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16 Jan 2003 : Column 860—continued

Andrew George: The Minister said that there had been insufficient research and therefore implied that there is insufficient information. He will know that, as was reported in Fishing News on 13 December, two Danish industrial vessels were found with landings on board of which between half and three quarters was white fish. Both were landing 500 tonnes of fish. We know that that has a devastating effect. Frankly, we do not need any more research on the matter. Action needs to be taken now, and that is the widespread feeling in the industry.

Mr. Morley: I know that. I raised the issue with the Commission and referred specifically to the story in Fishing News. However, the Pout industrial fishery has a white fish by-catch. The story covered an illegal landing and the Danish authorities are dealing with the fishermen. Denmark has far more draconian penalties than this country. It can remove people's fishing licences—a penalty that I might like to consider.

Although the story covers illegal activity, that does not mean that we should not tackle the issue, which demonstrates the impact of industrial fishing. However, we must deal with illegal activity wherever it occurs. It is unfortunately not restricted to one country. Any fisherman who has been involved in black fish landings or misreporting has done equal damage to stocks and the reputation of our industry. When we pressed the Commissioner for alternatives that involved technical measures, we encountered some cynicism in the Commission because of the record of widespread abuse of the rules and black fish landings. Any fishermen who have been involved in that have undermined not only conservation and the future of the fishing stocks for their companions, but the credibility of their countries when they argue for change.

Angus Robertson (Moray): The Under-Secretary said that the Danish authorities had draconian penalties, which he would consider introducing in the United Kingdom. If he had read more than the introductory paragraph in Fishing News, he might have stumbled across the fact that the Danish authorities have withdrawn the licences of the two boats for one month. Is that a draconian measure?

Mr. Morley: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to ask fishermen about the effect of not being able to go to sea for a month. That is not the only penalty that has been applied.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The Minister mentioned cynicism about black fish and other illegal activity. However, according to the Commission's figures, there have been fewer prosecutions of UK fishermen than those of other EU nations. In that case, why does the burden appear to fall on this country's fishermen?

Mr. Morley: Because the hon. Gentleman refers to a one-year report. I am glad that our enforcement and

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control measures are so effective. That has been one of our priorities. However, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the infraction proceedings, which proved humiliating for the UK because of our failure to enforce quotas properly for 11 years up to 1997. My comments apply to the past because enforcement and control has improved. Nevertheless, such a reputation dies slowly. I repeat that all those who have been involved in misreporting and black fish landings have done the fishing industry no favours.

The recovery plan is an interim measure. The arrangements will be established pending further discussions, with the end of March as the target date for agreement and July as that for implementation. A great deal of work remains to be done. I understand the fishing industry's anxieties about the proposals for the North sea and the west of Scotland. During the negotiations, I met industry representatives regularly in Brussels. Leaders of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations made powerful arguments and forcefully presented their members' views. I tried to respond to them and take them into account as much as possible.

Short-term pain is inevitable given the scientific advice and the relevant stocks. The aim is to secure a long-term future, and I regret the short-term effect on individuals and communities. I understand the implications, and that is why we have worked so hard to provide as much flexibility in the schemes as is consistent with scientific advice. That involved Government activity at all levels, including the intervention of the Prime Minister, to ensure the maximum flexibility that we believed that the science justified.

The Commission was rightly adamant, given the state of the stocks, that the emergency recovery plan had to be agreed and implemented without delay. It needed to be simple, even crude if necessary. The Commission was also adamant that the plan had to make a genuine impact on fishing effort—another justifiable position given the fair scientific conclusions that the dire state of the stocks is directly attributable to the failure of the TAC-based management policy that has been pursued until now to achieve the necessary reduction in effort.

The Commission originally proposed that white fish demersal trawlers should be allowed a mere seven days a month out of port. That would have meant unacceptable devastation to the economies of most of the relevant UK vessels. My colleagues and I spent almost the entire five-day Council meeting arguing for an increase that would strike a balance between maximum flexibility and the scientific advice.

The solution that we eventually secured will allow the UK's demersal trawlers 15 days a month. I shall explain some of the details. Hon. Members will note that the regulations specify a monthly allowance of nine days for such trawlers. However, the EU text allows extra days to be allocated to member states to compensate for steaming time between ports and fishing grounds. There is also provision for the allocation of further days on the basis of the achieved or expected results of the decommissioning proposals. In line with what the industry pressed for, I ensured that the

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decommissioning round last year and the technical measures that the industry had implemented were taken into account in the effort calculations.

The relevant provisions are in annexe 17 of the regulations, which set TACs and quotas for 2003. They will result in UK white fish demersal trawlers receiving an extra six days a month—a total of 15 days. That days-at-sea scheme applies in the North sea and the west of Scotland from 1 February. As I said earlier, it does not apply to vessels that are under 10 m in length. Different days-at-sea allowances are set for different sorts of gear, as hon. Members pointed out. There is no limit on pelagic trawlers and 25 days a month are allowed for nephrops vessels. That means that they can operate as normal. The days are specified to try to prevent effort from increasing.

Sir Archy Kirkwood: The nephrops fishery fears that effort will be diverted as a result of the closure. Will the Under-Secretary give some assurances to places such as Eyemouth in my constituency, where such fishing takes place?

Mr. Morley: Yes, we recognise that there is always a risk of diversion of effort. However, measures exist to counter that, such as the ceiling and way in which the calculations work. Those who fish for nephrops must also have a nephrops net. However, we take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously.

Mr. Salmond: For clarity, will the Under-Secretary confirm that even the 15 days have been bought at the expense of not only past decommissioning and technical change but an expected further decommissioning round? The industry did not argue for that, and the Under-Secretary knows it.

Mr. Morley: It is true that the UK has made a commitment to a decommissioning scheme. The inevitable result of the pressures on the industry is that a decommissioning scheme must be part of the package. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. As it was always inevitable that we would have to consider that, there is nothing wrong in obtaining extra days for the fishing fleet as part of the commitment.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Will the Under-Secretary confirm the percentage reduction that is required for us to buy the extra days? There is currently a dispute in Scotland about the number of white fish boats in the fleet. Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that an unrealistically liberal number of boats will not have to be taken into account?

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that the decommissioning reduction will take place in the North sea white fish fleet. We will be considering a reduction of between 15 and 20 per cent. That is a reasonable target. I cannot give exact figures immediately for making an impact on the problem and helping the fishing industry, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. As he appreciates, management of the Scottish fleet is a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): The Under-Secretary said that the nephrops fleet was exempt and

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was allowed 25 days at sea. Does he realise that some nephrops vessels in the west of Scotland use twin rigs and mesh sizes of more than 100 m—Interruption.]—I mean 100 mm? There is therefore an anomaly. Those vessels are restricted to 15 days at sea, but if they used a smaller mesh size, they would get 25 days at sea. Will the Under-Secretary sort out the problem so that nephrops fishermen can continue to use larger mesh sizes?

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