Brexit presents a “unique” chance” for the government to allocate additional fishing opportunities “more fairly and transparently” to UK vessels, the Commons Efra Committee has said. However, it claims government plans currently “lack detail”.
The committee’s scrutiny of the government’s fisheries bill, published today, welcomed the government’s proposal to establish a new method of fishing opportunity allocation.
However, they did not meet the committee’s expectations, Efra said, with MPs noting the bill had the potential to continue marginalising owners of smaller vessels, and did not represent a significant break from current practices under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Not enough information was available over how the UK fishing industry would retain its place in the European market, the committee added. It also noted the government “should consult widely on the tender process for allocation of additional English quota”, and ensure buy-in from a range of stakeholders within the industry, including the operators of smaller vessels.
Consultation should be followed by a trial, with feedback from affected parties to ensure workability and efficacy, it urged.
Plans for a UK version of the CFP’s discards ban should similarly be trialled and consulted on, as industry has “valid concerns about the workability of such a scheme in practice”.
The committee called on Defra to establish a “national research programme” to identify new solutions to the issue of discard prevention, with an aim of reporting its findings before the end of the Brexit transition period. UK waters should also be “protected and properly policed”, it insisted.
The level of ambition shown in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan was also not matched by the bill, Efra warned, with a lack of clarity on how the UK’s new fishing policy would meet its international obligations once the UK left the CFP.
An independent advisory body to oversee future fisheries policy was required, and needed to have the credibility “to make a real and sustained impact”, Efra said.
“What the fisheries bill represents is a real, once-in-a-generation chance to overhaul an outdated, overly rigid policy,” said Efra chair Neil Parish MP. “We must see our waters protected and properly policed. We cannot jeopardise our access to these waters or our place in the European market. It is imperative that if or when we grant access to UK waters to other countries, we do so with our own industry in mind.”