Examination of witness (Questions 60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2001
MORLEY MP Mr Mitchell
60. Could you just tell us what this rejuvenation
(Mr Morley) Yes. It is a matter for DETR in discussion
with the local councils. Very roughly, it would fulfil a very
similar role to the old PESCA programme, if you remember the PESCA
programme, where you could provide financial support for regeneration,
elements of investment, some infrastructure works within the ports.
I think it could be used in very similar ways to that.
61. Will that not represent a very small amount
of money because £5Ö million to do two thingsretraining
and rejuvenateover all the ports that are jumping up and
down saying "Can we have a share of this money" seems
a little thin on the ground?
(Mr Morley) Well, not when you take into account that
this is additional in terms of the overall budgets of the Regional
Development Agencies, of which fishing ports can be included within
that for general economic regeneration and general economic investment.
This particular sum of money has been ring-fenced for fishing
ports in recognition that many English fishing ports are suffering
as a result of reduced landings and the impact that has on the
whole knock-on consequences through the processing industry and
all the allied industries that go with it.
62. Can it be used for a broad range of projects
or does it have to be based on the fishing part of the port?
(Mr Morley) I think there is a fair degree of flexibility
within that but the intention is to benefit and to provide alternative
employment within fishing dependent areas.
63. And improve the quality and value of fish
caught is one of the uses of your £11 million?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
64. Which I gather is going to be allocated
over the next three years.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
65. How will that quality aspect be implemented
because I presume that is trying to improve the price and return
to the fishermen?
(Mr Morley) That is designed to invest in such things
as new ice making facilities, which I know is an urgent need in
Fleetwood, for example, and also to modernise fish holds for example,
to improve their refrigerator capacity, because it is about, as
you quite rightly say, improving the quality of the fish landed
and maximising the price that the industry can get from it. There
does seem to be a development of a two tier market with a lot
of imported white fish which is going into the processing industry
and a premium market for good quality fresh wet fish, such things
as the restaurant trade, for example, the export market. We want
the industry to have the maximum returns in relation to their
catch. It is an area where some public investment is justified
66. Right. Let us move to sustainability. Mr
Portus, writing to the Committee on behalf of South Western Fish
Producer Organisation Limited, made a bold statement and I would
just be interested in your reaction to it. He said "The risk
of any stock being exploited to extinction is infinitesimal. Once
a stock reaches the point where commercial exploitation ceases
to be viable the fleet leaves it alone and it recovers".
This is conservation on auto pilot. How do you respond to that?
(Mr Morley) I think that is a pretty irresponsible
statement. To argue that we do not have to worry about fishing
stocks because of commercial extinction because the industry will
simply adjust to another stock, I think is a very, very dangerous
argument. We have, of course, the Canadian example where the stock
was fished so low it has not yet recovered. There are other factors
in that such as temperature, for example, but nevertheless many
scientists believe that if you fish a stock below its safe biological
spawning biomass then there is a very great danger it may not
recover. I do not think that any responsible fisheries manager
could take that as a serious policy, to simply allow people to
fish stocks out on the basis that once they have fished it out
they will leave it alone.
67. Let us go to the other end of the spectrum
where you and your Department have made some efforts to define
how you will improve the balance between the fishing effort and
marine fish stocks. In the MAFF Annual Report for 2001 on page
18, objective 7, PSA target, and I quote, it says "Improve
the balance between fishing effort and marine fish stocks by reducing
effort by 20 per cent in those sectors of the UK fleet with most
over-capacity". Could you describe to the Committee how you
decided that the effort reduction had to be 20 per cent and what
measurable results will occur as a result of your achieving that
(Mr Morley) I think that is based on scientific advice
on a range of fish stocks. I think that is probably an average
figure overall because the effort does vary from particular stocks.
The effort reduction figures would vary on particular stocks.
Effort reduction can be through a combination of measures. We
have just been talking about decommissioning, that is one way
of reducing effort, but of course bigger mesh sizes, the closed
areas, they also have an effect on reducing effort. We are probably
well on target overall in the North Sea for reducing effort along
68. You say, understandably, it is due to scientific
advice but, when you decided this was going to be your target,
as a Minister did you sit down with those providing this objective
advice and look at a range of figures so that you could say: "Well,
let us say if it had been, say, a 30 per cent reduction there
would have been a proportionate increase, perhaps in a shorter
space of time, of the stocks under the greatest pressure"?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
69. In other words, is there a model that people
can play tunes on to decide what the relationship is between your
target and the rebuilding of the fish stocks which Mr Deas was
telling us about earlier?
(Mr Morley) That is right. There are models. I have
not sat down quite as formally as you are suggesting in relation
to deciding on a particular model but in terms of the discussions
that we are currently having on phase 2 of the cod recovery programme,
that is linked with mesh sizes and calculations on improving the
survival rate of juvenile fish. What has been produced there by
my own Department is a chart of different mesh sizes, different
combinations, amount of fish lost, reduction in effort and also
the economic loss to the industry as well. There are figures available
on a range of options which give you a range of results so that
you can go for a much bigger reduction in effort but, of course,
a much bigger subsequent loss to the industry. There are different
options you can choose.
70. Can you just give us a feel of the management
strategy for sea bass to ensure long term sustainability of stocks
because clearly your target forms part of that. Can you just try
and put it into context for us.
(Mr Morley) Yes. I think the key to it is to reduce
juvenile mortality, if you want my opinion on this. There are
all sorts of different objectives, issues, outcomes, but in the
end I think that the principal problem with European fishing is
the sheer killing power of the fleet and the fact that so few
juveniles are surviving to maturity to breed. Therefore, the safe
level of the breeding biomass has been falling for some time.
We need to reverse that trend. I think that has to be the key
objective and there are a number of ways that you can do that
and, of course, there are a number of options and these are choices
which have to be made.
71. You have followed a traditional line of
reducing fishing effort by looking at power of vessels and mesh
(Mr Morley) Yes.
72. One of the biggest contributory factors
to the unequal battle between man and fish is modern fish finding
technology. Have you thought about de-rating the effect of that
(Mr Morley) That is a very interesting suggestion.
You could make a very viable argument on that basis but you could
only do that if it was done on a European basis. You could not
do it unilaterally and, therefore, put our vessels at a disadvantage
compared with other vessels. It does raise quite difficult issues
in terms of should there be restraints on the technical improvements
in relation to the fishing vessels. That is a very hard question
to answer because you are back into the realms again of should
you interfere with investment within the sector who, of course,
are trying to improve their returns and putting money into that
new technology or should you have some kind of artificial restraints
to try as part of sustainable management? I think these are questions
which do deserve some consideration but I would not say there
are easy answers to them.
73. There are never easy answers in this particular
(Mr Morley) Certainly not in fishing, no.
74. Can you give us a flavour of how you see
the general level of support amongst the industry for the current
stock recovery programme?
(Mr Morley) I think there is support amongst the industry.
There are differences of opinion which are inevitable. There are
arguments about timing of the closures, which in some cases are
not unreasonable. I think there was probably an argument for an
earlier closure in the Southern North Sea, for example, and that
is something that we need to give some thought to. These large
scale closed areas are a new concept in relation to fisheries
management and, of course, we do have to evaluate the benefits
of them. I do believe they do offer a range of benefits. I think
they are justified and we did get the majority support within
the industry to implement these measures and I very much appreciate
that. I think it does demonstrate that the industry are taking
conservation management a lot more seriously these days than they
have in the past.
75. Can I just take you on because Wyre Borough
Council have written to the Committee and I ask this question
because one ward of Wyre Borough happens to be in my own constituency.
They sayand this is talking about the Fleetwood Fish Forum".
. . The Forum agrees with the cod recovery programmes which are
now in force in the Irish Sea, West of Scotland and the North
Sea, but feels that it should be extended to include all species
which are being fished outside of safe biological limits".
They go on to say "The Forum also feels that the beam trawlers
in the Irish Sea should be included in the cod recovery programmes,
as they are in the North Sea. Evidence has proved that these vessels
have a significant catch of cod and juvenile fish". Now,
you mentioned a moment ago your own thoughts on reducing juvenile
mortality and here we have the Fleetwood Fish Forum making a contribution
to the debate. I would be very interested in your reaction to
(Mr Morley) I very much value the views of the Fleetwood
Fish Forum. I have met them on a number of occasions. We do take
this seriously. What I would say, Chairman, is that the beam trawlers
were not excluded from the Irish Sea cod recovery programme, they
were actually barred from the Western side of the Irish Sea. We
did put observers on the beam trawlers to actually look at the
cod by-catch level and it was very clear from our observer programme
that the cod by-catch level on the beamers was much higher on
the Western side of the Irish Sea than on the Eastern side where
it was actually minimal, frankly, so that was taken into account
in the way that the closure was operated so beamers were not excluded
76. Let me ask you how are you going to monitor
the effectiveness of these various recovery plans? How are you
going to judge whether they are going to be successful? What are
the criteria by which you assess it? There is always a very fearsome
debate about the level of fish stocks at any one moment in time.
Usually about October or November each year a fearsome debate
starts where a challenge is always put forward as to the viability
of information. Yet the long term sustainability of the fishery,
in judgment terms, now depends on you being able to make some
very exacting measures for how successful all these programmes
are going to be, not just from the perspective of next year but
over a period of years if sustainability is to mean anything.
(Mr Morley) The measurements are clear: the numbers
of fish in the different year classes, so that we can measure
the year classes to see whether or not there is an increase in
a year class which will lead to an increase in the spawning biomass.
The problem, of course, is that there are some natural fluctuations
within fish stocks as well, so this is why you always get some
arguments about whether or not programmes are successful and whether
or not stocks are going through a natural down cycle or the impacts
of fishing. Nevertheless, I think our scientific advisers have
the experience to measure this and have the experience to interpret
the actual figures. I do not think there is any doubt, even within
the industry, that many stocks are in a dangerous situation and,
therefore, these forms of actions need to be taken.
77. Let me just ask you one last question. One
of the features of the Annual Fisheries Council at the end of
the year is the vast amount of horse trading which goes on when
either new policies or quotas are put forward. This sometimes
seems to fly in the face of the kind of experienced, scientific
evidence that you have just alluded to. It would be interesting
to have just a word or two from you about how other Member States
see all of this because you have given us some very good responses
with entirely virtuous replies to the lines of inquiry that have
been pursued. Do you think there is any stomach amongst Member
States in general to stop horse trading, to look at the science
and go with the flow of the guidance it gives, or is that just
for the birds, we are going to see them back every year?
(Mr Morley) I think there has been a shift within
the Council of Ministers and you have experienced it yourself,
as indeed has the Chairman. What you are saying is not wrong in
relation to the way that the Council has traditionally operated.
I think that more and more countries are coming to the conclusion
that they just cannot go on in this way and that it is in nobody's
interest to try to talk up quotas from the scientific advice.
Certainly at the last Fisheries Council I cannot think of a stock
where people were arguing to go beyond what the scientists were
saying. Just about every country accepted the scientific advice
even though for nearly all of us, especially the North Sea States,
it meant quite drastic cuts in quotas, the biggest cuts in quotas
probably that there have ever been. Really there was no serious
attempt to argue against that. The attitude of the Commission
has changed as well. In the past, even when I first became Minister
in 1997, the Commission would put forward proposals that were
clearly designed to be changed, so that you could say "we
have persuaded the Commission to give us X amount of extra fish".
As the years have gone on, and indeed last year, the Commission
has put forward generally quite realistic proposals on the science
and has been really very resistant to move from them, and has
not moved from them, much to the anguish of some Member States
who traditionally had expected to see that kind of movement. I
think that is the right approach. I think it is much better to
stick to the science and where there is some room for argument
We did have some argument at the Commission because the Commission
this year were recommending cuts in quotas that went beyond what
the scientists were saying. I think when you recommend cuts going
beyond what the scientists are saying it is not unreasonable to
challenge on what basis the Commission is making those proposals.
That was where the argument was this year. The argument was really
centred on where the Commission was going beyond scientific advice.
I think there has been a genuine shift in the Council of Ministers.
78. Can we move on to the issue of a level playing
field, or a level fishing ground, because fishing is a much misunderstood
industry, particularly by former Ministers of Fishing it seems
to me. It does have a genuine grievance in the sense that it does
not get the same degree of financial support from its Government,
or indeed from Europe, that competing industries get, but it does
get the continuous imposition of charges which competing industries
do not have to bear. The NFFO this morning gave us a few instances,
like inspection charges, the cost of satellite equipment. You
could add dock and port charges to the list. Is it reasonable
that these charges should go on increasing? Most of them are not
imposed by MAFF but by other departments. Is it reasonable that
these charges should go on increasing as a burden on an industry
which is in such financial difficulty?
(Mr Morley) There is always going to be an argument
about such things as charges and there is always going to be an
argument about how reasonable it is to apply charges on to the
industry. That is a legitimate debate and we are obviously going
to have that debate and I am always willing to listen to representations
from the industry. We should not assume that all the costs in
the UK industry are higher than competing European industries.
We have already had a discussion about such things as social taxes,
corporation taxes, business taxes, which are significantly lower
in the UK for our industry
79. That is not for all taxes.
(Mr Morley) Just let me finish. It is significantly
lower for the UK industry than it is for other European industries.