MP: DEFRA needs to follow through on promise to 'work hand in glove' with fishing industry

Torbay Weekly

Last year’s record-breaking sales from Brixham Fish Market shows our coastal communities can flourish outside of the EU.

Of course, domestic sales increased to the benefit of the market, but 60 per cent of all catches were still exported to the EU.

Despite the often-misinformed narratives, our fish exports are reaching their European destinations.

It also demonstrates the power of the two Specialised Trade Committees, on Fisheries and Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards.

These committees were created with the express purpose of improving the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK-EU.

Thus far, it appears to be working well, and industry leaders have been able to register and address their concerns around the elements of the deal that are not as harmonious as they could be.

However, with all the attention focused on the larger vessels and bigger ports, it might feel like the smaller inshore fishing fleets are being overlooked.

Having met with a group of inshore fishermen last week in Salcombe, I certainly left with that impression.

It would be spectacularly foolish to forget about the smaller vessels.

In villages, towns and hamlets across the country, these small-scale fishing operations do not just have an economic value but a historic and cultural significance.

They must be supported, protected and their future safeguarded.

With the Fisheries Act in place, there is a great deal of change expected from the fishing industry.

Broadly, the new requirements are positive. They will help us monitor our fish stocks and protect overfished areas.

The fishing community accepts the need to monitor our coastal waters, after all their future livelihoods depend on healthy stocks and clean waters.

As ever, big changes require sizeable alterations of habit. But unfortunately, the policy experts in Whitehall have, in my opinion, overlooked several areas which are already causing immeasurable frustration and anger within the fishing industry.

First, the new inshore vessel monitoring system (IVMS), which requires all vessels to be equipped with a tracking system while fishing in English waters, is costly, cumbersome and in some cases wholly unnecessary.

In 2018, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), stated they would cover the 'entire costs' of these new systems.

Unfortunately, there appears to be little understanding of whether this includes installation and operating costs, £200 (one-off) and £150 (per annum), respectively.

Added to which there is a legitimate question as to why the under six-metre vessels need such technology, given the insignificance of their catches when compared to larger-sized vessels.

While for many, these costs may not seem outrageous, they are causing a great deal of consternation across our coastal communities, especially to those who do not fish all year round.

DEFRA must provide clarity around the costs as well as ensure that any faults with the technology will not penalise the fishermen.

Second, the Catch App that records all catches, needs to provide flexibility around 'named ports of landings'.

Many areas are not listed despite having long-standing fishing communities operating from the area.

On top of which, the requirement of weighing in catches needs to be given a greater radius from the landing port.

Fishermen don’t want to break the law, but at present, the vagaries of the legislation mean that many are living in fear of being unduly penalised by an overzealous Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Marine Management Organisation. All of which is happening because of the lack of clarity in the law.

I have often felt, if there is one Government department that should not be based in London, it is DEFRA.

It should be based in a rural location where it can integrate its work with those who fish and farm.

I have little doubt such a move would create a better policy that works with the fishing community rather than against it.

Our fishing community can flourish and I believe we can address the problems raised last week, but it does require DEFRA to follow through on its promise to 'work hand in glove with the sector'.