Last month, Penny Mordaunt, MP for North Portsmouth, held an important meeting for all those interested in the future of fisheries in the Solent. I went along with my colleague Rayner Piper to represent Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, find out more and to make sure that the importance of marine conservation for fisheries was represented. I think we were all pleased and relieved to see Penny actually arrive as, the previous day, she had been promoted to the Cabinet as International Development Secretary.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about, living next to and working in the marine environment around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, I'm always aware of fishing activity going on all year round, but the sad thing is that I suspect that most people turn a blind eye and just aren't aware of the seafood that is caught and landed locally, but tends to be shipped away to London for restaurants and the overseas markets.
The meeting looked at a number of concerns as the first step towards establishing a task force to work for a better future: the state of the fisheries themselves and the lack of awareness and consumption of locally caught seafood and both the threats and opportunities which might arise from Brexit.
In the room we heard from local fishermen and wholesalers, many involved in the shellfishery which operates, for example, in Portsmouth and Langstone harbours. There were representatives from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Blue Marine Foundation was there to provide an update on their work to restore the Solent's native oyster fishery, once the largest in Europe but currently in a state of collapse, subject to wide closures and barely functioning. This project, works with the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (SIFCA), which manages all our local inshore fisheries, Portsmouth and Southampton Universities and a large group of stakeholders, including the Wildlife Trust.