A proposal that the number of sea fisheries committees should be reduced from 12 to six was played down by the new fisheries minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, speaking in his first fisheries debate in the House of Commons this evening (November 20, 2008).
“I have not suggested that that number is right,” he said speaking with careful deliberation .
“I will decide on the future number of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in England, following full consultation with the sea fisheries committees, with MPs, and with other stakeholders, early in 2009.”
Several MPs questioned the number and geographic spread of the future committees, which will be renamed inshore fisheries and conservation authorities (IFCAs). Andrew George, MP for St. Ives, Cornwall, said the present boundaries of the committees were working well and did not need to be tampered with.
Opening the debate the minister said sea angling made a significant contribution to the UK economy.
“Fishing is part of the national heritage, socially and culturally important…and it provides recreation for many anglers.
“Managed effectively, fishing can be sustainable. However, if we get the balance wrong, we could threaten vulnerable species and cause irreversible damage to marine ecosystems and the resources on which everyone – from fishermen and sea anglers to consumers – depends.”
The debate predominantly concerned the EU Fisheries Council meeting next month (December) where commercial fishing catch levels in 2009 will be decided but sea angling was referred to by other speakers.
Bill Wiggin the Conservative shadow fisheries minister said the House “should never forget” the contribution made by 1.1 million recreational sea anglers. who supported 19,000 jobs and had a vital role in managing marine resources.
Some 4 million people in total were involved in all forms of angling and he hoped the minister would join him in paying tribute “to those involved in promoting sea angling and merging together with other angling groups to form the Angling Trust. I also hope that he will be listening very closely to the Angling Trust. “
His predecessor ignored the views of anglers when he authorised a one-third increase in the [freshwater] rod licence fees for disabled and elderly anglers – “hitting some of the most vulnerable in our society hardest.”
Now, with the Marine Bill coming forward and the reform of the sea fisheries committees, their contributions would matter and must be valued.
Sea anglers had been badly let down by ministers. The present minister had confirmed that Defra might publish a revised strategy for sea angling by the end of the year.
The Government appeared to be dithering again about supporting the nation’s sea anglers and bass fisheries. The minister had stated that research was being undertaken on possibly restricting bass catch areas to benefit anglers, and improve bass survival.
“That report is three years away. How much longer after that will sea anglers have to wait for a comprehensive package of measures to support bass fisheries and sea angling?
“The impression being given to sea anglers is that when Ministers are not ignoring them, they are breaking promises and paying them little more than lip service. “
Robert Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby asked the minister’s views about recreational fishing in marine conservation areas. Commercial fishing was not wanted where fish spawned and where that vital environment could be conserved.
“Conservation is at its best in on-land areas where, for example, shooting takes place.
“I hope that the Minister will consider that recreational fishing, which also plays an important part in the economy of Whitby and Scarborough…should be allowed to take place in those areas, obviously with certain controls.”