LAST week in Parliament was the annual House of Commons debate on fisheries.
Since becoming the town’s MP, I have made a point of trying to speak in the debate on behalf of Hartlepool’s fishing fleet, which I believe is an important part of our social, economic and cultural make-up.
As I mentioned in the Parliamentary debate last week, 800 years of fishing in Hartlepool has made us collectively who we in the town are. It should be protected as much as possible.
Hartlepool’s fishing fleet is suffering and the fishermen are barely scraping a living.
Much of this is down to the quantity of fish they are allowed to catch, known as the quota.
The concept of a quota is perfectly reasonable – we don’t want to have a situation where the fish stocks are reduced, we see overfishing and the economic prospects for future fishermen are undermined – but the way in which the quota is distributed does not help Hartlepool fishermen.
I mentioned in the debate that about 75 per cent of all UK fishing vessels are under-ten metre boats, like they almost all are in Hartlepool, and yet they are only allowed to catch 4 per cent of the annual quota. The rest is used by large scale fishing producers and powerful vested interests.
Some of the quota is owned and not used for fishing at all. This situation means that hard-working fishermen in Hartlepool have the odds stacked against them and find it difficult to make a living.
I mentioned this in the debate and the Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, has pledged to look further at this issue.
The second thing I mentioned in the debate is the Common Fisheries Policy from the EU. This doesn’t seem to work for anybody, certainly not for North-East fishermen.
I said in Parliament that I thought the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is top-down, bureaucratic, clumsy, blunt and inefficient.
I questioned how the CFP could push for long-term policy when there is an annual rigmarole of quota negotiations, which just lends itself to short-term consideration which does nothing for long-term sustainability.
I asked the Minister to consider whether he could consider multi-year agreements and, again, to his credit, he said that the idea was important. I hope he will push this to ensure that the fishing fleet in Hartlepool have more certainty.
As I said earlier, Hartlepool has seen a fishing fleet for over 800 years.
Fishermen in Hartlepool know about sustainable fishing, thinking about the long-term, because, as I mentioned in Parliament, their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers fished the seas before them, and they wish to ensure that future generations of their family are able to do the same.
The fishing industry in Hartlepool and elsewhere in the UK must be sustained for generations to come and action must be taken to ensure that the Government and Parliament protect the fish stocks for generations to come as well as protecting the livelihoods of those who fish in the North Sea.