Geoffrey Cox condemns failed EU fishing policy which has decimated the northern Devon fishing industry

11th February 2016

Geoffrey Cox speaks up for northern Devon inshore fishing fleet and condemns the illogical and failed EU fishing restrictions which are unfair and fail to address the real threat to the future viability of UK fish stocks.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): I am not a recreational angler, but I have every intention of taking it up. It sounds an immensely enjoyable pastime and one in which all Members of Parliament should partake. I do, however, have an inshore fishing fleet to speak up for, and I have to say that one thing I am depressed about as a result of reading some of the briefings for this debate is the tone that is taken towards decent inshore commercial fishermen. These are men and women who have families to support. They are not large concerns. Having clung to a traditional fishing industry, in places such as Appledore, Bideford and Clovelly, they have found the rug gradually pulled out from under their feet.

I agree with my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas). We are dealing here with an insane, illogical, irrational, fatuous policy. It is absolutely crazy that anglers cannot take two or three fish home for the table, when, at the same time, the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has obtained derogations that allow netting to continue. Of course on the face of it, if we take the one, it is strange we do not take the other, but I propose a reason to the House. Ministers know, when negotiating in Brussels with their counterparts in other countries, that if they take away bass from the inshore fishing fleet, they will have nothing left to catch. In the north Devon industry, which I represent, they cannot catch spurdog; there is no cod, plaice or sole; no thornback ray; no blonde ray; and now there is a ban on small-eyed ray, which represents 40% of the take for the northern Devon fishing industry. Fishermen say to me, “What do we catch?”

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the ban is pitting the recreational fishermen against the under-10 metre fleet? I and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) met our Sussex inshore fisheries and conservation authority last week and found out that, as a direct result of the ban on sea bass, there are now restrictions on shellfish.

Mr Cox: I do agree. The policy is crazy, and Ministers know it. They wrestle with their consciences, they feel guilty and they try to push the envelope for the inshore fleet, but they know that the situation is untenable. They know that decent men and women with livelihoods to protect cannot go to sea for more than a few days a year and cannot cover their costs. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). Of course the position is crazy. It is an insane policy.

Of course the rod-and-line sea anglers must feel a sense of injustice. It is a direct and perverse consequence of a failed policy. That is the difficulty. How do I go back to Bideford and Appledore and say to my fishermen, “There’s nothing for you to catch”? Catching small-eyed ray, the last thing on which they depended, was banned in December. Why do we think my hon. Friend the Minister came back with derogations for gillnetting? It was because he knew that the small-eyed ray was banned, which meant 40% of the northern Devon fishing industry cut at a slice. Was there any consultation on that ban? No. Was there any warning? No.

The real injustice is the whole failed policy. It is time we got out of it. The people of this country will have the chance to withdraw us from it in just a few months. Then we can have a properly managed fishery in which the rod-and-line men and the sea anglers can be treated properly, and the inshore fleet, on which traditional coastal communities depend, can breathe again when we introduce common sense back into the counsels of our fishing policy.

Huw Irranca-Davies rose

Mr Cox: No, I am not listening to a former Minister who presided over this policy and went cap in hand to Brussels begging for scraps. It is time we took back our fisheries policy. That will bring justice to the people my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall spoke for and to the decent men and women who have nothing to fish for in the north Devon fishery.

3.49 pm

Later intervention in the same debate

Mr Cox: Does my hon. Friend agree that the fishing tackle industry, and the supply of fishing tackle, are vital to all these crucial areas? May I commend to him the Summerlands fishing tackle shop in Westward Ho!? It is a superb exponent of that particular art, and I hope that he will go and see it and buy something from it.

Mr Walker: I think that, during his speech, my hon. and learned Friend unwittingly invited my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall and me to join him for a bit of fishing. We shall be able to introduce him to the delights of recreational angling, and that fishing shop will be the first place that we visit after breakfast, at 9.30 in the morning.

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Surgery Dates

Geoffrey holds regular surgeries. To book an appointment please click here or call 01822 612925.
Saturday 28th July
Bideford, Torrington
Saturday 8th September
Holsworthy, Tavistock