Charles Walker outlines the opportunities on offer from sustainable management of fish stocks post-Brexit

Charles Walker MP speaks in the House of Commons, Nov 2018, fishing

Charles Walker outlines the opportunities available for jobs and coastal communities from recreational big game fishing if the UK manages our fish stocks sustainably after we leave the EU.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)

Madam Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence, may I take you to the sunlit uplands of 2028 as imagined by my great friends in the Angling Trust in this amazing press release?

“In South Cornwall, swathes of new guesthouses, hotels and restaurants have opened up to service the visiting anglers fishing for blue fin tuna in Falmouth bay. The millions of pounds this has brought to the region has resulted in hundreds of full-time equivalent jobs servicing anglers travelling from the UK and from overseas to take advantage of the world-class big game angling opportunities that Cornwall is once again offering.

Meanwhile, nearly a decade of management measures protecting the spawning bass stock in the southern North sea has turned Clacton-on-Sea into the go-to location for weekend Londoners now spending their money bass fishing and enjoying their catches cooked before them in one of Clacton’s many new seafood restaurants capitalising on the turnaround of the North sea into one of the UK’s most productive fishing grounds. More broadly, the Essex coast is once again seeing former charter captains, such as Stewart Ward, returning to the sea.

It is worth remembering that none of these dramatic developments would have been possible without the Government’s brave and radical decision when the UK left the EU to ensure fish stocks were managed sustainably and to maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment.

The policy was controversial at the time, but the bold and ambitious move has paid off in ways even the most ardent supporter of such a policy could not have expected at the time. The UK is now a world leader in how to manage fish stocks sustainably, so they deliver the biggest benefits to society as a whole.”​
The press release concludes:

“EU policy makers are now planning to follow suit in the next reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which, like the reforms before it, from 2002 to the last one in 2022 failed to live up to their promises.”

That is the prize—and, my word, is it a prize. Imagine people from around the world travelling to Cornwall to catch 500 lb tuna fish—not to knock the tuna on the head and put them in a refrigerated ship to be cut up on a slab, but to be part of a conservation programme so that they can be tagged, measured and released; a big game fishery that means people who love fishing and catching big fish do not have to fly to Kenya to do it? People from around the world will be flying to London and regional airports to get to Falmouth, so they can go big game fishing. This is going to be a fantastic opportunity. Charter skippers will be able to charge somewhere in the region of £1,500 a day to take three fishermen, fisherwomen or fisherpersons out. Wow.

As for bass fishing, what an opportunity: thousands of beds around Essex filled up with anglers at the weekends and during holidays with their fly rods and spinning rods, coming to Essex and other coastal communities and counties to catch bass; bass that are no longer plundered but preserved for game fishermen. Of course, I do not want to see commercial fishermen cut out of bass fishing, but I know there is a way of managing our bass stocks so both interests can have a sustainable future. As well as the big politics of Brexit, that is what we need to be discussing today: the fish, because the fish are really important.

I want to say a couple more things before I sit down—I said I would be brief. The management of our fish stocks, as far as recreational anglers are concerned, has been nothing short of catastrophic up to this point. Until 1 October, if I had gone bass fishing with my son and we had caught a bass each, we both would have been required to return them. Even if they had been above the 42 cm keep limit, it would have been illegal for us to keep a fish. That is not right; fish stocks belong to everyone. I see in front of me my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who speaks so passionately about fishing. She understands that they need to be shared out and that recreational fishermen need to be able to keep a fish or two, or maybe three, for their family and friends. That is not being greedy; it is connecting with nature and the sea.

I look around the Chamber and see colleagues who are passionate about fishing, but we need to have a bit more passion about the fish. We need to make sure that we have viable fish stocks for people to enjoy.

Mrs Sheryll Murray

My hon. Friend is a fantastic spokesperson for the leisure and recreational fishing fraternity. Will he tell us how the ban on catching bass has affected the angling fraternity under the common fisheries policy and how they will benefit once we leave?

Mr Walker

The press release that I quoted mentioned Stewart Ward, who is a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), who was sitting here a few moments ago. Stewart Ward lost his business. He was a charter skipper in Essex, and he wrote to me to explain why it happened. When people ​pay their £40 or so to go out on a fishing trip, they like to keep a fish or two, which is perfectly reasonable. It is a natural thing for someone to want to bring their catch home—it is part of the harvester in many of us. However, his clients and guests were not allowed to keep the fish, and they could not justify spending the money if they were not able to bring part—not all—of their catch home. It has had a damaging—some would say catastrophic—effect on the recreational angling fleet and those who enjoy recreational angling.

I have spoken for too long. I think I have made the case for fish, and I hope that we in this Chamber can continue to make the case for fish long after we have left the EU in a few months’ time.

Hansard

Interventions

Mr Walker
I thank the Secretary of State for that. It would be nice if we could talk a little more about fish, and I want to talk briefly about bluefin tuna. For the first time in about 50 or 60 years these wonderful fish are appearing off the shore of Cornwall and up the west coast. When we have left the EU, will we look at having a recreational catch-and-release fishery for bluefin tuna? If we could discuss that, and if I could bring a delegation to see the Secretary of State to discuss it, I would be extremely grateful, because there is huge commercial and conservational opportunity attached to such a fishery.

Michael Gove
I quite agree and we are actively exploring that. One of the points I was due to make is that recreational fishing is a crucial part of the life of the nation; it provides, through tourism and other expenditure, support for many important parts of our rural and coastal economy.

Hansard

Mr Charles Walker

The hon. Lady was starting to make a good case for recreational angling before she was dragged away by colleagues who wanted to talk about commercial landings. Recreational angling accounts for about £2 billion into the economy, whereas commercial fishing accounts for about £200 million. If we want to maximise the UK’s fish stocks, as I am sure that you do, Madam Deputy Speaker, we need to focus on recreational angling and the value of recreational angling, and we need to have fish species that are largely kept back for recreational anglers.

Sue Hayman

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very well-made point. Yes, I support exactly what he is saying. We know that the Secretary of State also recognised ​in his speech the importance of recreational angling. If we are to achieve the goals that we are talking about, can the Secretary of State confirm that he intends to bring forward future measures to support recreational sea angling? If so, can he provide us with some details on those plans today?

Hansard

Mr Charles Walker

May I mount a bit of shameless lobbying? To tackle illegal lobster potting, the Scottish Government have put a limit on recreational lobster fishermen, such as myself, of one lobster landing a day on the west coast of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who represents Barra, will know, it is often very difficult to get your boat out more than once every four or five days. Will the hon. Lady ask the Scottish Government whether, instead of putting on a limit of one lobster a day, they will look at a limit on the number of pots a recreational fisherman can have—say, five or six—beyond which they would need to get a licence?>

Deidre Brock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am certain that the Scottish Government will be closely following the debate and that they will make a note of his request.

Hansard