Aldous calls for fairer deal for fishermen in House of Commons debate

Waveney MP Peter Aldous last week urged for a better deal for Lowestofts under-10s inshore fleet in a debate in Westminster Hall.

Aldous called for a transparent quota management system, improvements to the supply chain and a decentralisation of the failed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) telling MPs that local fishermen should work alongside the scientists to tailor solutions to fit the needs of individual fisheries and local communities.

Mr Aldous has been campaigning since being elected in May 2010 to secure a sustainable future for Lowestoft’s fishermen.

Peter Aldous argued in his speech:-
“The new CFP must satisfy three criteria: the need for local management by the people who know their fisheries best; a much simpler process; and a more sustainable system that protects fish stocks and provides fishermen with a realistic chance of earning a living, thereby encouraging young people to come into the industry.”

FULL TEXT

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing the debate. I apologise because I may have to leave early, before the Front Benchers sum up, to attend an evening event in my constituency.

My comments will be focused on the inshore fleet along the East Anglian coast. In some respects, at first glance, some might say that not a lot has happened in the industry since we debated the matter last year. Fishermen have struggled on with their daily lives, finding it increasingly difficult to make a living. In Lowestoft, in my constituency, more are giving up the struggle and selling their boats and the fleet shrinks still further, becoming a pale shadow of its former self. Away from the coast, however, a lot is happening, in Brussels and in the courtroom, which will determine whether there is a viable future for the inshore industry, albeit different from what it was in the past, or whether it will be just a fading memory, which we will only be reminded of in photographs and museums.

In Brussels, the review of the common fisheries policy is taking place. Commissioner Maria Damanaki has long recognised the failings of the CFP, a bankrupt policy that has devastated both fish stocks and fishing communities. There is too much bureaucracy, an over-centralised system and obscene levels of discards, which the public find abhorrent. The new CFP must satisfy three criteria: the need for local management by the people who know their fisheries best; a much simpler process; and a more sustainable system that protects fish stocks and provides fishermen with a realistic chance of earning a living, thereby encouraging young people to come into the industry.

There are signs that the Commission now appreciates the gravity of the problem and the need for action. There was a breakthrough in negotiations in June, at which I understand that the Minister played a part in knocking heads together.

Having studied the Commission’s proposals, which I will not go through in detail, I think that they appear to be a step in the right direction, but I am concerned. First, the Commission recognised the folly of and the devastation caused by the centralised system pursued over the past 30 years and proposes to replace it with a high-level framework. However, I am worried that this in itself will be too much of a straitjacket, too mandatory and too prescriptive. No two fisheries are the same across an area that extends from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean. As we are hearing today, fisheries around Britain are different in terms of catch and methods used.

Secondly, with regard to the Commission’s proposals for transferrable fishing concessions, I question, based on the UK’s experience with quotas, to which I shall refer later, whether a rights-based system is a sensible and sustainable way forward.

It is right that proposals are being brought forward for the elimination of discards. That will not be easy to achieve, as most of our fisheries, as we have heard, are mixed. There is a danger, as the Minister has said in the past, that any problem is transferred from sea to land. A lot of effort and innovative thinking is required. There is a need to engage with scientists, such as those at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in Lowestoft, to promote different types of fish for the dinner table and to modify gear.

I should be grateful if the Minister responded to the following point, even if I am not here when he does so. I understand that nine pilot projects were chosen to promote the use of new gear, but only one at Ramsgate is still running. I would welcome an explanation of that and of what happened to the other eight.

The elephant in the room is quota. To whom does it belong and who is responsible for its management? We have avoided this question for many years. However, we may get the answer next year, when a decision is reached on the judicial review taken out by the Aberdeen Fish Producers Organisation. The outcome of the case, in my view, will shape the future face of fishing communities in Britain for a generation. I commend the Minister on bringing the matter to a head, although I understand that he may not wish to say too much about the case or to express any opinion. I shall do this for him. It is vital that that PO’s case is not upheld. It should be determined that fish stock is a national asset that should be managed on behalf of the nation and not treated as a commodity to be sold off to the highest bidder.

Any future quota management system must satisfy three criteria. Proper records need to be kept—we have not done that for many years—there must be complete transparency, and fishing rights should only be awarded to those who fish.

The inshore fleet—the under-10s—must be given a fair deal. Its problem is that although it comprises nearly 90% of the UK fleet, fishes sustainably and provides real value for the communities where its fishermen live, it receives little quota. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposes a modest increase, but the problem faced by the under-10s is that they will be required to produce details of their past catch quotas. They are being asked to produce records that invariably they do not have and which they were never told that they would need.

I urge the Minister to review the position. I commend the work of Jerry Percy of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, who has worked tirelessly to promote the cause of the under-10 fishermen, who are dispersed around the country. At present, he is considering the creation of a separate producers organisation for the under-10s, taking the view that if you can’t beat them, join them. That is a sensible course to pursue. Fishermen, who, like dairy farmers, find themselves at the mercy of large processors and food stores in respect of negotiations, need to strengthen their position in the food chain. I urge the Minister to find the necessary funding to support this initiative to help get it off the ground. Perhaps the European maritime and fisheries fund could be used.

At times, the Minister must feel that we all have it in for him. I think that I speak for all hon. Members in this Chamber when I say that we do not. I applaud him for the work that he is doing. The problem is that he has arrived on the scene when the British inshore fleet is in crisis and is a small remnant of an industry that brought jobs and prosperity to ports such as Lowestoft. The glory days will not return, but there is an opportunity to build a new, different industry, where those who fish sustainably have a viable future and where we bring an end to unsustainable fishing practices that do so much to damage our marine environment.

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