The current economic crisis borne out of the Covid outbreak has hit fishers and the coastal communities that depend on them among the hardest.
Import and export markets for the fishing industry have been disrupted and stifled, the lockdown period brought a huge drop in demand as cafes and restaurants closed, and along with price decreases the changes in this period have combined to serve up a damaging hit to profitability for fishers.
But for many these struggles are nothing new, instead serving to compound the difficulties already faced by fishers over recent years as a result of deep-rooted structural problems at the very heart of the fishing industry.
The Fisheries Bill is our opportunity to change that, and right the wrongs that have left fishers and many in coastal communities up and down the country struggling to make ends meet.
The obstacles faced by small scale operators in particular require urgent redress, and this legislation gives us the chance to do just that.
It cannot be right that the small boats who represent nearly 80 percent of the UK fishing fleet only hold 2 percent of the quota, for instance, and that so few large companies can own so much and put these smaller scale operators at such a disadvantage.
In this case, the solutions provided by the co-operative movement could provide the answer to how we tackle this injustice and offer the fishing industry the change it needs.
Co-operative structures already in the industry allow fishers to pool risk and access bigger markets, whilst enabling the sector to work closer together to help protect the long term financial and environmental sustainability of our seas.
Fishing co-operatives can play a vital role in minimising competition for already depleted and diminishing stocks, where they allow structures of management and control to be agreed between themselves, securing the future of the industry. Co-operatives simply offer a greater degree of control to the smaller operators who need it.
So as the Fisheries Bill moves through Parliament this week, with the support of Co-operative MPs the Labour Party will be tabling an amendment requiring the Government to boost the growth of co-operative business in the sector, through supporting existing co-operatives to grow and helping new co-operatives start up.
Fishing is at the very heart of local economies throughout coastal regions, and speaks to their identities as communities too; it’s to these same communities a greater share of wealth, ownership and control of the industry should be given.
So if we are to take to opportunity presented by the Fisheries Bill to do just that, the Government should welcome this amendment and utilise the huge benefits a strong co-operative sector in the fishing industry can bring.