A fair deal on fish quotas is essential for the future of many fishing businesses
Fishing might have been misleadingly used as the Brexit poster industry, but the UK is experiencing the opposite of a coastal renaissance. That needs to change. Ministers aren't taking notice as things go from bad to worse for fishing – and they have no plan to help British fishers.
Fishing quotas are set annually. How much a boat can catch is set at the Annual Fisheries Council, organised by the EU, this year being held on 13-14 December. The UK will now be negotiating outside the EU, alongside Norway with the EU, as an independent coastal state.
For the past few decades Parliament has held an Annual Fisheries Debate to strengthen the hand of the Minister at the Annual Fisheries negotiations. A poor deal could see British fishers lose out, while setting fishing levels too high would be bad for the environment. Britain’s fishers feel betrayed by the Brexit deal, and their voices must be heard by Ministers ahead of these negotiations.
That’s why Labour is calling on the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, and Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg to schedule a debate on fishing in the Commons before the negotiations take place. We need to give encouragement to Ministers, and leave them in no doubt that a botched settlement - on top of a botched agreement for fishing in the Brexit deal - will mean the end for many fishing businesses. We don’t need soundbites and grand promises, but action, empathy and delivery.
There is little confidence that the annual negotiations over fishing quota levels will be anything other than a disaster for British fishers
Labour backs British fishers. We want to see them get a fairer share of the quota in our waters. We want Ministers to level the playing field with foreign boats in our waters, and we want more fish caught in British waters to be landed in British ports.
In the past year, what happens at sea has become more politically important. Rising tensions between Paris and London over access to each other’s waters has come at the same time as costly, home-grown red tape ensnares our fish exports, making British produce more expensive and less certain.
Our fishing sector feels betrayed by Ministers. Trust is at an all-time low and there is little confidence among fishing communities that the annual round of negotiations with our EU friends over quota levels will be anything other than a disaster for British fishers.
As a country we export the vast majority of the fish we catch, and we import the vast majority of fish we eat. Smooth flow of produce over borders is essential to the success of this sector, but its future is in doubt. Costly and burdensome red tape means many small businesses are struggling to keep hold of their EU customers who are growing impatient at uncertainty of supply, rising costs and spiralling paperwork costs. Outside the EU, our fishing industry was supposed to be thriving, but thanks to a botched Brexit deal, fishing businesses from Cornwall to Peterhead, Hull to Holyhead are struggling.
2021 must be a year when Parliament gets the chance to debate fishing before these annual negotiations. We need to give Ministers a clear steer that a good deal is not just preferable but essential. Labour will be pressing Ministers to schedule this debate and coastal communities will be watching. Fishing matters to the opposition, does it to the government?
Luke Pollard is the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport.
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