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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Minister will be aware that the Commission's proposals are not due to be published until 8 December. Will he give an undertaking to those of us who represent fishing communities that, either formally or informally, there will be opportunities after the publication of the proposals and before the Council meeting for him to hear the concerns of our constituents?
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): Great benefits are had by all if there is prior consultation and if advice is taken from the various fishermen's organisations. That has not happened in Northern Ireland. Is it a matter of policy not to consult the Northern Ireland fishermen's organisations at this stage, or has that been remedied? I understand that they were refused an audience.
Mr. Bradshaw: That is not my understanding. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) leads on fisheries issues for Northern Ireland, and he has been assiduous in keeping in touch with industry representatives in Northern Ireland. He was with me at the last November Council, and I believe that he met industry representatives from Northern Ireland at that time. We will continue to keep in close contact between now and the Council itself.
Landings by the fishing industry are worth about £520 million to the UK economy. Landings at most ports are steady or up. The pelagic sector, which relies mainly on herring and mackerel, is doing very well, as is the shellfish sector. The importance of nephropsor prawns, as most people know themcontinues to
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increase as a proportion of the UK's total catch. Haddock stocks are higher than they have been for 30 years. However, some other species are still in decline or their stocks remain at dangerously low levelsmost notably, cod.
The fish processing industry continues to go from strength to strength. In all, it is worth about £1.5 billion to the UK economy. I am pleased to reportnot least because of the benefits to our nation's healththat fish consumption in the UK continues to grow by about 1.3 per cent. a year.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Minister mentions that certain stocks are in a healthy condition. Is it not remarkable that one of the failings of the common fisheries policy is that it cannot take account of that properly? Certainly, prawn quotas are far too low given what we know about the robust nature of the stocks. He says that haddock stocks are at a 30-year high, but according to the Norwegian talks, the quotas are to decline in the coming year.
On monkfish, the Commission has acknowledged for the first time that the previous scientific assessment was at best tenuous. There is huge evidence of plentiful supplies, yet the monkfish fishery is closed, so that high-value species, at the most valuable time of the year, is not accessible to hard-pressed fishermen. What will the Minister do to avoid a repeat of the situation in which fisheries with plentiful stocks
Mr. Bradshaw: Perhaps it will help if I inform hon. Members that a good chunk at the end of my speech is devoted to the details of the various stock levels and the recommendations in the run-up to the Council. Hon. Members may prefer to leave their interventions until then, when I shall address the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
This year has also reminded us of the dangers faced by those involved in the harvesting of the sea's natural resources. Nine have died during the course of the year in incidents involving seven fishing vessels, and 21 Chinese cockle pickers were drowned in Morecambe Bay in February. Most recently, two brothers, Rob Temple and Brian Allinson, from North Shields, have been lost, and only a few days before that, a Northern Ireland fisherman, Colin Donnelly, died off the Isle of Man. I am sure that the sympathy of the whole House goes out to the families and friends of those who have died working the seas.
I am pleased to endorse my hon. Friend's comments. It gave me great pleasure during the past year to attend the RNMDSF annual reception, at which it gave out awards. The organisation plays an important role in many parts of the country, including in many constituencies represented by Members who are in the Chamber.
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The past year has also seen an unprecedented level of interest and activity in fisheries policy. We have had a major report from the Prime Minister's strategy unit called "Net Benefits". It was the first time a Government had commissioned such an in-depth study of the state and future of the fishing industry. It has sparked immense interest both here and abroad, and is likely to help inform policy decisions for many years to come.
We have also seen an important report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and await the publication next week of a major report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The Government intend to respond to the strategy unit report next spring. The reports are all slightly different, but what they share is a belief that the sustainable exploitation of our marine resources is a major challenge, and one that must be taken up at global level. They also agree that there can be a long-term profitable future for our commercial fishing industry only if catch levels are brought into line with the state of fish stocks, and kept there. They have something else in common as well. They all oppose the only policy that the Conservative party has on fisheries, which is to try to withdraw unilaterally from the common fisheries policy.
David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): On subject of the reports, there is considerable concern in the industry in Northern Ireland about the resources of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Although it has committed itself to carry out a review of cod recovery in the Irish sea, the industry in Kilkeel believes that it does not have the resources to do that. Is the national Department prepared to go into discussions with DARD to find out whether a more fundamental review of cod stocks in the Irish sea is needed?
Mr. Bradshaw: I will certainly undertake to look into the hon. Gentleman's point. From the interaction that I have had with the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his officials, I have not gained the impression that they do not represent Northern Irish interests strongly. However, I shall certainly consider the point about capacity that the hon. Gentleman raised and ensure that we are engaged in this important work. It is important that the Administrations throughout the United Kingdom engage on the process, and that we move forward together on fisheries policy.
One more important review that reported during the last year would help to inform future policythe Bradley review of marine fisheries and environmental enforcement. It is important that all those reports and reviews have come together, because they provide policy makers with a once-in-a-generation chance to get the way we run our fisheries right. I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who have played a role in producing all this important material. The challenge that we, the fishing industry and other stakeholders now face is to turn it all into policy.
I should mention one or two other important developments this year before I turn to the details and our priorities for the December Council. Last month,
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I attended, in Edinburgh, the launch of the first of the regional advisory councils set up under the important reforms of the common fisheries policy agreed two years ago. The North sea RAC involves all those with an interest in the North sea, and it is already at work drafting recommendations on the management of the North sea area.
In the European Union, the UK has been at the forefront of pushing for a decentralisation of the common fisheries policy and for a greater say at local and regional level for fishermen and other interested groups. We intend to make progress on the remaining RACs a priority for the UK presidency of the EU in the second half of next year. If the RACs prove themselves by coming up with realistic and responsible solutions to the management challenges that we face, I see no reason why they should not develop into real bodies for regional management.
In the south-west of England, where I hail from, we are already seeing the benefits of the fishermen, processors, retailers, restaurateurs, anglers, environmentalists and scientists all working together to manage our fisheries in a sustainable way. Invest in Fish South West, launched by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in April with funding from my Department, is leading to an unprecedented level of co-operation among groups that in the pastlet us be frankhave not always seen eye to eye. The commercial fishermen, recreational sea anglers and environmentalists who, in the past, have had competing or conflicting agendas have come together in the realisation that we all have a shared interest in managing our marine resources in a responsible and sustainable way. The benefits of this co-operation go far wider than the fishing industry alone. Tourism and our regional food renaissance are already benefiting from the work of Invest in Fish South West. I hope that it can become a model for the rest of the UK.
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