Many of my constituents have contacted me about the ongoing issue of super trawlers and overfishing. I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Heavy beam trawlers and super trawlers cause lasting damage to our precious seabeds. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.
I have worked with the Marine Conservation Society, local angling groups, the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority over the past two and a half years to achieve the Beachy Head East Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which covers our coastline from Beachy Head to Hastings. We were successful in that the government designated this zone last summer.
The UK now has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters, but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. However, at the end of the end of the transition period, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit.
The Fisheries Bill currently going through Parliament will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably as we become an independent coastal state once again.
I know from my work on the MCZ that the access of super trawlers, beam trawlers and pulse trawling to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. As you have rightly pointed out, the Fisheries Bill will provide the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. This means that any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach. We will once again be in control of how we protect our waters.
The Joint Fisheries Statement and associated Fisheries Management Plans will revolutionise the way we manage our fisheries. This Bill sets our direction for securing the future of our fisheries to support future generations of fishermen and coastal communities. At Report we brought forward a package of amendments on the request of the devolved administrations, as they have now consented to the Bill. These are largely technical amendments and include provisions to make clear the ability of devolved administrations and the Marine Management Organisation to delegate functions to each other. This supports a UK wide approach where that is appropriate and helpful.
It is widely recognised that there are three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. We must not undermine this globally recognised balance.
The Fisheries Bill prohibits any commercial fishing vessel, including foreign-registered vessels, from operating in UK waters without a licence once the transition period ends. It also provides powers to attach conditions, such as the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and the type of fishing gear that can be used, to fishing vessel licences.
Foreign vessels operating in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, including the conditions that are attached to their commercial fishing licence. Where vessels do not comply with the conditions of their licences, action can be taken to restrict or prohibit their activities in future.
We are committed to making sure that our marine life can recover and thrive. During the passage of the Bill, there has rightly been interest in our approach to managing additional quota negotiated, and our commitment to the national benefit objective in the Bill which seeks to ensure that the UK benefits from fish caught in UK waters by UK boats. I am pleased therefore, to bring to your attention three consultations which have now been published by the government.
The government is seeking views on how any additional quota secured from negotiations should be apportioned between the UK administrations in 2021. The consultation proposes that that quota could be split by geographic location of stocks, by historic uptake, by the capacity of each administrations’ fleets, by policy priorities, or by a combination of all of these options. We are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government on this.
Separately there are consultations on the allocation and management of quota in England and the Crown Dependencies. This is an opportunity for stakeholders to help shape our quota policy in 2021 and beyond, including our overall aims for quota and future quota management trials. We are explicitly looking for views on whether quota can support new entrants into the industry, and the possibility of piloting community quota management schemes, amongst other points.
The economic link vessel licence condition ensures that vessels fishing against our allocation of quota benefit the UK economy. We are consulting on proposals to strengthen the licence condition, thereby increasing the contribution being made to the economy, and to coastal communities. As this is a devolved issue, the proposals will only apply to English registered vessels. We intend that changes to the economic link will apply from the start of 2022 to allow time for businesses to adapt.
Defra intends to increase the use of Remote Electronic Monitoring (technological solutions including cameras) to help us manage and monitor our fisheries and marine environment. The support and interest for this across both Houses is clear. Defra will launch a call for evidence on expanding the use of Remote Electronic Monitoring in England very shortly. This will be followed up with a formal consultation next year. These consultations and the call for evidence will be available on gov.uk and will be undertaking a round of engagement across England.
As a coastal MP, I will continue to take a very close interest in this matter.