Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd

11/03/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Jenny Rathbone AS
Llyr Gruffydd AS
Mike Hedges AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

James Wilson Cyfarwyddwr, Cynhyrchwyr Cregyn Gleision Bangor Cyf
Director, Bangor Mussel Producers Ltd
Jim Evans Cadeirydd, Cymdeithas Pysgotwyr Cymru
Chair, Welsh Fishermen’s Association
Jon Parker Cadeirydd, Pwyllgor Cynghori Seafish Cymru; Arweinydd Datblygu, Aquaculture Industry Wales Ltd
Chair, Seafish Wales Advisory Committee; Development Lead, Aquaculture Industry Wales Ltd

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Lorna Scurlock Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:44.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:44. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good afternoon. Can I welcome you to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? Apologies have been received from Joyce Watson. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. You shouldn't need to operate the microphones yourselves. If I drop out of the meeting for any reason, Jenny Rathbone will take over. Are there any declarations of interest? I see none. 

13:45
2. Gwaith gwaddol: dyframaethu
2. Legacy work: aquaculture

Can I welcome to the committee Jon Parker, chair of the Seafish Wales advisory committee and development lead for Aquaculture Industry Wales Ltd, and James Wilson, director of Bangor Mussel Producers Ltd? If you're happy, can we move straight to questions? And if I can start, what is your view of the fisheries provision included in the final EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement, and how will they impact on the Welsh industry, in particular the impact on, obviously, in your case, the shellfish industry?

James, do you want to pick up first on this?

To be honest, for me—. Look, I can only really speak on behalf of aquaculture—that's where I sit at the moment—and there's not a huge amount in the TCA that is directly applicable to aquaculture per se. The bits where there is crossover relate to trade, so in respect of the sanitary and phytosanitary provisions, particularly in the import-export thing, and in respect of those, I don't think anybody really understands what they mean at the moment. So, that's all I can really comment on that. Jon.

Yes, similar to James, I'm covering primarily an aquaculture base, but I did send in a detailed paper to the committee in regard to some of the issues around the post agreement and some of the trade issues that exist around that. What it means for Wales, as we move forward with the aquaculture sector, as James has alluded to, sits broadly outside, although there are impacts that the agreement's going to have from the trade side, and some of the provisions within the agreement around the six to 12 nautical mile zone and what I think we were expecting in terms of possible quota allocations, I think, have been some of the issues that we need to work through over the next few months.

To explore that perhaps a little more deeply, there is considerable disappointment at the relatively small additional uplift in quota that British fishermen and Welsh fishermen in particular are going to enjoy, and also not having the benefit of the six to 12 miles exclusive economic zone. Although you say this is largely a trade issue, it inevitably impacts on aquaculture, because without the trade, you wouldn't be in the business at all, would you, given the very high proportion of your product that is exported?

I'd like to answer that. I think there is a conflation of two separate issues there. The issue of seafood trade was kind of disconnected from the issue of the wider narrative associated with fishing rights during the negotiations in the lead-up to it, deliberately by the industry, and much to the chagrin of many people like me, it was deliberately overlooked. People made the wrong assumptions, I suppose, for their own motivations. But absolutely, the connection to the European market, which still is the second-largest seafood market for imports globally, is massively important and was hugely underestimated during the negotiations. The things you've seen since the beginning of January are just testament to that. It's an absolute disaster for the seafood sector in Wales and in the wider UK.

Yes, well, I entirely agree. Given the short amount of time between agreeing the so-called trade and co-operation agreement and it coming into force, can you describe the immediate impact of this on exporters like yourself? James to start with.

13:50

It was an evolving situation for the first four weeks. We had been informed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that there would still be a route open to access the market. We'd been asking a question of DEFRA since late 2018. They said that they'd identified a route, that they'd confirmed that with the Commission. So, we were working on that premise. So, the first four weeks, we were attending the export meetings and seeing how things evolved in respect of the friction that people obviously hadn't experienced before—how that was manifesting at the border— and then what was being done to try and mitigate or minimise that. Certainly, our costs for transport, we've been quoted 300 per cent uplifts in our costs for transport to get to that market in any case. So, we were really concerned about the viability going forward. Then came this rather crushing, if, on reflection, not that surprising, news that DEFRA had actually misunderstood in part the advice that they'd got from the Commission, and actually it turned out they had asked the Commission the wrong question in the first place. So, yes, we feel absolutely somewhere between totally perplexed that DEFRA could get something so wrong and really bloody angry. And I think that's probably the same for everybody in the bivalve sector in England and Wales. So, I mean, it's incredible.

Yes. There have been some well-publicised bureaucratic nonsenses like consignments being delayed beyond the point where the shellfish remained edible because the wrong colour ink was used in filling in the forms, et cetera. But what I'm trying to get at here is what is it in this trade and co-operation agreement—which doesn't seem to be correctly named; it's 'lack of trade and co-operation' it seems to me is what characterises it more than anything else—what is it here that is causing you a problem?

You say that you can work through this; does this mean that there are just two different interpretations that could be merged together into some kind of compromise agreement? Or is there an absolute ban, which isn't going to be lifted, on the export of shellfish, for example, in your case, from class B waters into the EU? I mean, what was all right on 31 December suddenly is not all right on 1 January. Clearly, there can't be any serious health risk because otherwise you wouldn't have been able to sell your mussels into the EU before 1 January. So, what is it that is going to be changed here, or that negotiations are proceeding to resolve? I wasn't quite clear from what you were saying what—

Do you want a simple, quick answer to that, or do you want one that's elaborated a bit more? Simply, we left the single market; we left the jurisdiction of the single market, so we fell outside the coverage of their rules, so we became a third country, and as a third country—. If we go back to your previous statement about the fishing rights, the clarion call was that we were going to become an independent coastal state and we absolutely did become an independent coastal state; we clearly cut ourselves adrift from the systems and structures that we worked within before. So, we were outside of those rules, and so, we were subject to the same rules as any other third country.

There was an opportunity during the negotiations to form some structure of alignment that would enable us to have continued trade, but the UK Government chose not to go down that route, and instead put most of its efforts into achieving an absolutely sovereign position. Hopefully, over time, that will change, because, quite frankly, if it doesn't, I think the seafood sector for sure is in for some very dark times, but as are many other parts of the economy.

13:55

Yes. But you said in your opening that, over the three or four weeks after 1 January—[Inaudible.]—were changing.

Yes, so we were working on—[Interruption.] Pardon me. We were working on the assumption that we still had a route, because DEFRA had told us that there was a route open. So, we were just being kind of pragmatic and seeing—. You know, there was no point in us putting wagonloads of mussels across to the EU whilst the worst of the teething problems were still exhibited.

So, I had a colleague who did send one wagon across, and he had—. Prior to the end of the year, we could dispatch wagonloads with one piece of paper that we filled in ourselves. He had a 10-tonne load, a half-full wagonload, and 41 pieces of paper went with that wagonload and that wagon was delayed 72 hours, both on the UK side, with customs confusion, and then at the border control post on the French side, because they were confused about the paperwork. He didn't really understand what that confusion was about. In fact, it was because they didn't recognise the form that he was travelling under, because the advice that he had been given by DEFRA, which was the advice that we had all been given, to use a certain form, wasn't the correct advice. So, after that, everything started to unravel quite quickly. But that was three or four weeks into January, and so we received—. We had a Zoom call much like this at the beginning of February, where the devastating news was delivered to the sector, and we've been trying to work through that since.

To be honest, it is very bleak.

I don't want to stop you, Neil, but you're drifting into bivalve molluscs, which I know Janet wants to ask about.

Yes, well, obviously, when that news came forward, I was very concerned, because I've got constituents affected because they have businesses in the Menai area. So, I've spoken out in the Senedd and I've written to the Welsh Government about the potential for a purification plant to be created here in Wales. The Minister has advised me only this week that his officials are liaising with some individuals on this now, and that they have a business plan. What type of support do you think that the Welsh Government could provide to help to develop either a, or other, purification plants?

Can I just come back with—? This issue has been in the press in the last couple of days. DEFRA started to talk about something similar four weeks ago. The universal view of everybody in the sector who is involved in the export of live bivalve molluscs is that it's a waste of time. It won't work. Once the animals are in depuration, they stress. They become sort of—. They're physiologically impacted by the process of depuration. You're effectively crammed into these highly concentrated numbers of your fellow animal in containers, and then subject to water that's purified through ultraviolet light for 42 hours. That's a period when the animals are supposed to be able to respire enough and then flush out any bacteria that's evident inside their body cavity.

So, at the moment, or prior to the turn of this year, what we would do is, we would fish the mussels up, put them into tonne bags, and put those tonne bags on the back of a wagon. Then, that wagon would be at the customer in France or in the Netherlands 16 or 18 hours later. They would be taken out of those bags and put in purification for the relevant period. As soon as that purification was finished over there, they would be immediately processed and then packaged in a way that encouraged the animals to de-stress and also force the shells closed to give them better shelf-life.

If we have to purify over here—

Pardon me, can I just—? If we have to purify over here—

—after fishing them—

—and then put them onto a wagon, they will simply be dead by the time they come out of the process, for our customers. It's not a viable option. It doesn't work.

Well, the Minister is looking into it currently because there are several involved in this industry who believe that that's what's needed—a purification plant in Holyhead. The Minister has also responded to me this week that he has written to the Food Standards Agency with a request for a discussion on the issue of classification of waters, because you'll be aware that the Menai strait was A, and now it's B. 

14:00

Absolutely. I'm a Menai strait mussel farmer and I'm one of the key people there. Can I just mention two things? I don't know who in Holyhead is involved in the export of live bivalve molluscs. I certainly don't know anybody, other than members of my family, who lobster pot, but they're only in an adjunct way. There's nobody in Holyhead who's involved in the export of bivalve molluscs to the EU at the moment. So, I don't know who the Minister's been talking to. 

I think it's more the fact that some of the people in this bivalve industry are having to drive to Plymouth with them currently, and things like that—load them onto vans. That's happening now; that is a fact. So, they, instead of doing that—  

There might well be some—. There's a small hand-picked cockle fishery that's currently under way on Lavan sands, and most of the output from that was heading towards the EU prior to the turn of the year. I think they were working through people in Deeside by and large. I don't know what the business plan looks like, but I know, certainly in respect of the aquaculture sector anyway, there is nobody who is looking at that as a viable option at the moment, because it simply doesn't work—

Okay. I'll leave it. I've got evidence otherwise. I'll restrain my questions.  

Well, that's fine. I'm just amazed, because anybody that's a professional in this sector knows it doesn't work. 

My experience, and perhaps you can correct me, is that in small sectors like yours everybody tends to know everybody. 

They do. Wales is a small country, isn't it, and I think the seafood sector is a subsector of that. Certainly, for me, I've got numerous family members—first cousins and second cousins—who are involved in this in the north-west of Wales. 

Well, I'll just formally put it on record that I wish these people going forward all the very best with their plans. We'll leave it at that. 

Good luck to them, yes. Good luck to them. 

Can I just raise the—? I don't want to trigger some of the members of this committee, having talked about water quality for the last few weeks in another subsector, but there is an issue around water quality here. We have spent a lot of time talking about the agricultural pollution regulations and the classification of waters with one or two members of our aquaculture group. It's very important to them that, where waters are moving from classification A to classification B, as Janet Finch-Saunders said, that does provide issues around depuration. To be simplistic about it, as soon as you put a shellfish species in a tank, it's costing you money, whether that's depuration or holding facilities.

I think what we would like to see is more of a terrestrial and marine effort around water quality issues that exist throughout Wales, so that we have more waters that sit in this classification A that can alleviate some of these issues. So, that's an ask, really. Having sat and listened to a lot of the debate around the agricultural pollution regulations, we need to be a lot more novel, innovative, adaptive to our terrestrial and marine environment as we move forward, to support people like James and others who are trying to operate in the sector. 

Can I just pick up on something Jon said? I think that there are two issues in respect of water quality. There's the quality of the water, absolutely, and there's the way in which we assess that. We have worked to a common set of regulations throughout our time in the European Union, and the sector certainly has, for at least the last 20 years, been engaged in a dialogue with the Food Standards Agency and its predecessor body and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science about the particular way that the UK has administered that process. Because we have absolutely gold-plated it, much to the disadvantage of the shellfish sector in the UK at large.

Now, since this issue has become very political, all of a sudden the FSA are now looking at the idea of reclassification of water, although with resistance. But this is something we could have done 20 years ago, and the sector that we work in—which, as Mike said, is small and everybody knows everybody—could have been substantially bigger. But we have a Government here that, in its various forms, actively has worked against certainly the shellfish aquaculture sector for the best part of 20 years, for reasons that we don't really understand.

14:05

Mr Wilson, you explained clearly that the ideal way of handling these mussels is to send them off to the place where they're going to be close to the end user, purify them there, and then get them to the end user as quickly as possible. So, I just want to understand why you were planning to have a quayside processing plant, given what you so clearly described.

Because the processing plant we were looking at building was going to be for the domestic market. There is a domestic market, but it's a small little discrete market. We could maybe sell 1,000 tonnes into that UK market on an annual basis. In the Menai strait, we can produce 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 or 10,000 tonnes a year. It was so we didn't have all our eggs in one basket, but really, it's not an alternative. It might well have to be the alternative now, but it wasn't going to replace the access to the market that we had in the EU. The consumption in the EU of bivalve molluscs is very substantial. Unfortunately, in the UK—not just with bivalve molluscs, but with most of the species that we harvest or catch around our coastline—there's not huge market demand. So, that's the problem.

The last set of figures that I looked at for mussel consumption in the UK was 4,000 tonnes of UK consumption. And as James has just said, the Menai alone has the ability to produce almost twice that, if not more than that.

So, what is your estimation of the speed with which you could increase the demand for molluscs in the UK? Because it's very much about the culture of what people think they want to eat, isn't it?

I don't know, quite frankly. It's not as if people haven't been trying to do that for the past decade or so or more. Mussels, certainly, are not only very sustainable, but they're a very cheap form of high-quality protein. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a significant domestic market. It's very difficult to find properly verified figures, but most of that was in the old mining communities of the east Midlands or West Yorkshire. Miners would really like their bowl of mussels because it gave them a huge amount of energy for not very much money. Obviously, that sector changed its shape and moved on. Fortunately for the mussel growers at the time, not long after that, we entered the single market, and all of a sudden the European market, which hadn't been hugely accessible to us as mussel growers before, became accessible. So, for the last 38 years or whatever, that's been the concentration of it. I think people have looked at trying to increase consumption of bivalve molluscs and other species in the UK many times over the past decade or two or more, but people are resistant to change, unfortunately.

14:10

Do you think this is something that could be served up in children's school meals, if we got the procurement processes right?

I think you have to be conscious of the issues surrounding allergy and things like that, but yes. I've got five kids, and they all love eating mussels. When their friends come round, if I've got some, they all like it. It's a very tactile meal to have. I think, over time, we can do it. I think the great shame—or one of the great missed opportunities, if I can put it like that—over the last four or five years is that Government could have been directing effort and resources to help domestic seafood consumption since 2016, and it didn't really happen, quite frankly. It's only now, when all of a sudden there's panic that we can't get the stuff to the market, that it's, 'Oh, let's all eat stuff in the UK'. It's an afterthought, and I think that betrays a real lack of strategic foresight in Government. I'm sure you've discussed the issues associated with food strategy on multiple occasions in the past. I remember seeing a DEFRA document I think that was produced in early 2016, and the strategy there was, basically, to carry on importing food, and that's kind of crazy, really. So, I think there have been plenty of opportunities where we perhaps could have done better than we have done, and now we're in a very difficult situation, because we don't have the luxury of—you know, it's all or nothing now, if I can put it like that, which is a great shame.

On the domestic front, the Welsh Government does highlight its work under the Port to Plate project, which it does say will increase business growth across the supply chain, through social media marketing. What impact do you think this scheme has already had on the supply chain's ability to further develop a domestic market, and what would this scheme need to be coupled with in order to find greater success?

Thanks, James. I think, with regard to the investment that Welsh Government has made in this space—in the marketing space—I will come back to add on to one of Jenny's questions with regard to consumption as part of this answer, but Welsh Government very much put all of its eggs in one basket with regard to the marketing measure or article of the European maritime and fisheries fund programme, with the entire measure being allocated to one project. It does really put pressure on that project to deliver the output for that article within the EMFF programme, which is an increase in turnover, within the seafood sector, of £3.408 million. In terms of the results of that project so far, I haven't seen any key performance indicators or result indicators from it, so I can't comment on that, I'm afraid.

Have you sought those responses out? And I was going to ask about the point that Jenny made earlier about growing the domestic market. Given that the UK consumption of shellfish is low—I mean, personally, I love the stuff—in comparison to Europe, has the aquaculture industry taken enough steps to examine the domestic appetite for their products and then altered your course of direction accordingly?

I'll add to what I wanted to add on Jenny's point—

I think the figure that we had for consumption within the UK was at around 1.3 portions a week. Whilst this might not sound like a huge jump, industry, through the Sea Fish Industry Authority and our corporate planning and future strategy, has set its target for two portions a week. The task of moving from 1.3 to the two portions a week shouldn't be underestimated, and it is about developing consumer appetites beyond what you'd call your golden basket species, which are salmon, tuna, cold water prawn, warm water prawn, cod and haddock. So, they are your golden basket species. We need consumers to sample different types of shellfish, and Seafish has launched its 'Love Seafood' initiative at a UK level, but, as we've just discussed, the resource behind that, I would advocate, needs to be greater. And, as James has mentioned there, it's something that we should have been doing for quite a while now. We've been in the transition period for four years, and there are a lot of things that we should have been doing rather than jumping on it now, so to speak.

14:15

Yes. And then, we know about the Menai having been classified from A to B. What were the reasons for that? I know that the Minister has written—I've got the letters to say that he's having negotiations with the Food Standards Agency about that, but also—. So, that's one question. And then, apart from those classifications, are there any other rules that apply here in Wales on the Welsh seas that don't apply elsewhere in UK waters, and that possibly could be putting Welsh fishermen at a disadvantage?

I can talk about the classification saga, if you'd like.

So, this has been in part connected with COVID, but I guess—. So, we had worked with Dŵr Cymru and Natural Resources Wales through one of our collaborations with Bangor University for a number of years to try and get the waters upgraded in the Menai Strait. So, we achieved that in 2019. There was some disquiet in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science that that had happened—anyway. So, come 2020, there was poor weather at the beginning of the year, and then, obviously, the lockdowns. We were not informed by the FSA of any issue associated with sampling during the early part of 2020 until July when I received a call telling me that we were going to be downgraded. And so, I responded with quite some surprise, and eventually agreed that we—downgraded simply because of lack of samples. There's a statutory number of samples that you have to take every year to maintain your classification. Other member states, of course, that had been subject to similar issues in terms of sampling over COVID had managed to caveat away that particular requirement with agreement of the European Union; I don't think the UK even asked for any caveats associated with that—anyway. So, in July, we agreed to have enhanced sampling undertaken and, unfortunately, two of those periods coincided with periods of bad weather that then exceeded the trigger levels for E. coli in the water, and then we were downgraded. But we weren't informed of that formally until 18 December, after having—

So, my question now—[Interruption.] Sorry, go on. I've got a delay on this.

Thanks. So, my question, now, is: when are they sampling next to try and get—? That's probably what the Minister is negotiating, but do you—? Should they not have thought, 'Well, we're in lockdown. Let's get in there and sample the waters so that you can get your classification back'?

It goes back to something I alluded to before in respect of how we gold plated regulation. So, the UK authorities continue to gold plate that regulation, and this—. Going back to one of Neil Hamilton's first points, this makes the situation that we're in even more absurd, right. So, I get that the UK Government seek to diverge from European regulation in some parts of the food sector, or certainly seek to have that flexibility. I don't think they've got any intention of deviating from the European regulation in respect of shellfish. There is absolutely no reason why they couldn't sign or form an equivalency agreement with the European Union in respect of this, and then that would allow much of the trade that we had before to restart again, and we would probably continue to be the gold standard of the application of that regulation.

So, the discussions that we were having with the FSA Bangor and with Seafish at the moment are looking at trying to evidence the approach that other member states have taken to the application of the regulation, because in other member states, it seems to have been applied a lot more flexibly, much to the benefit of not just the water classification, but of the sector itself, without any subsequent negative effect on consumer safety, which is obviously the key issue, because we are responsible food producers at the end of the day. 

14:20

So, really, we could be writing to the UK Government to bring this to their attention if we so chose.

I think it would be very helpful to keep the pressure on the FSA. We really welcome the interest that Welsh Government and the Minister have directed towards this. I don't mean to gripe, but again, it's another one of those things—this was obvious, this was going to happen, and it's just a shame that we've come to five minutes to midnight or two minutes to midnight, and all of a sudden this is now when people are moving, rather than when it was a quarter to 12 or three or four years ago. But it is what it is.

And my final question: as you may be aware, we have plans afoot for a huge windfarm off the north Wales coast. I've had several fishermen contact me to say that it's going to have a devastating impact on their industry, and you know the size of the scope I'm talking—have you considered whether there's going to be an additional negative impact for you in your industry?

Can I take the fifth on that, because I've long promoted the idea of what's called co-location between particularly offshore windfarms and other activities? So, I've got some kind of interest in that that would make my answer not objective, so it wouldn't be fair to provide it at this—

Thank you, Chair. We've touched a bit on growing the domestic market, and, of course, we have a Wales seafood strategy, so I'm just wondering, really, maybe Jon primarily, but I'm sure James will pitch in as well, whether you can update us on the delivery of the strategy or any other, actually, efforts to—. You mentioned port to plate, but is there anything else that we should be aware of, or mindful of, or promoting with the Government to make sure that we get things moving in that direction?

If I can start, Chair, if that's okay, I think with regard to the strategy, what I can say is that we're in a process of a pause and review on the strategy at the moment, as it stands. The Seafish Wales advisory committee provide some oversight on that strategy, with colleagues from Welsh Government. I think, as you will no doubt know, alongside this, the Minister has looked towards developing a new food and drink strategy, moving on from the 2014-20. James has been more involved in that than I, because of his place on the food and drink advisory board.

I think that moving into the space that the Minister now wants to enter, which is the sustainability piece, where we are with our strategy, which has been based relatively closely to the previous food and drink strategy on growth, and business growth, that now is a great opportunity to have a pause and review and a relook at, in the round—. We haven't mentioned COVID so far, but COVID and Brexit have had a huge impact, and 'reset and recovery' is used quite a lot in meetings like this and within discussions, but there is an opportunity to look at this in the round and to review the seafood strategy position and integrate it into future discussions on what the new food and drink strategy will be. The Minister made a statement, I think it was last week, at the end of Plenary I believe, on the future fisheries policy and developing a future fisheries policy where co-management, ecosystem services—not ecosystem services, but an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management was mentioned. These are the sorts of things that we need to be discussing as we have a pause and review on the strategy now, and how we move forward, because of the impacts on the industry. 

14:25

Sure, and the context has changed hugely, hasn't it, since 2016, really, so that makes sense. Is there an indication of a timescale for the pause and review, because the danger with these kinds of things is that they start drifting and, years down the line, you remember that you've got something to do?

No, it won't be years. I've been pushing it along this morning, actually. So, yes, we want to have a pause and review, but crucially, Llyr, what we need to do is to have a coherent strategy that aligns itself with whatever Welsh Government wants to invest in the sector, because there hasn't been an alignment between how structural funds, from the European maritime and fisheries fund, have been used and how we've wanted to deliver a strategy. That, I think, has been the difficulty. The Minister has made an announcement today with regard to £2.3 million to come into the sector. Again, these are things that need stakeholder engagement. The sector needs to be spoken to broadly, not just the catching sector, not just the aquaculture sector, but the supply chain, and we need a forum for that to feed into Welsh Government how industry wants to interact and support Welsh Government in their decision making, moving forward.  

So, your suggestion that you need a forum suggests to me that you're not satisfied, really, with current arrangements in terms of—. If the Government is talking about co-production, then obviously there needs to be that interface to allow that to happen. 

Yes, and I think if you were to take a little look back, we had IFGs, we had inshore fishery groups. Well, they were put into review in 2016 and, as you mentioned just now, Llyr, they took years and they haven't come back. The review has ended in no IFGs. So, we now have WMFAG, or Wales marine and fisheries advisory group, also being reviewed. Alongside that, we have the Seafish Wales advisory committee, which has really provided a forum for this, but whether it is the forum is a different question, because Seafish Wales advisory committee is really there to advise Seafish on its activity in Wales. And it has, I wouldn't say defaulted into, but because of the people who sit around the table, it has provided a broad industry forum, and we've got some questions to ask ourselves around that, and what sort of engagement mechanism we want to have so that there's a broad industry voice that is feeding into Welsh Government.   

Okay. That's really useful for us as a committee, I think. Maybe James could tell us a little bit about the food and drink work that's happening and how the seafood strategy stuff might be better reflected in that. 

I'd have to say that I stepped away from the food and drink board some time ago due to—

No, it's okay. If I put it this way, it used to frustrate me somewhat that I would see other parts of the food economy in Wales forging ahead, and in Wales we could never really progress beyond the first step. And I think Jon touched on some of that just now. He talked about the IFGs and the WMFAG groups, and these are all groups that are focusing at the sort of production end of the scale and there wasn't, and I suspect there still really isn't, that much, not understanding but opportunity to consider alignment going up the supply chains in Wales. There isn't a huge amount of vertical integration in the sector. We're producers who are undertaking to sell to merchants or whatever, or sell direct to market space, who then sell to consumers. And I think I'd agree that there is a requirement to bring everybody together in the same room. The fundamental problem, I think, which lies in the gift of Welsh Government, though, and has done for a long time—. I must say, hearing the Minister talking about co-production and co-management yet again does get my goat, because since 2008 we've been saying the same thing and since 2008 we haven't managed to make any progress in that respect. The 2008 fisheries strategy—if any of you are bored on a night— makes depressing reading, because it was a really good thorough, integrated strategy, and it described how we could make a step change in the whole seafood sector in Wales, or the whole aquatic protein sector in Wales. Had that been applied, we would be in a very different position to the one we're in now. Unfortunately, from the moment it was signed off, we had resistance from essentially Government in terms of applying that strategy, and I think to some extent we're still in that conflict space at the moment. We don't have the kind of relationship that we really should have with the managers, Government, in respect of how we look at controlling the use of the resource that exists around Welsh waters.

14:30

The Minister did say in a written statement—I think she was responding to the 'Brexit and our Seas' consultations—that she was working with the industry on a £1 million market development programme and a clear branding approach. Are you having any input into that, then, or are you aware of that work?

That's what Janet referred to, Llyr, as Porth i'r Plât.

Right, that's it, is it? Okay. I hadn't made the connection. There we are. Thank you.

To me, I see that as a real missed opportunity, to be frank. And I think industry was kind of quite involved in the development of the boundaries of that project at the beginning. Unfortunately, that all got lost in the mix, and for the first 18 months, or longer, of the project, it went off on a tangent and I think lost a lot of goodwill in the sector, and I know engagement from the industry in that project at the moment is very low.

[Inaudible.] there's resistance in Government to implementing the 2008 strategy. Could you just explain to us resistance to what exactly, and why?

I don't know why. I think you'd have to ask the officials.

I can speak my mind now that I'm not on the committees like the Welsh food and drink industry board a lot better than I used to be able to. I don't know if it's a culture, or if it's fear, but there is this attitude that's long established in Government in respect of marine and fisheries, and it's about position. So, Government has a position here, and industry has a position here, and never the twain shall meet. And unfortunately—

Control, I think—control.

If you're going to put it into a word.

Okay, well, we sort of haven't got time for this, have we, because talking shops, we need to move on from that? Because on the one hand we've got all the disruption that has been caused to the market that we've just rehearsed, because of our changing relationship with Europe, and on the other hand we've got our net-zero carbon commitments, in which, obviously, the marine industry has a very important part to play. So, I just wondered, given that the Minister is saying she wants stakeholder engagement, what do you want to now see happen?

14:35

James, can I jump in here for a second? I think, from the perspective of marine and in terms of what you're talking about there, Jenny, in terms of nature emergency, climate emergency, the sustainability piece, James alluded to the fact that co-management and some of the moves towards supporting the concept of sustainable fisheries is a lost opportunity to date. From an engagement perspective, we really need to move on in terms of the level of engagement that we've got between terrestrial and marine. If we are to truly talk about evidence-based, sustainable food and drink, with seafood included, strategy and outlook for Wales, this has got to be talked about in the round, not in silos of marine and fisheries here, food and drink there, agriculture in another space, land use somewhere else. We've got the 'Future Wales' 2040 document, which has laid out some of the spatial planning objectives for Wales moving forward, but what we are not doing, I feel, is we are not linking up with those who work in the industry, those who advocate for the industry in a coherent way to join this together. I've got quite annoyed about seeing Welsh Government promote sustainable fisheries, and it makes other people annoyed when we can't validate that apart from those that are MSC certified in Wales. That was picked up when we launched the seafood strategy, and it is the same today.

I think it's really important, and I'm sorry to come back to the engagement piece, but it is front and centre of what we should be doing, effectively. I don't want to go back to the agri-food partnerships that we had in the past, but those really worked where you had people at the table who bought into a process of growing and developing the sector. We need the same mechanism with people who are engaged in driving forward the sustainability, the nature emergency and the climate change objectives that we have, and creating that enthusiasm and dynamism that we've had before. Don't ask me how we do that—it's an extremely difficult piece to frame—but it's been done in the past and I'm sure that it can be done again.

Okay. That's a very useful statement for us. One of the things that's a bit of a bugbear for me is bottom dredging. Do you think that's something we should stop immediately?

I think that's more for Jim, who isn't with us, and I wouldn't want to make a statement on an area where Jim is much more plugged into that. 

Okay, but would you agree that there is a huge potential to grow our aquaculture given that—?

Well, yes, but—. Sorry, Jenny; I'll let you finish.

Well, I just want to repeat what David Melding says—given that the Welsh coast is the Chesapeake bay of Europe.

Whenever is fine. Can I just say, in terms of bottom dredging, we don't have a big active gear sector in Wales? It's basically just the scallop fleet, and I think the areas that they focus on are quite well researched areas. Bangor University's done a huge amount of work both in Cardigan bay and in the area between the north of Anglesey and the Isle of Man, and I think there is science to support the continuation of those fisheries. I think it's easy to conflate the idea of trawling across the entire sea floor of the UK on the basis of a map with some fancy looking colours on it. If you drill into those maps, you'll see that, actually, the activity tends to be quite concentrated in certain areas, and those areas are the ones where the target species occur. So, there's an issue associated with almost self-interest for the sector. I think it's easy to frame a narrative in a single way, whereas in reality things are a lot more complicated.

Just picking up on your Chesapeake bay statement, absolutely. Jon mentioned agri-food, and when I was on the food and drink board it used to really irritate me enormously that everything was agri-food, and that's me just being parochial because I come from the aqua-food sector, and aqua-food is never really considered. Jon's right—I think if we're looking at a food strategy, it needs to take account of not just the terrestrial environment, but the fact that we have as much marine space as we do land space and, certainly, some of the work that we've been doing with Bangor has come up with some quite incredible figures in terms of the potential productivity from those areas, and that's productivity that fits entirely into the low-carbon or decarbonisation agenda, producing the most sustainable form of animal-based protein without the ecological footprints that you would get from not just other animal-based proteins, but most plant-based diets too.

We could do all that in Wales if we wanted to, but it needs not just touchy-feely political support—it needs engagement, because I think if you're going to do something, you might as well do it well. I think it really does need strategic engagement, and we've been talking to Government about this for more than two years. And I have to say, there's a huge reticence inside of Government in terms of that engagement. But Jon's right—you need this. If we are to progress, we need proper collaboration, and so, to my mind, that means collaboration not just between research providers and industry, but with active engagement of Government, too. I think there's a resistance to doing that. I kind of understand that in one form, but in another form I don't understand it at all.

14:40

Jenny, can I just cover off your question with regard to aquaculture and growth, please, if I may? 

We are losing opportunities to grow the sector. Aquaculture has been one of the fastest growing food sectors in the world, and I recently had to write to the Minister to advise her that we've just lost two aquaculture investments in Wales because of a lack of response to inquiries for investment support. One has gone to Dorset and another one has been put on the shelf for the time being. There's a third that is awaiting a response still, as I checked yesterday prior to coming in on the meeting. There's a fourth that may go into the European Union. We are losing this at a rate of knots. People are coming to Welsh Government with investable projects, and it's very, very disappointing.

The reason for us setting up Aquaculture Industry Wales Ltd as a consortium of aquaculture businesses has been around having an engagement vehicle to liaise with Welsh Government. These are the opportunities that Wales should be grasping not just in the marine aquaculture environment, but in land-based recirculatory aquaculture systems that have developed greatly over the last few years. It is a huge growth sector in other parts of the world, and we really need to grasp the nettle on this. 

Okay. I just lastly wanted to ask you about the specific challenges for the Welsh industry, given that our profile is almost all small vessels under 10m, which means that there's a real danger that a lot of other people, including the very small number of English fishing companies there now are, just coming in and hoovering up all our fish. So, how do we, if you like—? For the benefit of the wealth of Wales, how do we grow the industry from being inshore waters, mainly, to something that enables us to benefit from, as well as conserve, the full amount of Welsh waters?

14:45

Can I just quickly—? The Fisheries Act 2020, I'm afraid, has made that process a lot harder to fulfil—you know, to protect Welsh waters for Welsh fishermen. I think there's a general understanding of non-discrimination that exists inside of that. I think we can still enclose the nought to six through existing bye-laws and size limits, but, between six and 12, I think the opportunity for Welsh Government to restrict access on non-specifically permitted fisheries is really limited.

Thank you. [Inaudible.]—made by local fishermen that, say, they have a licence to catch certain species, they're tied to those species and that, sometimes, these Welsh waters will get different fish appearing in different seasons, and they find it difficult to widen their licence to be able to catch more. Is that a problem across the board?

So, if I—. Just in a general point of view, so if you—. Management of fisheries is broken down into two big frameworks, I guess: quota species and non-quota species. So, species like whelk, crab, lobster, they're non-quota species. Cod, haddock, monkfish, sole, plaice, they're quota species. So, in Wales, we don't have a huge amount of quota ownership. What we have is an under 10m non-sector pool quota, which provides people with some opportunity to access those species that don't occur in huge numbers and might just be there now and again.

Sorry about that. Okay. And then—. Oh, gosh. Another query I have had raised with me: IVMS is causing fishermen a lot of problems—compulsory IVMS for smaller boats. Does that—?

I mean, I guess there's—

Yes. It's kind of electronic—. It's electronic monitoring, so people can see where the boat is at any one time, and there's a cost associated with the running of the software with that. I think some fishermen don't particularly like it because they feel as though it's like a spy in the cab kind of thing, but it's a tool that fisheries managers apply pretty much everywhere these days, unfortunately.

Okay, and a final one is: I've been advised—and I haven't put a question in yet to the Minister or the Government—that 78 contracts have been given to Belgian boats to fish in very close waters here. Would that be not unusual? I know that my local fishermen again just feel that with all the issues that they have to abide by and then contracts can go out to 78 Belgian boats—.

Well, it will be specific licences that are issued under the new arrangements. To be—. Jim Evans would have been more attuned to the specifics associated with that, but, historically, a number of Belgian vessels have always fished in the six and the six to 12-mile limit, because they have these traditional—. It was a traditional fishing ground that predates the creation of the common fisheries policy. But I did hear, from having a conversation with Jim, that one of the unfortunate unforeseen consequences of the hasty conclusion of the TCA was that, rather than the prior arrangement, where vessels were much more specifically allocated to not just International Council for the Exploration of the Seas areas like the Irish sea, but sub-areas inside that, that now is given on a broader basis, so, like the Celtic and Irish sea are included as one area. So, vessels that previously weren't able to come and fish in the Irish sea because they didn't have a long-term interest in there all of a sudden have been enabled again. But that's a UK Government thing more than anything else.

14:50

Looking forward, now, I'd like to ask you, for the sixth Senedd—obviously, we're just about to go into an election, coming at the end of the fifth Senedd—into the sixth Senedd, what do you think should be your key asks to us and the Government in undertaking our work on fisheries and aquaculture in the next five years? Have you got any specific proposals that we can take away or put into our legacy report by way of recommendation to our successors?

For me, I'd echo the things that Jon said in answer to Jenny's previous questions. I think there needs to be alignment, and there's great potential for the seafood sector, certainly in terms of production, and I think with strategic investment and maybe—. We have to look at completely different supply chains now, but, over the short to medium term, I think we could, with the right political will, with the right policy support, with the right level of investment, produce a significant sector. But without the policy support, without the investment, it won't happen; I think it'll just wither and die. I think we're reaching a point of inflection quite rapidly and perhaps it wasn't anticipated wholly, because, to be honest, I think Welsh Government have been caught out, to some extent, by the impacts of leaving the EU in the same way that the industry have. They were being led by DEFRA too, and so, unfortunately, they're left to deal with the consequences. However, that maybe will provide a bit of clean air for them to think differently. But I completely agree with Jon: we need to look at food in the round, including both the marine and terrestrial potential that exists.

I do apologise, but I had a power cut. I put 50p in the meter, so we're back on now, so—. Look, I don't want to go over previous ground. I'd just make a plea that, moving forward, whether it's the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee or Welsh Government, there are proper engagement mechanisms with the sector as a whole. The sector is willing to talk, to come to the table, to feed in, and, as we've seen recently, in other sectors, there are difficult decisions to be made, I'm sure. But dialogue needs to be had in how we get over these and how we invest in future.

The only other thing that I would say is that, being heavily involved with the investment programmes though the European maritime and fisheries fund, we're now unshackled from some of the regulation that's been in place governing how our investment programmes have been administered. It is really a time to think about what we want to invest in and how we want to invest. We've talked about the fleet—and again, the last time I looked, the average age of vessels in Wales was 26 years old. It's things like this. We can invest in port infrastructure—in cranes, in davits and so on—but we really need to look—. And I think this is what comes back to Jenny's question around the small-scale fleet that we have. That's fine—it is an asset, it can work for us in terms of our sustainability criteria, or part of it—but we really need to invest in it, and that is a real plea from myself with regard to having accessible programmes that the sector can draw on.

So, you're talking about modernisation of the fleet and replacement of older vessels by new ones, are you?

That's just one area, Neil. That's just one area. With what's happened in north Wales, sadly, I don't think that I need to talk about vessel safety as one of the key areas that—. To be fair, Welsh Government have targeted that in the programme that's just finished—closed—at the end of December. But it's the accessibility to this funding that we need to look at. The electronic systems that we've had, that—. The regulations have required, under EMFF, to have electronic systems for the administration of EMFF as a structural fund programme. Well, we're unshackled from that now, and I think that there would be quite a lot of call from the industry to look at better, more simplified systems. 

14:55

Well, I'm sure that, in the next Senedd, our successor committee would be very interested in having some sort of detailed proposal in that respect. Going back to your earlier evidence, you said that agriculture seems to be given a greater priority and greater interest by Ministers and Government, generally, than sea fishers. Marketing is a big part of what needs to be done here, it seems to me. We have got Hybu Cig Cymru, which has been quite successful in the red meat sector. Perhaps we need to have 'Hybu Pysgod a Chregyn Cymru' to speak for your industry as well.

Can I just come in there? There already is a—. Seafish is the seafood sector's levy-raising body, so it has a similar construction to Hybu Cig Cymru. The unfortunate reality is that, because landings are kind of low in Wales, the levy take is also low. So, it becomes this negative cycle, and it's about breaking that.

I have to say that I would be very cautious about the idea of a Government-organised fleet modernisation programme. I think that there is a route, absolutely, through preferential fiscal measures that could come through more conventional schemes, or through the Welsh development bank, for that. But I think that Wales would put itself in a very difficult position in the wider global perspective if it's claiming to be a sustainable country and then funding modernisation of its fleet, because the non-governmental organisations will just rip us apart. Because no country really does that. No one in Europe does that anymore. So, I'd just be cautious of that.

If I can, one plea—I mentioned it before—for the next Senedd would be: please could you just keep the pressure on the FSA in respect of how they view the seafood sector? But beyond that—.

Okay. Can I thank James and Jon very much for coming along and answering our questions today? I've certainly found it very informative. Can I just give a plug for our committee? We have given a lot of thought to the marine environment and fisheries in the last three or four years, and I think that that certainly has concentrated the minds of Ministers following our raising it. I would hope that our successor committee would do exactly the same thing. But thank you very much.

You'll get a copy of the transcript. I would urge you to check it, as I often have to do. When I move around, the odd word gets missed, or I start speaking before I come on microphone, but I'm not automatically on microphone. So, please check that there are no words missing. But, otherwise, other than that, it will almost certainly be perfect. So, thank you again very, very much. 

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Paper(s) to note

I will now move on to the next item on the committee agenda, to note papers, correspondence from the Minister. Are we happy to do that? Fine.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5 a 6 o'r cyfarfod heddiw
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 5 and 6 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5 a 6 o'r cyfarfod heddiw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5 and 6 of today's meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) .

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I now move a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 5 and 6 of today's meeting. Is that agreed?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:59.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:59.

15:40

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 15:40.

The committee reconvened in public at 15:40.

7. Gwaith gwaddol: pysgodfeydd
7. Legacy work: fisheries

Can I welcome Members back to the second session of the legacy work on fisheries? I'm very pleased to welcome Jim Evans, chair of the Welsh Fishermen's Association. Can I start with the first question? What is your view of the fisheries provision included in the final EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement, and how will this impact the Welsh fishing industry?

To say that it was a disappointment would be an understatement, Chair. We clearly had expectations of rebalancing our quota alignment, making a fairer distribution for the small-scale fleet in Wales. Of course, at the moment, it's a very modest uplift. Even the 25 per cent is based on value, not on tonnage. That's incremental over the five-year period.

The other issue with it is that it's for certain species, and those species aren't necessarily species that are accessible to the Welsh fleet either. And, of course, that's all caught up in the annual negotiations, which I think, it's probably fair to say, have been fairly protracted so far, and frustrating. We've yet to have an outcome there, so any potential uplifts, either way, won't be realised until those negotiations are concluded in any event, and, of course, the year moves on. 

Aside from that, the failure to deliver the exclusive area in Welsh territorial waters from 0 to 12 miles—I think that, at a UK level, was a significant disappointment, certainly for the small-scale fleet, because that presented an opportunity to manage resources in a way that helped to sustain those communities. So, those are the two headline issues. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much. Janet Finch-Saunders is going to talk about the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement.

Yes. Hi, Jim. Nice to see you again. The last time that you were here, you gave a powerful overview of how much last year had really impacted on the sector. Just briefly, can you give us a general indication of how COVID-19 has impacted the ability of you and your colleagues to go to sea? Has the frequency changed, and was this due to issues with the broader supply chain?

I think in terms of the immediate impacts of COVID, they can't be looked at in separation from exiting Europe. It's true that, when we spoke last, we were the other side of transition, and COVID was a particular issue then—certainly the restrictions and how they were affecting the industry. We had immediate effects with the markets, which eased slightly over the summer, when restrictions were lowered slightly, mainly as a result of the hospitality market, surprisingly. Of course, when the firebreak was introduced, what limited flows there were in terms of trade to help sustain people through that difficult period—they came to an abrupt end. Then, as you will all be aware, there were the wider implications and restrictions then leading up to the end of the year, and when we get to that point, then we've got the TCA to consider on top of that, and all the issues that were created there.

To answer your question about how that's affected the industry, it was an immediate effect, and, of course, the fund that we received in July last year was, as I said then, a lifeline. Again, I'm absolutely delighted to say that today there was an announcement from the Minister highlighting a £2.3 million fund for the Welsh seafood support scheme. I know they're difficult times, and I appreciate the work and effort that's gone into being able to get that over the line. As was the case in July, it's absolutely a lifeline yet again for the industry. This offer is a substantive offer and will help to some degree to aid and assist us through recovery from COVID. Because the situation is so difficult and so uncertain, to have a means to be able to maybe have something more positive to look forward to and build towards in the future is an important thing that gives everybody at least some hope at this stage. 

15:45

Thanks. Looking ahead at potential changes to the supply chain and a wish to grow the domestic market, I wonder if you could address the current linkages between catch and the processing and handling sectors. Can you explain whether there is a desire among Welsh fishermen to focus solely on fishing, and not on the commercial aspects of their business? Do you think this will need to change if we are to grow the domestic market and make it a distinct brand?

I think you're right. When we spoke during the committee session last year, we touched on the elements of direct selling that had had varying degrees of success throughout the UK. There are some initiatives at a Welsh level that are building in profile, but, of course, as I said then, they're certainly, at the stage they're at, not a replacement for what you would consider to be normal flows of trade. But there is certainly an ambition and a desire for many to look at trying to access and tap into those more local and direct markets. I think this is the challenge going forward where we make sure that all of these various initiatives and funding programmes to go with them are able to help and support that. Hopefully, in terms of the funding that was announced today, there's some scope within or around that to help and support those initiatives. 

Okay. Thanks. Another question. On 14 January, the Minister said she was acutely aware of the issues with non-tariff barriers, and that she was meeting with fishery stakeholders, and in the process of writing to DEFRA. Are you aware of any communication from the Welsh Government in relation to non-tariff barriers?

Again, thinking back to the earlier part of the year, I know I have written to the Minister about it, and she did write back. The issue was in relation to all the border checks and so on that were creating problems in early January. I'm not aware of what the response from the UK Government was, other than the interventions along the lines of the £23 million support fund. We haven't been directly involved in those discussions, but I'm assuming that it was directly linked to the Minister's intervention there on behalf of exporters and, obviously, the wider supply chain.

Thanks. My final point, Chair, is that my local fishermen believe that it's impossible to have a regular dialogue with the Welsh Government's fisheries department. How do you think that the means of engagement and communications can be improved?

Funnily enough, the meeting—. I forgot to say earlier; thank you to everybody for being patient and flexible with your timings, because the meeting I've just come from was the Welsh fisheries advisory group meeting. You'll not be surprised to hear that whilst that's the official forum or advisory group for fisheries in Wales, shall we say there are ongoing challenges that have been exacerbated by both the emergency and the situation after leaving Europe, and, perhaps, the build-up before that. By that, I mean—and this might be something for discussion for another day—it seems to me that, with the inshore fisheries and conservation areas and the marine management organisations being agents of Government elsewhere in the UK, they have a vision, a plan, a strategy, a budget, and their activities, to a large extent, have been relatively unaffected by budgets.

What happens then is, my understanding—[Interruption.] Sorry, I'll turn that over. My understanding—[Interruption.] Sorry about that. My understanding is that—and this is a concern where fisheries has been taken into Government—I don't think it can function effectively, and certainly not within an adaptive, progressive fisheries regime, which it needs to be, due to the dynamic and changing environment that we've got and the stocks and so on. I don't think it can work effectively centrally, and maybe where the thinking previously was to bring the former sea fisheries committees in-house, that had its merit at the time. I think there needs to be, maybe, a review of that exercise and how that's performed over the period, and whether or not, perhaps, a more radical approach to delivering adaptive fisheries management might be done in a different way in the future. The timing at the moment, with a new Government around the corner, perhaps, is quite appropriate.

So, in hindsight, maybe that's the thing we ought to be looking at now, because that would allow for a greater level of engagement. It would be slightly arm's length from Government, and that agency would, theoretically, be able to respond. It wouldn't, or its functions wouldn't, be impeded to any great extent by central issues. And it's not a criticism; it's a fact that, obviously, emergencies mean that sometimes resources have to be pulled back into the centre to deal with the emergencies in Government. In an agency, that's not typically the case, so it means that, again, from a stakeholder point of view, you have someone in the division that you can access all the time, your plans are broadly being maintained, and your objectives achieved. That, to me, seems like a discussion that we certainly need to be having.

15:50

I'd like to ask you about the Wales seafood strategy and other planned measures for promoting Welsh seafood. Can you tell me what input you're having to Welsh Government's

'£1 million market development programme and a clear branding approach'

—that's a quote—for Welsh seafood?

I'm pretty sure that this question came up last time, and I must admit I'm probably not the best person to ask this question to because the WFA—whilst all our members are critical parts of the seafood supply chain, we're not a marketing organisation. The task is huge, and there are a number of initiatives. I'm not sure from the question—does that mean there's a specific Government initiative, or is that referring to a project that's being done that the Government is maybe a partner in or something? I'm aware of projects that are ongoing, but I'm not directly engaged with them, and, sadly, that's more down to time and availability on my part than anyone else's.

Well, it's a Welsh Government aspiration, I suppose, in a way, a clear branding approach to Welsh seafood. Obviously, one of the problems that's been revealed by the difficulties facing the industry in the last few months is how dependent you are on export markets for the sale of a lot of your products and how we need therefore to do for fish and shellfish what organisations like Hybu Cig Cymru have done for meat and other agricultural products. We need to get people eating more fish, eating more shellfish and improving diet in the process.

15:55

Yes, that's true. I think there is a levy, well a non-departmental public body that you'll obviously be aware of, the Seafish authority, but they're restricted to a degree in promoting consumption of seafood, but on a UK scale. So, it's generally—. They can't actively or directly promote Welsh products. And that might be something to think about in the future, because if we—and, again, it's a big 'if' because, obviously, the internal market Act might create problems with having a Welsh brand. But, assuming that that isn't an issue, then perhaps some sort of levy-raising body or specific body that could directly focus on Welsh products and marketing that Welsh seafood product could be a significant benefit for the future. 

Thank you. Yes, you mentioned a potential levy body, is there an appetite in the sector to be paying a levy, do you think?

Well, the truth, Llyr—and, by the way, I'm glad to see you well again.

But, yes, the fact of the matter is, Llyr, that whilst the industry doesn't directly pay a levy, all the first points of sale do, and obviously the prices that are paid by the first point of sale reflect the fact that they've got to pay a levy. So, whilst you don't pay it over, the industry is already paying a levy. It's just hidden in that way. 

So, I'm not advocating increasing that in any way, but at the end of the day, a levy in terms of value and what that delivers, again, that's a different conversation, but it's a value judgment. 

Hello. How are you? The Welsh Government has said it's taken steps to increase fishing opportunities available to under-10m vessels. What evidence of this have you seen?

Yes, that's true, and I think those discussions were—well, those discussions were taking place, obviously, towards the end of last year, and we've been directly involved with that as well as other stakeholders throughout Wales. And we basically arrived at—. I think the question at the time was what would be a reasonable level of quota for certain species that we could realistically utilise, particularly at that time, because they were planning in respect of year 1, and that's obviously 2021. I know that that work has gone on, but as I said earlier we're not entirely clear, given the results or the outcome of the TCA how that has translated in terms of the initial year 1 ask in terms of Welsh quota species. And, until the annual negotiations are completed, then we won't see those uplifts. The risk is that we're moving now into what would generally be the start of the season, and of course if those agreements aren't made then there's either going to have to be fairly precautionary or provisional arrangements made or extended, rather—there are already provisional arrangements in place for this year, for the first three months of this year. If agreements aren't reached by the end of this month—

16:00

Sorry. If they're not arranged by the end of this month, there'll have to be another determination.

Okay. That's on quotas. Just leaving quotas on one side, the Welsh Government is claiming it's already taken steps to increase fishing opportunities for these small fishing vessels. So, what are they?

I think, as I was referring to earlier, the steps—or the only practical steps that they could take, because we aren't the coastal state, that would be the UK—are that they would have begun the negotiating process as to what we would require from the additional uplift as a devolved nation.

And of course, ultimately—. Sorry, I was going to add to that.

The bit that I am concerned about is that when we get to the stage where the negotiations are nearing completion, and the additional quota is identified or determined—or defined, rather—our Government might make its demands or requests to the UK Government as to what we want as a nation, but the decision will ultimately rest with the Secretary of State. That's the bit I'm concerned about.

Well, that's the bit I'm concerned about too. So, it makes it quite difficult for us to be clear how we are going to be able to support the Welsh fishing industry, which is quite distinctive, really, from the English fishing industry, or indeed the Scottish fishing industry. It tends to be much smaller businesses, rather than the agglomerations that have occurred elsewhere. So, the Minister's now talking about co-producing post-EU fisheries policies with stakeholders, and that being a core principle, and obviously, you're a principal stakeholder. To what extent are you engaged with the Welsh Government in the development of the future Welsh fishing policy?

Thank you for that question. The Members will be aware that there was the exercise—I forget exactly when it took place—or consultation, then, or phase 1 of a consultation entitled 'Brexit and our Seas', and that was at some point last year—I can't remember when exactly, sorry—and that was the beginning of a conversation of what future fisheries policy might look like. Things have clearly moved on, and we're now in a situation where the fisheries, the then-Bill has now been enacted, and under that are a series of objectives and the joint fisheries statement, and there is a separate UK-wide group that is working on developing the narrative for the joint fisheries statement, and that's the community of interest. We have had a couple of e-mails in the latter part of last year with very early drafts of maybe a couple of pages of what that's beginning to shape up to, but that is kind of a UK discussion for all stakeholders in the UK. What we've not had yet are the detailed discussions about a future fisheries policy at a Welsh level, and how that then delivers on the objectives and the fisheries statement.

Okay. So, there haven't been any discussions to date. Okay, so obviously, the next question—

Okay. So, how would you want to see that stakeholder discussion going forward? Because simply answering a consultation—my next-door neighbour could be doing that, and they're not involved in the fishing industry.

Yes. No, I agree, that's a very relevant point. And it's difficult, because I understand as a Government, you have to be open and transparent and you have to consult the public, and it is a public resource at the end of the day. I think, or what I would like to happen if it's at all possible, is obviously for key stakeholders as you mentioned to have informal discussions to maybe develop the narrative, so that we have, if you like, certainly the sketch of a future fisheries policy, and then, for that at that stage, once it's fairly formed, to then perhaps consult after that point, and maybe do some pre-consultation exercises prior to that. That's just a simple stakeholder's view of it. 

16:05

Okay. But the alarm bells are rather ringing for me, because there's huge disruption to your business as a result of leaving the EU, and we really do need to put this back together again. So, there's a bit of an urgency that doesn't seem to be present. 

Absolutely right, and I think the timing is, again, probably more significant now than ever with a new Government not too many months away. I think that does bring into sharp focus the fact that we've now got a fisheries Act; we're developing, or talking about, a future fisheries policy in Wales; we have some clear guidance around that; we have an awful lot of challenges; we've got a division that, if I'm honest, I think is very under-resourced to meet the challenges, and certainly the new challenges that it has to face. All of these things somehow have to be captured and in their simplest form for stakeholders to understand them. If the Government or the fisheries division was able to provide a very clear five, six-year strategy and what objectives it was aiming to achieve over that period, but then focus on the details in annual delivery plans, that would help in all sorts of respects, no doubt, for the division, because it would be able to map out its resources, who does what, all the different elements and components that are associated with that, and the financial resources that are needed for that. But more importantly, you'd be setting out clear, achievable delivery programmes for stakeholders to engage with, so they all understood exactly what the strategic direction was, what we were aiming to achieve, and how we were going to do it. 

Thank you, Chair. I think we are straying now into the area I was hoping to ask you about, so that's quite convenient, actually.

We've improvised. Nothing wrong with that, Chair, I'm sure. So, we mentioned that the election is looming, so, the morning after the election Adam Price, the new First Minister of Wales, picks up the phone, rings Jim Evans and asks him, 'Where should the Welsh Government's focus be on supporting the industry, fisheries and aquaculture?' What do you tell him?

As I just touched on, as you said, it's a very broad question, and I think there are a lot of threads that need to be pulled together, but I think this is the time and the opportunity to do that. I think if there were—. Again, not to repeat myself, but I will: we definitely need a five to six-year—I think a 'living strategy' would be the word I would use, because being in a dynamic and a natural environment, things are subject to change, and given all the legislative changes and reviews that are likely to take place in the coming years, we need to be able to adapt our systems to that. I think it's absolutely critical that we have annual plans so that, as stakeholders, we understand exactly what the Government is going to deliver, or an agency, and vice versa. Then, I think the roles of the point that Janet raised earlier, the roles of stakeholder groups, become defined by the plans that you've made really, and the advice that you provide to Government I think becomes a lot more clear and channelled. I know that's very crude, and perhaps a very basic ask, but those would be the two key drive-home messages that I would put forward.

Okay, and they're pretty fundamental things, really, aren't they? But unless they're in place, then the rest of the process doesn't really operate. 

We touched earlier on on the need for greater processing and developing new markets. Clearly, you would hope that a strategy would be looking at those. Is there anything in particular around modernising the fleet that you would like the Government to address?

I think the various structural programmes over the years have always provided, to some degree, funding to support improvement of vessels prior to, obviously, mandatory regulations coming into place. So, anything over and above mandatory could generally be funded, and that included vessel improvements. It included safety gear, again, over and above mandatory. I think that is something that has to continue. As you'll know and certainly Janet will know, the tragic losses recently, but at the UK level there's been quite a significant loss in the first three months of this year. I think altogether five people have lost their lives in the fishing industry. So, this is like an ongoing challenge, despite all the efforts that people put into it. So, I would like to think that that would still remain a focus and a priority. 

Renewing the fleet, yes, perhaps some help and support there, but I would say that once the opportunities become clearly defined, then I think the role of Government to maybe help and assist people that are willing and keen to invest becomes a lot clearer. So, it's almost like there are no plans to do that now, and particularly where the opportunities that were perceived are perhaps not the same, then the clamour to invest is probably less of a rush at the minute, and those need to crystalise a little before that follows, I think. But there's definitely a role for Government to help and support that.

16:10

Thank you. Only picking up from what my own local fishermen have told me, they're really worried about the forthcoming compulsory inshore vessel monitoring system in terms of the cost, the fact that they've several times written to the Welsh Government and can't get anything definitive as to what the cost is going to be. There's some scepticism, but I won't go into too much detail, but I suppose one was hoping that IVMS would have played its part recently, shall we say. 

And my second question is, I'm advised—I don't know, but I will find this out from Welsh Government—that 78 contracts have been given to Belgian fishing boats. How does that impact on our local fishermen here, the ones that can—? 

Yes. Right, so starting with the IVMS first, you're right, there's been a lot of reaction to—. The initial introduction of it and, as I say, at the moment that reaction has been prompted by the fact that the roll-out of the installation of the units is actively ongoing, with the legislation to support IVMS coming into place, I think, in autumn this year. The issues that have arisen, I believe—and I've certainly seen correspondence on this—are the terms and conditions from the providers of the IVMS units and the airtime that applies to that. That is an area that we're working on. Like I say, it's probably not the right place to go into the detail at the moment, but that's something that we're working with, and we're certainly looking to try and resolve a number of other issues within the IVMS that have been raised by fishermen prior to the legislation coming into place, because we want to avoid all those problems coming to the surface at that time.

Sorry, the other point you mentioned was licensing of vessels. Yes, this again goes back to the question earlier on in relation to having an exclusive nought to 12-mile zone around the UK. What has happened this time round—. So, previously, EU vessels—and this only extends into south Wales, the historic rights under the TCA—. And basically, what we had under the common fisheries policy was that there were certain activities that member states had historic rights access to, and they were generally constrained within the ICES reference areas, and the track record had to apply within that area. What has happened under the trade and co-operation agreement is that—. So, for example, if you imagine a 12 to six-mile nautical banding going around the coastline of England and Wales from, more or less, Grimsby to Fishguard, under the TCA they considered that as being one zone. So, the EU vessels only needed to demonstrate a track record of fishing in any one part of that area, between the period of 2012 to 2016, and they would automatically then get access to any other part of that zone, other than, previously, like I say, under the CFP, being restricted to an ICES rectangle. So, theoretically, it doesn't mean that everybody will end up in Welsh waters, but theoretically this means that it's now up to 120 vessels that are automatically authorised, that could fish in that area. Having said that, it's an international treaty and, as far as I'm aware and as far as I understand, I know the Minister's made strong recommendations to the Secretary of State about this, but it's an international treaty and it's a Secretary of State issue and not something that the Welsh Government have any authority over. So, I'm not sure how to resolve that. That is, again, a situation that lasts for the five and a half years under the TCA. What happens between now and then is unclear.

16:15

I've got a small one again. I've got fishermen who have their quota and it's been pointed out to me that, say they've got three or four different species they're allowed to catch, and then suddenly we get some new species coming into our waters and they want to widen their scope of the species they can catch, they're not able to. Does that make sense? Have I got that right?

I wish there was a simple answer to that. It kind of depends. There are a number of things there. It would depend on the vessel and what type of licence that vessel has as to what entitlements it has to fish against and what species and opportunities it has. It may be the case that they, for example, have an over-10m vessel that has maybe a category B licence, has a restricted quota entitlement, but it also has a shellfish entitlement. So, shellfish, as you know, is a non-TAC species, so that is unrestricted, but then in terms of the TAC species they might have limited access to, that limited access was defined back at the time of the concordat being signed.

Yes. To my understanding, because we have very few over-10m vessels in Wales that are not exclusively shellfish, there was no build-up of track record at the time the concordat was agreed, so then the amount that was available to over-10m in the non-sector, outside of a producer organisation, it meant that those clearly weren't being used, so there was no case. This goes back to the point I was making earlier about the Secretary of State. We had, or the Government had, at that time no case to make to the UK Government or to DEFRA to say, 'This is what we catch, this is what we've historically caught, and this is what we want to continue catching.' So, it's meant that there's an anomaly there that needs to be addressed, and the hope was that with any additional uplift, there might be scope to look at that in a different way. That conversation hasn't come to an end yet, and there's a long way to go with that, and I'm certainly very aware of the fisherman in your area and the issues that they've got, and we'll be doing everything we can to try and put that right.

Looking ahead to the sixth Senedd, what would be your priorities for us to look at as a committee or successor committee? We don't know whether it will continue in the same form as we are now, of course; that depends on the new Government. But, for the next five years, and in particular the early years of that period, what can we do most usefully for you?

Thank you, Neil. When I thought about what might the next set of priorities be for the committee, certainly in our area of interest, it was how to make that list as short as possible. Initially, I think—and again, I'm going to sound as though I'm repeating myself a little, but it's mainly because all of these things join up. Now, I'm not entirely clear as to what extent the Assembly would have scrutiny over these elements, but I think in this case, they would have over all of them. But we've talked about future fisheries policy and how important that is to understand at a Welsh level, the key thing there is that that narrative and those objectives that we set ourselves will need, in some shape or form, to align with the objectives under the fisheries Act, and, of course, inform the JFS. I think the joint fisheries—. So, the future Welsh fisheries policy and the developing JFS, those are certainly areas that I think the committee would hopefully remain engaged in.

And ideally, what we don't yet know—. We've had some powers that have been afforded to Welsh Ministers and the Assembly through the fisheries Act, which are significant, but what we don't yet know is, as we develop our future fisheries policy, do we need other tools to achieve the objectives that we want to achieve? And I think in that sense, then, as it was not possible to fit a Welsh fisheries Bill into this Assembly term—or Senedd term, sorry—that there was a commitment to do that in the next Senedd term. So, I would very much hope that there is a commitment in the legislative programme for a Welsh fisheries Bill as well. And, of course, any ongoing interest that you have in marine policy, we're very interested in that as well.

16:20

Okay, well, thank you very much indeed. That gives us a bit of an agenda for the future.

Thank you very much. I'm not sure how many of us are going to be here, because Llyr Gruffydd just removed me in his earlier question, because I'm the thirty-first seat that Plaid Cymru need to win in order to have a majority Government. [Laughter.] Leaving that aside, there will obviously be some risk, whatever happens with the election, obviously, some of us will still be here; I'm not sure who.

On behalf of the committee, I'd like to thank you for coming along and talking to us again. You've always been informative; you've always been 'forthright' I think is a good word, and I mean that in a nice way rather than an unpleasant way, because that's what we want. We want people to come and not tell us what they think we want to hear or what they need to say to make Ministers like them—and we've had some of those in different meetings—but actually come and tell us what we need to know in order to hold the Minister to account. So, thank you very much. You've been here often enough to know that you'll get a copy of the transcript and I again urge you to check it, because every time I check it, I find that if I've spun around in my chair, the odd word gets missed. Thank you very much and we're very grateful.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, everybody, for your patience. Thank you. Bye.

8. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
8. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) and (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Under Standing Orders 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting. Are we agreed? Yes.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:23.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:23.