On Wednesday evening this week, following on from the Chancellor’s statement and debate on the Budget, I will be leading a separate debate in the House of Commons focused on our local fishing industry. In the Budget we will be able to see how businesses are expanding, creating new jobs and investing in our economy. However, there are specific concerns that face the fishing industry, and in particular the under ten metre vessels that are part of our local inshore fleet.
There are two pressing concerns that I will be asking the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice to address in the debate. The first is the urgent need for additional quota for the inshore fishing fleet. There is currently a great abundance of fish in Hythe Bay, so much so that one local trawler man recently caught his entire month’s quota for plaice in an hour and a half. The second issue relates to concerns that local fishermen have raised with me about the proposed discards ban. Many people would agree that we want to get away from a system where fish are routinely being caught and then discarded. However, flat fish like sole, plaice and skate, which all important for our local trawlers, survive being caught and can be returned live to the sea. This allows the fishermen to return under size fish, or fish that have been caught up in the catch, but can’t be landed and sold because the fisherman has already filled his quota for that species for the month. We should have exemptions in place for species like these that we know can be successfully returned to the water.
Last year, we were successful in our campaign against the proposals for a Marine Conservation Zone to be created in Hythe Bay. We would all support measures to protect the environment and ensure that commercial fishing is conducted sustainably, not least the fishermen themselves. However the Marine Conservation Zone plan for Hythe Bay would have placed significant restrictions on commercial fishing which would have greatly affected the local industry, forcing many trawler men to close up or move away. That would be unacceptable and any environmental restrictions for fishing in the bay, must be based on hard evidence and work in partnership with the commercial interests of the local trawlers. Following from that debate the fishermen have proposed creating a local permit scheme for Hythe Bay that would ensure that trawlers continue to use the correct gear and nets, as the local boats currently do, and also to restrict access to these waters from larger vessels. I think this is an excellent approach and could be a model for managing our inshore waters all around the coast.
There is of course the ongoing issue about reforming or getting out of the European Common Fisheries Policy, and this will be part of the debate when we have the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2017. There is still important and detailed work to be done now though, to ensure we get the best possible deal for our local fishing fleet.
Link to a short video on our Campaign to Save Hythe Bay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJ1pGkylmcY