Since being elected as your MP nearly six years ago, a priority for me has been to help secure a successful future for our town’s fishing fleet.
After a grossly unfair initial allocation of quota a decade ago, which left our fishermen with catch limits which were far too small, working to help the industry has been a constant challenge.
However, I am now more optimistic for our fishermen’s future than I have ever been previously.
Recently I met the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice MP, along with industry representatives to discuss the formation of a Coastal Producer Organisation (PO). This organisation will bring together the English Under-10m inshore fishing fleet so they can operate on the same level and benefit from the same opportunities as the existing POs – those composed of larger vessels which took the lion’s share of quota to begin with and have held onto it since.
The Coastal PO will give local fishermen control and the ability to manage their quota. It will ensure our fleet continues to fish sustainably but also that the collective pool of quota is managed in the best interests of coastal communities such as Hastings: our fishermen will have greater freedom to decide when they go to sea; the English inshore fleet will enjoy greater access to the future quota uplifts this government will secure; the PO will be able to trade quota it doesn’t use, such as haddock, with partners across the UK and Europe in order to gain greater quota in our local species such as cod. This greater control is going to be even more important as we face up to the ban on discarding fish in the years ahead.
After having overcome a number of hurdles and with the clear support of the Minister for the initiative, the application for formal PO recognition is well advanced – I have written a letter in support of this application, which I hope will help speed up its approval. Coastal PO organisers are now entering into detailed discussions with officials to determine the precise shape and structure for the organisation.
Last year, the Government and I stood for election on a manifesto which pledged the Conservative Party’s commitment to devolve quota management to small scale inshore fishermen and their coastal communities, and to rebalance quota towards these fleets. I am pleased to see the minister working with the inshore industry to deliver this promise as fully as possible.
Fishing has been one of the most complex policy areas I have needed to get my head around as your MP and it is an industry which is vital to our town: its economy, its culture, its very identity. We need a system of managing quota which works for our fishermen and our community, and one where they have control. I am more confident than ever that we are nearing this.