Importance of UK under 10m inshore fishing fleet must be reflected in fishing policy

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 fleet represents around 80% of the UK’s total fishing vessels and lands over £110 million-worth of fish and shellfish annually.

The Under 10m fleet provides 50% of the UK’s 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. Every fisherman on a boat supports up to 15 other jobs ashore in the seafood supply chain. 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. They are at the heart of coastal communities in places like Mevagissey, Newquay and Fowey in my constituency and across Cornwall and beyond in the South West.

When compared to larger over 10m vessels, the smaller inshore boats have a number of key advantages. Firstly, they are more sustainable and leave a lower environmental footprint. Limited in range and by weather due to their size and operational limit, they mostly fish within the 6 nautical mile inshore zone. 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. 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.

But despite their significance to the fishing industry by almost every statistic, the UK’s inshore fleet are only allocated a small part—around 2% or 3%— of the total national quota. Climate change and other international factors means that our under 10 fishermen need more support than ever before. Due to the warming of our seas, many of our fish stocks are moving further north to cooler seas while in Cornwall we are seeing new species of fish. But the MMO has been slow to respond, not allowing our fishermen to switch entitlement or requiring them to buy expensive species quotas. Fishermen of three species in particular will need the MMO and other parts of the Government to work collaboratively to overcome these challenges: bass, tuna, and pollack.

According to local fishing representatives, there is now clear scientific evidence showing an increase in bass stock in our seas, particularly in the South West. Yet there remains a number of boats in the region that have no entitlement to bass whatsoever. This seems unreasonable given the science and the fact that French fishermen have stopped pair trawling for 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.

Secondly, Tuna is the most important species to come into Cornish water in recent years as a result of our warming seas. The Government has developed an evidence-led, sustainable pilot for tuna fishing and it is now vital that we make the most of the opportunities presented. There are concerns the tuna stock is swimming over into international waters, outside UK waters, for international vessels to catch. 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 non-UK vessels, who are aware of the UK vessels’ limitations and often sit on the six-mile limit hoovering up the fish from our waters.

The recent zeroing of the pollack quota has thrown many of these issues into sharp relief. DEFRA’s compensation scheme 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. But need to work to re-establish a pollack quota in a sustainable way as soon as possible, and the best way to achieve this is to look at having a closed period during the spawning season, as we do for other species.

As we approach the 5 year review of the EU-UK TCA we have an opportunity to review our fishing stocks and quotas arrangement. Section 25 of the Fisheries Act states that when allocating quota, governments “must use criteria that are transparent and objective, and include criteria relating to environmental, social and economic factors”. They must also “seek to incentivise the use of selective fishing gear, and the use of fishing techniques that have a reduced impact on the environment”. With this Brexit legislation we have the means to shift the balance in fishing towards those fishers able to demonstrate a wider benefit to the local community and with a lower environmental impact. Our fishermen want to see us standing up for them and taking back control of our waters. In particular they want to see better management of the 6-12 nautical mile zone. There is always a balance to be struck between access to waters and access to wider markets, but for too long our fishermen feel that there has been far too much foreign access to this vital part of our seas at the cost of UK fishermen. Government action in this area will be very much welcomed.

Steve Double MP

Steve Double is the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, and first elected in 2015.