Defra secretary of state Steve Barclay has acknowledged that there are ‘questions from the fishing industry’ in respect of what an SNP MP described as the ‘draconian’ increase in the minimum salary level for migrant fishermen, announced at the start of December.
He was responding to questions from MPs in a short debate in Westminster on food security.
SNP spokesperson Steven Bonnar told the minister that post-Brexit attempts to recruit domestic workers into food production jobs had not filled existing vacancies, leaving firms unable to produce at pre-Brexit levels.
He said the new government rules on migration now put the minimum income requirements for immigrant workers ‘far higher’ than the level currently earned by food production workers in the UK.
Steven Bonnar asked the minister what assessment he and Defra were making ‘of the impact that the government’s draconian immigration policies will have on the security of domestic food production and on the cost and availability of food for consumers as they continue to battle the cost of living crisis to put food on their tables’.
In response, the minister pointed out that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme was not part of the Home Office announcement. “However, there will be questions from the fishing industry, and we stand ready to work with it on those.”
He said strengthening food security by supporting producers was ‘a top priority’ for the government. “We produce 60% of the food we consume, and food is one of the UK’s 13 critical national infrastructure sectors.”
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid (pictured above) urged the minister ‘not to forget the seafood industry and its importance in providing food security’. He invited the minister to visit Banff and Buchan, and meet with members of the seafood industry to discuss the way forward.
“As much as we welcome the measures announced earlier this week to tackle abuse of legal migration, there are concerns as we transition away from freedom of movement,” he told Steve Barclay.
Speaking after the exchange, David Duguid said that he had already discussed the changes to visa requirements with the SFF and the Scottish Seafood Association, and will now feed these to Steve Barclay and call for concessions to be made for industries such as fishing and seafood processing.
David Duguid said: “I welcome measures taken to combat the abuse of our legal migration systems, but I want to make sure key parts of our North East economy are not impacted through unintended consequences.
He added: “It needs to be recognised that industries such as seafood and fisheries have already put a lot of work into transitioning away from foreign labour.”
Fishermen ‘at wits’ end’
Labour shadow minister Daniel Zeichner told Steve Barclay that fish was ‘vital to our food security, but the recent antics of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is, in the name of safety, implementing new medical rules, are leaving many inshore fishers at their wits’ end’.
“Can it really be right that a fisherman in the prime of his working life risks losing his livelihood because he was brave enough a few months ago to admit to a doctor that he felt anxious?
“I do not think it is, so will the secretary of state corner his colleague the transport secretary in order to get him to do better than a temporary pause on this and to look urgently at exemptions for smaller boats, as other countries have sensibly done?”
Steve Barclay acknowledged that there have been concerns and that he and the fisheries minister had been ‘in touch with Department for Transport colleagues on this issue’.
“There have been amendments to the regulations as a result of those discussions, which are ongoing. However, we should not alarm people either, and the way that the shadow minister characterised this – suggesting that someone went to their GP and raised an issue, and that prevented them from following their livelihood – is not what the regulations do.
“I recognise that there have been concerns in the sector. We are looking at them closely and following them up, but the situation is not as he characterised it. That would cause undue harm to those in the fishing sector.”
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.
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