The Scottish National Party voted against the new fisheries bill that will establish the post-Brexit fisheries management regime in UK waters, reports Tim Oliver.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross slammed the SNP’s refusal to back the bill as ‘unforgivable’ and ‘insulting’, and said that the party had ‘betrayed’ the industry.
Speaking during a debate on the second reading of the bill last week, Deidre Brock, the SNP shadow fisheries spokesperson, said that MPs should decline to give a second reading to the fisheries bill before it was clear what kind of deal would be made with the EU after Brexit.
She said that the bill also failed to secure a long-term sustainable future for the industry balancing the interests of the environment, the consumer and the producers in the industry.
She said: “We will leave the EU; we will no longer have access to the markets that are so important to our seafood and fishing industries. Our fisheries producer organisations will no longer be recognised in the EU. We will not have control of our waters. Whitehall will be taking over some of the responsibilities and powers of the devolved administrations. Landing requirements will be imposed from Whitehall, and the whole mess will be impossible to understand.”
She added: “I have never been able to understand why anyone thought Brexit would bring benefits for fishing communities, but I now cannot comprehend how anyone thinks that there is anything other than disaster in this.
“I cannot support the bill. It does not provide a framework for fisheries after Brexit. It does not protect our fishing communities. It does nothing to make things easier for those communities. It is an empty shell of a thing, and we should not be supporting it.”
She said that the SNP Scottish government is ‘keen on rejoining the EU at some stage, but of course reforming the CFP’.
Moray MP and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that the sense of ambition and enthusiasm from fishermen in his constituency about the opportunities ahead for their industry was palpable, and that he ‘hated to think’ what they would make of Deidre Brock’s speech. It was ‘insulting and condescending’ to an industry that means so much to Scotland.
He said that the SNP’s position was ‘very confusing’. It wanted to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, rejoin the EU to be governed by Brussels, and then reform the CFP, which had not been reformed for decades. “That is fanciful and is simply not a credible argument,” said Douglas Ross.
He quoted the SFF as saying that the fisheries bill presents ‘a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK fishing industry to learn from the mistakes of the past’.
“Why are SNP members going to troop through the lobby tonight, against the advice of representative bodies and against the wishes of fishermen in Moray, in Banff and Buchan and in Angus?” he asked.
“If they ever get their way, the future of Scottish fishermen will be back in Brussels rather than with the UK government, who will deliver on our pledge.” He added that ‘only the SNP could take a sea of opportunity and turn it into an ocean of division’. “For the SNP, it is always ‘Britain bad, Brussels good’,” he said.
“They would rather Scottish fishing was on its knees at the whims of the parliament in Brussels than that we had control of our own waters. That is unforgivable.”
Powers needed regardless of Brexit deal
Introducing the debate, DEFRA secretary of state George Eustice said that the powers in the bill would be needed irrespective of whether there was a Brexit deal or not.
It would put sustainability ‘at the heart of a new framework for managing our fisheries’, and would end automatic access to UK waters for EU vessels.
Explaining the measures to control access by individual foreign vessels to the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), George Eustice said: “This includes the power to stipulate, through a vessel licence, firstly where in our EEZ a vessel may fish, when it may fish there, what fish it may catch whilst there, and what type of fishing gear it may or may not use.
“The ability to control and manage access to our waters will be crucial to ensuring that a fairer sharing arrangement prevails in future.”
He said this would also mean an end to the ‘historic injustice in the sharing arrangements set in stone under relative stability’ and that foreign vessels would have to comply with UK technical measures to conserve stocks.
“We will make science and sustainability a core component of our approach,” said the minister. “We remain committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish at sea, and we will use a range of tools to ensure that the landing obligation works in practice, as well as in theory, including through the prevention charging scheme.”
Plymouth MP Luke Pollard, the Labour shadow fisheries spokesman, said that the government was rejecting sustainability amendments tabled by Labour that would generate more jobs in coastal communities.
“Labour’s jobs in coastal communities amendment, which passed with cross-party support in the Lords, would establish a new national landing requirement, whereby two-thirds of fish caught under a UK quota must be landed in UK ports,” he said.
“That would mean more jobs created in Grimsby, Plymouth, Newlyn, Portavogie, Brixham and Fleetwood, to name but a few. There are 10 jobs on land for every one job at sea, so landing more fish in Britain is a jobs multiplier.”
He called for a fairer share of quotas for the inshore fleet, ‘the backbone of British fishing’. “With just 6% of the quota, the small-boat fleet has two-thirds of the jobs, and I think it could have more quota. Reallocating quota along social, economic and environmental grounds, even if just 1% or 2% of the total catch were to be reallocated, could increase what small boats can catch by 25%.”
He said that Labour would support the bill while proposing and defending the necessary improvements.
The fisheries bill will now go the committee stage in parliament.
‘Don’t surrender to EU on Brexit’
During the debate, SE Cornwall Conservative MP Sheryll Murray thanked George Eustice and the UK negotiators for ‘holding firm against the unacceptable demands of the European Union for access to UK waters’.
She told MPs: “All UK fishermen are looking forward to the end of the transition period with much optimism. My message is clear: do not surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union. It may be worth reminding them that they already have the mechanisms in place to adapt their collective fleet to their much-reduced resource.
“History has shown the impact of decommissioning on the United Kingdom fleet over the past 40 years, and it is time to redress that balance.