There were a lot of promises made to our fishers and our fishing communities – vital to places on the east coast such as Hull and Grimsby.
And as the years have gone by, ministers have been piling up more and more promises. But it’s getting really difficult to see how all of these pledges can be delivered.
I visited Hull to talk to fishers in our distant water fleet, who are growing increasingly concerned about what lies ahead for them, especially as we leave the EU without a plan in place yet for fishing.
And there are similar stories about fishers becoming increasingly concerned about whether their livelihood is sustainable, which is just as true in Hull as it is in Plymouth where I am MP and across the country.
Our coastal communities have been forgotten for too long. They have long suffered from poor transport infrastructure and lack of educational opportunities, with too many relying on seasonal tourism work to get by. I want to see a coastal renaissance and fishing needs to be central to this.
Cities and towns right along the coast in Yorkshire should be a part of that, from Hull, to Bridlington to Whitby – they are all historic places with a real maritime heritage that should be fostered, not forgotten.
But instead our coastal towns have been hit hard by 10 years of austerity. Empty fishing docks, lost jobs and decommissioned boats lying marooned on the shore have contributed to the impression of a sector in decline. British fishing has lost its confidence.
It really doesn’t have to be like this. Time and time again, we haven’t been promised much more than ‘more fish’ from ministers out of our negotiations with the EU and I hope that promise is delivered in full. But ‘more fish’ doesn’t necessarily lead to more jobs unless the details are right.
As well as Hull I took a quick trip over the Humber Bridge to visit Grimsby. Another proud fishing town, and one that has a thriving fish processing industry. My visit to both banks of the Humber highlighted very clearly that we must go further.
Labour wants to see more fish landed in both these places. Not just in Hull and Grimsby but in coastal towns across the country. In the fishing industry there are ten jobs on land for every one job at sea. So landing more fish in our coastal towns will directly lead to more jobs being created in the fish markets, the fish processing plants and in the distributors.
That is why we have tabled the Jobs in Coastal Communities Amendment to the Fisheries Bill. This is a major piece of legislation, which is going to set the course for how we approach our fishing industry and our coast for years to come. MPs start their scrutiny of this bill in September. Our amendment would require two-thirds of all fish caught under a UK quota, in British waters, to be landed in a UK port.
Much of the fish caught legally in British waters isn’t landed on our coasts, which means jobs go abroad rather than being kept here in Britain.
Ministers have the power right now to require fish caught under a UK quota be landed in a UK port, but they have chosen not to do this. Labour’s amendment will create more jobs and bring back boats to our fish docks in Grimsby, coastal ports in Scarborough and Whitby and boost coastal economies nationwide. Whether those boats are British, French or Dutch, I want to see a firmer economic link between the fish caught in our waters and the job opportunities in our coastal towns.
To me it’s a no-brainer. But the Government is actually considering whipping their MPs to oppose it. That would be a betrayal of the promises made to people in coastal towns across the land, who often voted Leave because they wanted to revitalise their ports.
And of course now we have the new challenge of the Coronavirus, putting a massive strain on our economy and putting millions of jobs across the country at risk. With unemployment rising due to the virus, creating more jobs in sustainable fishing makes good economic sense.
I hope newly elected Tory MPs for these fishing towns see the logic that our British ports should be full of British fish. Let’s seize the opportunity to create more jobs in this time of uncertainty, and where they are so desperately needed, and back Labour’s Jobs in Coastal Communities plan.
Luke Pollard MP is Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary.
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