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European Standing Committee A Debates

Fisheries: Catch Quotas and Effort Limitation 2004

European Standing Committee A

Thursday 11 March 2004

[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair]

Fisheries: Catch Quotas and Effort Limitation 2004

[Relevant Documents: European Union Documents Nos. 15388/03, 16198/03, 13678/03 and 8123/03.]

2 pm

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I should announce that the middle Door will be locked from now on to facilitate any Division later. I call the Minister to make the opening statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I am grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee for its recommendation for a further debate on the European Commission's proposals for total allowable catches and quotas for 2004. I will be pleased to answer any questions about the outcome of the December Fisheries Council. That Council was, as ever, a difficult one, but a number of important decisions were taken that will affect the future of British fishing.

Decisions were taken on long-term stock recovery and fishing effort control. Agreement was reached on a roll-over of the 2003 days-at-sea arrangements—known as annexe XVII—into January 2004, pending introduction of the new annexe V regime from 1 February. For the latter, the Commission proposed the continuation of interim arrangements for cod, but they should be enhanced to ensure more effective monitoring and control. The major operational changes proposed to the existing annexe XVII arrangements were a requirement to remain in port once a vessel's allocation of days has been used up; the removal of the derogated areas in the North sea and west of Scotland, which were not previously subject to effort control; further encouragement, through the allocation of additional days, to vessels with low catches of cod, plaice, sole and hake; a requirement for the advance notification of potential gear use; and stricter controls on the carriage of gear.

Following a number of adjustments, agreement was reached on arrangements to replace annexe XVII from 1 February with a new days-at-sea scheme—annexe V—to apply for the rest of 2004. Those measures were then accepted as part of the longer-term cod recovery plan, which also included rules on the setting of TACs and which was approved for operation from 1 January 2005, unless there is agreement in the interim on an alternative method of effort control. Agreement was also reached on a long-term plan for northern hake.

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The major changes to the original annexe V proposal agreed at the Council were as follows. The measures were restricted to the North sea, west of Scotland, the Irish sea and the eastern English channel. A Commission proposal to extend effort control to the western channel was successfully resisted by the United Kingdom. Additional days were provided to encourage the more selective fisheries, which are those with the lowest by-catch of cod and associated species. At the UK's behest, the averaging of days, which was possible under the existing annexe XVII arrangements if more than one gear was used in a particular management period, was retained, thereby allowing fishermen who have traditionally switched between gears at particular times of the year to continue to do so without undue penalties.

The industry had stressed its wish to separate management measures for haddock from those for cod, and we made that an important priority. For the North sea, we secured a 55 per cent. increase in the haddock TAC and a 28 per cent. increase in the prawn TAC, in line with the scientific advice and under a management scheme developed from industry proposals. That scheme is based on short-term licences to fish a certain proportion of the additional quota outside cod-rich areas identified in the TAC regulation. Some of those in the industry have expressed concern about the detail of the restrictions, and we agree that it is important that the system is workable and effective. Together with colleagues in Scotland, we have been working with the industry and the Commission to achieve change, and we expect the Commission to produce revised proposals shortly.

A significant aspect of last December's negotiations on TACs and quotas was the increasing importance given to effective enforcement. Concern has been expressed about the levels of compliance in the UK, both internally and externally, and if we are to set an example, we must be prepared to raise our game. That is why the fisheries department is taking a number of measures to strengthen fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance.

The measures proposed include the fitting of tamper-proof satellite monitoring terminals to all vessels over 15m; extending the existing arrangements for designated landing ports and for the prior notification of catch to vessels below 20m; improvements in the weighing of fish before it is sold or leaves the port of landing for sale elsewhere; better accountability and traceability through the designation of all fish markets and the registration of all sellers and buyers of first-sale fish; wider use of single-area or single-species licensing; and use of administrative sanctions.

I pay tribute to the work of fisheries officers, both at sea and on shore, who are charged with monitoring compliance. Theirs is a difficult task, often undertaken in testing circumstances, and it is one that deserves the full support and co-operation of the fishing industry.

I welcome today's report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh on the future of the Scottish fishing industry and commend it to the Committee. I should also like to highlight one forthcoming event that will

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have far-reaching implications for the fishing industry. I refer to the report from the Prime Minister's strategy unit on its fisheries project, whose planned publication date is 25 March. I am expecting a thorough report that will indicate how Government and interested parties can together secure a profitable future for the fishing industry. I am setting up a dedicated unit in my Department to develop in collaboration with all concerned an action plan based on that report's conclusions.

The Chairman: We now have until 3 o'clock at the latest for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Caton. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to be back on European Standing Committee A, on which I have previously spent many happy hours with the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis).

The Minister talked in his statement about scientific advice and equipment. Will he explain what he understands to be the escape characteristics of cod and haddock?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will write to the hon. Gentleman in detail on that question. I believe that I have recently answered several written questions from him about the same matter. His question refers to the different characteristics that cod and haddock have when they have either been caught or are avoiding capture by net. It is useful to have that information so that we can, if possible, devise technical measures to help fishermen to avoid catching cod when they are allowed to catch haddock, and we are doing that as far as we can. As successive Governments have discovered, however, technical measures are unfortunately not enough to manage stocks that are under threat.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): On behalf of regular members of the Committee, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Caton. I believe that this is the first time that you have undertaken the role, and I hope that you have an enjoyable afternoon.

I welcome the reference to the report that is being published by the Prime Minister's strategy unit on 25 March and the initiatives that the Minister is preparing so that Members may access further information. Bearing in mind Members who come from fishing communities, there should be an early opportunity to have a much fuller debate on the report. Is he in a position to say whether we could have such a debate on the Floor of the House about issues that are very important to communities such as those in Scarborough and Whitby?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the significance of the strategy unit report. I am sure that there will be opportunities to debate its contents in the House, but it is important to remember that the report is to Government rather than from them, so it will be up to the Government initially to draft and

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consider their response. I suggest to him that, if they have not already done so, he and other Members with fishery interests ask the strategy unit for a briefing on or around the date of publication.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton.

Decisions must be based on sound science, however unpalatable they may be. However, does the Minister not accept that a lot of the science is hotly disputed, and not only in the North sea? As he will recollect, last year both he and the scientists accepted that the science on monkfish was wrong and revised the quota accordingly. Does he accept that cod fishermen in the southern North sea and the western approaches, as well as those fishing for sole in area VIIe, hotly dispute the evidence presented by scientists? In fact, they are now working with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to correct some of the assumptions that are being made. Does he agree that it is important that, if better science is presented, it should form the basis of a revised quota this year?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I agree. Like the hon. Gentleman, I warmly welcome the collaborative projects that are being undertaken across the United Kingdom. That is a welcome development, which as I am sure hon. Members know, is funded with a considerable amount of public money. The Government undertook that initiative because of the recurring problem of a gap in acceptance between what scientists and the fishing industry said. If we believe that international science is wrong, we say so. We did so last year with regard to monkfish in his area, and we are doing so again with regard to the estimation of sole stock levels in the western channel.

 
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