Under-10-Metre Fishing Fleet: South-West

– in Westminster Hall am 4:19 pm ar 15 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(Philip Hollobone in the Chair)

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Ceidwadwyr, St Austell and Newquay 4:30, 15 Mai 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of the under 10-metre fishing fleet in the South West.

I am delighted to bring this debate to the House today and be joined by a number of my Cornish colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and my colleague from across the water, Luke Pollard. I think it would be appropriate to begin by acknowledging that last Sunday was the first national fishing remembrance day. We should always remember that fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations, and we should remember those down the years who have lost their lives while fishing.

We are blessed in Cornwall with a richness of natural resources, and our diverse and plentiful fishing waters are one such resource. There is no doubt about the importance of the role that the under-10-metre fishing fleet plays nationally and locally. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the under-10-metre fishing fleet represents around 80% of the UK’s total fishing vessels, while providing 50% of catch-related jobs, often in coastal communities such as those in my part of Cornwall, which tend to be less affluent and are often more vulnerable to socioeconomic challenges.

The under-10-metre fishermen land over £110 million-worth of fish and shellfish annually. They are one of the most important parts of the fishing industry, and we should be doing all we can to support them. Many of them are small family-run businesses that have been handed down from generation to generation over many years. It is fair to say that they are the backbone of our fishing industry in the south-west. They are at the heart of coastal communities in places like Mevagissey, Newquay and Fowey in my constituency and across Cornwall. They are vital for the economy of these coastal communities. Every fisherman on a boat supports up to 15 other jobs ashore in the seafood supply chain.

(Christina Rees in the Chair)

The under-10 fishing fleet also supports tourism. People love to come to places like Mevagissey to see a working fishing port. The fleet are also a key part of our local culture, shaping our local communities, not just through the food they provide but through music, with the many sea shanty choirs—the Fisherman’s Friends at Port Isaac being the most famous, of course. Of the 3,700 under-10 vessels registered across the UK, 75 are in my constituency, mainly in Mevagissey and Newquay, with over 400 across Cornwall as a whole. The under-10-metre fleet is sadly in decline. We have been losing more than 100 vessels a year. That is concerning. The hope or expectation was that as a result of leaving the EU and regaining control of our fishing waters, we would have the opportunity to grow our fishing industry.

The under-10-metre fleet is the most sustainable and has a lower environmental impact than larger vessels. First, that is because its vessels are self-limiting. They are unable to go out in heavy seas and high winds. They are also limited by range. They are very often referred to as the inshore fishing fleet because they mostly fish within the 6 nautical mile inshore zone. Unlike large vessels, under-10s cannot go hundreds of miles out and spend many days at sea. Many of them are handliners or use smaller nets, meaning that on average, the under-10-metre vessel spends less than 100 days at sea in any typical year. In that regard, they are more sustainable and their mode of operation helps prevent the overfishing of stocks. They tend to produce higher-quality fish and they focus on quality rather than volume. That also means there is usually minimal bycatch and almost no discards, limiting their environmental footprint. Despite their significance to the fishing industry by almost every statistic, they are only allocated a small part—around 2% or 3%—of the UK quota.

Our under-10-metre inshore fleet is resilient, flexible and able to adapt. Despite the many challenges they face, the fishermen will more often than not find ways to adjust to continue to make a living. Yet we should not take that for granted. One of those challenges is the impact of climate change and the warming of our seas, in the changes we are seeing in where fish are found and the availability of species that our fishermen can catch. Fish will move, and are moving, to cooler seas further north; the warmer waters around the Cornish coast are attracting different species of fish.

I hear from local fishermen that the Marine Management Organisation is seemingly overlooking the shift in fisheries, with our fishermen being allowed little lateral movement. That means that if someone has an entitlement to a particular species, they are pigeonholed to that species. If that species moves further north due to the warming of our waters, the fishermen are required to buy expensive species quotas or change their licences, and that generates significant additional costs. That is disproportionately affecting younger fishermen, of whom we have many in Mevagissey, who have mortgages to pay and families to feed but who have not been able to make that lateral movement across the fisheries to adapt to changes brought on by our changing climate.

Quite a few of the fishermen in Mevagissey are suffering the high costs of buying entitlement, for instance, to fishing bass. That lack of flexibility is hurting our under-10-metre fishermen harder than the larger vessels, which are generally part of larger businesses and are able to absorb the cost of moving to new fisheries. I will bring to the Minister’s attention three specific species where I think we could be doing better for our inshore fleet.

First, bass. The harbourmaster at Mevagissey, Andrew Trevarton, has made the case to me very clearly that scientific evidence shows an increase in bass stock in our seas. Yet there are still a number of boats in the south-west that have no entitlement to bass whatsoever. From 2012 onwards, those boats were effectively removed from the entitlement due to not being able to catch any within a 12-month period. The MMO and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should at least consider all boats to be active in that fishery. Most will be handliners, but even they are unable to access bass.

Commercial fishermen often feel they are being unfairly treated as compared with recreational or charter anglers. That applies to a number of species, but particularly to bass. A recreational angler can go out and fish for a couple of bass a day, every day, and keep their catch, whereas an under-10-metre boat may end up with dozens of bass as a bycatch but without the requisite entitlement to keep a single one. Fishermen tell me that they do not think there will be any danger to the bass stock, given that the French have stopped pair trawling for that species. We need to provide flexibility in our quota system, by allowing boats that have not yet built a track record to be given a quota for bass. Also, at the moment, a lot of bass is caught as bycatch and has to be discarded. That seems irrational and wasteful, given a lack of scientific evidence to suggest any significant risk to the stock.

Secondly, tuna. Tuna is the most important species to come into Cornish water in recent years as a result of our warming seas. We are seeing a lot of tuna turning up in our waters right now and I place on the record my thanks to the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend Sir Mark Spencer, for his work to develop the pilot scheme for tuna. It would seem that this important species will be a growing part of the fish available in Cornish waters in the years ahead. I ask the Minister to ensure that DEFRA and the MMO do all they can to further develop a sustainable commercial tuna quota in the coming years. That could be a real win for the Cornish under-10 fleet, and help it develop a new market. It is vital that we ensure that local fishermen can make the most of that new opportunity.

There is a danger that as a nation we conserve our tuna, but not for UK vessels. Instead, we are seeing the stock swim over into international waters, outside UK waters, for international vessels to hoover up. Tuna are a predatory species, which catch other species to feed on. They are growing fat on the fish in UK waters, to then swim outside UK waters to be caught by someone else. I would argue that we do not need to take too cautious an approach to tuna, and we should allow a greater quota in the years ahead.

Another factor, which I know that the Minister is aware of, is the limiting of vessels to either a commercial or a charter licence. That is affecting some of the fishermen in Mevagissey who up until now have operated both licences. We do not impose that restriction on any other species, and while I appreciate some of the thinking behind it, I urge the Government to look again and see what we can do, going forward.

Thirdly, I want to mention pollack. Having had the opportunity to raise the issue of pollack quota in an Adjournment debate just a few weeks ago, I will not go into great detail. However, I place on record again my thanks—and the thanks of many fishermen in my constituency who have relied on pollack—to the Minister and the Secretary of State for their great support in enabling us to establish a compensation scheme. It has been a lifeline to dozens of fishermen who were adversely affected by the removal of the quota. It shows that this Government are on the side of our fishing industry in Cornwall, and are willing to listen and act when needed.

We now need to work to re-establish a pollack quota in a sustainable way as soon as possible. It is widely recognised by most people that the best way to increase the stock of pollack and many other species would be to have a closed period during the spawning season. I ask the Minister to take note of that point and, as we look forward, to restore a total allowable catch for pollack in the hopefully not-too-distant future.

Before summing up I want to raise a recent issue that will have a huge impact on fishermen in Cornwall—the closure of the Plymouth fish market. Most of the fish landed in mid-Cornwall currently go to Plymouth, but the market is due to close in the coming days. That will mean fish from mid-Cornwall having to go to Newlyn, which is likely to mean that it will be a day late getting to market. That will have an impact on the price that the fisherman can secure. It is not a sustainable situation going forward, and we need to recognise the huge impact that it will have on the viability of both fishermen and the port of Mevagissey.

One issue is that the market has asked for the immediate return of all the fish boxes that the fishermen use to pack the fish for landing. The fishermen have applied to the MMO for a grant to help replace those boxes quickly, and I ask the Minister if he would look at what can be done to help them as a matter of urgency. Going forward, we need to see the Plymouth market continue; we need to find an answer to keep it open as soon as possible. I know that discussions are going on with various partners within the fishing industry, but I again ask the Minister for any help that he can give to ensure that that vital market remains open.

We will shortly be approaching the end of the current five-year trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, which will provide an opportunity to review and renegotiate our arrangements for the management of our fish stocks and quotas. As we look to renegotiate, the under-10-metre fishing fleet has made it clear to me that its priority in any renegotiations is that we take more control of our fishing waters, out to the 12-mile limit. The current arrangement means that foreign vessels are able to fish right up to our six-mile limit, including in waters that our under-10-metre fleet would be able to fish in. Fishermen tell me that they often feel that foreign vessels are literally taunting them by sitting on the six-mile limit and hoovering up the fish from our waters. Many would like to see us ban all foreign vessels from fishing within 12 miles of our coast. That may not be immediately achievable, but I hope it is something that we will set as a mid-term goal. In the meantime, we should seek to have much more control over which boats are allowed to fish in these waters.

Our under-10-metre fishing boats are the heart of many of our communities. They are the backbone of our Cornish fishing industry, and support hundreds of jobs in the supply chain. It is vital that we do all we can to ensure that they have a viable future and continue to provide high-quality seafood for the UK, and for export markets, in the most sustainable way. The Minister has demonstrated that he wants to do all he can to support this part of the sector. I look forward to listening to further contributions to the debate, and to the Minister’s response, but I trust that we can send a clear message from this House to the many dedicated fishermen who risk their lives to provide us with the highest-quality fish for the table, that we recognise the important job they do, that we are on their side and that they have our support.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Annibynnol, Castell-nedd

I remind Members that they should bob if they wish to be called to speak in the debate. I intend to start the wind-ups at about 5.13 pm, and to allow Steve Double a couple of minutes at the end. If Members could speak for less than five minutes, I would be really grateful.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:47, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate Steve Double on securing it.

I understand the title of the debate—it is very clear what it means—and I will pose some questions about how the south-west is treated in relation to this issue, and about the importance of under-10-metre boats. I absolutely appreciate the hon. Member’s desire to make his fleet the centre of debate, but under-10-metre boats need support right across the United Kingdom, not just in the south-west. In his introduction, the hon. Member referred to the 3,000-plus under-10-metre boats in the United Kingdom. I have some in my own constituency, and I will raise a couple of issues. Although the Minister is not directly responsible for fishing in Northern Ireland, he has some responsibility for the allocation of quotas, and I want to put that on the record.

Taking into account the fact that the visa process is costly for skilled workers who are not paid in the highest band, it is clear that we really need support in recruiting and training local crew. I am sure the hon. Member and many others present will agree that the same recruiting and training is important, no matter where we are in the UK. We need initiatives to bring new entrants into the industry, which is as applicable to my constituency in Northern Ireland as it is to the south-west. Fishing is not necessarily top of the careers choice agenda in urban schools, so how do we make it more attractive? The fact is that if we do not begin to attract younger people to fishing, we will not have a secure British fishing future, regardless of quotas.

I urge a note of caution on the under-10-metre quota allocation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I know it is important, but there may be a variety of opinions on that. I point out the obvious: any review of quota allocation mechanisms to ensure that under- 10-metre boats get a bigger slice of the cake may be at the expense of existing quota holders. If a UK-wide approach is taken, that could be difficult for the fleet in Northern Ireland, which already struggles to make ends meet.

I did my advice centre in Portavogie last Saturday. Most of the issues from the people who came to see me were about fishing. If at the end of the quarter of the year there is some quota that has not been used, rather than lose that quota it would be appropriate to disperse that among the under-10-metre boats. I must flag this to the Minister: there must be cognisance of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet and the Scots fleet when discussing the allocations. I know the Minister always tries to be helpful in his responses to any questions that I ask in the Chamber. Any sweeping generalised changes might not prove popular with some of my fishermen back home.

I wish to briefly raise the issue of zero-catch advice on pollack, and possibly the recent scallop closures, and encourage the Government to engage early with fishermen. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay had an Adjournment debate on this. He spoke extremely well, as he always does, and he got a fairly good response from the Minister. I think he was pleased and certainly I was encouraged by that, but when it comes to engaging early enough with fishermen, the mitigation strategies and alternative management measures might be developed in a more timely fashion to ensure that information and engagement drives our approach in these areas.

I support what the hon. Gentleman says. I will support others who speak as well because they all want the best for their fishermen, as do I. With that, I support what the hon. Gentleman said.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Ceidwadwyr, South East Cornwall 4:51, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. This debate has come at a timely moment, as my hon. Friend Steve Double mentioned, with last Sunday being the first national fisheries memorial day. I was honoured to lay a wreath in Looe with my daughter in memory of my late husband, Neil Murray. I pay tribute to all the rescue services and the seafarers charities that provide so much support for this important industry in so many ways.

I also want to thank the Minister, my right hon. Friend Sir Mark Spencer, for returning my call so quickly last Friday to listen to the concerns about the difficulties faced by the local Looe fleet in transporting its catch, given the closure of Plymouth Trawler Agents, where the landings have traditionally been sold. I hope that a resolution can be found by everyone working together with Looe Harbour Commissioners.

Although the news about Plymouth Trawler Agents has come as a surprise, I want to put on record my personal thanks to David and Alison Pessell, long-standing friends whom I have known for the past 40 years, since David’s vessel, the Tardis of the Yealm, was pair-trawling with our vessel, the Golden Dawn. Some 40 years later, both boats lie on the seabed; sadly, Neil is no longer with us. I sincerely hope that David and Alison enjoy a restful retirement, which they deserve after serving the industry in the south-west selflessly, both locally and nationally, for such a long time.

Given the limited time, I will turn to one thing that I think will secure a future for the under-10-metre fleet. As the former owner of an under-10-metre trawler, the Cygnus 33 Our Boy Andrew, I can honestly say that I know how vessel owners struggle to make a living. I can also confirm that our boat was part of our family and gave us a comfortable living, although I admit it could be stressful at times.

I met the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations yesterday. It agreed with me that there was one thing that could help the small vessels continue to provide us with a healthy source of protein, so I ask the Minister to consider that today.

On 30 December 2020, during the debate on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, I said:

“We must prepare ourselves for 2026. With the UK an independent coastal state, the Minister can take decisions to free us from a fisheries management regime that has been hampered by the constraints of the CFP. We can honour our obligations under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, but be flexible to ensure all UK fishermen can benefit from this partial freedom and take the necessary steps to ready ourselves when we—as we must—really take back complete control of our waters in 2026.”—[Official Report, 30 December 2020;
Vol. 686, c. 558.]

Access to our six to 12-mile limit was agreed and set out in the London convention of 1966, which predates our membership of the European Union. Article 3 sets out:

“Within the belt between six and twelve miles measured from the baseline of the territorial sea, the right to fish shall be exercised only by the coastal State and by such other Contracting Parties, the fishing vessels of which have habitually fished in that belt between 1st January, 1953 and 31st December 1962.”

That specifically named the vessels in question, and I put it to the Minister that it is unlikely that any of these vessels are at sea or fishing today. The 2002 common fisheries policy review made access to the six to 12 mile-limit permanent, which changed the London convention; instead of access for specific vessels, access was given to the number of vessels from other member states.

Now that we are no longer subject to CFP legislation, it is time to revert to the terms of the 1966 London convention. The time has come to ensure that access to our six to 12-mile limit is reserved solely for UK-registered fishing vessels. Specific conservation rules in each area can be set by inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. When I put that to the NFFO on Monday, it agreed that this was the single most important protection that the Minister could provide to ensure a future for our under-10-metre inshore fleet. These vessels are the way that new blood enters this vital industry, and we must do everything we can to support them. I finish with a message to all fisherfolk throughout our nation: fair winds and following seas.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:56, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Ms Rees, and I congratulate Steve Double on the way in which he introduced this debate. I echo many of his sentiments—on the fact that the under-10-metre fleet is important, not only to Cornwall, but to Plymouth and across the south-west; and on the rough conditions in which many go to sea to try to earn a living and to put fish on our dinner tables.

The first National Remembrance Day for those who work in the fishing industry was a welcome addition to the calendar, and I am glad that there were remembrance events all around our country to remember those we have lost at sea. Having a vibrant fishing community is important to our coastal communities, and I appreciate the work of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay in supporting it in Cornwall. As we heard from him, what is good for Cornwall is often good for Plymouth and vice versa.

Most of my remarks concern the closure of Plymouth fish market, which will have a profound impact on the under-10-metre fleet—not only those vessels that land fish in Plymouth, but those that land fish in ports right across the south-west and then have that fish overlanded to be sold from Plymouth. The closure demonstrates a real fragility and uncertainty in the sector. Those who will be most affected by this are the small-scale local fishers who cannot relocate and who want to work out of a port where auctions are available. That includes fishers not only in Plymouth, but in ports right across south-east Cornwall and further into Cornwall.

It is clear that additional transport costs will be levied on those fishers, not only in the landing dues that they will have to pay to land in the port they normally land in, but also for the overlanding and the delays. It is really important that fish can be taken to market in a speedy and efficient manner to preserve quality, and therefore the value, of the fish. Any delay in that process risks loading further costs on a sector that has already struggled quite a bit.

I have spoken to Plymouth City Council about this. It has met Plymouth Trawler Agents and the Plymouth Fishing & Seafood Association, and has had discussions with Sutton Harbour Group, the landlords for the fish market site. We have received the news that PTA is closing, and I echo the thanks from my neighbour, Mrs Murray, to David and Alison Pessell. They have both been real stalwarts for our industry, and I wish them a happy retirement. However, the closure of PTA fundamentally undermines the viability of the Plymouth fish market, a building that needed to be updated anyway. There is a real concern that once it closes its doors on 17 May, an interim measure of transporting catch to other markets, whether Brixham, Newlyn or elsewhere, will soon be locked in as a permanent, additional cost to those fishers.

I think everyone wants to restore a market and an auction in Plymouth, which I would be grateful if the Minister could assist us to do. There is cross-party concern for this here, because we are all representing our fishers, who want to get a good deal. For instance, we need to ensure that the return of the fish boxes that is being asked for can be secured. That is a really strong investment that the PTA has made, but it is a big cost for fishers to replace them. Equally, grading machines need to be secure to ensure there is a possibility of a new operator coming forward without that heavy capital cost of reopening a market. We need to keep the options open for under-10 boats, particularly in being able to land their fish in Plymouth and other ports, and have it overlanded to Plymouth to keep the viability of that sector.

We need a new operator but, importantly, this must not be an opportunity for Sutton Harbour Group to bring forward plans for luxury flats on the site of the fish quay, which we know it has wanted to do for a great amount of time. Sutton Harbour offers incredible opportunities for high-density lateral living with beautiful views, but those flats should not be built on the fish quay. As soon as homes are built on the fish quay, the possibility of preserving a vibrant fishing industry in Plymouth disappears almost all together. We need to safeguard the fish quay land. The council has already made steps to do so in the local plan, but it must be viable for a new operator to take it over. That is why I hope the Minister will be able to convene support for Plymouth City Council, the Members of Parliament from the area, and the industry, to look at what measures, grants and support are available from Ministers and his Department to ensure that the barriers to reopening the fish quay and providing a new auction, are not set so high that it is impossible for anyone to take those steps. It is essential that a new operator is found in order to do that.

I did want to speak about the importance of ensuring that we continue the further roll-out of the Plymouth lifejacket scheme, with personal locator beacons. I realise that is a Department for Transport, rather than a DEFRA, responsibility, but it is important that we send the message that safety is valued. Given the importance of the Plymouth fish quay and the fish market there, I want to make sure that is heard. I hope the Minister understands the cross-party concern that exists for this in the far south-west, and I hope he will be able to support us in keeping the option open for a new operator to come in.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Ceidwadwyr, St Ives 5:02, 15 Mai 2024

It is a real privilege to be able to speak in this debate in support of our inshore fleet right across Cornwall and beyond, and to commend my hon. Friend Steve Double for securing the debate.

It was a genuine, moving moment on Sunday morning, when we in Newlyn remembered the more than 100 fishermen who had lost their lives around our waters. It was a really important thing to do, and I am glad we now have that annual service to commemorate those fishermen. I am also grateful to the Fishermen’s Mission for their work to support fishermen day and night, wherever they might be fishing from.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the extraordinary contribution that the inshore fishing fleet makes to UK plc and the UK as a country. We began to talk about national food security; it is really important that we get energy and food security in the right place. The report we launched earlier in the year, “The True Value of Seafood to Cornwall”, demonstrated that for every one fisherman, there are 15 jobs created. Whether it is enormous amounts of money or good, nutritious food, there is no real part of Cornwall that our fishing industry does not reach. Fishing provides a really important contribution to food security, and I hope the Minister can contribute to conversations across Departments about how fishing is a key part of national food security. I do not think they would, but I hope that the Government would never shy away from promoting UK fish on dinner tables around the UK.

The Fisheries Act 2020 was a fantastic thing that we delivered after leaving the European Union. It has taken time, but that has enabled us to deliver regional management plans. We now have a far better understanding and, hopefully, the ability to plan and control fish stocks, and harness and manage them around different parts of the coast. We all know that in Cornwall, for example, we have mixed fisheries, which are not typical elsewhere, so it is important that we have a regional management plan.

I commend the Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation and others that have contributed to that work in a mature and intelligent way to help to shape the Act as well as those regional plans. However, the pace has been slow. Although the pollack ban is regrettable, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay said, the response from the Department, and the Minister in particular, to compensate and support fishermen who would rely on pollack—particularly in this early part of the year—has been really helpful. The use of regional plans could actually avoid those shocks in the future. I would therefore encourage and support the Minister’s efforts to use regional management plans to avoid these shocks, and to enhance and secure stocks in ways we have always wanted to see, but which have not necessarily been possible until recently. It would build confidence for the fishing fleet.

On infrastructure investment, we have had the £100 million seafood fund. Will the Minister be able to commit at all, or at least comment on the appetite to ensure that that fund is available again in the future? We need to continue the work to transition our fleet to meet our sustainability commitments and to invest in our harbour and port infrastructure so that it meets the requirements of not just the inshore fleet—the fishing fleet that lands, as we heard about in Plymouth—but other things that are delivered at sea, such as floating offshore wind infrastructure and so on. It is important that where fish is landed, the facilities are there to make the most of the value of that fish.

As we have heard already, a significant opportunity sits before us. The Minister is aware of our commitment. The opportunity to create the exclusive 12-mile limit with the Brexit fisheries deal renegotiation in 2026 cannot be understated; the opportunities for the initial fleet in particular are extraordinary. It offers a massive win for the UK sustainable fishing industry, offering a better way to manage, protect and enhance our fish stock. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay talked about the fact that the inshore fleet are limited in their days at sea and their efforts because of the weather. That offers a great way of managing fish stock. By protecting that 12-mile limit, we give the inshore fleet much greater access to fantastic, nutritious food for our tables, and provide the opportunity to revive and enhance our coastal communities.

There is no part of my constituency that does not have a history, and some presence still, of an inshore fishing fleet. The opportunities to continue to enhance the inshore fleet and to grow those communities and all those jobs we talked about are there to be had. Let us restore the fishing fleet and skills, and help to secure food security with a particularly nutritious offer for our UK consumers.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Ceidwadwyr, Truro and Falmouth 5:08, 15 Mai 2024

I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend Steve Double on securing this debate, which is vital to not only my constituents but my family. As many Members will know, my husband is a commercial fisherman of an under-10 metre vessel. I spoke about this in my maiden speech four years ago, and I thought I would remind this Chamber what I said:

“When he rings to say that he is still an hour away from safety and the weather has taken a turn for the worse…I can tell you now that the dread is palpable”— it is still the same feeling, because it happens from time to time. I said:

“We need to champion our small boats…Their job is precarious enough. We need to support our coastal communities to brave the elements and thrive in the 21st century. There are opportunities on the horizon, and we need to grab them with both hands and bring them home.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2020;
Vol. 672, c. 364.]

That is as true today as it was then. We absolutely have the opportunities ahead of us that they and we can take advantage of. I do not think we value our under-10 fleet, or the fishermen themselves, in the way that we could just yet.

As we have heard already, such a vessel is generally crewed by a single hand. They cannot go that far, and cannot stay out for more than about a day. They often fish overnight. Yet they, especially the handliners, will bring home the most sustainable and best-quality catch that this country has to offer. They help each other at sea and on land, and they therefore promote and preserve our communities in a way that we would all welcome.

The Government have done lots on their safety and the grant schemes, and they all want to say thank you for that, but at the moment they are tying themselves in knots over Maritime and Coastguard Agency and MMO rules and regulations. They understand why those are there and that they are for their safety and for the safety of others, but these men work 15-hour days pretty much. I have heard from men—it is usually men, I am sorry to say—that although some of them are tech savvy, some do not even have mobile phones, some are dyslexic and others just did not get very good qualifications at school, so they find it really difficult to stay on top of all the admin. There are monthly safety records, catch returns and MCA checks to name but a few. They understand why they need to do it, but please can we continue to make it as simple as possible?

In addition, fishermen have had their quota removed for pollack, one of their main species. I put on record my genuine thanks to the Minister, who listened endlessly to us, and to the Secretary of State, for their persistence in ensuring a compensation scheme for boats. That is welcome, and I know that dozens have been helped by it, but—I am really sorry and it pains me to say this—that I still receive representations formally and informally from many small producers who just missed out and are still really struggling. That comes from the much smaller vessels, so I would be grateful to discuss with Ministers that there are still struggling boats and what we might be able to do to help keep them going until we come up with a longer-term plan.

More than that, fishermen just need the quota back, particularly for the handliners. We went over the arguments when we were trying to work out a compensation scheme. These vessels do not make a dent in stocks, so suggesting that they do compared with the enormous factory ships out at sea is frankly ludicrous. I would go even further: perhaps with the exception of bass, I would take away quota limits on any species for the under-10s, particularly the under-10 handliners, because they make such a little dent in those. We should let them catch what passes their way, as long as their licences allow them to; they simply cannot dent the stocks.

I am a great supporter of the angling businesses in my country—in fact, that is what my husband used to do—and have a great many friends in the industry. It is great for the Cornish economy and tourism, but at the moment it is not a level playing field. Most smart angling trips will promote catch and release, and take only what they want for the table, but I have seen other photos on social media—I have sent them to Ministers before—where the anglers are taking too many. They are filling up their boats with pollack, and it is a real slap in the face for the commercial fishermen who not only have lost out on the compensation scheme, but still cannot catch anything. To be clear, they are often having to throw the fish back dead. Fishermen would like to see the MMO level the playing field and check what is coming in on the angling boats.

If we do not take stock of where we are, I am worried that we will see our Cornish harbours filled with just yachts and no working boats, whereas if we have a healthy mix of both, it means a healthy economy and it is good for Cornwall. What do we need to do? Just as we are now starting to do with farming, we need to highlight, value and assist the smaller producers who bring home the most valuable produce to market to ensure that they receive a fair price for their insanely hard work and that the things they have to do outside of fishing are as easy as possible—that is not just the admin that I have already mentioned but, for example, more fuel barges. We would like to have one in the bay of Falmouth, but I cannot work out how to get one set up or where it could go, so some help to do that would be great.

Fishermen also need help to land the product. We have heard about Plymouth already and know that Newlyn is going great guns. It is not so much about where the fish get landed, but where they can get a fair price, which usually happens at the auction, so where will the auctions be to ensure that they can do that? We also need to bring new blood into the industry. We see that there are some good apprenticeship schemes on the larger boats down in Newlyn, but I would like to see some apprenticeships on the smaller boats too, where the skippers who have been at sea for a long time can bring on the young blood. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay on two out of three of his requests.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Annibynnol, Castell-nedd

Order. Will the Member please wind up?

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Ceidwadwyr, Truro and Falmouth

The bass licences are the one request on which I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend and which needs more thinking. That is important, because if we just give the bass licences out to everybody else, those who have them immediately see a devaluation of their vessels. Please can we think carefully before we accept that?

I want to put on the record my thanks to all the fishermen who risk their lives—and believe me, they do—when the fresh fish is delivered. If everybody in the UK ate fresh British fish, we would hopefully support them ourselves.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:14, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Rees. I congratulate Steve Double on securing this debate, because the inshore small-scale fleets are vital not just to the fishermen and their families, who rely on them for household income, but, as we have heard, to the shore jobs that they sustain and the wider benefit that those iconic fleets deliver across their coastal communities. There is rightly a proud heritage of fishing at the heart of our coastal towns and villages, not just in the south-west but across the country. It is not unusual to meet fishermen who can trace their fishing families back many generations. I recently met one in Beer who can trace his family’s fishing roots back to the 1600s.

I should say at the outset that we are discussing under-10-metres, but I am mindful that that can seem an arbitrary definition that came into force long ago and perhaps does not properly recognise the differences between a 7-metre open-top boat that launches off a cobble beach and an under-10-metre twin-rig trawler or a 15-metre clinker-built wooden boat, with less power and catching efficiency than some under-10-metres. It is perhaps time to consider whether one size fits all.

These brave fishers who set sail in the smallest of our boats, risking their lives to bring us fish suppers, are in many cases having a really challenging time. The stress and anxiety around the coast are palpable, as we heard in many of today’s contributions. I, too, pay tribute to organisations such as the Seafarers’ Charity, the Fishermen’s Mission and the other charities that help to fund and support our small-scale fleets with mental health and financial support for households when families find themselves without a safety net and nowhere to turn. As we have heard, this debate is timely with the National Fishing Remembrance Day events held a few days ago.

It is indisputable that this sector has struggled in recent years, lurching from one crisis to the next, leaving these micro-businesses, often single-handed owner-operators, to try to piece together a living against a backdrop of, too often, knee-jerk fisheries management. Most recently, the pollack debacle has left so many of these vessels without fishing opportunities for part of the year and with a compensation scheme that, frankly, seems to many to have been rushed through without consultation, with many not receiving much-needed help. Although I understand that the 30% bar set for the scheme may sound reasonable, it does not take sufficient account of those small-scale fleets that earn modest incomes of £20,000 to £30,000 a year, and the hardship caused by losing 20% of their income, with no opportunities to replace it.

I hope the Minister will tell us who fed into that policy and why it was decided that these artisan fishermen would receive nothing. I and many others would be grateful if he could take another look at the scheme, to see what could be done to support those who so far have been forgotten. I will not say too much about the ministerial direction that was required to introduce this scheme, but it is, at best, unusual. I wonder whether the Minister could tell us, in his recollection, how often it has been needed.

I am also interested to hear the plan for managing the angling sector’s catch and retaining of pollack, as we have heard. Almost 12 months after the International Council for Exploration of the Seas published its advice on zero total allowable catch, why has there not been a consultation to consider whether legislation should be brought forward to track and limit recreational catches?

We know from the fascinating correspondence between the permanent secretary at DEFRA and the Secretary of State, to which I have already referred, that pollack has been in decline for many years. I ask the Minister: how many other stocks have been poorly managed and are at risk of big reductions and zero TACs? He may wish to say none but, if he does not, I suspect we can fear the worst. Pollack is just the latest problem demonstrating that the sector has been let down. The Brexit promise of protection to 12 miles was a pie-crust promise, easily made and broken, like so many others. We have had capping exercises that have had to be reversed, entitlement requirements that now seem challengeable, fisheries management plans being rolled out at eye-watering speed, with little understanding of why some stocks were chosen, and several failed starts of the inshore vessel monitoring system, with type approvals certifying items of kit—then suspending them, before subsequently being reinstated and removed—all after some fishers had followed Government guidance and rushed to install them. They have had to endure the CatchAPP, which they were told was fit for purpose when it was not. All of that comes against the backdrop of new codes issued by the Department for Transport, via the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will not, I am afraid, given that I am very pressed for time.

It seems there was little consideration across Government as to the timing. On the issues raised about the Plymouth fish market, I welcome the comments made by my hon. Friend Luke Pollard. Is it any wonder that fishers feel persecuted and left behind? Good fisheries management and enforcement is vital to healthy seas, stocks and food security. Frankly, there can be no doubt that, while this Government have heaped new burdens of epic proportions on this sector in the past few years, they have not delivered their side of the bargain: coherent and considered fisheries management of opportunities, so that families can earn a living and businesses can plan their future.

Finally, I urge the Minister to consider the way in which fisheries management plans and other workstreams have been developed. If he really wants to see more engagement from the sector—if he genuinely wants those people’s views and input—he needs to direct those conducting meetings not to hold them in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, thereby forcing fishermen to choose between losing sea time and earnings, and to consider the cumulative impact of having separate organisations running multiple consultations simultaneously. These are in the Minister’s gift to fix, so I would be grateful if he could commit to that. The under-10 fleet is critical to coastal communities. They are struggling, and more needs to be done to secure their future.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:20, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Ms Rees. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Steve Double for securing this debate. I should be clear at the beginning that it will probably not be possible for me to respond to all the points raised in the debate in the seven and a half minutes that are now available to me, but I will do as rapid a response as I can, to get through as much as possible.

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of joining colleagues in this Chamber to attend a memorial service in Grimsby as part of National Fishing Remembrance Day. We are grateful to those who have given their lives at sea to secure fish for the tables of our nation, but we must work tirelessly to make sure that those numbers are not increased and that we keep people safe at sea in the future.

The fishing industry in the south-west has an extraordinarily rich heritage and wonderfully diverse fleets, as my hon. Friend eloquently set out. There is strong industry leadership in the region—I commend the work of the Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation, for example, which has been innovative across a range of issues. Its report on the true value of seafood to Cornwall makes for powerful reading. It shows that there are 15 shore-based jobs for every fisherman, and that seafood jobs are four times more important to Cornwall than they are to the rest of Great Britain. That is something we need to bear in mind when making decisions in the future.

The innovative marketing of Cornish sole, otherwise known as megrim, has yielded benefits in terms of increased sales. I hope that the marketing of Cornish king crab will work wonders for spider crabs in due course. The industry has worked hard to ensure Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for Cornish sardines and Cornish gillnet-caught hake. I pay tribute to those involved in all the work going on. I acknowledge that there are also challenges, many of which have been raised my colleagues this afternoon.

Starting with pollack, my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay recognised the action that we have taken to compensate those who have been impacted. We were challenged that we should have had a consultation—apparently, we should have consulted. I think that, at that moment in time, had the Government said, “Thanks for raising your concerns. We’ve heard you. We’re going to have a three-month consultation before we decide what to do,” we would have had a disaster. There was no time to navel-gaze at that moment. That is why the Government took strong action at the time and stepped in to try to assist those fishermen.

I am grateful to hon. Members here who came banging on my door with enthusiasm and tenacity in order to secure the future of those fishermen. We want to keep them fishing. We want to keep them in those ports and generating those jobs, which is why we went out and set up a scheme. Around 50 vessel owners will be directly compensated for half their reported pollack landings income in 2023. Almost £400,000 has been paid out so far, and a number of owners are still to submit their paperwork. I encourage them to do that.

Let me turn to bass, which is of course another significant fish species. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay and other colleagues rightly raised the importance of bass fishermen to the south-west. They are also important around the country. That is precisely why we worked with the fishing industry on a bass fisheries management plan. That FMP, published last December, sets out a road map for sustainable domestic stock management. That is crucial.

I should be clear that we always seek to strike the right balance between increasing fishing opportunities where we can and protecting stock for future generations. That is not always easy, because it can have an impact on people’s incomes and their ability to catch fish, but every fisherman I meet tells me that they want future generations to be able to carry on catching fish. They believe in that sustainability, but want to work with the Government to ensure that we see that.

Quota was mentioned briefly. For many years, we have heard about what seems to be an imbalance between the inshore fleet’s access to what it sees as its fair share of quota and that of larger vessels, those not under 10 metres. We will of course continue to listen to those representations, to ensure that we find a way through.

On tuna, I think I am on the record as being quite excited about the opportunities that tuna bring, which a number of colleagues mentioned. I regret to say that we only have a little more than 66 tonnes of bluefin tuna quota, but I am keen to increase that in future, to ensure that we seize the opportunities for the sporting sector and commercial fisheries, and make the most of them.

Before I finish, I will turn to the immediate challenge for the port of the loss of the Plymouth auction. We are keen to help, if we can, and I want to keep colleagues informed. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Mrs Murray, who raised the issue with me last week and highlighted the challenge being faced. I think the best outcome is for the private sector to step in, but there may well be a role for Government to assist in that process. What I do not want to see is fish moved in the short term to Brixham and other ports, maybe Newlyn, and for that to corrupt the model that exists at Plymouth in the longer term. We want to see that succeed, and I will of course work with colleagues across the parties to ensure that we find solutions. It might well be worth convening a cross-party roundtable to ensure that we in Government are informed and that Members are aware of what we are doing. I commit to that.

Leaving time for my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay to sum up his debate, I will end on an upbeat note. I think that the inshore fleet has a positive future, and I am always impressed by the passion of those in it and by their innovation in the industry. I am sure they will find a way to benefit from the opportunities and the challenges they face. The Government are here to help. We have a track record of helping, and we will continue to do so. Working together and continuing to have that dialogue, we will ensure that we have a bright, profitable and sustainable future for the fishing sector in the south-west.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Ceidwadwyr, St Austell and Newquay 5:27, 15 Mai 2024

I thank all colleagues across the House for an excellent debate and the broad agreement on support for our under-10-metre fishing fleet. The only disappointment was the lack of understanding shown by the shadow Minister, Daniel Zeichner, of what fishermen want.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and for his ongoing work to support our inshore fleet, particularly in the south-west. I particularly welcome his commitment to hold a roundtable on the future of the Plymouth market, as we all agree how important that is. I very much welcome that and look forward, I hope, to being able to partake of it. Our fishermen will be pleased to see that we are working together, across the parties, to do what we can to maintain the market.

It is welcome that we are able to have this debate, to support our fishing industry, to show fishermen support and to continue to work together to ensure that they have the best opportunity to continue to thrive in future and, of course, to continue to promote fish as the most sustainable source of protein that we can provide. The more we can get British people eating fish that are caught in British waters, the better it is for everyone. I am sure that is something we all support.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the future of the under 10-metre fishing fleet in the south-west.

Sitting adjourned.