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Mr. Doran: This is the third or fourth time that I have heard that letter read out in a debate, either here or in Westminster Hall. It obviously still has quite a bit of life left in it. The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous, so far as the fishermen's demonstration is concerned, because my recollection is that the money had already been offered, and was on the table, before the demonstration started. It was not offered as a consequence of the demonstration.
Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman is confusing a series of demonstrations at fishing portswhich he chooses to remember because he likes to embarrass fishermenwith the demonstration that involved 180 fishing boats being photographed sailing under the Forth bridge. That was the largest mobilisation of fishing effort that we have seen in recent times, and it occurred before the announcement of the package
Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman sit down for a second? The fishing demonstration on the River Forth occurred the week before the announcement of the package in the Scottish Parliament. The Government were then defeated on that package because the Parliament at that stage wanted a tie-up scheme. He should not complain to me but to the former Minister, who said clearly in the leaked letter that it was the mobilisation and the campaignto which the Executive responded in Scotlandthat resulted in the package being offered. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should pursue his argument with his colleagues rather than me.
The lesson for the Minister is that there was a Fisheries Minister in Scotland who resisted the justified demand for a tie-up scheme, and she is no more. The Minister's former boss resisted the demand for a decommissioning scheme, and he is no more. If this long-serving Minister wishes to stay in office, let him listen with an open mind to these justified arguments from the fishing industry north and south of the border. I hope that he will.
I have many difficulties with the case advanced by the Conservatives. My main difficulty is that they do not address where we are at present, or how to get the best deal that we possibly can in the current political context. If the Conservatives were proposing to leave the European Union, of course they could adopt a new fisheries policy, although it would then have to be negotiated with other people, new arrangements would have to be made, and all the rest of it. But that is not their policy, so their argument has no meaning whatsoever.
The engagement of scientists and fishermen in exploratory and research voyages is very much in its infancy, but the Scottish Fishermen's Federation told us yesterday that it hopes that it will make the scientific research more meaningful. The Scottish industry in particular has pioneered certain technical measures. I know that they are not the Minister's specific responsibility, but I hope that he will do his level best to ensure that they receive their proper reward in terms of the allocation of quota. The industry has been told, "Use technical measures to conserve fish," so those measures cannot be ignored when questions of quota are decided.
I must refer to what I promised the House is interesting research and evaluation that I hope will help the Minister in arguing about cod migration in the coming negotiations. Unless there is at least an increase in the cod quota, the recovery in other North sea stocks and nephrops stocks or quotas in particular will be badly affected. Any benefit that fishermen should take from a recovery in stocks or a well sustained industry such as the shellfish industry will be ruined by what may be done to the cod allocation and quota.
The Scottish Fishermen's Organisation has carried out a study of boats fishing for northern cod in particular, and I shall give the Minister the full report for his evaluation, but I want to read the House a few paragraphs. It states:
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the spatial distribution of cod in the North Sea is in the process of changing and in particular the distribution of cod is moving in a northerly direction. This is highlighted by the fact that the Scottish groups have taken a far greater proportion of their cod allocations in the North Sea than those groups based further south. And an examination of individual vessel landings who concentrate on cod suggest that they have not seen much of a reduction in their cod catches in the current year.
The reality of the current year has been that despite the cod closure areas, the reduced fishing year resulting from the fishermen's tie up, the reduced vessel allocations necessitated by reduced total allowable catches, vessels have actually maintained their cod catches in the northern sector of the North Sea.
What this does suggest is required is a reappraisal of the way in which the sampling of North Sea cod stock is carried out. Taking samples from the same area over a long period of time is in accord with scientific discipline. But when the anecdotal evidence suggests that changes have taken place in the spatial distribution of a stock then the strict disciplines of comparability have to be revised. If the
I know that the Minister will take that evidence on board and, if the worst comes to the worst and he is unable to negotiate a satisfactory cod quota in the first round at the European Council, he might go for a mid-year review based on a special scientific assessment of those areas in spring, which is the next available period.
I hope that he takes that evidence on board, because, following the decommissioning victory, if that is what it was, a huge number of Scottish boats applied for decommissioning. That in its turn shows how depressed the industry is. Young men in my constituency are being asked to go to sea for £10,000 a year: there is thus a shortage of experienced seamen and crews, with all the consequent dangers.
The processing sector cannot survive without a steady supply of fish. We have evidence that many stocks are on the way to recovery: in many areas, the fish are there. It would be a tragedy if we could not manage the difficulty that we are experiencing, certainly with cod stocks, in a way that allowed full access to fishing opportunities, and enabled as many as possible of our constituents to retain their livelihoods.
The fishing policy is not just about the conservation of fish, although that is vital. It is not just about the conservation of one speciescodhowever important that may be. It is about the conservation of fishing communities. I trust that the Fisheries Ministera long-lasting Fisheries Ministerwill bear that in mind as he takes our case to Europe.
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): I apologise to both my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) for being unable to stay for the winding-up speeches. I wish the Minister well in his efforts at the Fisheries Council. He is well respected in fishing communities for his knowledge and understanding of the industry, and if there is anyone who can take our message away and argue the case forcefully it is him. However, none of us underestimates the difficulties that that may involve, especially in the context of the savage quota cuts that are having a particularly dramatic effect in the Irish sea and on Fleetwood's fishermen. I shall concentrate on the impact on Fleetwood.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) pointed out, we are talking not only about catching effort, but about fishing communities and about all the jobs in the onshore industry. We are talking about the auction hall, the processors, the retailers and the
Franz Fischler, the European Fisheries Commissioner, visited Fleetwood recently. I think that it was the first time that a European Commissioner had done so. I thank my friend Terry Wynn, MEP for facilitating the visit, which was much appreciated by the local fishing community and all representatives of the local fishing industry. In the past, they had gone to Brussels to put their casethis was the first occasion on which Brussels had come to them. Commissioner Fischler not only listened to what they had to say, but engaged in a constructive debate with them, and his Cabinet member Maya Kirshner remained the next day to take part in even more detailed discussions.
My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of many of the issues that I shall raise, because I have raised them with him over the past two years in detailed correspondence. I am pleased to say that he has, on occasion, been able to respond positively. However, we are now addressing those issues against the backdrop of substantial cuts and an industry that is looking for some sort of help for the future.
With regard to the cod recovery programme, I wish to raise the issue of the closed area in the Irish sea. The eastern Irish seaLiverpool bay and Morecambe baywas included in the 2000 closure programme but not in this year's. However, the eastern Irish sea is recognised as a major cod spawning ground. Fleetwood fishermen requested of Commissioner Fischler that it be brought back into any future programme closures. They also asked that it should include any closure that had a significant by-catch of cod. The derogation to beam trawlers working in the eastern Irish sea is unacceptable to Fleetwood fishermen.
My constituents are disappointed that neither of those requests was met in next year's plan for the Irish sea. That is especially bewildering because the explanatory memorandum to the proposed new Council regulations acknowledges that cod stocks have reduced to such a level that they cannot readily replenish themselves by
Because of their cod catches, Dutch and Belgian beam trawlers are included in the recovery programme in the North sea. Their combined quotas account for 15 per cent. of the TAC for that area. At the cod and hake meeting in Brussels on 19 October, they were included in the measures to protect hake. They asked for a derogation to use 80 mm nets in The Hague boxes to the south-west of the UK, but were refused. During the proposed closed season in the western Irish sea11 February to 30 Aprilthe beamers come into the eastern Irish sea and catch fish heavy with roe, swimming along the bottom of the sea. That is not conservation.
Fleetwood men are not anti-Dutch and Belgian beamers per se, but they want fair treatment. They want the Dutch and Belgian vessels to be incorporated in any cod recovery programme in the Irish sea, as they are in the North sea and to the south-west of England. The Fleetwood men think that beamers should be brought into the programme as well as recognising that small local boats with low horsepower must be allowed to continue to fish in the so-called Blackpool box. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall the problem in 2000 when those vessels were not allowed to fish and had nowhere else to go. That caused problems. Their effort is very small and they do not affect the cod recovery programme or the viability of the fisheries.
My hon. Friend the Minister and I have corresponded on mesh sizes. Fleetwood fishermen tell me that mesh sizes should be linked to horse power. They see beam trawlers exploiting regulations on mesh sizes and mixed fisheries and catching a wide variety of fish. That undermines the effort to conserve stocks in the Irish sea.
Information from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea shows that cod, whiting and sole in area 7a are being fished beyond biological limits. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will re-examine the issues of mesh sizes and the quotas that are allocated in mixed fisheries. I hope that he will also look into the way in which vessels such as beam trawlers, which specialise in catching sole, can catch substantial amounts of cod as well, even though they are using a much smaller mesh size. Moreover, I am told that the mesh size for sole catches many fish that are not yet mature and have not yet reproduced. Clearly, that is another serious conservation issue.
I come briefly to the matter of governance. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the recommendations from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation on regional fisheries management. They are widely supported, with the proviso that the particular needs of sub-regions around the country must also be taken into account.
All parties involved accept that decision making has been too remote and bureaucratic. The Commission's Green Paper acknowledges that fishermen have not been sufficiently involved in developing acceptable technical measures. We need the advice and expertise of local fishermen, scientists and administrators if we are to formulate a policy that will deliver a sustainable fishery, and which will also be acceptable to those who work in the industry.
Several hon. Members have commented on decommissioning, an issue that excites very different opinions. Previous schemes led to a large number of vessels being taken out, and meant that no new investment was made. Seven years ago, 40 local boats were registered with the Fleetwood Fish Producers Organisation, but today there are only 20. We could end up with no local vessels fishing our local waters in the Irish sea. That would be dreadful, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise the impact that decommissioning can have on fishing communities. At the same time, however, some fishermen regard decommissioning as an opportunity to leave the industry with some dignity.
Finally, I shall sum up by thanking Tom Watson and the members of the Fleetwood Fish Forum for their hard work in supporting the local fishing industry. I am also grateful to them for the many hours that they spend briefing me and keeping me updated on issues of local concern. Their plea to my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Council of Ministers is that they work to protect the British fishing industry and to support the needs of our local fishing communities, so that whenand ifstocks recover, Fleetwood fishermen will still be around to benefit.