Cornwall's fishing industry has always played an important part in our local economy and it has been great to have the opportunity as fisheries minister to try to secure a better and more secure future for our industry.
Earlier this week I attended the October EU fisheries Council which marked the start of a series of important negotiations culminating in the setting of annual quotas for fish stocks in December. The Common Fisheries Policy has long been regarded as synonymous with EU failure but last year we made an important breakthrough with a radical transformation in approach. Significant powers over fisheries management are to be returned to the national governments who have a shared interest in each individual fishery and there is a new discard ban to end the shameful practice of throwing perfectly good fish dead back into the water.
The UK led the way in securing the radical reform. The problem with the old CFP is that there were centralised quotas set by the EU for each species. But fish don't swim neatly apart from one another so fishermen targeting one fish could inadvertently catch another species for which they had no quota and the only option open to them at that point was to dump the fish back into the water.
Under the new system, the management plans for an individual water are developed multilaterally between the nations who have a shared interest in the water. There is a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and to follow the scientific advice about the health of fish stocks. This is important for the future of the industry because if we hammer fish stocks that are in decline or over exploit our fish recourses we are only robbing fishermen of their future. Sometimes we do need to hold back and show restraint in order to safeguard the future of the industry.
Another feature of the reform is that there will be a ban on discarding healthy fish back into the sea. Instead, we will help Fishermen manage the realities of the marine environment allowing flexibilities between the quotas they have. So if a fisherman catches more haddock than he expected then rather than having to throw it overboard he can count it against quotas he has for other species like whiting or cod so that he can land the fish he has caught. He will also be able to borrow some quota from the following year if needed and there will be an uplift in the amount that he can catch to take account of the fact that fish are no longer being discarded.
The marine environment is incredibly complex and no man made system to manage it is ever going to be perfect. There are also still issues we need to resolve in terms of how we implement the new system. However, the new agreement on fisheries represents a major leap forward from what has gone before.