Tuesday 13th February 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:02
Moved by
Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Sea Fisheries (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations were laid in draft before this House on 12 December 2023.

The purpose of this instrument is to make provision to ensure that the United Kingdom, as a member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, henceforth referred to as ICCAT, can continue to meet the full range of its international obligations in relation to the convention which governs ICCAT. The UK has an obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to co-operate on the management of shared fish stocks, including through appropriate regional or sub-regional organisations. ICCAT is one such example. It is responsible for ensuring that fisheries for tunas and tuna-like species, such as swordfish, in the Atlantic Ocean are managed sustainably. The UK became an independent contracting party to the convention—in other words, a member of ICCAT—on 1 January 2021, after depositing an instrument of accession following EU exit.

As a member of ICCAT, the UK must ensure that we are able to implement and enforce binding measures, known as recommendations, which are agreed by contracting parties under the convention. The UK must ensure that our domestic laws fulfil these international obligations. This instrument updates and amends various regulations of retained EU law to implement recommendations adopted by the commission immediately prior to and since the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Where appropriate, this instrument also makes amendments to reflect the UK’s status as an independent coastal state.

I will now go through each element of the regulation in turn to briefly explain the amendments being made to retained EU law. Regulation 2 of the instrument removes provisions from Council Regulation 1936/2001, which laid down control measures applicable to fishing for certain stocks of highly migratory fish. It also included provisions that regulated the farming of bluefin tuna. The UK, however, does not farm bluefin tuna. These provisions have therefore been removed as they are not relevant to the UK.

Regulation 3 amends Council Regulation 1984/2003. It now correctly reflects the convention’s requirement for a statistical document to accompany imports of swordfish and bigeye tuna into the UK. Other amendments are made for clarity and to ensure that the amended provisions are enforceable. For example, amendments to the description of fish captured no longer reference the 1984 version of the EU’s combined nomenclature. They are instead replaced with references to the UK commodity codes used in the UK’s customs tariff.

Regulation 4 of this instrument updates Regulation EU 640/2010 to mandate the use of an electronic catch documentation system for bluefin tuna, replacing the use of clerical documents. Further amendments are made to ensure that the new requirements are clear and enforceable, as well as outlining the limited circumstances in which a paper catch document may be used instead of the electronic system.

Regulation 4 also amends the descriptions of fish captured within Regulation EU 640/2010. These descriptions have been updated with references to the commodity codes found in the UK’s customs tariff. This amendment makes the description of fish clear and ensures that the regulation is enforceable.

Regulation 5 removes provisions in Commission Delegated Regulation EU 2015/98, which established derogations from landing obligations in order to fulfil ICCAT requirements. Instead, these provisions are covered in Regulation EU 2016/162. Removing these provisions from Commission Delegated Regulation EU 2015/98 avoids duplication and provides clarity.

Regulation 6 of this instrument amends Regulation EU 2016/1627, which implemented ICCAT’s multiannual recovery plan for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Since the recovery plan was introduced, I am pleased to say that stocks of bluefin tuna have improved significantly. The recovery plan has now been replaced with a multiannual management plan. Regulation 6 therefore comprehensively amends Regulation EU 2016/1627 to ensure that it correctly reflects the UK’s obligations under ICCAT in relation to the management plan and the UK’s catch quota.

A multiannual recovery plan was also developed for the management of swordfish in the Mediterranean. The EU gave effect to the recovery plan under Regulation EU 2019/1154, which was retained in our domestic legislation at the point of EU exit. However, as these provisions relate to swordfish in the Mediterranean, Regulation 7 of this instrument revokes the substantive provisions of Regulation EU 2019/1154 as they are not relevant to the UK.

Regulation EU 2019/1241 sets technical measures for the conservation of fisheries resources and the protection of marine ecosystems. Regulation 8 of this instrument amends Regulation EU 2019/1241 to insert minimum conservation reference sizes for bluefin tuna specified under the convention. By making this amendment, all minimum conservation reference sizes will be specified within one regulation rather than contained in different pieces of retained EU law, ensuring clarity within our domestic legislation.

In addition to amending retained EU law, Regulation 9 of this instrument amends the Common Fisheries Policy and Aquaculture Regulations 2019 to remove references to obsolete legislation. Specifically, amendments have been made to remove provisions relating to retained EU law; they have been removed and replaced with Regulation EU 2017/2107, which lays down management conservation and control measures within the conservation area of ICCAT.

The devolved Administrations are supportive of the amendments made in this instrument, ensuring that the UK can continue to meet in full its obligations as an independent contracting party to the ICCAT convention. If this instrument is not passed, the UK will not only fail to meet its international obligations under the convention; by not implementing enforceable management and traceability systems, we risk undermining efforts made over the past 17 years to ensure the sustainable management of Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks.

I hope that I have reassured all noble Lords on the purposes and aims of this statutory instrument, ensuring the continued sustainable management of this important fishery. For the reasons I have set out, I commend the regulations to the Committee. I thank noble Lords for their attention and remain at their disposal for any questions or discussion on this matter.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction to this statutory instrument, which covers the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, known as the convention.

While a member of the EU, the UK had no quota for tuna and tuna-like species. However, following Brexit, we are entitled to a quota as tuna stocks have apparently improved. The SI makes changes to retained EU law in eight previous sets of regulations, including the Common Fisheries Policy and Aquaculture (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. That is quite a lot of change and I am grateful to the Minister for going through each of the eight sets of regulations.

Paragraph 7.2 of this instrument’s Explanatory Memorandum explains how the UK has acquired a quota for bluefin tuna

“as an independent contracting party … in line with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement”.

From hereon in I shall refer to “BFT” because, as noble Lords can hear, I am getting tongue-tied in saying “bluefin tuna”. Despite not stating what the quota is, the EM indicates how the requirements will apply to UK fishing vessels catching BFT in the convention area; this includes the

“offence, penalty, and enforcement provisions”,

which

“have been added directly to relevant retained EU law to avoid … ambiguity as to whether existing enforcement provisions would apply to the newly amended provisions”.

A read through the government website’s guidance gives information about the size and length of the vessels, as well as the bait, to be used for catching BFT. It also gives detailed information about how such catch can and cannot be landed, including returning undersized live tuna to the sea, recording all catch and keeping on board dead catch for which there is no authorisation for landing.

However, it is not exactly crystal-clear. According to the government website, but not the EM, the BFT quota allocated in 2023 was 65 tonnes—an increase on the quotas for 2021 and 2022. The UK is to use 39 tonnes of that quota to trial a new, small-scale commercial fishery to see whether it will benefit UK fishers. Assuming that the 2024 quota remains the same as the 2023 one—65 tonnes—this leaves 26 tonnes of BFT to be distributed between a possible 10 available licensed authorisations. I am neither a commercial fisher nor a recreational one, but it seems to me that potentially receiving only just over 2 tonnes of the BFT quota will not be sufficient for many, especially in the commercial sector. I note that the regulations prohibit farming and the use of traps in UK waters or by UK vessels in the convention area for BFT. This is a good thing if enforced.

17:15
A targeted consultation conducted by Defra provided 167 responses. I am grateful to the officials for providing me with a link to access this. The responses were broken down into categories, and the three categories with the highest total number of responses—143—basically classed themselves as recreational fishers, of which 95 were chartered vessel owners. There appears to have been general agreement with the regulations being proposed for the recreational targeting of BFT. There were concerns about permit charges, fishery standards and enforcement, the phased rollout, and parity with the commercial sector. That last concern was felt to be important, especially in terms of permit charges and access to fisheries grant funding. Will the Minister say whether the Government propose to implement the parity requested on both of those?
Those responding to the consultation also supported a voluntary code of conduct to drive up fishery standards. However, many requested mandatory training in catch-and-release techniques. Having read the guidance, I concur that this is needed; I am not a fisher and I found it quite confusing, especially in respect of the release of live tuna back into the sea.
Only a very small number of those responding to the consultation—seven—was totally opposed to any form of BFT catch-and-release recreational fishery, known as the CRRF. Although the consultation was conducted with those with a particular interest in recreational fishing, there will be many members of the public who, once they realise the Government propose to licence BFT fishing, will object—and probably quite vociferously. Will the Minister say whether Defra has received any objections from members of the public and conservation organisations?
While I welcome the increase in bluefin tuna numbers to the extent that the Government can now consider issuing a quota for this fishing sector, I am concerned that this should be kept under strict scrutiny to ensure that their numbers continue to increase and do not diminish.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comprehensive and detailed introduction. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, went into some detail about what is in the SI, so I do not need to go over it all again.

As the noble Lord mentioned, it is important that tuna catches are managed sustainably—so it is important that we have this SI—and that must be done while we fulfil our international obligations. We have heard that bluefin tuna stocks in our seas have increased recently. That is incredibly important, but it is also important, as the noble Baroness said, that that recovery is properly protected. It is good that we are debating those aspects.

I will raise two brief points. The noble Baroness talked about quotas. Paragraph 7.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to the tuna catch quota. As she said, we did not previously have a separate quota because we came under EU rules. It would be good to understand what our quota is now and how it is operating now we have left the EU, because it is not clear what kind of catches will be allowed. If we are to manage the increase in stocks, it is important that this is clear to everybody.

Paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to the targeted consultation. I thank the noble Baroness for going into such detail about this, because when I clicked on the website link it would not work.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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It did not work for me the first time either.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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Perhaps the noble Lord can take that away and make sure the link works properly in the future. It was a bit frustrating that I could not get any detail on it. Having said that, we completely support this legislation and we need to move on with it.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank both noble Baronesses for their interest in tuna fishery. I was led to believe that the record for an SI is seven minutes; I was hoping that we might have beaten it, but BFT is obviously a long phrase and takes a bit of time to get through.

A few questions were raised. First, I will look at the consultation link and make sure that it works. Secondly, the management of our quota and the sustainability of the fishery are interlinked. We are governed by ICCAT, so it is not a European or a British thing. We do not say, “We’re going to take 50, 100 or 200 tonnes”; we have joined this organisation, which has an overarching responsibility across the whole of the bluefin tuna fishery and that of related species. As such, it does a lot of the research work that gives us some indication of how the bluefin tuna fishery is developing. It has been intricately involved in the management plan over the last 10 or 15 years.

We look to ICCAT for the quota, which it allocates across all other European countries, as well as ours. We get what we get, and then it is up to us to decide how we allocate that between the commercial and recreational fishery. This is all a bit new, not just to me but to most fishermen, I think. Not many people out there fish for bluefin tuna. The current plan is that all the recreational fishery will be catch and release. We will catch the fish, tag it and take information to feed back to ICCAT, which will help inform its decision-making. That may change over time if the fishery grows and we feel that there is a market.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about objections. I am not aware that we have had any objections at all on this issue. If we bump into lots, we can feed that into our thought process and see where it takes us. I take her point about giving people clear instructions on catch and release. Tuna is a very big fish. I am a fisherman and I have some experience of catch and release; it is absolutely not as easy as it sounds. If we are doing catch and release, there is a real need to ensure that there is clear guidance on how it is executed and that we do not damage fish in the process of releasing them. That guidance and those details need to be fleshed out a bit.

Finally, I am afraid that I am unclear on the parity of permit charges, so I will write to the noble Baroness on that point.

I think that covers all the questions, so I will wrap up. I hope noble Lords share my conviction about the need for this instrument to make the necessary provisions outlined in the Sea Fisheries (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) (Amendment) Regulations 2024. The regulations ensure that the UK can continue to meet its full international obligations under the convention which governs ICCAT, supporting the sustainable management of Atlantic bluefin tuna. With that, I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.