The Member of Parliament for South Thanet, Craig Mackinlay, used the opportunity last week to raise the realities of economic life faced by Ramsgate Fishermen in Parliament last week. Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Mackinlay outlined the main problems facing the local industry.
Calling on the European Commission to review the six-month precautionary ban on bass due to come in on 1st January 2016, Mr Mackinlay noted that if the ban were to go ahead it would be “simply devastating”. Bass is a key catch during a tough period for the industry. Local fishermen are deeply concerned about the proposed ban, telling the MP that they need 300kg of bass a month simply to survive. This would be taken away from them. There is additionally the issue of Thornback rays which have been reported as abundant in the Southern North Sea zone but wrongly lumped in with the more generalised skates and rays limited quota. Mr Mackinlay asked the Minister to look at the science to more closely match the reality, and for Thornbacks to be exempt from quota restrictions.
During the debate, Mr Mackinlay also called for ‘British fishermen in British waters’ and spoke of the “missed opportunity” of the Prime Minister to raise the issue of the Common Fisheries Policy, which he described as ‘damaging’.
In his contribution, Mr Mackinlay praised the Ramsgate fishermen who implemented a Pilot Community Quota Group that provided 26% more quota to small boat fishermen in Ramsgate and helped reduce discards. Deemed a success by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, this initiative could have formed the basis of a wider scheme to allow greater quota and common sense for the local under 10m fleet. Mr Mackinlay expressed disappointment that this has not been the case.
Despite the fact that Britain has claims to 80% of Europe’s fishing waters and British waters enclose, on some estimates, up to 80% of Western Europe’s fish, it is reported that two thirds of the seafood consumed in Britain is now imported.
Mr Mackinlay called for Britain to have more control over its fishing industry. He said, “The fish in our own seas are no more of a “common resource” to which all members of the EU should have “equal access” than the sunshine enjoyed by member states in the Mediterranean is a common resource to which our renewables industry is entitled to lay claim. I suggest that if we really wish to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the European Union and to drive growth and jobs for all, we need to take back responsibility for managing our fishing fleets and conserving our own fish stocks.”
In his concluding remarks, Mr Mackinlay called on the Prime Minister to secure the return of fisheries policy to the UK as part of the EU renegotiation. He further argued that the Minister had sufficient local discretion even within the failed Common Fisheries Policy to do better for Ramsgate fishermen. He said, “The reality of life for Ramsgate fishermen is truly dire. A living is virtually impossible. Too many fishermen are now lone working, with the dangers that that brings. Low fuel prices are perhaps one of the few saving graces in the industry at the moment. Most fishermen have to supplement their income with part-time work, and there are no youngsters entering the industry locally. I will be liaising with the Fisheries Minister to demand a better deal.”