Lord West of Spithead, Former First Sea Lord, has argued that the UK has “insufficient ships within the fishery protection squadron to carry out enforcement”, during a recent debate.
Lord Cameron of Dillington said in the recent debate:
“As others have said, when we in our committee did our original report on the landing obligation at the end of 2018, it was obvious to us that no one was prepared for the dramatic change that was to be introduced to the common fisheries policy. The Government had not really addressed all the practical actions necessary to make it work; there was no data on the current level of discards; there was no data on the take-up of more selective fishing gear; there had been very little education of fishermen, particularly those of the inshore fleet with smaller boats; and there was no real preparedness for how such a new total ban would operate and be policed. Furthermore, the MMO was underresourced and underprepared for its inevitable policing and enforcement duties. The port authorities also had made minimal plans to deal with any increase in the landing of illegal fish.
Meanwhile, the fishermen, both large and small, were in a state of panic. They knew that, if properly enforced, the landing obligation and the associated problems of choke species would close them down and possibly bankrupt them—some said by March and others said, at best, by June 2019.
However, of course, as we all now know, the total ban on discards came into force on 1 January 2019 with more of a whimper than a bang. I have to admit that that was probably the best thing that could have happened in the short term for the survival of our crucially important fishing industry. It was not ready. No one was ready. But now we really have to move on as soon as practically possible to full and proper implementation if we are to ensure the long-term survival of this same crucially important fishing industry.
In their reply to our report, the Government state that the early part of 2019 was taken up with training and informing the various parts of the industry regarding their obligations under the landing obligation and how to best implement them. The Government state:
‘Following this initial period of education, the MMO is now moving towards a more enforcement-centred approach … We are stepping up enforcement … to include more detailed inspection of catches at sea in high-risk fisheries.’
There is thus in those remarks a tacit admission that the Government were slow to grasp the nettle in 2018.”
Lord West of Spithead asked:
“Does the noble Viscount agree that we have insufficient ships within our fishery protection squadron to carry out enforcement at the level he is talking about?”
Lord Cameron of Dillington responded:
“First, I am not a Viscount—I should perhaps correct that. However, the answer is at the moment, yes, but I am assured that we are building up to it.
The Government have been slow to grasp the nettle but are moving in the right direction. That is a good thing. In the meantime, bearing in mind that fish are an international commodity, it is important that we try to persuade our neighbours also to pursue and enforce a ban on discards. There is no doubt that the reluctance to enforce the landing obligation is not only a British phenomenon; it seems to be the norm across all EU fishing states. We heard from a Dutch fishing representative, who was adamant that the whole idea was ridiculous, and there was no doubt from our conversation with the fisheries Commissioner that even DG FISH was taking a very softly, softly approach.”
Lord Thurlow added:
“There is no effective means of policing agreed and the fisheries protection fleet needs beefing up; as the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said earlier, the Royal Navy is unlikely to come to its assistance as it too is short of ships. The only real motivation for the fishing fleets, ours and the continental ones, are from the personal conservation interest of the skippers and the desire to obey the law. However, I am sure there is no motivation for foreign boats in UK waters, particularly in the present circumstances.”