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Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned an increase in the TAC for herring. As he will know, there is now an abundance of herring in the North sea whereas a few decades ago we thought that the species had become extinct. That shows that stocks can recover. However, the difficulty inshore fishermen in my area face is that there is no market for herring. They could catch herring and make a good living from that if there were a market. Will he do what he can to stimulate such a market? Would that not also have a conservation benefit, given that I am told that, with demersal species depleted, an abundance of pelagic species can be an obstacle to the recovery of those demersal species?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, certainly. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would love there to be a much more buoyant market for herring in the United Kingdom and I would recommend herring to any Member present. Herring roe is probably the most delicious roe from any fish and I eat it regularly. There is a healthy export market for herring and herring products. Indeed, some of our pelagic boats, which fish herring successfully, export a great deal to central and eastern European countries that traditionally consume a lot more herring than we do.

My hon. Friend is also right in his point about the successful recovery plan and this is a good example in respect of stocks that were in serious jeopardy. All the

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pelagic stocks—not just herring, but mackerel and bass—are doing very well indeed. They present good fishing opportunities to our industry and he is right to draw attention to the fact that although we have faced serious difficulties in the white fish sector for many years with declining cod, other bits of the industry, such as pelagics, shellfish and prawns, have been doing extremely well.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD) rose—

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD) rose—

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), if I may.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. How sound is the science on which the recommendations are being made by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the quotas proposed? Last year, it was clear that the quota for angler fish—monkfish—in area VII was so unsound that fishermen discovered, and persuaded the scientists, that the stock was a great deal more healthy than previously indicated. No doubt that will be the same in the North sea. On what precautionary basis are the quotas proposed and the science based?

Mr. Bradshaw: It would be true to say that marine biologists who work in the field are naturally cautious. That is their job. They see it as their interest to preserve and conserve stocks and to ensure that stocks are not depleted to the extent that they become non-renewable, as it were. However, I do not think that there is any doubt about the state of cod stocks. The nature of fish stocks is that they fluctuate dramatically from one year to the next if there is a good recruitment year, as there was with haddock four years ago. One good recruitment year can completely transform the situation for haddock stocks, as it has. Fish move around, so there may have been a prediction on angler fish in the south-west made on good science, which changed quickly because of movement or because of a single good recruitment year.

We have come quite a long way in improving how the industry works with the science, although there are still some in the industry who do not accept it. I always say to those in the industry and to those in this place who make a habit of saying that they do not believe the science that they should go off and commission science of their own and have it peer reviewed. I would be interested to see it.

Mr. Beith: I thank the Minister for giving way. To return to the point about herring, which he discussed with the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), surely the key to the herring market is processing, whether it involves Craster kippers or smoked herring. What we have seen in the herring market could happen again with cod, because if the processing and marketing mechanisms collapse, as they nearly did during a period when fishing was restrained, and we are unable to ensure the processing industry's survival, when the fish return there will be no market for them.

Mr. Bradshaw: Forgive me for forgetting that kippers are another delicious way to consume herring. The right

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hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent, but he should not necessarily equate the success of the processing industry with UK-caught fish. There are successful processing industries, not least in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), that rely largely on imported white fish from areas of the world with healthier stocks. So, a successful processing industry, which we have—it is important to recognise that fact—does not necessarily depend on domestic stocks. However, that does not mean that we should not do what we can to protect and encourage the growth of those stocks.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he accept that what he says about processing is true for large-scale processors, but that there is a serious problem for small-scale processors who rely on locally caught fish? Many, such as those in my constituency, are suffering because they cannot get such fish.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I accept that, but the answer is to ensure that we have credible policies in force to protect the fish stocks and secure sustainable and profitable fisheries for the future. Taking risks with the stocks would put the processors as well as the fishermen out of business.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Minister has told the House that people who disagree with the scientists in Europe should get scientists of their own to examine the issue. Is he not aware that that has been done in Northern Ireland? The fishermen have consulted other scientists, who backed up those fishermen. A meeting was held in Brussels on 28 and 29 October, at which it was put to the Fisheries Committee that some scientists disagreed strongly with the recommendations from Europe.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am aware of dissident scientists and dissident science—[Interruption.] I recall people standing up in the House about 10 years ago proclaiming, on the basis of what dissident scientists said, that there was no such thing as AIDS in Africa. All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that he and others who challenge the orthodox science should commission some research and have it peer reviewed. The simple fact is that it has never been done.

Mr. Salmond: I speak as a dissident MP and ask the Minister to reconsider his point about monkfish. The monkfish quota is not based on empirical evidence of the number of monkfish, but on landing data. Clearly, if the quota is reduced, so are the landings and the quota is then reduced for the next year. It is a circular argument. Given the Minister's experience of the monkfish quota elsewhere, will he now look with a more sceptical eye at the monkfish quota being set for the North sea?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman is wrong because the scientists take landings as well as studies of biomass and ocean research into account. It is simply wrong to

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imply that they do not take any notice of landings. They do, and they even take into account the fact that actual landings are in some cases higher than they should be.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: I want to make some progress.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Give way.

Mr. Bradshaw: I have been generous in giving way. Does the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) want to say something about fisheries?

Mr. Bacon: I was merely pointing out that, if the Minister gave way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), he might learn something.

Mr. Bradshaw: I have already given way to him three times—[Interruption.]—all right, twice, but perhaps I will give him another go in a minute.

As I have already said in response to interventions, we shall be looking for ways of decoupling the associated stocks from cod, so that our fleet can take advantage of fishing opportunities that exist, but which are contraindicated because of a link with cod. That involves identifying more closely the extent of the association with cod, and finding ways—technical or geographical—to ensure that the associated species can be caught without undue damage to cod. More widely, I am aware that some of the total allowable catch reductions proposed will have serious effects on local communities, and we will be checking the scientific justification for all the proposals and arguing that any agreed to be excessive should be reined back. We will take close account of the industry's view in preparing our position.

The process of setting TACs on an annual basis has been criticised as too short-term an approach. One of the achievements of the reform of the common fisheries policy last year was that we now have a new tool for setting the policy for TAC levels over a longer period. We welcome that new mechanism, which can be useful as part of managing recovery plans for the most depleted species. The proposal that I mentioned earlier for a long-term recovery plan for cod is the second major item that will be before the Council next week. We support its approach for adjusting the cod TACs year by year in the light of scientific advice. It would provide greater assurance as to future TACs and would provide the industry with a clearer view of how policy on quota levels responds to changes in fish stocks.

We agree with the view that for some areas recovery plans based on TACs and technical conservation alone may not be sufficient to restore the most depleted stocks. It is important that fishing effort is not too high, and in some cases it can be necessary to tackle fishing effort directly, by limiting the amount of time that vessels can spend at sea. We therefore agree with the development of long-term recovery plans for cod and hake, and we will want to develop a suitable long-term mechanism for restraining fishing effort to restore the cod stocks.

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