Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On Fish Stocks and New Industries

It was a timely coincidence that the day the EU announced plans to help protect cod fisheries was also the morning that Peter Aldous, Conservative Candidate for Waveney had invited me to visit Lowestoft with him. Anyone who enjoys fish must have been concerned by the disgraceful stories of unnecessary fish discarded overboard due to the inflexible "EU quota" system.

The fish market starts at 7am. A few years ago this would have run on for hours, now you have to be there by 7.15 or the market is over. Lowestoft, once a major exportor of British caught fish, has been through a decade of decline. There was good news however on the dockside this morning. The fish caught in Lowestoft are all caught on the line so there is very little unwanted stock to discard. The quality is higher than net caught fish and the fishermen believe this much more sustainable. They have also noticed stocks of cod increasing since trawling stopped off this part of the coast.

Arguements over the "quota" are on hold locally this year. A government scheme is allowing some boats to catch unlimited fish on the lines in order to measure stocks. There remains great concern for the future when the scheme ends next year.

In the meantime, we heard about plans to recycle local seamanship and manufacturing skills in the renewable energy industry. At the docks two long-standing local shipbuilding companies have diversified. We saw wind turbines being made in the UK for wind farms in our waters, the specialist ship that helps erect the turbines and a first prototype wave-power project.

The Orbis Centre opened last month. It plans to be a business centre bringing together companies involved in renewable offshore energy and thus bringing new work into an area where the economy desperately needs it. At the most Easterly edge of the UK and underneath the largest onshore turbine, this project was spearheaded by the (Conservative led) County and District Councils with large grants from the EU.

Not everything was golden though. Lowestoft like many other parts of the East of England has a major road infrastructure issue - after 10 years of dithering the government is only now starting to discuss the desperately needed new river crossing. Yet another case of an important re-generative transport project that could have been funded in the boom times now being back as a possible "promise" .... but only the far side of a general election.