Select Committee on Agriculture Seventh Special Report



SEVENTH SPECIAL REPORT

The Agriculture Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

The Committee has received the following memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in reply to the Eighth Report from the Committee of this Session, Sea Fishing, made to the House on 27 July 1999.

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Introduction

i.  This response to the Commons Agriculture Committee's report on Sea Fishing has been prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in consultation with other Government Departments. The devolved administrations have also been consulted in its preparation because of their responsibilities for sea fishing. The response takes account of their views but it does not bind them to specific positions in relation to devolved matters.

ii.  As the Committee recognised fisheries management is one of the functions of the devolved administrations. The expectation is that there will be a close and collaborative approach between all the fisheries departments of the UK and that the need to sustain a unified approach to the management of fish quotas and the fishing fleet will continue to underlie the day to day arrangements. Although not necessarily mentioned at every point in this document, it can be taken that close consultation will take place between the several administrations in developing and implementing policy throughout the UK.

iii.  Each of the Committee's recommendations is shown below in bold and is followed by the response. For convenience the term "Fisheries Departments" is used to describe all the administrations responsible for fisheries both in the UK Government and in the devolved administrations.

Government strategy and objectives

1.  Our own conclusions based on this inquiry suggest five essential objectives of any fisheries management system. It should:

    _  promote sustainability of resources to safeguard the long term success of both the stocks and the industry:

    _  ensure that the stocks are exploited in the most efficient way, so that fishermen are not drawn into a race for fish;

    _  encourage the profitability and competitiveness of the fishing industry from vessel to retailer;

    • minimise both the cost to the public purse and the level of Government intervention; and

    _  minimise the complexity of regulation while maximising the responsibility for that process given to the industry consistent with securing compliance.

In some of these respects we are not our own masters, being dependent, particularly for the second, on European decisions under the Common Fisheries Policy. Yet there are other important criteria which the Government should consider, such as rationalising the fleet, securing a way of life for the more vulnerable fishing communities where there are few alternative sources of employment, and maintaining fishing centres with the necessary concentration of services and facilities. These depend upon the Government first deciding on the type of industry it wishes to see and the level of intervention it wishes to retain. We support the concept of regulation by the industry itself as far as is consistent with the acknowledgement that there is a common interest in protecting the sea and its resources. However our overriding concern is that the Government establish a settled, transparent long-term strategy for management of fisheries which takes into account the competitive position compared to other EU countries and within which the industry can plan, confident that any necessary changes will apply equally and be introduced fairly, with proper consultation and with regard to clear and agreed objectives. There is a very bright future for the UK sea fishing industry and the Government has to play its part in helping to bring this about (paragraph 3).

2.  We recommend that the Government establish for the first time a clear, agreed and coherent strategy for the management and development of the UK fishing industry which will unite all concerned in working towards greater efficiency and competitiveness (paragraph 193).

Response

The Government welcomes this thorough and constructive report and agrees with the importance of the five objectives for fisheries management suggested by the Committee. The Government notes the Committee's suggestion of drawing up an agreed long term management strategy, covering inter alia rationalisation of the fishing fleet and fishing ports, and will consider this with the industry. There has been a productive relationship with the industry in developing fisheries policy in a number of policy areas, including the recent introduction of fixed quota allocations and designated port arrangements. The Government will continue to involve the industry fully in determining the future direction of fisheries management so as to maximise efficiency and competitiveness.

The Committee also recognises some of the constraints on the scope for drawing up a UK strategy, including our obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Paragraphs 1.1-1.3 of the MAFF Memorandum to the Committee set out the Government's broad objectives for improving the CFP, namely:

    _  integrating environmental considerations more fully into the CFP to make it a more effective instrument for the conservation of fish stocks and the wider marine environment;

    _  achieving more effective and consistent enforcement of fisheries rules across the Community;

    _  applying structural and conservation measures in a way that achieves a sustainable future for the UK's sea fishing industry and enhances economic opportunity in coastal communities;

    _  increasing the participation by fishermen in the development of fisheries policy and in parallel increasing the regional dimension of the CFP so that it is more sensitive to local differences.

A UK strategy will also need to take account of the devolution of responsibility for fisheries policy which means that it will also need to be agreed with the devolved administrations. The Government will therefore wish to involve the devolved administrations, and representatives of their national fishing industries, fully in considering the way forward. In tackling this recommendation, as with the subsequent recommendations, account will have to be taken of the resources available both to the various parts of Government and to the representatives of industry organisations themselves.

Economic research

3.  We recommend that the Government commission regular research into the profitability of the sea fishing industry for use in determining management policy (paragraph 13).

Response

Information on the industry's costs and earnings is already collected on a voluntary basis by the Sea Fisheries Industry Authority. We will consider with the industry and the SFIA the value and possible mechanisms for developing these or similar arrangements.

Advice on TACs

4.  We recommend that the Government encourage ICES to present its advice on TACs in a more generally comprehensible form and to improve its efforts to communicate the advice to the fishing industry (paragraph 19).

Response

The Government agrees with the Committee that TACs and quotas should be based on sound scientific analysis. ICES advice is directed firstly at the scientific experts who advise fisheries managers. However, the Government notes that ICES has made greater efforts recently to improve the layout of its advice to make it more comprehensible and accessible to non-scientists and UK representatives on ICES will continue to press for greater clarity. UK scientists will also seek to improve existing efforts to explain the advice to the industry, building on the programme of meetings and articles in the fishing press.

5.  We recommend the formal inclusion of economic analysis of the implications of TACs and national quota allocations at an earlier stage in the annual cycle. However, we caution strongly against the temptation to use economic and social criteria to "invent fish" in the interests of the political convenience either of Ministers or the industry (paragraph 20).

Response

The Government has sympathy with the Committee's view that there should be earlier and more systematic economic advice provided as part of the annual TACs and quotas cycle. The Government agrees with the Committee that the objectivity of the scientific advice on the state of fish stocks must not be compromised by requiring ICES to include economic considerations in its reports and that economic and social criteria must not be used to "invent fish" to satisfy political expediency. As the Committee observes, the European Commission already obtains economic advice from its Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) before issuing its formal proposals on TACs and is continuing its efforts to develop the economic component of the process.

In practice, the timing of the ICES advice restricts the scope for full economic analysis at an earlier stage in the annual cycle. And, in any event, it is difficult to quantify the economic effects, for example, of quota cuts given the diversity of circumstances of the fishermen involved, changes in costs and prices and the scope for diverting fishing activity onto other stocks. The Commission already seeks to take account of socio-economic effects by, for example, not normally proposing TAC reductions exceeding 40%. We will explore with the Commission whether there are further refinements which might be made to improve the extent to which economic considerations are reflected in the process.

6.  We recommend that the Government support the European Commission's proposals for earlier notification of the recommendations for TACs so that the fishing industry has more time to prepare for changes in quota. In the longer term, we recommend that TACs be set on a multi-annual basis where stocks are not threatened (paragraph 21).

Response

The Government supports the proposal made to ICES by the European Commission for earlier notification of its annual advice on TACs and quotas. We hope that ICES will give this matter serious consideration. However, it may not be readily applicable for all stocks and we would not want earlier advice to be at the expense of accuracy, which would entail introducing greater uncertainty or requiring excessive levels of caution in recommending TACs.

The Government agrees with the Committee that multi-annual TACs would be helpful to the industry but continues to believe that they are not feasible for most stocks until these are in much better shape. In practice, for stocks in good shape, TAC levels tend not to change much from year to year and so there is already an element of multi-annual stability there. The Government is supporting the development of multi-annual management strategies, based on precautionary reference points, as a means of keeping stocks well away from levels at which they risk collapse and to restrain fishing effort so as to rebuild them to more sustainable levels in future. Long term management strategies are being pioneered by the EC and Norway for stocks which they jointly manage and the first such strategy, for North Sea herring, is making a major contribution to the continuing recovery of this stock from its near collapse in 1996.

The precautionary approach

7.  Whilst we endorse the precautionary approach to fisheries management, we believe that much more planning, consultation and forethought should have been put into its implementation by the ACFM. As it is, we deplore the damage done to the relationship between scientists and fishermen by the abrupt introduction of this method and we recommend that the Government ensure that any future changes in the approach, as are inevitable as the system beds down, be made only once they have been fully explained to the industry and its views taken into consideration (paragraph 26).

Response

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of the application of the precautionary approach to fisheries management and agrees with the Committee that, in hindsight, its introduction could have been better presented. This (and other relevant recommendations) have already been brought to the attention of ICES. We agree it is important to develop continuing productive relations between scientists and fishermen. CEFAS, FRS and DANI scientists are therefore seeking to explain fisheries science to fishermen, including the principles and benefits of the precautionary approach, in the course of their regular meetings, through articles in the fishing press and in practical involvement in research activity. The Government will also seek to ensure that the industry is kept properly in touch with any refinements to the new system as it beds down.

Co-ordination of research programmes

8.  We believe that with devolution altering the management of some of the programmes it would be wise to review arrangements for co-ordination of fisheries research in the UK to make sure duplication does not occur. We recommend that this be done (paragraph 28).

Response

Mechanisms are already in place - in particular, the Fisheries Science Customer Group - to provide for co-ordination of research between Fisheries Departments. The need for any changes following devolution will be kept under review.

Collaborative research

9.  We were reassured by the evidence of international collaboration between scientists. Given the international concern for the sustainability of stocks and the recognition that the principles of fisheries management extend beyond domestic boundaries, it is vital that scientists work together to improve their knowledge of the sea and to develop the least environmentally damaging methods of catching fish. We are pleased that the UK is playing such a strong role in collaborative research (paragraph 29).

Response

The Government welcomes the recognition of the outward looking approach of UK scientists and will continue to encourage UK research institutes to undertake collaborative research with international counterparts.

Funding of research

10.  We recommend that MAFF guarantee funding for research into fish stocks of at least current levels for the remainder of this Comprehensive Spending Review period and that it give an undertaking that funding for such research will remain a priority thereafter (paragraph 35).

Response

Monitoring and stock assessment work is adequately provided for during the CSR period and will continue to remain a priority.

Multi-species modelling

11.  We recommend that multi-species research be applied more thoroughly in waters around the United Kingdom other than the North Sea (paragraph 38).

Response

Multi-species work poses considerable scientific and practical problems and is expensive. It is being advanced in the North Sea to develop the range of scientific methods necessary to understand, and predict, the consequences of management actions in a multispecies context. As such work bears fruit - and as resources permit - it can be transferred to other regions where it is believed multi-species interactions are significant to our fisheries.

Research into new fisheries

12.  We believe that it should be part of the role of CEFAS and FRS to assist in the development of new fishing grounds through proper stock assessments. We also believe that as part of that research the scientists should ensure that the environmental impact of fishing for new species or in new grounds should be taken fully into account (paragraph 39).

Response

The Government agrees that the development of new fisheries can raise environmental issues which need to be properly assessed by scientists. The question of stock assessments in new fishing grounds will be discussed with the industry.

Future research needs

13.  We recommend that MAFF commission a study of the research needed to fulfil the UK's obligations on stock assessments over the next ten years, taking into account developing fisheries, the existing number of precautionary TACs and new, more accurate methods of conducting such research. We further recommend that this study include comparisons with the funding and scope of CEFAS's counterparts in the other EU and ICES member states and that it highlight areas where further collaboration might be encouraged (paragraph 41).

Response

We are already considering future fisheries science needs in the context of the ongoing review of MAFF funding. Approval of funding for the new CEFAS research vessel signals the commitment to fisheries research in the long term. An additional study of the type proposed would divert resources from other scientific activity and it is not clear that it would yield any additional benefits not available from the current review arrangements.

Fishermen and scientists

14.  We recommend that MAFF consult with the scientific community and the fishing industry on the best way to establish a permanent formal procedure for collaboration and consultation on fisheries research. We further recommend that MAFF encourage its counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to participate in developing such procedures (paragraph 49).

Response

The Government agrees this recommendation and Fisheries Departments and scientists are already in touch with the industry to improve contacts on science and research and to establish a more formalised approach.

15.  We conclude that, although in the present circumstances it would not be appropriate to charge the industry for research, fishermen's organisations should be encouraged to invest in their own scientific projects and be assisted in applications for European funding for this purpose (paragraph 50).

Response

We note the Committee's conclusion and will be talking to fishermen's organisations about taking their ideas on research forward. Guidance on the procedures required to obtain EU funding is available and there could be a possibility of participation in joint projects.

MAGP

16.  We recommend that the Government fully support any proposals for stronger sanctions on Member States to ensure compliance with MAGP targets and for greater transparency as to the cost of restructuring measures to public funds in the different Member States (paragraph 57).

Response

The Government fully accepts the importance of compliance with MAGP targets and agrees with the Committee's recommendation.

Safety at sea

17.  We conclude that the linkage between an ageing fleet and an unsafe fleet is unproven but we recommend that further research be conducted in this area and the results published and distributed to the fishing industry. Safety at sea is vitally important. The existing data do not sustain a case for the industry to be given public money for building new vessels on safety grounds alone (paragraph 63).

Response

The Government agrees that safety at sea is vitally important. While the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is investigating the causes of the accident rate for vessels over 12 metres in length, the Government is also concerned with the safety of the smaller vessels, which make up the bulk of the UK fishing fleet. The Government has looked again at the safety regime applying to these vessels and is finalising proposals for the introduction of a Code of Practice for fishing vessels under 12 metres in length.

MCA is already carrying out investigations into factors which affect safety at sea for fishing vessels. This work will include an assessment of the possible links between age and safety of the fleet, but will also need to examine other factors which contribute to accidents. MCA will discuss the scope of its current investigations with the fishing industry through the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG). If the industry and MCA agree that further research work is needed into the relationship between the age of the fleet and its safety record, this will be taken forward and the fishing industry will be encouraged to participate fully. The results of all work in this area will be discussed by FISG.

18.  We recommend that the vessel safety equipment grant scheme be reinstated (paragraph 71).

Response

Safety at sea is an important issue and the Government is concerned for the fishing industry to improve its record. The Government is currently considering the issue of reinstating a scheme of grants for safety equipment for vessels, in particular in the context of any funding available for the programme of structural measures for application during 2000/2006 for which the Fisheries Council is negotiating the implementing regulation.

Grants for new build

19.  We have sympathy with the complaints of the industry about the money received by their counterparts in other EU states for building new vessels. We support the Government in its attempts to tighten up the rules for such assistance. Nevertheless, we do not recommend that the Government adopt an industry-wide scheme to aid the construction of new fishing vessels, whether or not under a scrap and build approach (paragraph 75).

Response

The Government shares the Committee's conclusion. We do not believe that the Government should subsidise investment in building new vessels which the industry cannot itself finance from the returns from sustainable fishing.

20.  We recommend that any publicly-financed grant scheme for the modernisation of vessels working within low-impact fisheries meet the criteria of the continual reduction of fishing capacity in line with available fish stocks, safety, the sustainability of the fishing method and that short-term targeted assistance would be effective (paragraph 76).

Response

The Government agrees that strict criteria would be needed in any grant scheme directed to fleet modernisation; and, as the Committee acknowledges in paragraph 3 of its report, there is a need to minimise the cost to the public purse. We would need to consider carefully the case for any modernisation aid, against the Government's overall spending priorities.

Licences and quota

21.  We recommend that MAFF provide clear guidance on the legal title to licences and quota in the context of transactions between individuals and/or organisations (paragraph 86).

Response

The arrangements for the renewal, transfer and aggregation of fishing vessel licences and the allocation of quota, are the subject of close consultation between industry and Fisheries Departments in the UK and are understood by most fishermen. There are no plans to change the existing position whereby licences and quotas apply at the discretion of Ministers but with fishermen's interests protected by the legal concept of legitimate expectation. Nevertheless the Departments will consider, in consultation with fishermen's representatives, if any further steps might be taken to clarify entitlement to licences and quotas under present legislation.

22.  We believe that there is a strong case for taking certain low-impact fisheries such as mackerel hand-lining out of the quota system altogether which would encourage new entrants, and we urge MAFF to examine this possibility with care (paragraph 97).

Response

The scope for excluding any fisheries from quota management is limited because under the provisions of the CFP all catches of TAC species have to be counted against quota. A change to the quota system would require Commission support and acceptance by other Member States. The Government will continue to explore the possibilities including the scope for change in the context of the 2002 review. The Fisheries Departments are also reviewing national arrangements for the management of the under 10 metre fleet to see how these can be best improved.

As regards measures to encourage new entrants, with fish stocks limited and industry rationalisation continuing to take place, it is necessary to be cautious with measures which might add to pressures on existing participants in the industry. The Government will take the opportunity to discuss with the industry the steps that might be taken to encourage new entrants within the framework of present licensing and quota management arrangements.

23.  We recommend that, in conjunction with representatives of the fishing industry, the Government devise proposals for managing the existing trade in licences and quota, with a view to introducing them as a matter of urgency (paragraph 101).

24.  We recommend that the Government consult the fishing industry on the merits and drawbacks of tradeable quotas and the most appropriate form for their introduction in the UK, including the future management role of the POs and the extent of safeguards, for example to protect fishing-dependent communities, and report on the outcome of these consultations within a year (paragraph 101).

Response

As noted above in the response to recommendation 21 the arrangements for managing the UK's quotas and licensing fishing vessels are the subject of close and on-going consultation with industry. On the basis of proposals from the industry itself significant changes have recently been made with the introduction in 1999 of fixed quota allocations. With the new system fishermen and their producer organisations have greater certainty regarding quota allocations and more flexibility to adopt quota management arrangements best suited to their needs. In the light of the Committee's recommendations the Fisheries Departments in the UK will seek the views of the industry on whether further changes should be made to quota management and what measures might sensibly be taken to manage the existing trade in licences and quota.

No take zones and closed areas

25.  We support the principle of no take zones and closed areas and we recommend that MAFF sympathetically consider and encourage research into specific proposals brought forward by the industry. However, we emphasise that under the CFP these measures would have to be non-discriminatory and apply to all vessels not just UK fishing. They would therefore have to be agreed on a European basis (paragraph 106).

Response

There are already significant areas where fishing is restricted in some measure in the interests of conservation (e.g. the plaice box and the mackerel box). MAFF is keen to support further well based proposals to improve conservation and has already encouraged collaboration between CEFAS scientists and the industry on the possible closure of the Trevose Bank off Cornwall, during the winter spawning period. In the light of their conclusions, consideration will be given in the Fisheries Conservation Group (representing UK fishermen, scientists and administrators) to taking forward such an initiative. If this is agreed we will press the European Commission to take appropriate action on a Community-wide basis. Other proposals for new closed areas will also be given similar consideration.

Non-profit sale of over-quota fish

26.  We recommend that MAFF examine the feasibility and effectiveness of introducing in the UK a similar system to the Icelandic arrangements for the non-profit sale of over-quota fish (paragraph 108).

Response

The Government is grateful for this constructive suggestion. It has to be recognised that it would be more difficult to operate the Icelandic arrangements in the UK, given the difficulty of enforcing a mandatory discard ban in the mixed fisheries in EC waters and the far greater number of landing points in the UK compared to Iceland. Such arrangements would require an amendment to CFP regulations. The Government will nevertheless give this idea further consideration and will discuss it with the industry, the devolved administrations and with the European Commission.

Discards

27.  We recommend that MAFF consider measures to reduce discards through more flexible quota management and that it continue to promote within Europe the use of more selective fishing gear (paragraph 109).

Response

Measures are already in place to allow flexible management of quotas including an annual system of 'banking and borrowing'. The UK has not made use of this arrangement thus far because the industry has taken the view that it provides little advantage when quotas are in any case fully utilised. Also, it must be borne in mind that a high proportion of discards are due to undersized fish being caught.

The new technical conservation measures which apply Community-wide from 1 January 2000 are designed to make fishing gears more selective and should therefore reduce the scale of discarding. In the light of practical experience of these changes, consideration will be given to further improvements both nationally and at EU level.

In collaboration with the Commission, the Government has recently embarked on a major piece of research into the economic aspects of discarding. This will provide further guidance into possible measures to reduce the volume of discards.

Devolution

28.  We recommend that the Government attend to the publication of the concordat on fisheries management as a matter of urgency (paragraph 111).

Response

In order to reassure the fishing industry about the impact of devolution, Fisheries Departments wrote in June to all UK fishermen to explain the changes in vessel licensing, quota management and fisheries enforcement arrangements consequent on devolution. As a result there have been few questions from the industry about the consequences of devolution. The Government notes the Committee's wish for urgency in concluding the subject specific concordats on fisheries management between MAFF and the devolved administrations. Publication of these documents must, however, be subject to prior agreement on overarching general concordats between the Westminster Government and the devolved administrations; and on bilateral departmental concordats between MAFF and the devolved administrations, which have yet to be finalised.

Fisheries management

29.  We recommend that the jurisdiction of the Sea Fisheries Committees and the Environment Agency be reviewed to ensure consistency of approach within individual fisheries (paragraph 112).

Response

The jurisdiction of the respective organisations will be reviewed in the context of the current enquiry being carried out by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group and in the follow-up to the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees' paper "2000 and beyond" (see recommendations 44 to 46).

30.  We recommend that the Government set out its objectives for the future role of POs, including the devolvement of further responsibilities in order to streamline the management process, taking into account the cost and ability of POs to take on those responsibilities, and the position of the non-sector fleet. Duplication of tasks between willing POs and MAFF should be eliminated, subject to appropriate audit checks (paragraph 115).

Response

The Government agrees the need to develop objectives for the future role of POs. This is timely because the European Commission have published proposals for the reform of the fish marketing regime which, inter alia, seek to redefine the responsibilities of POs and provide an enhanced legal framework to enable them to play an expanded role. We shall be taking this forward in consultation with the fishing industry. In this context we will seek wherever possible to develop management systems which avoid duplication of tasks between POs and Fisheries Departments.

Electronic communications

31.  We recommend that the Government make more use of electronic communications in licence issues, particularly with regard to the single licence rule for the pelagic fleet (paragraph 118).

Response

Electronic and IT systems are extensively used in most aspects of fisheries management and there is a commitment to increase the benefits this can give to fishermen in prompt and efficient communications and data handling. The arrangements for managing the UK's pelagic fisheries, which have been necessary to assist the recovery of North Sea herring stocks from the low levels occurring in 1996, are being reviewed jointly by the Fisheries Departments and industry. Decisions on whether there should be any changes in these arrangements will be taken in good time for the year 2000 herring fisheries. Regulations already provide for the electronic transmission of licences and subsequent variations to them. Some use has been made of this facility but the Fisheries Departments will consider the scope for its more widespread use in the light of the experience gained from satellite monitoring which becomes mandatory for vessels over 24 metres from 1 January 2000.

Regulations

32.  We recommend that the Government prepare an audit of all regulations and their compliance costs relating to the UK fishing fleet and that this work be used as a database which can be updated to provide accurate and accessible information on the regulatory burden when considering new measures. We also recommend that similar audits and databases be established for compliance cost with regulations in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (paragraph 119).

33.  We recommend that the Government either commission itself or bring pressure to bear on the European Commission to initiate research into the comparative costs to the fishing industry of compliance with the regulatory framework in the different Member States, of other charges pressing on it and the comparative levels of support (paragraph 120).

34.  We recommend that UK diplomatic posts be charged with monitoring the means of implementing EU directives and the costs pressing on the industry in other Member States and that this information be disseminated to the UK industry. Where there are clear discrepancies in approach, the UK Government should provide an explanation for the additional requirements it has introduced, although the presumption should always be in favour of ensuring UK fishermen are treated equally with their counterparts in other Member States. The approach to regulation should always be guided by the principles we set out in paragraph 3 of this Report (paragraph 122).

35.  We recommend that the Government continue to review all regulations imposed on the fishing industry with a view to ensuring that the regulatory system be streamlined and restrictions removed unless there is reason for their continuance consistent with the objectives we have set. However, we recommend the continuation of the designated ports scheme as a means of concentrating the industry and ensuring more effective management (paragraph 131).

Response

The Government agrees with the Committee's concerns that regulations applied in the UK should always be the minimum necessary and should be targeted to the exact need. The Government endorses the Committee's objectives in paragraph 3 of its report of minimising the level of intervention and the complexity of regulation and maximising the responsibility given to the industry consistent with securing compliance. The Government also agrees that the way in which regulations are applied in other Member States is important if the CFP is to operate equitably.

The Government's Better Regulation policy is being applied with the objective of ensuring that implementation in the UK is fair in comparison with the situation in other Member States. The Fisheries Departments regularly review the operation of regulations and make changes where possible to meet the concerns of the industry. The Committee itself draws attention to the value of the new requirements of the designated ports scheme and the way in which its impact was swiftly modified to make it better aligned with industry practices. Equally, the new arrangements for fixed quota allocation were introduced in response to industry requests and are being kept under review. The same approach will continue to be applied in future.

More generally the Government's regulatory impact assessment procedure is applied to all new regulations and requires compliance costs to be assessed and published. Fisheries Departments will be discussing with the industry how these compliance cost assessments can be used more effectively.

So far as the situation in other Member States is concerned, it is the European Commission which has the responsibility for monitoring the adequacy of implementation by Member States and the Government will be pressing the Commission to clarify, and as necessary initiate new work on, the comparative costs of compliance and levels of support in different Member States. Where specific examples of important differences in implementation come to light the Government will examine whether they indicate that domestic arrangements should be changed and whether the Commission should be asked to investigate further.

Satellite monitoring

36.  We recommend that if the satellite monitoring requirements are extended to vessels under 24 metres in length the Government either take up any EU funding available to subsidise the installation of the necessary equipment by the industry or produce reductions in the regulatory burden on fishermen to balance the costs (paragraph 127).

Response

The EU is due to decide before the end of 2001 whether satellite monitoring should be applied to vessels between 18 and 24 metres in overall length. It is not possible to anticipate at this stage any of the detailed terms of such a decision. However, the possibility of taking up any EU scheme would be considered in the light of circumstances. In any event, the Fisheries Departments will be looking to see how the regulatory burden on fishermen can be reduced in the light of the experience gained from the satellite monitoring of fishing vessel activity from 1 January 2000.

Infringements

37.  We recommend that the Government commission a review of how the prosecution process for fishing offences could be made more efficient, more speedy and more consistent (paragraph 136).

Response

Separate legal systems operate in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England and Wales fisheries offences are generally brought before the Courts as quickly as most other regulatory offences. Prosecutions of non UK nationals are usually dealt with on a fast track basis because of the legal and practical difficulties if they are not resident in the UK. In other cases the Sea Fisheries Inspectorate and the Ministry's Legal Department recognise the importance of dealing with suspected infringements promptly and issuing summonses through the Courts in good time. The criminal justice departments are working to speed up the system consistently with the interests of justice. Where, for instance, in a contested case, the witnesses are temporarily out of the jurisdiction, it may not be practicable to speed up the proceedings.

38.  We recommend that the penalties for serious breaches of fisheries regulations be increased and that information tables be published on the fines levied in different courts to ensure common levels of charges. We also recommend that licences be revoked for second offences (paragraph 136).

Response

For most infringements, legislation in all parts of the UK provides for a maximum penalty of £50,000 for each offence: the remaining offences generally carry a maximum fine of £5,000. Additionally, there are powers for the confiscation of gear and catch or a fine up to the value of the illegal catch. Potentially very high penalties can already be imposed where several offences have been committed because it is open to the court to apply fines up to the maximum for each of the offences. Also, unlimited fines apply on indictment.

In England and Wales magistrates receive training in following a structured approach to sentencing and there are many factors which might quite properly reduce the level of fines such as a discount for a guilty plea, mitigating circumstances and the requirements of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which requires the amount of any fine to reflect the seriousness of the offence taking account of the offender's financial circumstances.

In sentencing, a court will be made aware of the maximum penalties that may be imposed and the full significance of the offence but the decision on the level of penalty to be applied rests with the court having regard to the circumstances of the individual case rather than the generality of penalties imposed in other cases. For offences involving breaches of fishing vessel licence conditions, the courts may order the owner or charterer of the vessel to be disqualified for a specified period from holding a licence in respect of that vessel.

Enforcement in other EU Member States

39.  We recommend that to increase transparency the Government propose that the European Commission speed up publication of its reports on enforcement so that both areas of difficulty and improvements, in general and in individual Member States, are highlighted in a timely fashion (paragraph 139).

40.  We urge the Commission to ensure more regular inspections of European port practices and to produce an annual report to the European Parliament (paragraph 139).

Response

The Government has previously emphasised to the Commission the importance of prompt publication of reports on enforcement. The Government will draw these specific recommendations to the attention of the Commission.

41.  We recommend that MAFF encourage reciprocal visits by fishermen to other Member States in order to build up trust between fishermen and to encourage the sense of a common purpose. Furthermore, we recommend that the Government promote visits by its own regulators to other Member States to exchange knowledge on best practice. We also recommend that the Government monitor the standards of enforcement applied in the Member States through its embassies and rigorously pursue any breaches with the European Commission (paragraph 141).

Response

We agree with the importance of promoting contact and understanding with other Member States and will be drawing this recommendation to the attention of our fishermen's organisations. Many fishermen and fishermen's organisations already enjoy close contact with their European counterparts. This arises because of contacts in the course of fishing activity as well as (increasingly) meetings of various kinds at the initiative of numerous different organisations which bring fishermen together to discuss matters of common interest. UK officials have considerable contacts with their counterparts in other Member States. In addition to discussions which take place on a formal EU basis, frequent meetings take place with officials from Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland and Spain on enforcement and other issues. Reciprocal visits of inspectors are organised along with regular exchanges of intelligence and joint enforcement operations. Information on fisheries issues is provided by UK Embassies. However, the primary responsibility for monitoring compliance with the rules and regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy rests with the Commission which has its own Fisheries Inspectorate, which has the resources, powers and expertise to inspect activity within all Member States.

Enforcement in the UK

42.  We conclude that in general the UK is providing an acceptable standard of enforcing regulations and that it has taken steps to address areas of weakness identified by the European Commission (paragraph 142).

43.  The Minister pointed out that enforcement "is about sustainable management". This message has to be brought home to the industry but this can only be achieved where there is trust between the two sides. We can offer no easy solutions to this problem, only a reiteration of our conviction that the Government must set out a clear framework for its strategy on fisheries and must work with the industry to ensure parity of treatment within the EU. It should also seek to transfer a proportion of the regulatory task to fishermen so that ownership of the process is genuinely shared (paragraph 143).

Response

Effective enforcement protects the investment which fishermen have made in the industry and is essential for the long term future of fishing. The Government therefore welcomes the Committee's confirmation that the UK is providing an acceptable standard of enforcement. Sustainable management is the objective underlying its present policy of a robust approach towards control, coupled with a determination to eliminate illegal activity and to secure more consistent and transparent standards of enforcement across Europe. This will continue to form part of the strategy to restore industry's confidence in the future and its trust in fisheries management. The Government has already given Producer Organisations a significant role in fisheries management and will continue to look for scope for allowing fishermen a greater role in their own self regulation as their shared interest in effective conservation emerges more clearly.

Sea Fisheries Committees

44.  We recommend that MAFF initiate a full review of the powers of the Sea Fisheries Committees and publish it together with a timetable for any necessary action (paragraph 147).

45.  We recommend that the funding arrangements for Sea Fisheries Committees be re-examined in order to establish a secure, permanent financial framework within which they can plan and perform their duties (paragraph 149).

46.  We recommend that the Ministry investigate the powers available to Sea Fisheries Committees and other local management bodies to take action on environmental grounds and publish proposals for consultation on action needed to close the loopholes (paragraph 150).

Response

The Government acknowledges that the Sea Fisheries Committees have identified various difficulties with their present powers and funding. The Association of Sea Fisheries Committees has already set in hand a review of these matters and is elaborating a paper "2000 and beyond". The Government will be discussing the results of this review with the Association.

Coastal and zonal management

47.  We recommend that the Government publish outline proposals within the next twelve months for the introduction of coastal and zonal management of fisheries which should involve the management of research, monitoring of activities and common regulatory processes (paragraph 153).

Response

The Government has welcomed the industry's ideas for introducing a system of coastal/zonal management as a constructive contribution to the debate on how to secure a greater regional dimension for the CFP. These ideas are continuing to develop in the light of discussions in the EU. As the Committee recognises, there may be an opportunity to develop the regional dimension in the course of the 2002 review of the CFP, although some progress has already been possible in the form of the regional meetings organised by the Commission on a pilot basis, and further progress may be possible without waiting for 2002. The Commission is due to report on its initial 2002 consultations with the industry and other interested parties in Member States later this year. The Government will be keeping a close watch on this and other developments, including clarification of the UK industry's thinking, and will keep in mind the option of issuing outline proposals as negotiations on the 2002 review unfold.

6 and 12 mile limits

48.  We of course welcome the reassurance by the European Commission and others that the 6 and 12 mile limits will be carried over into any future shape the CFP might take and we fully support the retention of the 6 and 12 mile limits after 2002 (paragraph 154).

Response

The Government agrees with the Committee that the Commission assurance is welcome. The Government is committed to retaining beyond 2002 the current restrictions on access within national 6 and 12 mile limits.

Electronic auctions

49.  We recommend that SFIA undertake a campaign aimed at the industry and port officials to persuade them of the benefits of electronic auctions and that guidance be given where necessary on the updating of the grading equipment (paragraph 159).

Marketing of UK fish

50.  We recommend that the SFIA, in consultation with the industry and taking account of the views of supermarkets, devise a marketing strategy to cover the catching sector through to the suppliers with the aim of increasing the competitiveness of the UK fishing industry (paragraph 169).

51.  We recommend that a forum be established under the auspices of the SFIA to bring together retailers and merchants and industry representatives on a regular basis to discuss how both sides can adjust to the needs and concerns of each other (paragraph 169).

52.  We recommend that a separate working group be established to focus on areas of difficulty and opportunity for UK fish sales to the catering sector (paragraph 169). We recommend the SFIA take forward the initiative on eco-labelling (paragraph 175).

Response

These recommendations are for the Sea Fish Industry Authority (SFIA). They have been discussed and accepted in principle by the Authority's Board who will now be considering how they will be implemented. The Board recognised that SFIA would require more resources and support of the industry, through the Forum,if they were to carry forward eco-labelling.

53.  We recommend that the marketing, processing and port facilities scheme be reinstated in order to enhance the competitiveness of the UK sea fishing industry (paragraph 169).

Response

Since the processing and marketing and port facilities schemes were launched in 1996 MAFF has made grant awards totalling over £8 million to English fish processors, markets and fishing ports in order to help make the industry more competitive. This has made a significant contribution to the fishing industry and Government believes that it has achieved a balance between the interests of the industry and the interests of taxpayers.

The schemes that were closed came under a European Union programme of structural aid which expires on 31 December 1999. A new programme is being negotiated for 2000 to 2006. Once the fisheries measures are agreed it will be up to each Member State to draw up its own programme of aid. The Government will be doing this in due course and notes the Committee's recommendation.

54.  We recommend that the Government together with the SFIA and the Food Standards Agency initiate a campaign to promote the perception of fish as a healthy, convenient meal option for all ages (paragraph 172).

Response

The Government recognises the value of fish as a healthy, convenient food. SFIA have just completed a three year consumer advertising campaign with a budget part financed by FIFG grant of £2.56m awarded by MAFF. In 1998-1999 the Authority spent £3.1m promoting consumption. An advertising campaign was one of the major elements of this and 40% of its cost was met by FIFG grant. SFIA's corporate plan envisages the continuation of its fish promotion campaign and MAFF has approved an award of up to £1m of FIFG grant for the financial year 1999-2000.

The Food Standards Agency, when established, will be responsible for providing the public with factual advice and information on healthy eating and the nutritional quality of food, so that people are able to make informed choices about their diet. It will be for the Agency to consider what advice it wishes to give in relation to fish consumption.

SFIA levy

55.  We recommend that the Government consider extending liability for paying the SFIA levy to the aquaculture sector (paragraph 181).

Response

Farmed sea fish (eg halibut, turbot) are already subject to the SFIA's levy. When the Government recently established the SFIA levies to apply until 2002/03 they also agreed the setting up of a Working Group comprised of industry representatives to examine the case for extension of the levy to include farmed salmon and trout. In the light of the Group's recommendations the Government will consider the case for extending SFIA's responsibilities and the levy to include other farmed fish in consultation with all sectors including the aquaculture industry and SFIA. It would require primary legislation to include farmed salmon or trout within SFIA's remit.

Urban Waste Water Directive

56.  The availability of grants in other EU Member States to help processors there meet the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Directive seems to us a clear-cut case of the UK industry being disadvantaged in a competitive market. Unlike fishermen with quotas, merchants and processors are not guaranteed a percentage share of the market and they are forced to compete with their counterparts in other Member States for the custom of supermarkets and caterers. The impact of the charges on their competitiveness does not even appear to have been assessed by the Government (paragraph 188).

Response

Since 1996 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made grant awards totalling over £8 million to English fish processors, markets and fishing ports. This demonstrates that we recognise the industry's important contribution to our economy.

The Government published a regulatory assessment when it transposed the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in 1994. We recognise that the Directive will impose costs on the range of industrial and household customers. However, we believe that the benefits from improving waste water treatment outweigh those costs.

The Director General of Water Services has written to water companies proposing best practice where increases in costs need to be managed. He has advised water companies that they should send appropriate price signals well in advance of the commissioning of any new or upgraded waste water treatment works or offer some other form of transitional relief to affected customers. For example, trade effluent charge increases could be capped for up to two years, following the commissioning of the works, or phased in over a similar period. We are concerned to ensure that any necessary increase in processing charges should, bearing in mind the international competitive exposure of this industry, be phased in over a long period.

It is open to firms who feel that increased trade effluent charges are unjust to arrange their own "pre-treatment" or waste minimisation which would reduce the charge by the water company. Alternatively, companies could arrange the entire treatment and disposal themselves through a contractor - either individually or by working together.

57.  It is essential that the imposition of the increased charges on processors by the water authorities be delayed, and then only phased in, to give the industry time to develop alternatives and to minimise waste (paragraph 189).

Response

It is for water companies in England and Wales to determine the charges to their customers. However, the Minister for the Environment has discussed the charges proposed for the industry in Grimsby with local interests and the water company, and has urged all parties to co-operate in finding a mutually acceptable solution to this issue.

Water companies are regulated by the Director General of Water Services, to ensure that their charges remain consistent with overall price limits and to ensure that there is not undue discrimination between customers. On 3 August 1999 the Director General of Water Services wrote to Managing Directors of water and sewerage companies providing guidance about investment in quality and trade effluent charging (OFWAT MD150). The Director General has advised water companies that they should send appropriate price signals well in advance of the commissioning of any new or upgraded wastewater treatment works or offer some other form of transitional relief to affected customers. For example, trade effluent charge increases could be capped for up to two years, following the commissioning of the works, or phased in over a similar period.

Under the Water Industry Act 1999, water companies' charges schemes will in future be subject to approval by the Director General of Water Services. The Secretary of State (and National Assembly, in Wales) will also have powers to give guidance to the Director General on matters he should take into account in approving charges schemes. Draft guidance for England was published for consultation on 9 August. Paragraph 38 of the draft guidance makes clear the importance of stability and predictability in charges for business customers, who have to plan carefully for future costs.

Fisheries education

58.  We commend the far-sighted proposal for a National Institute of Fisheries in Grimsby to the Government and urge MAFF to explore with the Department for Education and Employment the possibility of establishing such an Institute, to provide for the whole fishing industry a similar range of training, research, advisory and scientific study to that provided by the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Shetland and national institutions in other EU countries (paragraph 192).

Response

The Government believes that training fishermen to handle the many aspects of their profession is important. The need for such a National Centre would of course have to be considered in the light of other existing facilities.

The sponsor of the National Institute of Fisheries in Grimsby was informed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in July 1997 that it was possible that such a feasibility study for a centre might be eligible for part funding from the European Regional Development Fund under Objective 2 or the EU PESCA Community Initiative. This possibility was not taken up.

The programmes for Structural Fund expenditure 1994-99 are now drawing to an end and funds have been oversubscribed. Proposals for such a centre could be considered under the next phase of structural funding for the years 2000-06; however, eligible areas have to be designated and programmes drawn up before new applications can be considered next year.

Fisheries Department
MAFF

October 1999


 
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