On the first day back in Parliament after recess last week, I spoke in the second reading of the Fisheries Bill, following its passage through the Lords. The Fisheries Bill is the first primary fisheries legislation in nearly 40 years and is currently now being considered by a Public Bill Committee which will scrutinise the Bill.
The Fisheries Bill provides the framework for managing our fisheries as an independent coastal state. It will enable the UK to control who comes into our waters; foreign boats will be required to be licensed to fish in UK waters and will be required to follow UK rules. The Bill ends the current automatic rights for EU vessels to fish in UK waters. Underpinning everything in the Bill is the Government’s commitment to sustainability, also reinforcing the fishing industry’s commitment to sustainability, ensuring healthy seas for future generations of fishermen. These include a commitment to fishing sustainably, an objective seeking to reduce the wasteful practice of discarding fish, and a new climate change objective which recognises the impact of fishing on the health of the ocean and our planet. This Bill introduces new fisheries management plans which will allow a holistic, sustainable approach to be taken when managing our fisheries. The Bill includes new powers to protect the marine environment in England, Wales, and Scotland, and powers to implement the technical measures necessary to manage fishing activity in UK waters effectively.
Hastings has a historic, current and future link to fishing. We have one of the oldest beach-launched fishing fleets in the country, dating back more than a thousand years, which must be preserved and, more importantly, allowed to flourish as we leave the EU. Whilst fishing accounts for about 0.1% of the UK’s economy, it dominates the heart and soul of our coastal communities. It is vital to Hastings and Rye that our local fishing fleets thrive for another 1,000 years, so we must have a system which retains youth and supports family-based fishing enterprises. This is especially important when considering quotas; quota fairness is fundamental in fisheries management – equitable opportunity for people who actually fish. Currently, EU vessels benefit by a ratio of six to one under the Common Fisheries Policy, so this is why it is not only important for the U.K. to decide who can fish in our waters, but also why revoking the EU’s powers to set UK quotas is fundamental. The new powers in the Bill provide for the UK to set catch limits.
The Bill allows for the UK to exercise its full rights over its territorial seas (0-12 nautical miles) and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (12-200nm, or the median line with other coastal States). Speaking to Hastings and Rye fishermen, I fully took on board their ‘red line’; they are very concerned that the Bill does not make clear that the area within the UK’s 12 mile limit should be an exclusive zone in which fishing and access rights should be limited to UK fishing vessels only. To our local fishermen, issuing licences to foreign vessels within 12 miles of our shores would be a ‘sell out; the 12 miles limit is sacrosanct’ and I did not hesitate to stand up and speak out for them in the debate.
Having a 12 mile exclusive zone will ensure a better basis for future management of inshore fisheries – fundamentally important for Hastings and Rye fishing communities which will benefit from thousands of tonnes of fish worth millions of pounds currently fished by other EU nations.
We can all do our bit to help the future of our local fishing fleets by eating more local fish. If the British public ate one more portion of fish a week, it would be worth billions of pounds to the country annually and millions to Hastings and Rye.