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Mr. Paterson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is extraordinary that it has taken so long for the message to get through, but we must be grateful that the authorities have got it at last. It is not just a question of depriving haddock and cod of a food source; there is a considerable by-catch of juvenile commercial species. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but I will come later to the grave doubts that I have about the scientific basis for the whole policy.
We would set up a completely different system for management and the creation of fishing plans. The idea is drawn from my experience in the States, where the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act sets the strategic framework. A diverse group of people serves on regional councils to devise the policy and, above all, enforce it. Commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and environmentalistsall those with a local interesttake decisions and debate matters. Apparently, the debates can get very rowdy and the police have been called on some occasions in New England. There is a strong tradition of local democracy and accountability there and, of course, the town meeting goes back to the 18th century.
There is great merit in having the activity managed as locally as possible by those who really understand it. We would want all local producers, processors, marketers and, above all, recreational fishermen to be involved. It is extraordinary that although we have 1 million recreational fishermen who spend £1 billion a year on their activity, they are totally excluded from making decisions on what could be a really exciting and expanding sector of the economy. We would expect such people to have full influence when recreational angling gives significant value to a fishery. There are 17 million sea anglers in America who sustain nearly 350,000 jobs. It is bizarre that this country excludes such an important group, which could grow and benefit our marine resources. We would like more to be done on marine ecosystems.
I am not quite sure whether I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, but he seemed to be implying
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that the Government were ignoring the interests of recreational fishermen. Was he listening at all to my earlier remarks? Perhaps he would like to associate himself with the proposed consultation on the increase in the minimum bass landing size as a sign of his commitment to recreational fishing.
Mr. Paterson: We have made it absolutely clear in our discussions with recreational fishermen that we would not stop at bass. We would like minimum landing sizes for all species to be increased. I know that the focusthe battering ramis bass because there will be great value in that. Decisions will be taken in Brussels, but I do not understand how the interests of recreational fishermen will be represented there. However, account is taken of such interests in America because of the regional councils. There are 5 million recreational anglers in Florida and they are directly involved in submitting their own information and contributing to the debate. Above all, they are involved in enforcement. For example, it is compulsory there to report every landinghundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish are landed by recreational anglers. The current system does not allow such a thing to happen.
On research, we would like far more emphasis on the impact of climate change and natural phenomena such as the north Atlantic oscillation, because such matters affect phytoplankton and zooplankton, which ultimately determine fish biomass. Such matters have much more influence on our fish stocks than fishing effort.
"The speed at which cod grow is very dependent on water temperature. Average bottom temperatures account for 90 per cent. of the observed difference in growth rates between different cod stocks in the North Atlantic".
The report shows the dramatic changes to the cod population that would occur if the temperature rose by 2, 3 or even 4°C. It states that future warming would lead to cod spreading even further north, but no account of that seems to have been taken at any stage of the deliberations.
The problem is confirmed by an entirely independent fishing expert, Menakhem Ben-Yami. He is an Israeli skipper who has worked for the Food and Agriculture Organisation and advised on fisheries throughout the world. He has made several interesting comments. He said:
"Illegal fishing and misreporting are direct results of wrong management, which in turn is the product of flawed science. Scientists are unable to properly assess stocks, or make reliable predictions, as long as they apply the present methodology. Current models are unable to represent marine fishing reality. They are innocent of ecology and ignore environmental factors, such as multi-annual, cyclic and semi-cyclic climatic fluctuations affecting the populations of fish and their prey and predators.
"When a multi-species fishery is managed by the weakest species, you reinforce the biomass of the prevailing species that often compete with the weakest one over food and habitat. Those species, say, whiting, haddock, in this case, with their large populations, simply benefit from the management applied to the cod, and thus makes its recovery even more difficult."
"It is now widely acknowledged, not least by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, that the scientific underpinning for setting quantitative limits on catches is for many stocks wobbly. The number of times the words 'uncertainty' or 'unreliable data' are used confirms that. There is a vicious cycle of poor data, weak assessments, low TACs, leading to weak compliance or discarding. This does not apply for all stocks or all areas but there is sufficient grounds to question the scientific underpinning for many quotas."
In the litany of woes, there is only one main reason for that: "excess fishing". It says nothing about food supply, other predation, climate change or plankton variations. In the Commission's book, the matter is black and white. It also takes a swipe at member states for "poor enforcement".
However, as the Minister said, the UK has already reduced its effort in the main cod fishery by 67 per cent. through a combination of decommissioning and effort control measures.
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What is going to happen is that the Minister will disappear for three days and nights and a vast amount of detail will be decided without proper consultation. Commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, environmentalists and anyone else who might exploit the marine environment will not be involved. Something like the 887 pages of detail that I have with me will emergewe got a further 17 pages on the day that the matter was last considered in Committee.
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