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Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): How can the Minister square what he has just said with the fact that, at Brixham last week, he made the point that he personally completely opposed the reduction of some minimum landing sizes and the abolition of others? After everything he said in opposition, is he going to justify pictures of 45 million dead fish floating in the sea because they have been discarded under the common fisheries policy?

Mr. Morley: I have made it clear that I take seriously the issue of discards. I also take minimum landing size reductions seriously. We cannot overestimate the discards issue. Many discards are the result of normal fishing practice, with undersized and unmarketable fish being caught. It is true that, when we have quota management,

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some marketable fish will be caught and discarded.That is one of the undesirable side effects of quota management, but the problem is to do not simply with the common fisheries policy, which is often blamed, but with the available quotas. The south-west is a case in point. Apart from the fact that the original quotas were based on the track record before the CFP and that more fish is caught and landed now, the quota has gone down in the non-sector. Boats have moved from the non-sector to producer organisations, taking their quota with them, and that has a knock-on consequence.

I said to fishermen in Brixham, "What is the alternative in those circumstances?" We have to manage a quota. Some fishermen may be catching fish accidentally and cannot stop. Some may be deliberately targeting fish. If we do not have such management, how do we control the effect on those stocks?

The answer from the fishermen was that I was the Minister and it was for me to sort such things out. No solution was forthcoming because there is no easy solution. There may be some alternatives to quota management, but all have advantages and disadvantages. With some of the more attractive ones, such as multi-annual quota, stocks have to be in good shape before they can be applied.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): These things have to be looked at with some care. In certain areas--for example, cod in the North sea--people would agree that the stock is in a serious condition; it is difficult to argue against that. There is also the fact that the North sea settlement is boxed in by arrangements that the Minister has made with Norway, but, given his knowledge of the industry, is he really going to say that he is totally satisfied that the reduction in the quota for monkfish and saithe in the west coast of Scotland will not result--if it stands--in a substantial increase in discards of some of the most valuable species? Can he give us some assurance that he is aware of the underlying questions that I am talking about? Will he look at the west coast quotas very carefully in the negotiations?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There is a problem with stocks of west coast saithe, although I accept that there is the issue of by-catch and potential discards. That needs to be considered. There is also a problem in relation to monkfish, which is more of a targeted fishery. Nevertheless, such problems do arise. I assure him that I will consider them.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): The Norwegians made their characteristic demand for an increase in North sea mackerel. Not many of our fishermen go to Norwegian or Greenland waters, but is my hon. Friend satisfied that those few vessels will get a fair share of the fish in those northern waters?

Mr. Morley: Yes. My hon. Friend, who knows the industry well and has long experience of it, makes a good point. By and large, there was a good outcome for the United Kingdom industry from the Atlanto-Scandian discussions on stocks such as mackerel. We got a good deal on mackerel and increased access in the western waters. We improved the position in relation to haddock, and that will help those who fish in the North sea as well, so those issues were dealt with.

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I think that the overall outcome was not a bad one, although some of the agreed cod figures--not in United Kingdom waters--were probably higher than they should have been. We might like to re-examine that matter.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morley: I shall, but only because the hon. Gentleman has fishing interests. I should like to make some progress.

Mr. Townend: Is there not some discrepancy between the figures that the scientists are working on this year and MAFF figures? For example, according to MAFF figures we have landed about 60 per cent. of our cod quota, whereas according to EU scientists almost the whole of the EU quota has already been taken. According to MAFF, we have landed about 55 per cent. of our plaice quota, whereas according to the scientists 125 per cent. of the EU quota has been caught. Therefore, either the scientists' figures are wrong or many of our European partners are enormously overfishing their quotas.

Mr. Morley: No, any difference is not due to the latter reason. Although the hon. Gentleman is right that the scientists' figures are higher than the landing figures, there are reasons for that difference, and also for the way in which the scientists make their calculations. A couple of weeks ago, when we met fishermen's leaders, we went through that issue. I should also caution the hon. Gentleman on one point: the logic is such that if actual landings are lower than those that the scientists calculate as possible, stocks may be in an even worse state than the scientists have calculated. Nevertheless, I understand the point. The issue has been addressed and, as I said, there will be an opportunity to discuss it further at the meeting.

We have to recognise the science and the fact that--for a variety of reasons, as I said--some of the stocks are in poor shape. However, we also cannot ignore the socio-economic consequences for the industry. Therefore, we have to examine the science and identify possible room for manoeuvre, while taking into account and trying to minimise effects on the industry. That is what we shall be trying to do when we meet in Brussels to discuss the issue. As I said, we have kept in close touch with the industry. This week, before we go to Brussels, there will be an opportunity to go through the issue again. I shall, of course, be listening very carefully to what the industry has to say.

There is no doubt that we have to institute recovery plans for some stocks, such as cod stocks in the Irish sea. The advice is that they are in such a bad state that only "the lowest possible" level of fishing should be allowed and a recovery programme put in place. Consequently, the Commission has proposed a 70 per cent. cut in the cod TAC and big cuts for haddock and whiting--which also feature in that mixed fishery. The cut is much bigger than the Commission would usually recommend--it tries to propose cuts of no more than 40 per cent.--but it has done so because of the potential consequences to the industry. Because of the size of the cuts, we shall have to examine the matter very closely.

I am convinced, however, that there is a need to develop and implement a recovery programme if those stocks are to have any chance of returning to sustainable

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levels. We have had informal exploratory contacts with the Commission and Ireland, and both agree on theneed for exceptional measures, including technical conservation and for EU commitment to early action. I am also committed to ensuring that we make progress on the matter in consultation with the industry. We are also investigating ways of establishing a regional forum in the Irish sea, bringing together all those who are interested in that fishery. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) has previously advocated such a forum, and we should like to make progress in establishing one.

Devolution--to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, and now to the Northern Ireland Assembly--has been introduced in 1999, and fisheries management is one of the spheres that have been devolved. Much time and thought were given in preparing devolution of fisheries management, and we have agreed various bilateral fisheries concordats as part of the general system of bilateral concordats between the Westminster Government and the devolved Administrations. The concordats are being published and made available for people to inspect. We should like, eventually, to establish a concordat on fisheries management with the Northern Ireland Administration.

I am particularly pleased with the excellent relations that have been forged between the Ministry and the new Scottish Executive, from ministerial to official level. The best example of those relations are perhaps in the Fisheries Councils, where I have been ably assisted by the Scottish Fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), as a member of the United Kingdom team.

In the same vein, I look forward to welcoming Brid Rodgers, the new Northern Ireland Fisheries Minister, who will be on board at the Council later this week. Brid Rodgers will be joining the discussions that we shall have with the industry, as there are particular issues of concern for Northern Ireland fishermen, as there are for Scottish, Welsh and English fishermen.

Last month, I had the pleasure of opening the new London headquarters of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission--NEAFC. I was honoured to be accompanied by Commissioner Fischler as well as Fisheries Ministers from Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. NEAFC is an organisation which has come of age and is exercising an increasing influence over the management of fish stocks in the international waters of the north-east Atlantic. It now regulates redfish, mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring stocks. A comprehensive new control and enforcement scheme has recently come into effect. We shall be playing a full role in the organisation.

There are two further issues I am particularly keen for NEAFC to get to grips with. The first is the expanding unregulated fishing for haddock by Russian and Icelandic vessels in the Rockall area. That risks undermining Community conservation measures to protect the stock. It is also unfair to UK and other EU fishermen who respect TAC limits when others do not. At the UK's instigation, the European Commission has served notice that that fishery must be brought under control. If it is not, we shall seek appropriate measures in NEAFC to deal with the problem.

The second issue is the management of the slow-growing, deep-water stocks, which experience elsewhere in the world has shown to be particularly

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vulnerable to overfishing. Last year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea urged that fisheries for those stocks in the north-east Atlantic should be brought under better management. The UK pressed for the issue to be raised in NEAFC. Unfortunately, a Community proposal for an immediate freeze on fishing effort on those stocks was not acceptable to certain NEAFC members. However, I hope that suitable measures will be adopted next year, once further advice has been received from ICES on management options.

New minimum landing sizes for plaice and other species come into effect in January. Several hon. Members have expressed concern about those regulations--including my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), who mentioned their effect on his local fishermen in Lowestoft. The changes have been introduced on the basis that reducing the minimum landing size reduces discards. There is some truth in that argument, but we believe that the proposals are not the right way forward because they send the wrong conservation message to the industry. It is better to address the issue of discards through conservation measures, perhaps by introducing bigger mesh sizes, rather than by reducing minimum landing sizes. We shall continue to oppose the proposals, because they are the wrong way forward.

Although we are dealing with an EU regulation, we have the right to apply a higher minimum landing size as a national measure in the UK. Other member states have expressed concern about the new measure and may consider doing the same. I want to discuss that with those member states, including Holland, to see whether it would be in the interests of our fishermen and our industry to apply different landing sizes from those in the European regulation.

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