Charles Walker calls on Government to create recreational fishery to preserve jobs and sea bass stocks

Charles Walker condemns the EU deal which restricts recreational sea bass fishing whilst permitting a 1 tonne increase for inshore fleets. He calls on the Government to seize the opportunity to create a recreational fishery that is the envy of the world, preserving sea bass stocks whilst creating jobs for charter captains and fishing guides, and in hotels and restaurants.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Government negotiated a stunningly bad deal. I cannot think of a worse deal that they could have come back with for recreational bass fishermen in this country. It is no good beating around the bush.

I make no apology for enjoying visiting the website of the Art of Fishing in Wadebridge. I have never visited the shop, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) will send the team my regards when he sees them this or some future weekend.

Why was the Government’s deal so stunningly bad? They have come back and trumpeted a six-month closure. That sounds like pretty good news, until we realise that they have negotiated a four-month derogation for gillnets and hook and liners. Over the next 10 months, each of the boats will be allowed to take up to 1.3 tonnes a month—in other words, 1,300 fish a month, or 13,000 fish a year. Indeed, it is a 1 tonne increase on what they could take last year.

Let us be clear: anglers account for less than 10% of the bass killed and taken out of this country’s waters, yet the value of recreational bass fishing is estimated to be £200 million to the economy, while the figure for bass stocks landed by commercial fishermen is an estimated £7 million.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that, according to the European Commission, recreational sea anglers take 25% of the total stock caught, and that the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas has increased that figure to 30%?

Mr Walker: Only in the strange world of the European Union can a few thousand blokes with fishing rods—well, a hundred thousand-plus blokes—

Melanie Onn: Blokes?

Mr Walker: And ladies—account for 25% or 30% of all the hundreds of thousands, the millions, of bass that are taken. There they are, those recreational anglers, filling up their wheelbarrows and taking them down the high streets of our fishing communities! What a load of rubbish that is. It defies belief that organisations that pretend to be serious expect us to swallow such utter nonsense.

Let us be clear about this. The value of a bass on the dock is about £3.50. The value of that same bass to recreational angling is about £100. It is worth 28 times more to recreational anglers than it is dead on the slab, going to market.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman is making a very good case for getting out of Europe. Does he feel, as I do, and as many other Members in the Chamber do, that it is about time we had control of our fishing grounds around the shores and in the seas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We make the decisions, and let us do it ourselves.

Mr Walker: Of course I agree that we should have control of our fishing grounds, which is why I shall be voting to leave the European Union, but that is an argument for another time. I do not want to stand here and attack commercial fishermen who fish for bass, because I think that there is a golden opportunity here. As was pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), there are very few fish left in the sea for inshore commercial fishermen to target.

Oliver Colvile: I thank my hon. Friend—my very good hon. Friend, whom I have known for many years—for giving way. Do we not need to ensure that a bass stock is available? That is key, because if there are no bass, there will be nothing for anyone to fish for.

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend has made an excellent point, although I do not think that the proposals that were negotiated, or agreed to, by the Government take us any nearer to that stage.

As I was saying, there are very few fish left in the sea for inshore commercial fishermen to target, and once they have finished with the bass, there will be nothing left. So here is the opportunity: let us create a recreational bass fishery that is the envy of the western world. In 1984, it was decided in the United States, on the east-coast Atlantic seaboard, that the inshore striped bass fishery would be recreational only. That fishery is now worth $2.5 billion to the economy, as people from around the world travel there, booking charters and staying in hotels in order to go out and catch those wonderful fish.

This is the opportunity that remains open to our coastal communities. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall said, it has been seized in Ireland, and that recreational fishery is now worth £71 million a year to the entire Irish economy.

Mr Cox: Does my hon. Friend agree that the fishing tackle industry, and the supply of fishing tackle, are vital to all these crucial areas? May I commend to him the Summerlands fishing tackle shop in Westward Ho!? It is a superb exponent of that particular art, and I hope that he will go and see it and buy something from it.

Mr Walker: I think that, during his speech, my hon. and learned Friend unwittingly invited my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall and me to join him for a bit of fishing. We shall be able to introduce him to the delights of recreational angling, and that fishing shop will be the first place that we visit after breakfast, at 9.30 in the morning.

But I want to be serious about this. There is a huge opportunity here. As I have said, the value of recreational fishing—bass fishing—to the Republic of Ireland’s economy is £71 million. The value of the entire commercial catch of bass in this country is £7 million. I put to my hon. Friends representing fishing communities that the real prize, the real money and the real future for their inshore commercial bass fishermen is being at the forefront of creating recreational fisheries. There is a laboratory—a live case study. We can forget Ireland and the USA because they are established and thriving. The Isle of Man has decided to pursue that route to create jobs for charter captains and fishing guides, and jobs in hotels and restaurants. That is the opportunity that presents itself.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On the words expressed earlier about the Europe and the CFP, does the hon. Gentleman find it remiss of the Prime Minister that he did not prioritise fisheries in any part of his negotiations with Europe?

Mr Walker: I wish the Prime Minister would be more bullish when he comes to defend fishing interests. I remember fishing with the hon. Gentleman in Shetland. He was sitting on the side of a beautiful loch as it neared midnight on about 8 July. He said, “Charles, why are you using a fly and not a worm?” I leave him to justify his position in that matter with his own constituents.

Let us not make this a row between recreational fishermen and inshore fishermen, who have also had a pretty rough deal. Without threatening jobs, could we start to think collectively about creating a new opportunity for what remains of our inshore fleet to thrive and prosper, and about having a sustainable fishery and not one that is here today, gone tomorrow? As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon made clear, many fisheries around his coast have been here today and gone tomorrow, and they are now in the last chance saloon.

I have spoken for longer than I thought I would, and I took a couple of interventions, which I greatly enjoyed, but be in no doubt that the Government will continue to be harried and harassed on this matter, because there is no other word to describe their dealings in the European Union but failure.

4.7 pm

|| Hansard

Earlier intervention in the same debate

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Am I right in thinking that my hon. Friend enjoys visiting The Art of Fishing in Wadebridge—one of the best tackle shops in the country, let alone Cornwall?

Scott Mann: That is a shameless plug, but it is a fantastic fishing shop, I have to say. The chap there has some very good fishing rods and tackle that can be purchased at very reasonable rates.

| Hansard

Later in the same debate

Mr Charles Walker: Does my hon. Friend agree that the great advantage of commercial hook-and-line fishing is that there is a greater chance of returning undersized bass or bass over a certain size that we might want to release for breeding?

Mrs Murray: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, but my point is that some commercial vessels rely on catches of bass and it is too costly for them suddenly to change their gear.

| Hansard