Last year I published the “Brexit and our Seas” consultation as the first step in developing a fisheries policy which works for Wales but none of us could foresee what was ahead. The potential for a no deal Brexit and the catastrophic impact on the industry and the Covid-19 pandemic, changed everything and focus moved to supporting the industry through this incredibly tough period. The Welsh Fisheries Grant opened on 23 April 2020. We received 158 vessel applications which represents 97% of eligible vessels having applied, with approximately £500,000 in payments.
The threat of a no deal EU exit has not gone away; the publication of the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill sends a worrying signal about the future of our high environmental and food safety standards in Wales and about where and how decisions about key decisions are made in the future.
As we approach the end of the transition period and, as a consequence prepare to leave the Common Fisheries Policy, we need to develop our own Welsh future fisheries policy. I am, therefore, publishing a ‘Summary of Responses’ to Brexit and our Seas and an outline of how we will move forward. We received 55 detailed responses to the Consultation and I want to thank those who took the time to respond.
The framework for how we will operate across the UK post- EU exit is being developed and the legislative basis for this is the UK Fisheries Bill. We will be setting out our policies for contributing to the achievement of the fisheries objectives in the Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS). These policies will be set out in the JFS with the other fisheries administrations, but fully respecting the devolved nature of fisheries. The JFS will include a statement on our proposed use of Fisheries Management Plans and will set out policies on how we sustainably manage our fisheries and fish stocks for future generations.
Our Welsh future fisheries policy will be rooted in our core values of economic, environmental and social justice. We must develop a sustainable, ecosystems based policy which works with all other marine polices. Our Welsh National Marine Plan allows us to do this. It provides a coherent framework for marine management and makes clear our aim is to support and safeguard a sustainable, diverse and profitable fishing sector, including promoting sustainable catch and optimising the economic value of landed fish.
Many consultation respondents suggested ways the industry could benefit from additional fishing opportunities allocated to the UK. We have, therefore, taken steps to increase fishing opportunities available to under 10m vessels and will continue to do so.
I am committed to delivering increased fishing opportunities for our Welsh Industry, ensuring Wales receives its rightful share of any new opportunities within existing Total Allowable Catches, thus allowing for increased economic activity, supporting our coastal communities and allowing for new activities such as processing.
Central to the sustainability of Welsh fisheries is the need for a modern and flexible system of domestic management for non-quota stocks. Flexible management systems will give us the tools and mechanisms to manage our fish stocks by enabling more timely interventions in response to changes in the environment and stock levels, ensuring both stocks and the environment are safeguarded whilst, at the same time, the social and economic benefits they provide to coastal communities are maximised. Our fisheries are valuable natural resources and I remain fully committed to introducing evidence based flexible management regimes for a range of Welsh fisheries such as whelks, scallops and cockles.
We must have appropriate legal powers in place to deliver our future policy and aspirations. The UK Fisheries Bill is the first key step and is now progressing through UK Parliament. At the request of the Welsh Government, the Bill makes provision with regards to devolved matters and I am keeping the Senedd updated via the Legislative Consent Memorandum procedures as the Bill is scrutinised by both the Senedd and UK Parliament.
The Bill enables the establishment of a clear and robust UK framework for managing our fisheries and provides necessary powers and management mechanisms for the Senedd and the Welsh Government to develop fisheries management plans in Wales following EU Exit. Whilst remaining committed to the UK Framework, it is our intention to take the non-framework powers for Welsh Ministers in the Bill as an interim measure until a Welsh Fisheries Bill is brought forward to the Senedd.
Importantly, the UK Bill makes provision for the extension of the Senedd’s legislative competence in matters relating to fishing, fisheries and fish health in the Welsh zone. This significant constitutional step enabling the Welsh Government to bring forward a joined up Fisheries Bill in relation to Wales and the wider Welsh zone, designed to provide the appropriate legal powers to deliver our future fisheries policy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly reduced trade with our main markets and hampered our plans to promote Welsh seafood overseas during 2020. As markets recover, we ensure our fantastic Welsh seafood is showcased at every opportunity.
The EU remains the main market for Welsh seafood and the challenges of exporting live product means unfettered access to the Single Market remains a priority. However, we also want to secure diverse and sustainable markets at home and beyond the EU for Welsh seafood.
Respondents to the BAOS consultation were clear we must do more to increase the domestic market, with increased consumer interest in Welsh seafood through education and promotion. We will continue to work with Seafish on their promotion campaigns such as “Fish is the Dish” and “Seafood Week”.
Respondents stated investing in a brand for Welsh seafood, based on sustainable and quality products, would increase demand. We are working with industry on a £1 million market development programme and a clear branding approach.
There were some very detailed responses to the questions on aquaculture in the consultation. Of those providing a response to this question, many felt Several Orders are still the most appropriate method for aquaculture licensing, and any changes to legislation would need to be carefully considered. We have already streamlined the administrative process to progress applications in a more timely manner.
Consultees stated to have a thriving fishing industry we must have healthy and biodiverse seas and for this we require the evidence available on the health of fish stocks and the impact of fishing on them. An improved evidence base will support our fisheries policy, including the achievement of Maximum Sustainable Yield, to manage our stocks responsibly. In September 2019, I published the Welsh Marine Evidence Strategy jointly with NRW, to work together with partners from public, private and voluntary bodies to gather the necessary evidence required to work towards this. Officials are working to develop two-year Welsh Fisheries and Aquaculture Evidence plans setting out how the fisheries and aquaculture evidence needs identified in the Marine Evidence Strategy will be delivered. The first Plan will be published in 2021.
Welsh Government will need to support the Welsh fishing industry to grow and make the most of any post-EU exit opportunities through a successor programme to EMFF. Respondents were clear any future support to the fishing industry should incentivise sustainable practices, improve safety and working conditions on vessels, support new entrants, marine conservation and promote Welsh fish and fish products. We are working on plans for a new programme to support sustainable development in the fishing and aquaculture sectors, conservation of the marine environment and supporting growth and jobs in coastal communities.
I remain committed and focused on delivering our vision for the future, whilst also taking effective action in the short term to support and protect Welsh fisheries and fishers.
We have a number of stakeholder groups which have been invaluable in providing challenge and support. Creating a Fisheries Policy in Wales needs considerable collaboration and co-production if we are to realise our vision and I will be establishing the architecture to allow for this co-production to take place.
Thank you again to those who took the time to respond to the “Brexit and our Seas” consultation and for your full and frank responses. While the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed our work on developing a “Future Fisheries Policy”, our vision for a thriving industry, built on healthy and resilient seas remains the same.