Brexit will touch every part of our lives. This week Parliament will debate the Fisheries Bill, which will establish the legal framework for managing UK fisheries. As an independent coastal state after leaving the transition arrangements at the end of the year, we fall under the UN Convention on the ‘Law of the Sea’ (1982).
Prior to the 2016 Referendum, the Vote Leave campaign highlighted the demise of fishing and coastal communities. It is true that the small boat fleets were unable to bring ashore the catches that were once seen. It is also true that a key reason for this is that this Government has continued to give most of the UK’s fishing quota to foreign owned vessels which then land their catches abroad. 80% of the UK’s tariff is expended on the export market.
The UK exports most of its fish to the EU and around the world, while importing our food stocks from overseas. Labour believes this Bill must be more than just about a trade deal, it must support local coastal fishing communities as well as meet enhance the marine environment.
Of course, much of this Bill is dependent on negotiations with the EU over future trading arrangements. While the UK will be able to allow EU companies to enter UK waters to fish, we don’t know how well this will be reciprocated.
The Government has left our coastal communities suffering for far too long and as a result there has been a lack of investment in infrastructure and lack of economic opportunities. This is why Labour has set out a plan for a coastal renaissance, of which fishing will play a central part. With more fish landed across our coastal towns, we will see more jobs created in fish markets, processing and distribution. For every job out at sea, ten jobs will be created back on land.
We started putting this in place as the Bill passed through the House of Lords for its first stages. Labour won a vital vote on its proposal to create ‘Jobs in coastal communities’ so two thirds of fish caught in UK waters would need to be landed in our ports. Currently the UK’s small fishing fleet only catch 6% of the total quota between them, yet the Government has control as to how it distributes its quota. The Government has simply failed fishing communities and coastal towns and villages. Investing in jobs at sea would protect many more on land, reviving our coastal communities so hard hit following Covid-19 and a decade of austerity.
The market has increasingly been dominated by supertrawlers. A Greenpeace investigation revealed that in the first six months of this year, supertrawlers spend 5500 hours fishing in protected areas. Last year it was 2,963 hours. These don’t just hoover up the fish stocks but also the seabeds, destroying marine habitats They also hoover up the economic opportunities of UK coastal towns. Just 59% of fish are fished sustainably, and this is down 10% on the previously year. Labour would ban supertrawlers operating in UK waters.
Today advanced surveillance technology can manage fishing limits to ensure that the long term future of fish stocks is maintained, but only 1% of fish landed is monitored. We believe that better surveillance will bring about better compliance to the law and protect our oceans better.
Labour also wants to see improvements to the sustainability of fishing and have called for this to be central to the Bill. Our traditional fishermen and women understand this need. Overfishing has had a real impact on the marine habitat and has caused feast and famine in the industry. Protecting our oceans and restoring their diversity must be at the heart of future fishing policy. This is why Labour supports the creation of Marine Protection Areas and will go to war on the plastic dumped in our oceans. We would also seek to decarbonise the fishing industry.
Labour also wants to protect the health and safety of those who work in the industry. Whether weathering the storms at sea or working in the process industry, there are significant risks facing workers. Last year alone 6 fishers lost their lives at work.
In response to Covid-19, the Government brought forward £10m to the fishing and aquatic sectors; this has been too little, too late for struggling coastal communities.
Labour believe that if they can heavily amend this Bill, we will protect the environmental sustainability of our seas, protect local economies of coastal towns and protect our fishing industry.
To find out more information about the Greenpeace campaign or to sign the petition, follow the link below: