Minister Victoria Prentis gave a speech at the SAGB Annual Conference

Minister Victoria Prentis gave a speech at the SAGB Annual Conference

Minister Victoria Prentis delivers the keynote speech at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain’s annual conference.

I’d like to start by thanking the SAGB for inviting me to speak today. I want to say how very well SAGB have represented you all this year.

I know how difficult the last few months have been for all of you. Our exit from the European Union has presented unique challenges for your sector, made even harder in the context of the pandemic.

Many of you have adapted well to the new trading arrangements with the EU. Our Seafood Exports Working Group and the Scottish Seafood Taskforce have worked closely with you to identify issues and help you get used to the new paperwork and requirements.

We have worked to eliminate some of the more mundane issues we faced in January – disagreements over ink colour and stamping, for example – and we will continue to streamline the process wherever possible.

However, I know that many of you are experiencing more fundamental problems. The decision taken by the European Union to ban the export of Live Bivalve Molluscs from Class B waters is wrong. It is unfair, unjustified, and I want you to know that we stand with you and will help in any way that we can.

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The European Commission continues to be unwilling to engage in constructive discussion, but we are speaking to individual Member States who want this trade to continue – and indeed need it to continue.

I’m not going to pretend that there is a silver bullet. There isn’t. But we are taking a range of steps that will, I hope, make a real difference. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement has finally been ratified by the EU. We will now see the new specialised committees being set up which will be an important step forward.

Exports of Class A and depurated LBMs are able to continue in closed and labelled packages.

The FSA has undertaken to review Class B shellfish harvesting areas in England and Wales. Fifteen sites have secured seasonal Class A status for between three and ten months of the year, including one in Morecambe bay. Three harvesting areas have been upgraded from Class B to year-round Class A since the beginning of the year, including two in Menai.

The FSA has agreed that there is potential scope for change to ensure that classifications are awarded in a proportionate and pragmatic way – ensuring the high levels of public health protection that we are renowned for. They will continue to engage with you on this.

It is our priority to help you adapt to the new conditions that we find ourselves in – and understand the needs of your individual businesses. That includes helping you to find new markets and improving water quality. We are absolutely committed to improving water quality and are investigating which actions would deliver the greatest benefits for shellfish harvesting waters.

Understandably many have asked about financial support. We have launched a new Fisheries and Seafood Scheme which will provide financial assistance for projects that deliver sustainable growth in the catching, processing and aquaculture sectors, and that enhance the marine environment.

The Prime Minister announced a further £100m in funding for the sector across the UK. This will be invested in the skills, infrastructure and science needed to support a thriving and sustainable sector. Maria Lacunza from Defra’s Marine and Fisheries funding team will talk more about these two schemes tomorrow.

On fishing policy more generally, we are now an independent coastal state with regulatory autonomy. The Fisheries Act 2020 plays an important role in enabling the UK to do this and requires the development of a legally binding framework to protect and recover stocks, support a sustainable seafood industry, and safeguard the environment.

Working together with the Devolved Administrations, one of our key priorities is the preparation of a Joint Fisheries Statement, which will set out how the Fisheries Administrations will deliver policies to meet the objectives of the Fisheries Act. Stakeholders will be able to contribute to the development of the Joint Fisheries Statement.

The Act also gives Defra and the Devolved Administrations a responsibility to develop Fisheries Management Plans. These will help transform how we manage our fisheries and allow us to move away from regimes such as Western Waters.

The shellfish sector is very much leading the way on beginning to develop management plans for our most important shellfish species and proposals for improved future management. This work is informing our thinking more generally on Fisheries Management Plans.

SAGB is leading positive collaboration and engagement across the sector, and I welcome industry taking greater responsibility for their fisheries and using their expertise to develop new, improved measures. Continued collaboration between industry, scientists and Government will be crucial in this process, to ensure new approaches are effective at delivering long term sustainability of our stocks.

Moving on to aquaculture, I welcomed the publication of the English Aquaculture Strategy in November last year. The Strategy demonstrates how the sector can increase its contribution to England’s food security, domestic seafood consumption, and job growth, and we will continue to work with industry to push if forward.

The strategy was developed under the Seafood 2040 framework and I know that Neil Auchterlonie, who chairs this initiative, will take you through the breadth of its work tomorrow.

Balancing the need to protect the environment with supporting industry growth continues to be a priority for us. Defra is working with regulatory bodies to clarify and streamline the regulatory framework, which I know many have expressed a desire for.

To finish, and I’m happy to take questions, we have wonderful products that consumers across the world want and many skilled and entrepreneurial people in the industry. I look forward to strengthening this important relationship and beginning to work with you to make the most of the opportunities we have. I hope that the situation will start improving, and that with constructive frank engagement we can work together to ensure this industry has a future.

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Minister Prentis speech for SAGB Annual Conference on 12 May 2021

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