Brexit will allow the UK to use modern technology to end the “disgrace” of EU fishing data that is up to two years out of date, some MPs have claimed.
A debate in Parliament on the post-Brexit Fisheries Bill was told that leaving the European Union, and, therefore, the Common Fisheries Policy, would allow the UK to break free of antiquated systems and turn boats into “scientific vessels sending back data”.
During the debate, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was urged to follow the model set by Norway, Iceland and even the Falkland Islands.
In those places, scientists monitor catches on a daily basis and vessels can be moved on at an hour’s notice if too much of a certain species is being caught.
Scientists in the EU are currently in the dark about the scale of the damage being done to fish stocks by discards – the part of the catch tossed, often dead or dying, back into the sea – because the data is so weak and so old.
Alistair Carmichael, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MP, said: “The root of the disjunction between science and the industry is the fact that the advice that is given is often based on data that are very old – almost two years old by the time they are used for decision making.
Brave new world
“In this brave new world of fisheries management, one of our first priorities ought to be the quick and dirty use of the data that are being harvested by the scientists.”
Owen Paterson, a former Conservative environment secretary, said: “The data on which the European Union makes its annual decisions is guaranteed to be completely inaccurate because of discards and are probably six months to two years out of date.
“We do not know the level of discards – it is thought to be possibly 25%. It is absolutely disgraceful.”
He added: “Our scientists do not know what is going on because we discard so much.
“If we did this using modern technology, we could monitor every single fishing boat every hour. Every fishing boat would become a scientific vessel sending back data.”
Real time potential
Scott Mann, a fellow Tory, said there was the potential to “create new real time data to allow fish to be sold directly to restaurants straight off the boats”.
In the UK, all but the smallest fishing boats have been required to submit logbook and landing declaration electronically since 2012 – but have 48 hours in which to do so.
The Government says that “the requirements to report data on fishing activity are set out by EU legislation.”
The Fisheries Bill is before the Commons as controversy rages over whether the withdrawal agreement struck by Theresa May will allow the UK to regain control of its fishing waters. Future talks, during the transition period, will decide whether EU boats still have access to UK waters in return for the UK enjoying tariff-free access to EU markets.
Ross Thomson, a Scottish Tory MP, has protested the deal meant “sovereignty over our waters sacrificed for a trade deal”.
In May, the Marine Management Organisation indicated that it has a number of projects on digital services in the pipeline to support fisheries controls post-Brexit. It said the new systems will have to be developed to help users in the fishing industry produce and maintain records for processes such as obtaining licences and keeping information on catches, landings and sales.
Image by Alan Jamieson, CC BY 2.0 though flickr