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Mr. Bradshaw: I should point out that the reduction was successfully negotiated by my excellent officials, but the hon. Gentleman has a point. That is one of the reasons why we wanted to put the issue on the agenda for our presidency. Although there is general support in the Council for some change, countries do not necessarily agree to the same changes, depending on their own interests. However, I am confident that a more sensible fishing year will emerge from the process, with maximum periods between the receipt of the scientific advice, the Commission's proposals and the need to agree them in Council. We also need to bear in mind the need that some people perceive to inject some discipline into the process, which is one of the few advantages of having the Fisheries Council in the run-up to Christmas.
Sir Robert Smith : The Minister talks of building a better process, but does he agree that the RACs need to be allowed to grow and build so that eventually those affected by decisions in, say, the North sea are the ones who make the decisions about what happens there? That would result in more buy-in to the proposals and more cohesion.
Mr. Bradshaw: I hope that that will be the case. It is worth pointing out that those organisations are only a year old. Many people were cynical about how effective they would be, but they have been proved wrong. Already, for example, the North sea advisory council has done some excellent work, produced some very good papers, engaged constructively and effectively with the Commission and managed to keep together in one body diverse interest groups with, on the face of it, different views of what we should do in the North sea. That is no mean achievement.
We also co-hosted a seminar with the Commission on fisheries partnership agreements with third countriesoften poor African countriesand agreed a series of actions to ensure that those third countries' fisheries are not unsustainably exploited. That is not a major issue of concern in this country, although it should be. My concern was that in the past many of those agreements were not properly monitored, with the result that a renewable resource for some of the poorest countries in the world was being unsustainably exploited by some of the wealthiest nations, including members of the EU.
We also successfully resisted attempts to end the moratorium on commercial whaling at last year's International Whaling Commission in South Korea. We highlighted the cruelty involved in whaling. Our challenge now is to encourage more conservation-minded countriesall hon. Members have a role in delivering this message on their travelsto join the
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IWC, which has been subject to a vigorous recruitment campaign in recent years by the Japanese and their pro-whaling allies. We must be serious about that challenge if we are to defend our simple majority on the IWC.
The UK has also taken even more of a leadership role on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the high seas. The high seas task force, which I chair, is due to report on combating IUU fishing in March next year. We are working with other countries and external bodies to support the implementation of that report.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Will the Minister comment on salmon stocks, especially the interception of migrating salmon off the west coast of Ireland? That is particularly damaging in view of the fact that Ireland received a grant from the EU to promote rod-caught salmon and tourism, but that country continues to grant licences for salmon that would otherwise end up in English rivers, especially in the south-west.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to repeat what I said in answer to the same question from the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). I do not think that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was in his place at the time. We share the concern that he expresses about the effect of Irish drift-net fishing on salmon stocks and I have raised the issue personally with my Irish counterpart and the Commission. My understanding is that the Irish Government are also well aware of the level of public concern in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere and are considering what measures they may take to help to address those concerns.
The main priority of our presidency has been successfully to manage the December negotiation of the TACs and quota regulations for next year. Our primary objective will be to ensure that a balanced agreement is reached that respects the CFP's objectives of securing sustainable fisheries and the protection of the marine environment. We will aim to maximise economic opportunities for the UK industry within that context and seek to protect the viability of vulnerable sectors of the UK fleet and the interests of particularly fisheries-dependent communities. The latest scientific advice should mean that the Council can agree increased TACs for western monkfish and for nephrops. But there are likely to be some tough decisions needed on those stocks that are not doing so well, including North sea, west of Scotland and Irish sea cod, and a number of flatfish stocks. The scientific advice also highlighted the challenges faced in managing vulnerable deep-water species. Some industrial fisheries, such as North sea sand eels, continue to be severely depleted. Again, this year, I and my officials have gone to great lengths to ensure the active participation of the industry in discussions in the run-up to the Council. We have been ably assisted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who will sit in the UK chair for the Council. We will continue to keep in close touch with the industry up to and during that meeting.
Our analysis of the Commission's earlier proposals was that they would have cost the UK about £25 million, or 5 per cent. of the value of UK landings, but hard work by my officials has turned that around to a small increase of 1 per cent., as things stand at present, in the value of TACs next year.
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Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I echo the Minister's comments: I am delighted that there is a full day's debate on fisheries, giving the industry its due importance. Like him, I begin by offering our condolences and sympathies to relatives of the fishermen who were lost last year. According to figures from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, 24 fishing vessels were lost and, sadly, nine crew members died last year. Preliminary figures for this year show that there have been five deaths. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the brave men who risked their lives every day to supply us with one of our most popular and healthy foods.
The industry should be providing prosperous and sustainable long-term employment in some of our most remote communitiesI emphasise the word "should". Two years ago, having visited only one serious fishery, which was in the Falklands, I took on shadow responsibility for fisheries, so I made it my job to visit the fishing communities on our coasts. It has been a huge pleasure and privilege to learn about the industry and the communities that depend on it, but it has also been deeply sad and depressing. Whether it was Whalsay in the far north of the Shetlandswhere the nearest railway station is BergenPeterhead, Stornowayin the western islesWhitby, Hastings, Plymouth or Brixham, an appalling picture of the desolation of our marine environment and the destruction of our fishing communities emerged.
One example encapsulates the problem. In Fleetwood, which I have visited on several occasions, there was a fleet of 140 vessels in the 1960s; today, there are five. I met an engineer who used to employ 60 people; he now employs one fitter. There is no clearer example of the insanity of the current system than my experience when I sailed overnight in the trawler Kiroan. The owners fish for plaice in the Irish sea. They are allowed 22 days fishing per month with 80 mm mesh, at which they are viable, and only 17 days if they use the more environmentally friendly 100 mm mesh, at which they are unviable. I asked them to use both mesh sizes and they trawled twice during the night. The 100 mm net came up twice with two thirds saleable adult fish. Twice, the 80 mm net came up absolutely burstingalmost too full to pull on boardwith 90 to 95 per cent. of tiny baby plaice, which were all dying.
I told the Minister about that a year ago, yet when I went back to Fleetwood this autumn I was astonished to learn from the same fishermen that 80 mm cod-ends are still being used, with 80 to 90 per cent. discards. The owner of the Kiroan told me:
It is hard to understand how intelligent, sane human beings can enforce such a policy. He went on to say that the Faroes and Norway have bigger mesh sizes, and those problems do not occur. That is my central point. We do not have to inflict that damage on our marine environment.
In the past two years, having already seen order and prosperity brought to the Falklands by local control, I have also made it my job to visit successful fisheries. I visited Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Newfoundland
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and New England and I am flattered that the Minister trotted after me to some of those successful fisheries. Yesterday, I spoke to Oli Breckmann, who is a Conservative MP in the L'gting, the Faroes Parliament. By contrast to what we have just heard, my notes of the conversation spring off the page:
"Cod stocks are improving as food is improving. Coley is fishing well. Fish prices are improving and there is a buoyant mood in our industry. We are confident that cod is recovering. Haddock is OK. There is very little grumbling amongst our fishermen. Fishermen's incomes are considerably improving. We expect to improve our tax due to higher volumes and higher prices. It is absolutely ludicrous for the EU to be cutting our capacity. Here, we are improving capacity and efficiency, discarding old vessels"
They are opening some areas near the shore to summer fishing of flatfish, as the fish were "dying of old age", and using selective gear to let cod escape from the top. They maintain a discard ban and the most important thing is to land everything. The sand eel fishery has been stopped as the fishing industry did not want to restore it.
Mr. Breckmann reckoned that fishing was responsible for about 10 to 20 per cent. of mortality in the Faroes and confirmed that the industry is self-regulating. That is popular with fishermen. There is collaboration between fishermen and scientists. Above all, they know that cod numbers are decided by phytoplankton and protoplankton, which depend in their turn on temperature and salinity.
Yesterday, I talked to Paul Howard, executive director of the New England fishery management council. Their policies of days at sea in closed areas have led to a huge revival of fish stocks and improvement in the marine environment. I give one example that is easy to understand. Closed areas have led to scallop landings increasing from 12 million lb in 1996 to a projected 43 million lb in 2005 and 78 million lb for 2007. In the USA, 20 fish species have been removed from the over-fished list in recent years.
On the basis of many weeks of travel and long hours of discussion with people who run successful fisheries that actually improve the marine environment, we published a Green Paper in January, describing how our seas should be managed for the benefit of the nation. There is not a single original idea from me in the paper; it is a compilation of the best practices that I have seen working in other fisheries. Our policy objectives are clearly set out:
"Our policy is to manage the sea fisheries in UK waters in such a manner as to safeguard the natural environment; to rebuild and preserve our fish stocks and wildlife; to maximise the economic value of exploitable stocks, both in the short and in the long term, commensurate with the natural resource available and the environmental impact of so doing; to create a stable, equitable framework within which the fishing and allied industries can operate, including the recreational fishing sector and tourism; generally to protect the interests of the United Kingdom."
We set out a management framework with a series of tools and controls that have worked effectively in successful fisheries. The most important is effort control
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based on days at sea instead of fixed quotas. The immediate effect of adopting an effort control system to conserve fish stocks is that Government bodies, scientists and fishermen will be relieved of having to administer the labour-intensive and unpopular system of quota control. For many fishermen, it also relieves them of the double burden of having to deal with the EU imposition of quota controls and days at sea, with a significant reduction in bureaucracy.
The two best examples that I saw of such controls were in the Faroes and New England, where days at sea have completely rid fishermen of any incentive to cheat and land black fish and have broadly eliminated the hideous problem of discards. Above all, fishermen are co-operating with scientists. That is fundamental. In the UK, I am afraid that there is still a poisonous distrust in many areas between the scientific establishment, environmentalists and fishermen. The key gain is accurate datathat is fundamental because there is such a high level of discards and black fish landings that neither the Government, ICES or the EU commission know exactly what is going on. They are flying blind.
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