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MP warns of fishing 'disaster'

England's fishing industry is threatened with disaster by quota cuts proposed by Europe, a Labour MP has warned.

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) said a rear-guard action had been fought, which is now reaching its nadir, as he called on ministers to "go and fight and protect" the UK's interests at a EU Fisheries Council meeting next week.

He suggested Scotland's ministers and its government had better protected the industry in its area, although he warned the prospects were gloomy for the wider industry.

Companies will struggle to fish all year round and make a profit if the quota cuts as proposed are enforced, Mr Mitchell added.

Opening a debate in the Commons, Mr Mitchell said: "The present forthcoming council in December threatens disaster for the industry because the cuts proposed by conservation campaigners in quota - about 40 quotas cut and only 27 either stable or increased, what the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations called a breath-taking galaxy of cuts which are going to decimate the industry - are a turning point because they threaten the viability of the fishing industry, especially of the English fishing industry.

"The Scottish fishing industry inevitably is stronger as it's nearer the grounds and it's better protected by its ministers and its government I think than the English industry has been, and this is a particular threat to the South West.

"The South West is going to suffer the brunt of these cuts. There won't be enough quota, if the cuts go ahead, to keep fishing industry, viable fishing, going all-year round, going profitably.

"There won't be enough to make it profitable and the industry will be forced to reconstruct by bankruptcy really rather than by decommissioning or a sensible policy."

Mr Mitchell said events in the Bristol Channel were a warning about the fate that will "overtake the British industry" if the cuts go ahead.

He went on: "The prospects for the wider industry coming from this council meeting are gloomy indeed because they're compounded by not only cuts in the total allowable catches by the discards ban, which is coming in in two stages, which is going to be messy and very difficult.

"And frankly I believe that a discards ban is impossible unless you equip every vessel with close circuit television so you can monitor what's been caught or perhaps we could send unemployed Methodist ministers as observers on every fishing vessel - perhaps ministers from the Church of Scotland on the Scottish vessels - to observe what's going on and give us an honest account of what's going on."

Conservative Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) said the Government should seek to extend the end date for a European proposal for maximum sustainable yield levels - the catch allowed from a fish stock which does not threaten its future - from 2015 to 2020.

She said: "Fishermen's organisations say this would still comply with the regulation but it would lessen the disastrous effect of the massive quota reductions which, if implemented, would be a real disaster for the South West fleet."

Opening her remarks, Ms Murray said: "I've worked with (Mr Mitchell) for many years, particularly while working on behalf of Save Britain's Fish, and I still believe today that UK fishermen would be better off out of the disgraceful Common Fisheries Policy - I've often referred to it as the completely foolish policy."

Tory Peter Aldous (Waveney) called on Prime Minister David Cameron to put reclaiming Britain's fishing waters at the centre of his renegotiation strategy with the European Union (EU).

Mr Aldous said his local fishing community in Lowestoft was a "pale shadow" of what it used to be because it got a "raw deal" with only 4% of the total fishing quota available for its fleet.

This was despite the under-10 metre boats in Lowestoft representing over 77% of Britain's total fleet.

He said: "Unless this problem is addressed, they will continue to dwindle and it will be a real tragedy for so many communities.

"We are committed to a referendum on the UK's future membership of the EU in 2017.

"And a renegotiation of the terms of our membership beforehand.

"In these negotiations, the reclaiming of our territorial waters in the six to 12 nautical mile area should be a priority demand.

"The current system is unworkable and unfair and this reclamation would allow the Government to put in place measures that properly protect fish stocks and the marine environment and give priority access to local fishermen who depend on these waters for their survival."

Labour's Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) called for better safety checks to avoid deaths on fishing vessels.

He said he had traced at least 10 deaths in the industry this year and claimed many were avoidable.

Mr Doran said: "If you look at the causes of deaths for example significant numbers of fishermen have fallen overboard.

"There's a generational culture in the industry where workers have refused to wear safety jackets or any other safety equipment like harnesses, even when they are on offer.

"On most larger vessels there is heavy machinery and gear on board.

"Many injuries sustained by fishermen are caused by accidents with this equipment and with the size of some of the equipment these are serious accidents.

"There are many other areas where safety could be improved - there are often fires for example on board ships, alcohol is an issue with a number of deaths, and the condition of some vessels is not good, mainly because of the age and deterioration.

"That raises the question of whether or not surveys are adequately identifying serious deficiencies."

Conservative Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) said the time had come to examine whether the Marine Maritime Organisation was fit for purpose.

Experts should be sent in to scrutinise how its data processing was being conducted, he added, given that livelihoods were at risk.

The QC, who joked that he gets seasick in the bath, asked the minister: "Will you get a grip of this organisation that has lost the trust of the fishing industry from top to bottom?

"If their livelihoods are to be in the hands of these people ... the Government needs to reassure itself on their behalf that the organisation is doing its job properly."

Labour's Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) said changes in the fishing industry always worked best when fishermen signed up to them.

He went on: "They depend on the environment for their living. It has probably been passed down from generation to generation. We must make sure when new policies are implemented that fishermen are part of that decision."

Labour former minister Anne McGuire, who represents Stirling, said the fishing industry needed advocates from outside it to re-establish the connection with the wider population.

She told MPs that her son is a fisherman in the Western Isles and added: "Sometimes we do forget just how dangerous this industry is."

She also pointed out the quotas were set 25-30 years ago and that there had been a decreasing allocation in terms of the smaller in-shore fishing vessels.

Those 5,000 boats now only have 4% of the quota, she added.

"It is increasingly difficult for some of those in-shore fishermen to make those small businesses ... viable."

Liberal Democrat Andrew George (St Ives) said: "Areas south of the Scottish border have got a very difficult deal and have done for decades.

"It would be remiss, I think, for us to present the United Kingdom case as if it were primarily a Scottish issue."

SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) said: "The pelagic sector has not had an easy run in recent years. Although we have seen some progress in terms of resolving the protracted mackerel dispute with Iceland and the Faroe Islands earlier this year, the trade sanctions imposed on the EU by Russia in response to the political situation in Ukraine have hit our pelagic exports disproportionately hard."

Labour's Iain Wright (Hartlepool) said: "The fishing industry in Hartlepool is not a staple industry like it is in other constituencies but it does go back 800 years.

"During my time in this House, that determination to pass on the business has become increasingly difficult. It's not getting any easier for my constituents to be part of the fishing industry."

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