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Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that we had wonderful fisheries 30 years ago. Does he acknowledge that one of the greatest impacts on our fishing industry resulted from the cod war when Iceland introduced its own fishing limit? It is wrong to blame the EU for the decline in places such as Grimsby, because that was a result of the cod war.

Mr. Whittingdale: I do not share the hon. Lady's view that the problem was all Iceland's fault, and I doubt whether fishermen would agree with her either. In 1995—only eight years ago—there were 9,200 British fishing vessels that landed 912,000 tonnes of fish on these shores. In 2002, 7,003 vessels landed 686,000 tonnes—a 25 per cent. reduction in just eight years.

The decline in Scotland has been even more dramatic. There was a total of 1,782 boats of more than 10 m in length in 1975, but it is estimated from current decommissioning plans that there will be about 700 such boats next year. That will represent a 60 per cent. cut in the Scottish fishing fleet since we joined the CFP. Each of the sold or decommissioned boats would have grossed an average of £300,000 a year at current values from landing about 333 tonnes of fish. The annual loss of direct income to the catching sector is therefore more than £300 million. However, the knock-on effects of that are felt far more widely. Associated industries that are dependent on fishing, such as processing, marketing, netting and boat repair industries, have suffered. The recognised gross domestic product impact ratio for fisheries is 2.35 times the landed value, so the total annual loss to the Scottish economy as a result of the reduction to the Scottish fishing fleet has reached £785 million. If one adds to that the cost to public funds from unemployment benefit and other benefits, the figure is still higher.

The figures cannot reveal the personal tragedies experienced and the destruction of thriving communities that lie behind them. Major harbours such as Lossiemouth that used to be a focus of social and economic life throughout the year are now reduced to being marinas for a handful of yachts for a few weeks in summer. The story is repeated all around the coast of Britain. I was in Lowestoft yesterday, which was once the largest fishing port in England and only a few years ago would have been home to a couple of hundred boats, including 130 ft trawlers. I saw only a dozen boats in the harbour yesterday and only two were more than 10 m long. I went on to attend the morning fish auction in the purpose-built hall on the quayside. The hall is cavernous—it stretches perhaps five times the length of the Chamber—yet the fish available for auction on what I was told was a relatively good day took up only a few square metres of space. Additionally, a significant proportion of the fish, including the one large halibut that sold for £250, had not been caught by local boats but imported from Iceland.

The tragedy for our fishing industry is that there is no reason why it must be in decline. Other countries manage their fisheries extremely successfully by

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conserving stocks and supporting a viable industry. Norway operates a quota system that is agreed by a management advisory board on which fishermen are represented. Discards are banned, as is the fishing of undersized fish. Cheating is largely unknown.

In the Faroe islands, fishing is the principal source of income. The incentive to manage stocks in a sustainable way is even greater. Under their system, vessels are grouped according to size and gear type. Each group is allocated a set number of fishing days per year, which are divided among the vessels. That is combined with gear regulations designed to protect juvenile fish, as well as closures of extensive areas to active gear, such as trawls, to protect nurseries and spawning stocks.

By allocating fishing days rather than stock quotas, mixed fisheries are allowed, giving the entire catch an economic value. The system works extremely well in achieving its aim that not more than a third of each stock should be taken every year. It is well supported by the fishermen, who are closely involved in deciding the number of fishing days to be allotted each year. As one respected fishing journalist recently wrote:

In the Falklands, strict controls are exercised within the 200-mile conservation zone. The main squid species caught has a lifespan of just a year, so the stock assessment needs to be updated constantly. To ensure that conservation targets are achieved, fishing effort is controlled by strictly limiting the number of vessels licensed to fish within the zone. The lesson of the Falklands and the Faroes is that because the fishermen trust the data, they are prepared to accept limitations on their activities based on it.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Does he understand why the Minister is so hostile to the idea of banning discards when last year 20,000 tonnes of fish, more than the combined quotas for cod and haddock, were dumped dead in the sea and not landed for human consumption? Is not that an outrage? Would not getting rid of that system make a lot of difference?

Mr. Whittingdale: It would clearly make a difference. Discarding dead fish into the sea is a disgrace and should be stopped. I agree with my right hon. Friend that that is an essential component of a sensible fisheries policy.

Mr. Bacon: My hon. Friend mentioned the Falkland islands, which I visited last year. I saw the fisheries department while I was there. As it controls the system, it can close the entire fishery earlier than planned if necessary. As it takes three years for a cod to mature, is it not the case, with 900,000 people unemployed, 14,000 of whom are fishermen, as a Minister of State told me the other day, that for the cost of just one failed Government computer system we could support the entire fishing industry in this country for three years, keep out all the foreign boats and have a sustainable industry again?

Mr. Whittingdale: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, in particular for telling us of his recent experience in the Falklands. He is, of course, absolutely right.

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The essential point is that there are very successful examples of national fisheries management schemes which contrast with the complete failure of the CFP. The system of quotas for each species that is operated under the CFP means that a fish of a different species or a fish that is in excess of quota is discarded back into the sea, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said. Each year as many, if not more, fish are discarded to pollute the seabed as are landed for human consumption. How can that possibly help the conservation effort? The alternative is that the fish are landed black and fishermen risk being turned into criminals for breaching quota regulations.

Mr. Blizzard: The hon. Gentleman gave examples of the way in which more remote islands manage their fish stocks. I agree that the CFP has, self-evidently, not conserved fish. In advocating national controls, however, how would he deal with the issue of the median line in the North sea? The fish would not respect the median line. Many species spawn in shallower water on the continental side and swim over. If we had the median line, the Dutch and others would catch all the fish before they got here.

Mr. Whittingdale: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the CFP has been a complete failure. That is at least an advance on some of his colleagues. Obviously, if there were national management—I shall say a little about how we believe it should operate—it would require negotiation and bilateral agreements with other fishing nations.

Mr. Bradshaw: That will be easy.

Mr. Whittingdale: I think that compared with the annual fight which he goes into and which is about to take place next week, where every nation scratches around to try to benefit its own fishing industry within the framework of an ever-reducing total allowable catch, it will be rather more simple. As I have said, the CFP has been a complete failure. Almost anything would be an improvement on the CFP.

Mr. Leigh : May I give a positive idea to my hon. Friend that might commend itself to Members on both sides of the House? It is an idea that was discussed in the report of the Public Accounts Committee. It relates to discarded fish. Many of these fish are dead or dying when they are thrown into the sea. We suggested that we should seek changes in European Union legislation to allow the landing of discards and over-quota catches, but with proceeds being used to fund research and greater enforcement activity, as is already the case in Iceland. Will my hon. Friend and perhaps the Minister consider this idea?

Mr. Whittingdale: The report of my hon. Friend's Committee is undoubtedly a valuable contribution. However, we believe that the problem is the system itself. A system based on quotas creates the incentive or the necessity either for the discard of dead fish which are over quota or the alternative, which is the illegal landing of fish. Many fishermen have little choice but to break the law, given that their allocation of legal quota is so pitiful that it is impossible for them to sustain a living.

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At the same time, the enforcement system has led to fishery inspectors, who were previously regarded as the friends of fishermen, being regarded with utter hatred throughout the industry.

As has been suggested in several interventions, fishermen are increasingly disbelieving of the figures on which TACs are based. Estimates of fish stock are based on two main types of data; those which are fishery dependent and those which are fishery independent. Fishery dependent data come from commercial vessels and comprise the quantities of fish landed into port and measures of the time spent fishing or searching for fish to catch. The quota allocations are so inadequate that inevitably fishermen cheat to make a living. They either do not declare landings or they make false declarations as to the locations in which fish are caught. As a result, the amount of fish is under-reported, leading to quotas being set even lower.

Even the European Commission has now acknowledged that

The Commission is therefore relying increasingly on data from research vessels, but those too are flawed. For instance, in the critical North sea cod fishery, test trawls are made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-commissioned survey vessels. These are conducted in the spring and autumn when standardised gear is shot in specific locations at the same time each year, and trawling is carried out at a standard speed for half an hour. The catch is then measured and compared year on year to determine changes in stocks.

It has been said that the process is similar to flying in a hot air balloon high over a land completely covered in cloud, with the occupants seeking to determine what lives on the land, how many of each species there are and how their populations might change, all with a basket and a long rope. The surveyors are asked to scrape the basket along the ground for half an hour, haul it up and guesstimate the population, a process which they repeat at the same place at the same time the following year to determine trends.

Mr. Jim Portus, the chief executive of the South West Fish Producer Organisation, told my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) this morning that the scientists on research vessels often have inappropriate kit that is wrongly set. Those in the industry who have seen photographs were flabbergasted that the Commission should put such reliance on information gleaned from such badly set equipment. The solution, as the Select Committee recommended last year, is to have more independent scientific observers aboard fishing vessels.

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