Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Norman Lamb: As one of its objectives for a future fishing policy, the Commission recognises the importance of promoting

    ''responsible and rational exploitation of fishery resources in international waters''

and the importance of ensuring coherence with the EC's development policy. That has often been sadly lacking in fishery and agriculture. Last year, the Minister stressed the importance of developing coherence. Will he say what progress is being made, and how confident he is that any changes will ensure that there is coherence to give developing countries a proper chance to develop their own industries?

Mr. Morley: We have raised that issue in discussions with the Council, and expressed our

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concerns about several aspects of third country agreements. One concern is that there needs to be a more coherent approach between the development budgets and the development programmes that the EU commissions, as the hon. Gentleman said. The countries involved undoubtedly appreciate that although it is hard currency for them, coastal communities have little involvement in those fisheries. More consideration should be given to that. There are also questions about whether some of the agreements represent value for money.

Lawrie Quinn: My hon. Friend will recognise the tensions that have sometimes arisen between the marine scientists and fishermen. There is a suspicion in Scarborough and Whitby that the marine scientists are not spending enough time with the people who are doing the fishing. Is there a consistent approach throughout the EU to research and scientific advice? The key figures that emerge from gathering such information define the targets and the future of the industry. Are other EU countries putting the same considerable resources into research and advice as we are? Are they communicating the importance of that to fishing communities and ensuring that they are involved in the research?

Mr. Morley: The short answer is yes. The commitment to scientific research varies in relation to the fishing industry's involvement. However, there should be no disagreement between the industry and scientists, because they are working towards the same aim: the sustainable management of fish stocks.

My Department has gone to great lengths to involve the industry more and to give it more opportunities to talk to scientists and become involved in decisions on matters such as recommendations to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea on the annual surveys of fish stocks. We take the views of people in the industry into account and give them opportunities to travel on our research ships, so that scientists and fishermen can work together and try to reach a common understanding.

The situation has improved a great deal in recent years, and I am keen to make more progress. In some countries, fishermen see scientists as their allies, not their enemies, which I am afraid was not always the case here. Fishermen sometimes do not understand why scientists follow certain patterns and do certain things in the course of their research, but because of their increased involvement, they have a better understanding these days. Similarly, scientists have a better understanding of the industry's views. That process is ongoing.

Mrs. Winterton: The Minister confirmed that we have undeclared engine power of some 30,600 kW outstanding. Will the United Kingdom be penalised in the number of days that it is allocated, because of that discrepancy?

Mr. Morley: Not necessarily. As I said, the negotiations and proposals are at an early stage; we have yet to reach a conclusion. On the undeclared horsepower, I assume that the hon. Lady is referring to those vessels that have been given a deadline to make

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themselves legal. They have a couple of years to do so. Some of the vessels and quite a large chunk of the excess horsepower are not in the cod fishery, so logically it should not count, but those issues will be covered in the negotiations.

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the need for more discussion with stakeholders in the industry. Does he have an estimate of the percentage of people in the industry who have been involved in one way or another in the discussions? It is important that as many as possible be involved with the ongoing discussions.

Mr. Morley: Absolutely. The industry is comparatively small, and I sometimes feel that I have spoken to most of its members at one time or another.

Lawrie Quinn: Several times.

Mr. Morley: Yes, several times in many cases. The industry is well represented by its organisations, which are very active and professional. We ensure that we work through those organisations and, as I said, give fishermen the opportunity to talk to our scientists. They also have that opportunity through their own organisations and one to one. I am always looking for ways of improving and extending the process and of allowing people to make their views known and to talk to scientists about the programmes on which they are working.

Andrew George: What position will the Minister take in negotiations with his European counterparts on the concern about cetacean by-catch in parts of the industry? The Department's own funded research identified that most dolphins and porpoises washed up on beaches on the coastline, mainly in the south-west, were most likely to have been killed as a result of fishing, and there is much speculation that the cause is either pair trawling or industrial trawling. That points to the need for urgent discussions between the Minister and his counterparts in Denmark and France where those activities are mainly based. As the Minister knows bass and mackerel are caught entirely from line in Cornwall and that poses no threat to cetaceans.

Mr. Morley: I absolutely accept that hand-liners are very selective and pose no threat to cetaceans. The research programme that we have funded through DEFRA has identified that the main problem is the winter bass fishery. Our observer programmes have not identified cetacean by-catch in other fisheries. We do not close our mind to that. We still carry out the research. We like to have information from other member states' fleets because it is the responsibility of the flag state to collect the information and the science. It needs to be done. We recognise that there is a problem. We are determined to do something about it. Given that it is an international fishery, action must be taken through the European Union to protect dolphins. I have written to Franz Fischler and to my opposite number in France about this. I have also spoken to both of them. This will have to be an ongoing issue.

We are considerably more advanced in terms of data collection, research and commitment than other member states; some still need convincing that there is

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a problem. There is still a need for good science to identify where the problem is and to suggest potential solutions. We are financing trials of adapted gear this March, which is designed to keep dolphins out of the nets. It will have a separator grid with an escape hatch on the top of the net. It has been used in New Zealand where it has had a 95 per cent. success rate in reducing sea lion by-catch. It has been used by other countries to reduce the accidental catch of turtles. There is some potential in this. I do not say that in itself it is a solution, but it is worth testing it in the sea and that is what we intend to do.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): The labelling of meat as regards its origin and production has become an important issue for British farmers. Will the same importance be given to those two issues in aquaculture?

Mr. Morley: Yes, that is an interesting question. At the present time it is a consumer-driven part of the industry. There has been the development of eco-labels, such as by the Marine Stewardship Council. The supermarkets are beginning to show an interest in organic farmed salmon. Consumers should have information and I welcome labelling schemes. The various industry sectors can join such schemes voluntarily, as can retailers. Some caterers are joining them too, so they will develop. As long as they are properly managed and validated they offer potential benefits to the industry. We are watching this development with interest.

Mrs. Winterton: When was the Minister first informed by his civil servants that the European Commission had requested information about the Shetland and Orkney fish purchasing schemes?

Mr. Morley: I have seen the date, but I cannot remember exactly when it was. There is no sign of movement from my officials either on this. The hon. Lady will appreciate that the matter falls within the Scottish Executive's area of interest. I am sure that we have those dates and I can let her have them.

Lawrie Quinn: Following on from my earlier question and the Minister's answer on scientific research, I agree with him about the need to share that research and get the fishing communities more involved in understanding its consequences. The Minister will know that there is a great concern in many North sea ports about the take of fish from seals—grey seals in particular. He will also know that many fishermen are asking for research to be done on that problem, which they encounter every day. In a European context, and leading from the acceptance of these documents and the importance of such scientific research, can the Minister tell the Committee whether substantial and comprehensive research will take place across Europe on the issue? The take is causing a lot of distress to skippers and their families. It particularly affects netsmen involved in inshore work, who leave their nets overnight for 18 hours only to find that much of their harvest has been taken by seals.

Mr. Morley: Having seen the result of a disagreement between my neighbours from Grimsby and Cleethorpes, I am reluctant to get involved in issues of seals. More seriously, we recognise that seals

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can cause commercial damage, so we fund research into seal populations, dynamics and predation. The most recent work—it is a little out of date so we are funding some more—suggested that the interaction of seals in the marine food web is complex, and there was no clear evidence that seals had a major impact on commercial fish stocks. I am not saying that they have no impact, but it is difficult to ascertain its level. We shall continue to do that research.

We have the majority of seal colonies in Europe. The seals in the Mediterranean—mostly the Mediterranean monk seal—are scarce and endangered, and therefore rightly protected. When stocks are down, there is a tendency to look around to find something to blame. Seals often fit into that category, but it is worth remembering that the seal populations have not yet regained their numbers of before the crash caused by the distemper outbreak in the North sea. It is not as if there has been a huge and historic increase in the seal population. It has increased, but only back to its level before the disease outbreak.

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