Ladies and Gentlemen, I am just an amateur broker in these exercises trying to find a way of bringing people together. My experience is if you do bring people together from different disciplines who don't normally sit down together that can very often produce beneficial results.
The same is true of the whole process of Seeing is Believing. One of the things I discovered years ago is if you can take people from one group who are being reticent about taking the first steps down a particular path which might lead to improvements or benefits, very often it helps to go and visit another group who also felt sceptical about the same idea but who have made the leap and found its much better than they thought. Sometimes that sort opportunity to exchange experience can make a huge difference.
I'm so pleased to be able to join you today at the end of your workshop. It really is hugely encouraging to hear of the immense effort you have made to find answers to all these complex questions of how best to achieve a genuinely sustainable fishing industry.
I was so pleased to hear the report back just now, and most grateful to those of you who are here and have given up your extraordinarily precious time to come and attend something like this.
I am so pleased that my International Sustainability Unit has been able to bring about this unique meeting, and I would like to convey my thanks to Seafish for being such a willing and effective partner in helping to pull it all together. I would also like to thank The Gulf of Maine Research Institute for inspiring the idea of having such an event in the U.K. in the first place, and for travelling from America to make it work so smoothly.
Above all, I would like to thank the Steering Committee, most of whom are active fishermen, who kindly gave up so much of their precious time in January to go to London and spend a few days lending their unique insight into what would be the most important topics for discussion at this workshop.
I must say, it is most heartening to learn how those initial conversations have been developed into the substantial ideas and issues that you have considered here today in Brixham. Clearly, from what I have just heard, considerable progress has been made. And although it is so often all too easy to gain the impression that there are long gaps between the talking and the practical action, by following your progress I have been able to see how much positive work is already going on.
Three years ago, when I asked my International Sustainability Unit to look into the future of fishing, the situation did seem rather gloomy. But today I am much more optimistic. There are some very good examples of best practice emerging - for instance, right here in Brixham where fishermen are leading the way in reducing the impact of their activities. I have just come from the harbour where, amongst other things, I was shown a local beam trawler fitted with equipment that significantly reduces by-catch. As you know far better than I, this leads to fewer undersized fish being caught, and helps to protect the seabed; it also cuts fuel use dramatically and lengthens the life of the fishing gear.
Of course, I am aware that such innovation is taking place all around the U.K. For example, in September 2011, I visited Kilkeel in Northern Ireland where fishermen were also working jointly with scientists and net manufacturers to reduce by-catch through novel net design. I was immensely impressed by the dedication shown by this group of fishermen who have spent not only significant amounts of time and effort, but also their own money, seeking solutions that are both highly effective and practical, as well as in line with regulatory requirements - the latter, I understand, being not the least difficult feat to achieve!
Further afield, in the North Sea, where the decline in the cod population has raised such concern, I see from recent reports that the population is, in fact, recovering. Because of collaborative efforts, this iconic species could soon be providing more fine food with less worry about stocks.
And I also hear that the Welsh Fishermen’s Association has been working with scientists and official bodies to develop best practice for scallop fishing, so that seabed habitats are conserved and scallop stocks are maintained in the long-term.
It is therefore immensely encouraging that all over the U.K. fishermen are taking action and setting an excellent example. The fact that nearly half of the U.K. catch has been certified as sustainable illustrates just how committed our fishing industry is. The move towards more durable fishing practices is happening not just because of campaigns and regulations, but because the results are economically rewarding as well as being ecologically beneficial; they make fishing more profitable.
Much of this positive work is down to committed and strong partnerships, to sound science and to fishermen working together - and, by doing so, leading the debate. If we can continue to nurture these conditions, then I believe we can ensure sustainable and profitable fisheries in the future. If I may say so, fishing, far from being as some appear to have assumed, an industry that is sailing into the sunset, is, in fact, increasingly witnessing hints of a new dawn.
I can only make a plea that, if at all possible, you will keep this excellent and absolutely vital work going. I know that Seafish, with the continuing support of my I.S.U., is ready, willing and able to work with you to maintain the momentum you have established and highlighted during the Fishing into the Future initiative over the past few days.
Also, I do think this issue of future young entrants to fishing is of crucial importance, as it is in farming. In fact I started a programme called "Get Into Fishing" with my Prince's Trust because of this problem, and its another area we could perhaps look at more carefully.
I therefore hope that you will leave this meeting with increased knowledge, ideas, connections and, critically, the inspiration and energy to work together to build a more profitable industry in the long term that puts the care of marine ecosystems and fish stocks at the heart of the entire process.
That way we can ensure that your sons and daughters - not to mention your grandchildren! - can have a viable future by following in your hard working footsteps. I can only wish you all the very best in your continuing efforts, and look forward to hearing many more success stories in what, I am sure, will be the very near future.