because it could be a way forward for fishermen and scientists to work together.

The purpose of the scheme is to secure a dramatic improvement in the quality of data on catches and discards and to make that data available to scientists and managers, in a real-time series, with the objective of ultimately contributing to accurate and credible stock assessment and advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. That would also greatly improve voluntary co-operation between fisheries scientists and the industry. Those participating in the programme would be rewarded with some concessions on days at sea, albeit with an understanding that there should be no overall increase in effort.

The programme has three elements: a fisheries self-sampling scheme with participation among Irish sea fishermen that is as wide as possible; enhanced observer coverage and discard sampling of Irish sea fisheries, with the result that the self-sampling should be more accurate; and an examination of alternative management measures to reduce discarding and the fishing mortality of cod, including the promotion of more selective gears.

The new programme has been put to the Commission by the North Western Waters regional advisory council. It has the full support of fishermen, fishery administration and scientific institutions of England, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. If we are ever going to move forward on science and co-operation with fishermen, this is our opportunity. I thus urge my hon. Friend the Minister to examine the proposal closely and support it.

I will now move on to comment on the onshore fishing industry because the focus in Fleetwood has shifted from catching to processing. As has been the case for catching, the size of the fish processing sector in Fleetwood has reduced substantially over the past two decades, but there has been greater stability in recent years. The recent Poseidon report for Seafood North West said:

That detailed report recommended removing all fish marketing and processing from existing facilities to a
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new, dedicated fish park on vacant land to the south of the docks. The £4.84 million project would comprise a new fish auction facility, a new small processor block, a new fish waste facility, a new recycling facility, serviced sites for large processors and all the associated infrastructure. Several possible funding options have been identified, although much more still needs to be done. The project offers real hope for the future and for Fleetwood fish merchants, who have shown that they are energetic and competitive and that they want to revive and extend their businesses. The Minister has visited Fleetwood merchants and seen for himself what they are doing. I hope that when the hon. Member for Leominster visited Fleetwood, he saw that although the catching side has declined, the processing side is gaining strength. There is a lot of optimism that that is a way forward for the industry.

There is widespread recognition of the high-quality, fully traceable fish and value-added products that originate from Fleetwood merchants. Some of the processors supply national supermarket chains and national food service distributors. Through wholesale and retail markets, they supply a catchment area comprising up to 18 million people. The fact that much of the fish that they sell is fully traceable is even more important now, as more supermarkets and customers want information about the sourcing of fish from sustainable species. We have all seen the Greenpeace campaigns and the adverts in supermarkets.

Those products, supplied daily, are now being sold in supermarket chains throughout France, Spain and Italy, as well as to importers from western Europe. Although there are now fewer boats in Fleetwood dock, a lot of lorries laden with fish leave the town every day to supply markets in this country and in the wider world. In addition, value is added to hundreds of tonnes of non-quota species by initial processing before export to destinations in the far east by a processing company that the Minister has visited. That company has just ended a far east marketing promotion: it exhibited at the Chinese fishing exhibition, as well as in Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. Through that promotion, it has attracted interest from potential customers in Singapore, Dubai, India, Japan and Taiwan. I feel as though Fleetwood is now the centre of the world, never mind the centre of the north-west fishing industry.

One of the local initiatives by fish processors is to take advantage of the fisheries science partnership to market and develop a fishery of a non-quota species, razorfish, in the Liverpool bay area. We are also now witnessing in the larger processors and merchants an influx of younger people to fisheries management. They are seeking to develop a long-term, sustainable and competitive industry by utilising the maximum sustainable yield of the present European fisheries management structure, coupled with supplies from abroad. Therefore, just as I urge the Minister to do what he can to support the catching side, I urge him to recognise the importance of the onshore fishing industry—the processing side.

That leads me to the European fisheries fund and the new processes for that funding. I understand that the EFF has five priority areas, but the bulk of the money will be allocated under axis 4, which relates to “sustainable development of fisheries areas”. I am told
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that the original proposal was for EFF money to be administered through regional development agencies, with the amount each RDA received being based on the regional economic strategy, and for priorities for funding also to be regionalised and based on the RES. However, by my recollection, the fishing industry does not even appear in the Northwest Development Agency’s RES.

I am pleased to be told now that the EFF could be administered in the same way as the financial instrument for fisheries guidance—centrally through DEFRA. I hope that the Minister can clarify that detail and explain further how axis 4 is to be interpreted. Is funding to be made available for redevelopment in fisheries-related areas, for example, for the redevelopment of the Fleetwood market and processing facilities proposed in the Poseidon report; or will funding be available only for developments away from the fishing industry? I hope that my hon. Friend will also consider how RDAs recognise and support the fishing industry. The Northwest Development Agency does an excellent job in a range of areas and is supporting the regeneration of Blackpool, but it does not recognise the fishing industry in Fleetwood. Perhaps it needs to be reminded.

Finally, I shall comment on the impact on fishing activity of the development of offshore wind farms. A meeting of the North Western and North Wales sea fisheries committee reported:

The Government set up Fisheries Liaison with Offshore Wind—FLOW—

Fleetwood inshore boats are certainly not successfully co-existing with offshore wind farms.

I have had meetings with both the developers of the Barrow wind farm, which is already established, and the companies proposing new wind farms on Shell flat, which is just offshore off Fleetwood and Cleveleys. I have copied to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare letters on the subject that I have sent to the Minister for Energy. Fleetwood fishermen have been trying for a long time to reach an agreement on compensation in relation to the Barrow wind farm.

I wonder what happened to the discussions held by FLOW. Did it reach any conclusion on setting the ground rules for dialogue between offshore wind farm operators and the fishing industry? Increasing numbers of energy operators are applying for consents for offshore wind farms, so more fishing communities across the UK will need to consider the impact of such developments on their fishing effort. It is important that there are basic ground rules that everybody knows how to work under, because increasing numbers of wind farms are being proposed for the north-west coast, on the Irish sea. That is where my local inshore fleet targets fish, so we need to sort out the problem.


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Mr. Austin Mitchell: I am in absolute agreement on that point. The issue is not only compensation, but proximity of access, because a wind farm is very different from an oil rig. One can understand the reason for an exclusion zone around an oil rig, but not around a wind farm. Fishermen need to be able to fish very close to the wind farms, which take up a large area.

Mrs. Humble: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There is a good deal of debate about whether fishing vessels can go in and out, between the turbines. On the one hand, I am told by the developers that the turbines are set far enough apart for fishing vessels to go between them, and that the base of the turbines will form reefs where fish will congregate. On the other, fishermen tell me that it would be dangerous for them to go in and out of the turbines. I do not know who is right—all I know is that they disagree. We ought to have a discussion on the subject, because I am sure that the Government will give more consents, and although I approve of renewable forms of energy, we must take into account the impact that any such consents will have on the fishing industry. That is yet another reason why I am looking forward to the marine Bill, when it appears. A lot of people think that the seas are empty, but in fact they are very busy with fishermen, ferries and, increasingly, wind farms.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but is there not a distinction between near-shore wind farms, which can pose a substantial nautical risk, particularly if they are adjacent to a harbour entrance, and deep offshore wind farms on very large seas? In either case, would it not be right to introduce a procedure under which loss of access claims could be properly processed, so that the fishing industry does not lose out to such developments, as some might argue that they have lost out to oilfield developments?

Mrs. Humble: The hon. Gentleman makes two points. On his point about the location of wind farms, there is one at Barrow, on the fishing grounds of the Barrow and Fleetwood fishermen. There are proposals for two much larger ones further offshore, but those sites are on fishing grounds, too, and importantly they are on a busy ferry route between the UK and Northern Ireland. A lot of maritime traffic uses exactly the areas on which it is proposed to site the two large wind farms. There is an issue about location, but I agree with him that we need clear rules about compensation.

One of the problems for the inshore fishing fleet is that because the vessels are under 10 m in length, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not require them to keep detailed records of their catches, their landings and the value of those landings. For that reason, it is difficult for them to prove either that they fish in an area in which the wind farm is to be developed, or the value of the catch that will be lost to them if they are no longer allowed to fish in that area. When I speak to the developers, however, they say that if they are to pay compensation, they must have proof of loss of earnings, like any commercial company. That is a complex issue, but it cannot be ignored, and it has to be placed in the context of our wider debates about the fishing industry, quotas, and the sustainability of the industry and of fish stocks. My comments about
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wind farms are perhaps not directly relevant to what the Minister will debate in the Council of the European Union in December, but it is still an important subject to fishermen, so I hope that he will take it into account.

2.40 pm

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I welcome the opportunity to take part in our annual fisheries debate as Liberal Democrat spokesman. May I begin by expressing my admiration for the many fishermen who daily risk their lives to feed the nation, and by paying tribute to the 15 fishermen who lost their lives in the past year? Like the Minister and the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), I represent a landlocked constituency. I am not sure, however, how far the tidal waters extend up the Exe, or whether they reach Exeter.

Mr. Bradshaw: They certainly do.

Mr. Williams: I am glad to receive that reassurance.

Our debate is concerned not just with commercial fishing but recreational fishing, which is enjoyed by more than 4 million people in England and Wales every year, and is thus probably the nation’s favourite outdoor participation sport. The annual economic activity associated with angling is estimated to be worth £2.75 billion, and the sport employs about 20,000 full-time and part-time workers. Having highlighted the important contribution of recreational fishing to our economy, I pay tribute to the excellent work of Dr. Stephen Marsh-Smith of the charitable Wye and Usk Foundation in my constituency, which seeks to restore the ecology, environment and fisheries of those two famous salmon and trout rivers by making them more attractive and accessible to fish so that they can reach their traditional spawning grounds, which the foundation has also sought to improve.

In business questions, I asked the Leader of the House whether time could be allocated before the EU-Norway negotiations for a parliamentary debate on the Government strategy in those negotiations. As TACs for the North sea are effectively set at those talks and, indeed, 50 per cent. of the total value of the Scottish fleet decided, it would be useful if the Minister would make clear on the Floor of the House his advice to the Commission on those important negotiations. Cod will rightly dominate the negotiations next week. The Commission is expected to reduce the cod quota in the Celtic sea by 35 per cent., by 25 per cent. in the Irish sea and off the western approaches, and by 14 per cent. in the North sea. Those cuts may be supplemented by cuts in days at sea for all sectors catching cod. What will the Minister do in Brussels to represent UK fishing need, and will he emphasise that it is time for other member states to take on their share of the burden?

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): My hon. Friend will be aware that this is the third year of closure for the Trevose ground, which is a significant spawning ground for cod and many other species, particularly during the early part of the year. Instead of basing our efforts to control stocks with sustainable fishing entirely on TACs and days at sea, I hope that the Minister will endorse efforts to ensure that the Trevose closure continues year after year, because it appears to be working.


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