MP condemns failure of Common Fisheries Policy

Neil Parish backs a motion condemning the Common Fisheries Policy as having failed to conserve fish stocks and failed fishermen and consumers. He calls for greater decentralisation and more local control.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this debate on fisheries and the common fisheries policy. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing it and for chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We have heard from several Committee members, including my hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), as well as the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon)—I was going to say “North Teesside”, but I know that it is somewhere up north—who has great expertise in this topic.May I also pay tribute to my great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray)? She has huge knowledge of fishing and the fishing industry—indeed, her knowledge of those areas is probably second to none in this House. She endured a terrible tragedy last year, and all our hearts go out to her. In the circumstances, it is very brave of her to speak about fishing issues as she does.I also wish to join many other Members in commending the Minister on the very good job he has done battling away in Brussels. We certainly do need to battle away. It is difficult enough trying to manage and organise fishing policy for the seas off the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and the north of England—and even Scotland, if I may dare say so—from here in Westminster.Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation we are in now is similar to what happened a decade ago? We heard similar promises then, but the end result was not what we anticipated. We should bear that in mind when we send the Minister to Brussels to negotiate.Neil Parish: We have, of course, a new Minister and a new—coalition—Government, and I have every faith in both this Minister and this Government to deliver what we want.It is essential that we fight our corner. The European Commission offers great gifts of devolving powers. It offers the tools to achieve that, but when we look into the toolbox we find that it contains very few tools. In the end, the instinct of Brussels is not to give powers away but to grab powers. It has done that for decades. That is why the CFP is in such a mess. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) that we should not have just six-mile and 12-mile limits, but should extend that and have a 200-mile limit.Let us consider what the Norwegians can do. If an area of the Norwegian sea is being overfished they can shut it down within hours. In the European Union, however, it would take months—if an agreement is ever, in fact, reached. In the EU we have Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all arguing about fishing. They have a few lakes, but they have no coast. The European Commission plays that situation, of course.Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend agree that such countries can use their CFP votes as leverage to negotiate on other matters that have nothing whatever to do with fisheries? That is wrong.Neil Parish: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Austria has probably the largest amount of rural development money of any EU country. I suspect it has traded many times with the Commission to achieve that situation, by agreeing to go along with what the Commission wants on fishing. We must sort that out.Not only should we manage our waters in a way that enables us to act quickly from a conservation point of view, but we also need the fishermen to sign up to the regulations. The CFP is a little like communism: there is a lovely warm feeling that we are all going to work together for the greater good, but in reality nobody does that. Our fishermen try to conserve fish by doing all the right things such as reducing the size of their nets and reducing the number of discards, but then they are terrified that the Spanish or others will come in and hoover up the fish whose stocks they have conserved through their actions. That highlights a key problem with the CFP.Richard Drax: Does my hon. Friend think the Europeans would care one jot if local fishermen such as mine in Dorset disappeared entirely?Neil Parish: No, I do not think they would. They offer great platitudes to those who go out of fishing, but all they are interested in is having a centralised policy whereby the total amount of fish caught within the EU meets their targets. They are not actually worried how many fishermen there are to do the fishing, even though they will tell people otherwise. This, again, comes back to the problem of managing things from Brussels, so we have to deal with the principles of the CFP.I suspect that the Minister may well not be able to come back with a 200-mile limit yet, but we have great confidence that over a period of years he will achieve that. I say that because of what we are doing now with this limited resource: we are throwing it into the sea, dead. A lot of those fish actually putrefy the sea bed. Local fishermen tell me that a lot of sea lice attack the dead fish and that when they are catching fresh fish that are alive they often bring up in their nets some of those dead fish, which contaminate the healthy fish. Is this situation logical? Is it right? No, it is absolutely wrong.Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that rotten fish on the sea bed not only contaminate the catch, but prevent other fish from coming into these areas to swim? This is like having a graveyard on the bed of the sea, and we would not go into a room full of dead bodies, would we?Neil Parish: We would hope that we would not. As my hon. Friend says, the last thing we would want to do would be to go into a room full of dead bodies. She summed up the situation well, because all those dead fish are being put back into the sea and they are contaminating the other fish that we catch. The dead fish are a health hazard and it needs to be dealt with. We talk a lot about sustainability, but we need to talk about how we manage that particular side of things.I have spoken directly to the Minister about the particular concerns of a fishing company in my constituency. It has a lot of vessels, it fishes around the whole of the United Kingdom and it has 140 tonnes of cod quota, but of course it is allowed to fish only 35 tonnes of that. This is a mixed fishery; we have been talking about whether fish understand what flags they have on them, but they certainly do not understand that they should conveniently swim along species by species, so that one fisherman can catch cod, another can catch hake and so on. That does not happen, so all those healthy cod are being caught, and because the fishermen do not have the necessary quota, they are then discarding this excellent fish, which people in this country love to eat. The fishermen have every right to go out to sea because they have quota for other species and they are not fishing directly for cod. We have to find some flexibility and a way of ensuring that the fish that are caught are landed.Another argument is that if we are to know what is being caught in the sea, and what the stocks are, we have to land much more of a given fish to be able to analyse exactly what is being caught and what those stocks are.Oliver Colvile: The other point I made was that we are finding that anchovies and sardines are coming into our waters now. How easy will it be for the fishing industry to adapt to catching that sort of fish, which have not traditionally been found around the British isles?Neil Parish: It might well be difficult for our fishermen to catch some of the types of fish that are now coming into our waters, for the simple reason that the type of nets being used may not catch them. Alternatively, those fish, too, may be caught in the nets being put out in a mixed fishery, so we may have an even greater loss, as I suspect that our fishermen will not have quota for those particular species. So the whole situation gets worse and worse, and we want our fishermen to be able to earn a living. That is why our Minister has such a nightmare to sort out.The next matter is very difficult to deal with, because fishermen and the fishing industry have made big investments in quota and are keen to see it maintained, but our 10-metre fleet and the under 10-metre fleet want to catch more fish sustainably, which has a huge impact on our coastal communities. Even that is complicated, because of the super 10-metre fleet, which has large engines and can catch as much fish as the large boats. It all becomes very complicated—and that is why we have such a marvellous Minister to sort it out.Sheryll Murray: Not only do some of those 10-metre boats have large engines, but some tow two nets at the same time. I have heard that they are now considering towing three nets, so they are fishing at the same intensity as some of the larger vessels with which we are all familiar.Neil Parish: My hon. Friend is right, because fishing boats’ engines, the type of satellite, the equipment used for navigation and to see exactly where the fish are, and all the other equipment on those boats, are getting so much more sophisticated that it is almost impossible for the fish to escape. It is not a case of putting one’s finger up and seeing which way the wind is blowing: the fish can be found. We need to find the balance in how we share a limited resource. We must get rid of the discards one way or another, and we need to ensure that fish are shared out between the different fishermen in our waters. We need to manage our waters not just in the six and 12-mile limits but out to the 200-mile limit.As has been mentioned, what has happened has been a travesty of justice. When we joined the Common Market in 1973 we presented a low figure for the number of fish we caught, whereas other countries, especially France, Belgium and others, inflated their figures. We have suffered from that ever since, and it needs to be put right.I want to raise one last point, and that is the problem of the slipper skippers—people who, year after year, do not have the boats to catch their fish and are leasing out their quota. I feel that the Minister should impose a siphon—perhaps 10% or 20%—every time they lease out their quota, so that over five or 10 years they will lose their quota. That quota could then go to the smaller fleets and the under 10-metre boats. That would send out the message that when someone is sitting on a sofa and not fishing it is not right for them to hold quota.| Hansard