Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)



  Q340 Mr Mitchell: How did it come to be defined in this way? You say in your evidence that the consequences for commercial fishing seem to have arisen inadvertently. What is the story behind that?

  Mr Denton: In our conversations with Defra, I have been told by the animal welfare people that when they first started this exercise they consulted with the fish people in Defra and I think they probably looked at the headline purpose of the Bill as it is put to extend protection to kept animals. I think they assumed that there was no problem for the fish industry, but, as it turns out, in the wording of the Bill, particularly in the definitions which are so all-embracing, they do in fact suck in our industry to the ambit of the Bill to become legal requirements.

  Q341 Mr Mitchell: And the fishing section of Defra ignored that or did not realise that?

  Mr Denton: I cannot speak for Defra.

  Q342 Mr Mitchell: You as an organisation were not consulted?

  Mr Denton: That is a fact.

  Q343 Mr Mitchell: Were the anglers consulted?

  Dr Broughton: Yes, we were consulted relatively recently.

  Q344 Mr Mitchell: That was after the definition had been arrived at?

  Dr Broughton: Yes. We have to work with what we have got. We have similar issues about several of the definitions of words in the Bill, particularly this word "kept". To elucidate, the word "kept" as defined in the Bill could be interpreted to include fish that cannot escape into the wild. That is a very imprecise definition but it could be considered to include fish in reservoirs, estate lakes, gravel pits, small ponds, large bodies of water, anything that has a defined boundary as opposed to a sea or a river.

  Q345 Mr Mitchell: It could include goldfish?

  Dr Broughton: It could include goldfish indeed, yes. It could also include fish which are in the temporary custody of the person who caught them: they are kept at the instant that you have them in your hands. Our concern is that clearly the act of angling is to catch a fish and, one way or another, it ends up in your hands.

  Q346 Mr Mitchell: With commercial fishing, the fish have been brought up in a net?

  Mr Denton: Yes, and you can construe the Bill as applying to anything, even as it is herded toward a trawl, for example. From there onwards until the point the fish dies, you can interpret the words in the actual Bill as covering us. If we had been involved earlier on, we would have advised against these words, obviously.

  Q347 Mr Mitchell: What would you rather was done? Should "animal" simply be redefined? Should there be a specific section omitting fish, saying that it does not apply to fish, or what?

  Mr Denton: You would have to look at this carefully. As I said before, the key is in the definitions. The choice is either to change the definition of "animal" so that it does not include fish or to look at some specific exemption for fish. There are two ways of coming at it. It is a matter for the lawyers and consideration as to how to do it but the key is there.

  Q348 Mr Mitchell: The RSPCA want to include squid, octopus and cuttlefish. What would the consequences of that be?

  Mr Denton: From my industry's point of view, it is a piece of nonsense that the Scots should be proposing to include those, whereas the English and Welsh are not. The fish do not recognise the borders. The fishermen do not recognise the borders. How does this work?

  Q349 Chairman: To be specific, in paragraph 1.2 of your evidence you give a series of very detailed definitions of different aquatic species. Is your solution of resolution to build in something as detailed as that to the Bill?

  Mr Denton: You are looking at a different piece of evidence to ours.

  Mr Bird: That is our evidence. What we were trying to say there is that defining the animals we are seeking to protect is very complicated, particularly if you look at definitions scientifically. It is quite diverse and would make the Bill, dare I say it, very complicated with all the Latin names, definitions and everything else. We tried to show that it is an over-simplification to say "animal and vertebrate" because it is too diverse. We tried to show that diversity. There are two routes you could go with regard to fish and fishing: one is purposely and clearly to exclude fishing and fisheries—that is recreational and marine; the second is to put in a more precise definition of the types of animals you are trying to protect in a realistic and well intentioned way—cats, dogs, birds, pets, farmed animals, which are normally covered elsewhere. We tired to show that it is a hell of a job to get this so that it is understood by all. Forgive the complication.

  Q350 Chairman: May I say to Ms Roxburgh and Mr Buckhaven that we are not ignoring you but, in terms of good orderliness, it is as well we finish our line of questioning on the area we have just been discussing and then we will concentrate on you.

  Mr Buckhaven: May I add one point? The Animal Welfare Act in New Zealand in 1999 has a wide definition of "animal". That includes: reptiles, amphibians, fish, octopus, squid, crab, lobster and crayfish. It encompasses the whole lot. The Scottish Parliament is now debating including these in the same way as the New Zealand legislation does.

  Q351 Ms Atherton: Do you three gentlemen support the proposal that children would not be able to take a goldfish back from a fair?

  Mr Denton: It is not my position to support that or otherwise because it is beyond my remit and my industry does not deal with that. If you want a more constructive response in the sense of what can be done to the Bill, then it is not merely a matter of species but what is being done with that species. You could describe that animal as a kept animal, and you may well think that the Bill should cover it from that point of view.

  Q352 Ms Atherton: I do not think I follow that, but never mind.

  Dr Broughton: I am not sure, in the context of angling or fisheries, that I have view. I can give you a personal view, if that is any help to you.

  Q353 Ms Atherton: That would be interesting.

  Dr Broughton: From a personal point of view, as a fishery scientist, I think it is probably on balance of more benefit to a youngster to be able to purchase a goldfish. I am not so sure about winning a goldfish at a fair. You would certainly get used to keeping an animal. Actually looking at the physiology and the anatomy of the animal and what can happen to it, fish are so low down the evolutionary order of things—and I am speaking from a personal point of view—that from the scientific point of view I do not think I could mount a case to say that it was justified to prohibit that practice.

  Q354 Mr Wiggin: My concern also starts with the goldfish. We had evidence from the koi keepers who display their fish. There is very little difference between the carp that fishermen will catch in the wild and the fish that you can buy in the pet shop on an equal basis but we do have to separate the types of treatment that we expect. When a fisherman catches a fish on the side of the riverbank he will hold it in his hands, he will weigh it, he will put it in a keep net and then he will release it. That is very different from somebody who may be farming large quantities of goldfish for prizes or for feeding to other things. Have you any suggestions that the Committee can make to the Government as to how it should alter this Bill so that it can be constructive as regards your particular areas of responsibilities?

  Mr Denton: Yes, and this is the point I made previously to Candy Atherton. The definitions are not one-dimensional but two-dimensional. It is a matter of species and purpose in dealing with the animal. You could describe that koi as genuinely being kept by man under the care and welfare of man, which is a different situation to catching a wild fish.

  Q355 Mr Wiggin: But they are equally bothered by the definition in this Bill because they have shows and they cannot show their fish, they feel, according to this Bill because the fish will be out of their control when it is being judged. There is a whole variety of problems. The key thing we need is to get the definitions right. What I am digging for is the wording that you would like to see in the Bill. We have heard from Mr Buckhaven what they do in New Zealand. It might be constructive if we got from you how you would like it put. You could do that at a later date, if need be.

  Dr Broughton: I am happy to try and answer the question now. I am sorry to deal with the scientific side of things but that is what underpins the Bill. I am trying to keep it on that level rather than just purely an emotional one. If one looks at a fish and tries to examine what happens to it in certain scenarios, then it is extremely difficult, I would probably contend impossible, to demonstrate that that fish is capable of feeling pain. It would follow, depending on your definition, whether it is also capable of feeling suffering. In direct response to your question as to how we propose to resolve this issue in relation to sea fishing, my answer, which might be unhelpful to you, would be that fish are excluded from the Bill; in other words, that the definition of "animal" excludes fish. If I was to start with a blank piece of paper, that would be how I would approach it. I appreciate we are not starting with a blank piece of paper.

  Q356 Mr Wiggin: Unfortunately, excluding things is not always the only option. I appreciate what you have said in terms of answering the question I initially put. We are going to have to face the fact that the Government's intention is to tackle fish as prizes, and we mean goldfish in fairs rather than fishing as you read about that in The Angling Times. We do need to address this. I was a zookeeper at London Zoo and so I do not agree with your feelings about stress and pain in fish. The point is you can see people dropping the goldfish that they have just won from the big wheel and we do not want that sort of thing, and so we do have to address this in a sensible way.

  Mr Bird: Are there not three dimensions to this? One is fishing, commercial and recreational, and one is aquaria, whereas when you look at fairs and goldfish, although we think it is nice for a young person to have a goldfish and look after it well, it is of benefit to the goldfish as well as to the person. It is a difficult area to look at. I am sure that if you talk to the koi people and the aquaria people, they are extremely professional; they have very high standards. If you look at fishing and fisheries from a recreational point of view, we are very well regulated. We keep on improving conditions and research to make sure that the welfare of our fish, fished for whatever purpose, whether to eat or to catch and release, is paramount. I can see where you are coming from with regard to the goldfish in the poly bag because, even if the youngster takes the fish home and cares for it, if the goldfish is two hours in the poly bag in a hot car, that is not a good thing.

  Q357 Mr Wiggin: Either way, you will be affected by the efforts in the Bill to tackle the wrong sort of people and we do not want your good practice dragged in.

  Mr Bird: That is right. It is a difficult point.

  Q358 Joan Ruddock: I want to put a number of things to you. It seems to me it would defy logic to suggest that fish were not animals and certainly they are vertebrates. There is no way that can be denied. Altering those definitions, I put it to you, would be really problematic because in any situation where human beings are keeping fish, no matter which kind of fish, there is always the potential for treating those animals poorly, keeping them in very bad conditions and creating situations in which they can either be directly tortured by human beings—and there are cases where people seek to do these things—and certainly where they can become subject to disease because of the conditions in which they are kept. It seems to me that what you are all saying is that the definition of the keeping is more significant, not whether it is an animal, a vertebrate or whatever; it is the keeping of the creature that is the big issue. In that area you seem to be suggesting that commercial fishing and angling ought to be exempt so that there is no possibility of your being considered as keepers of fish. Does that clarify things? There seems to be a difference.

  Mr Denton: I think you are right. Going back to the bit about vertebrates, that is not entirely logical either. I know of no science that conclusively shows that vertebrates suffer and invertebrates do not suffer. Built into this Bill already is that illogicality.

  Q359 Joan Ruddock: I can agree with you there. Some of us find it unpleasant to watch fish that have been fished twitching as they die on the decks of fishing boats and think that perhaps they do suffer. Equally, I would not want to put a shark's spike into a fish's mouth. Personally, I believe they could be suffering. We need to have some relationship between what people understand to be animals and where common sense lies. I think people consider fish to be animals and where they are being kept and grown and bred by human beings, then they are kept animals. We cannot take fish out of this Bill, in my view. That is why I am trying to put to you that it is the keeping element of the Bill that you need to address to us and that is where change ought to be. I cannot see any other way of dealing with the objections that you have.

  Mr Denton: Broadly, yes, and if we can address the keeping so that the commercial fish industry is not subjected to these inappropriate requirements, then we are happy.

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