The fishing industry is an important part of Hartlepool’s heritage and sense of identity. It is not the biggest employer in the town, and most people in Hartlepool will go about their business not necessarily being touched by the successes or challenges of the fishing industry, but it remains of important significance.
We have had families in Hartlepool earning their living from fishing in the North Sea for at least 800 years, and probably for longer than that.
The North Sea, whether it is today or in the 13th century is a dangerous place to eke out a living.
The North Sea has claimed the lives of many fishermen over the years and unfortunately still does. That danger and harsh living is etched into the Hartlepool character and so – even if you have nothing to do with the industry – can define who we are.
Most important, of course, are the people who earn their money and try to put food on the table for their families now. People like Phil and Martin Walsh, who come from a long line of Hartlepool fishermen.
Over my time in Parliament I have raised time and again the issues that Hartlepool fishermen tell me are compromising their ability to make a living.
There is an annual fisheries debate around this time of year, where these matters are debated in the House of Commons, and I have always sought to contribute to make sure the needs of Hartlepool fishermen are heard by the Minister.
The town’s fishing fleet is almost entirely made up of smaller boats, those classified as the under 10 metres. As with many markets, the smaller players are being squeezed unfairly by the bigger enterprises.
The quota system – the means by which it is decided how much fish is allowed to be caught, according to the species of the fish and the size of the boat – is skewed very much in favour of the larger boats.
The allocations for this year show that, although over England’s coasts the under 10 metres boats make up about 77% of the active fleet, they were allocated only about 3% of the actual quota.
This is unfair by any means and although it is difficult to reallocate quota from one producer to another, because you start getting into the issue of compensation for income foregone, I raised in the debate, as I have done in previous years, that the Minister could move further and give the smaller boats a chance of maintaining their livelihood.
Fishing is a tough way to make a living. It’s made tougher by some of the distortions in the market which don’t help Hartlepool fishermen. These aren’t new arguments. I expressed a view in the House of Commons that I hope the Fisheries Minister will come up with firm and tangible action to ensure the fishing fleet in Hartlepool is not hounded out of existence.