Last week the UK Fishing Minister George Eustice MP, was recalled early from the Annual Fisheries Council in Brussels for a vote in Parliament, missing discussions which were crucial to the fishing industry.
It raises serious questions about whether this Government is capable of negotiating a good deal for our fisheries as we leave the EU.
The Annual Fisheries Council meeting is the most important of all the negotiations the Government undertakes on behalf of our fishing industry. It is where quota allocations are thrashed out between the 28 member states and compromises are reached to ensure a balance between commercial, recreational and environmental pressures.
Of particular concern at the most recent meeting was the future of Sea Bass fishing. This fish has been in decline for a number of years and the Marine Conservation Society have said it is on the brink of collapse. There is a heated debate over protecting these stocks and whether to introduce bans for recreational fishermen, commercial vessels, or both.
The Government are well aware of this, indeed at the Fishing Debate in Parliament just two weeks ago Minister Eustice said: “we anticipate that bass will again be a controversial issue this year”. At that debate he talked of the importance of introducing a lower catch limit for hook-and-line commercial fishermen to “create the headroom to give more leeway for recreational anglers”, adding “I will make a similar argument this year”.
As far as the Minister is concerned, no such argument was made. He was over 200 miles away, taking part in a vote in Westminster, leaving the UK’s negotiating to officials.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the resulting outcome of the talks was exactly what the Minister has stated that he wanted to avoid; anglers have been banned from keeping any bass next year under new emergency measures.
The President of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations says the new rules on bass are “a travesty that will contribute nothing to rebuilding the stock” and the Angling Trust have denounced them as “unfair”.
Earlier this week, I pushed the Prime Minister in the House of Commons to provide some answers, asking her who took over from the Fishing Minister in these vital negotiations. She was unable to provide a clear response, suggesting she either didn’t know or was reluctant to confirm what really happened.
At such a crucial time for the fishing industry, there’s huge concern over the Government’s ability to defend the UK’s national interests. In this case Ministers weren’t even at the negotiating table.