It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Indeed, I am doing so for the first time.
We are all aware that since joining what was then the EEC, the UK fishing industry has steadily declined from landings of l million tonnes to about 400,000 tonnes today. Despite this, the industry still contributes £1.3 billion to the UK economy, and provides over 34,000 jobs nationwide.
In the south-east, the industry is small, representing just over 1% of the jobs in the sector, but there are communities where fishing is the lifeblood of the town. Selsey in my constituency services much of the surrounding coast, including Chichester harbour, bringing in an annual landings turnover of £l million, and boasting the best crab in the country. Selsey’s small but active fishing industry has about 15 boats, mostly of under- 10 metre vessels but with four of over-10 metres. Similarly, across the UK our fishing fleet predominantly comprises smaller vessels. Only about a fifth of our vessels are over-10 metres long. However, today we can see large vessels from France and Belgium fishing just 6 miles off the coast of Selsey. The vast majority of our local fishing is done within a 10-mile radius, so this is rather unwelcome.
We hope that change is on the horizon, as this Bill will set out the framework to make the UK an independent coastal state once again. With that, comes the ability to control our exclusive economic zone, reinstating our sovereign right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage our seas. This change will mean that foreign vessels will have to seek permission to fish here. In cases such as Selsey, I hope that will also mean we can provide some breathing space so our local fleet can access near-shore fishing grounds without competition.
One of the biggest changes brought about by this Bill will be our ability to implement a fair quota system, as currently it is anything but. As has been mentioned, in the English channel the French take 83% of the cod; by contrast, UK fishers can take only 9%. It was therefore no surprise to hear the French President and his Europe Minister calling over the past few days for guaranteed access to our waters.
The UK has led the way to sustainable fisheries. We have been instrumental in setting rates at levels that will deliver a maximum sustainable yield by 2020, ensuring that species numbers remain stable for future generations. Self-regulation provides the opportunity to be more flexible and responsive to species population changes, allowing fishermen to take advantage of increases in fish populations. It has already been suggested that quotas for rays and skates could be increased by as much as 20%.
A big cause for concern within the industry is how to get more people into fishing. A New Economics Foundation report has highlighted that one of the biggest barriers for new entries is cost. New fishers willing to join the industry are required to purchase vessels with existing track records if they are to access quotas. That is a significant obstacle for those wishing to enter the profession, and it has the tendency to mean that older vessels are overvalued. I hope that in the near future the Government can work with organisations such as the NFFO to establish taster days and promote apprenticeships in this vital industry, which we can and should regenerate.
This debate is not about the disadvantage of the past but the opportunity of the future. The change ahead of us will reinvigorate our fishing industry and create prosperity for coastal communities, while continuing to ensure our fisheries are sustainable for future generations. I believe we can do all this and more, if we develop strategies to get more people into the industry who will help to bring in a new era of growth for our fishing industry.
British fisherman have faced decades of disadvantage, but by ensuring that our seas are once again sovereign we will turn the tides. I will end with a quotation from the president of the NFFO, Tony Delahunty, as he is a constituent of mine. He said:
“The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation’s view is that the withdrawal and future agreement…is an extremely important first step towards a new future for the UK as an independent coastal state and are keen to ensure that there are no links between fishing rights and trade in future negotiations.”