Our local fishing industry is not just part of the heritage of our area, but significant to life on the Kent coast today. As well as creating jobs for local families, many of whom have sent generations out to fish in Hythe Bay, it also supplies restaurants, food wholesalers, and supports tourism and the visitor economy. Times change, but the appeal and importance of fish being caught and landed at the Stade in Folkestone, or on the beach at Hythe and Dungeness has endured for centuries.
Last Friday, along with David Monk, the leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, I met with representatives of the local fishing industry, at Fishermen’s beach in Hythe, to discuss a number of issues that are affecting their businesses. These ranged from concerns about rent reviews and leases, as well as the accessibility of their place of work. We had a very constructive discussion, and I hope that a successful outcome can be reached on all of the issues that were covered. This will then allow the fishermen to plan for the future.
Outside of the resolution of these local issues, the fishing industry faces the prospect of substantial changes to the way in which it is run, as a consequence of the UK leaving the European Union. I believe that this is an opportunity to put right many of the things that the European Union Commons Fisheries Policy as got wrong, and in particular for the smaller vessels that make up the inshore fleet. Our local fishing industry largely comprises of these boats, that mostly fish in Hythe Bay and the Channel near to their home ports. The burden of regulation falls disproportionately heavily on boats like theirs, and particularly since our national inshore fleet is responsible for less than ten percent of all of the fish caught from the UK quota. It is understandable that large deep-sea trawlers should be subject to strict quotas for what they catch, as they have the biggest impact on the overall number of fish in the sea. However, for the inshore fleet, it would make more sense to regulate fishing not through quotas but based on an agreement of the numbers of days at sea they can have in a month.
As a non-member of the European Union we will have the power to set our own national policy for fishing, however the freedom to introduce such a scheme will come not when we leave the EU at the end of March next year, but at the point we withdraw from the European Single Market at the end of 2020. During this transition period, between these two dates, will have the opportunity to design our own policies, and to negotiate our future trading arrangements with the rest of Europe for fish, and other products. Given that two thirds of our fish exports go to the rest of the European Union, it is important that we have a system in place to support this trade in the future.