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Sir Robert Smith: I want to move on from subsidy to investment. What about a one-off investment in sustaining the fishing grounds to match the catching power that the Government license? Our children and future generations could then eat fish that are caught in our seas, and we would not have to import them.
I shall deal with some of the other events of the past year. We have gone out to consultation on a shellfish licensing scheme. That is an important step in trying to manage the potential for increased effort on shellfish. Hon. Members have made the point about displaced effort, for example. There are mixed views on the scheme from some sections of the industry, but the overwhelming view from the shellfish sector was supportive of this approach, as was the recommendation of the industry conservation working group. We are, therefore, consulting on a measure that has been proposed and supported by the industry.
To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), hon. Members are aware of my concern and that of the industry about industrial fishing. I was pleased that we made progress last year on the closure of a sand-eel fishery off the Northumberland and Berwickshire coasts. That closure was linked to seabird reproductivity. The impact of the closure will be monitored, and scientific assessments will be carried out.
I am also pleased that there was a bilateral agreement at the December Council between the United Kingdom and Denmark to examine the impact of industrial fishery TACs and by-catch. I pay tribute to the Danes on that issue. I have been a lone voice on industrial fishing in the Council of Ministers, but the Danes--who have a principal interest in the industry--have taken a very responsible attitude to the matter. They have always said that, if we could demonstrate scientifically that there was a problem, they would address it seriously. I pay tribute to their approach.
The joint study will consider possible reductions in the size of the sand-eel TAC, and adjustments in by-catch arrangements that would reduce the allowances of by-catches of fish for human consumption. The Danes have invited UK scientists to sail on their vessels as part of those studies, and they have also extended an invitation to the UK fishing industry. I welcome that.
We are carrying out a study on the implication of by-catches in a wide range of fisheries, not only in connection with cod and hake. At the December Council, the Commission undertook to introduce proposals to revise TACs, particularly in the nephrops sector, if we could demonstrate that the by-catch was limited. That would mean that we could increase the nephrops quota in the North sea and the Irish sea by 10 per cent. if we could demonstrate that the by-catch take was very low. We are currently working with the Commission on that, and we hope to make progress as quickly as possible.
The proposals on deep-water species put forward by the French were not accepted by the December Council. We shall return to that issue in the following year. In relation to deep-water species, TACs are not necessarily the right answer, because there is an issue of effort management involved. Furthermore, as this matter concerns an
We want much more effective management and control of fisheries policy, and we support proposals from the Commission to ensure that equal standards of enforcement and control are applied across the EU. We have also been reviewing the operation of fixed-quota allocations, which are in their third year. They have been an advantage and have brought benefits, but it is right to review them and to obtain the views of the industry.
On the inshore fleet, I am glad to say that, through prudent management, we have been able to keep the majority of our fisheries open to the under-10m fleet on an annual basis. We shall continue to pursue that objective despite the reductions in quota, and try to give the inshore fleet as much protection as we possibly can.
I have, however, to flag up the fact that there has been a sharp increase in the construction of vessels of between 9 m and 10 m. That has been a matter of concern and is the reason why we have monthly catch limits in the nephrops fishery in the North sea. We have to watch the situation very carefully. If there is increased effort in the sector, I would have no hesitation in taking further action to restrain activity. Fishermen as well as managers have to bear responsibility for their actions, and they know that if they increase effort in a particular fishery there will be consequences for all fishermen concerned.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Is not the problem that, very often, fishermen in historical fishing areas such as my constituency of Hastings and Rye are being invaded by people from other areas with more powerful vessels who purchase licences from hobby fishermen? If there is to be a reduced effort, should not decommissioning apply also to the small, under-10m fleets?
Mr. Morley: I am prepared to consider any case that the industry makes, although decommissioning of the under-10m fleet is not a particularly attractive proposal for all types of reasons. I have met fishermen in my hon. Friend's constituency, at a meeting that he organised in Hastings. He will know that at that meeting we issued a national consultation document that included a proposal on restricting the adjacent areas into which the inshore fleet is able to move, to stop large movements of vessels putting pressure on fish stocks. Those proposals were generally not accepted by the United Kingdom under-10m sector, and I accept the industry's views.
My hon. Friend will also know that another very important change resulting from the meeting that he organised was in the so-called rule-beater issue--in which fishermen cut off bits of their fishing vessels to make them under 10 m, but bolt them back on again after their vessels are measured. He will be pleased to know that we have given those people one year to ensure that their vessels are either permanently under 10 m or, if they are over 10 m, to get a proper licence. The time limit has expired and that practice is now prohibited in the United Kingdom.
As hon. Members will be aware, we have implemented in the United Kingdom economic link conditions for flagged-out vessels. I am very glad to say that those conditions have resulted in a significant increase in landings in the United Kingdom and in significant extra quota, which has been returned by flagged out vessels for the use of UK fishermen as a contribution towards their economic link conditions. Significantly, the number of foreign-owned vessels in our fleet has dropped sharply, and continues to drop, from more than 160 vessels in 1997 to fewer than 120 now. The trend is still downwards.
I am very pleased to say that, as hon. Members will know, we have announced a £1.5 million package to fund safety training courses. We considered how to apply money within the United Kingdom fishing fleet, but the feeling was that safety training and a safety culture must be the top priority so that we can deal with some of the safety problems. We shall therefore be providing safety updates for experienced fishermen who have been exempt from basic training requirements; courses on accident prevention and risk awareness for all fishermen; and a training package for new entrants that encompasses current basic safety training in sea survival training, first aid and firefighting, and introduces basic training in risk awareness and accident prevention. With the money that we are committing, there will be no charge to fishermen for the courses.
We are also pursuing the fish industry strategy that was recommended by the Agriculture Committee. We hope to receive the strategy by the end of this month and make it available for discussion with the industry. The next high-level meeting, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Agriculture Minister, will be announced shortly. It is an opportunity to consider the strategy issue.
We expect information on the common fisheries policy review to be available probably in March. It is an opportunity to consider the future of the common fisheries policy and to discuss the type of changes that hon. Members and the industry feel are appropriate. We have had a good discussion on it.