Consultation on Fisheries Management Proposals

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Mr. Bradshaw: No, I am afraid that I cannot, but the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a potential problem, in that it would be in the Norwegians’ interests to change their fishing calendar to fit in with any such changes that we introduced.
Bill Wiggin: Under the proposals, most of the scientific evidence that is relevant to the UK fishing industry will still be unavailable until October. That means that the time frame in which the UK can assess the recommendations and make decisions is the same as before the proposals. Can the Minister say whether there are any plans to change the time in which the data from scientific surveys become available, so that the UK benefits from a longer consultation period?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that under the changes the majority of stocks of interest to the UK industry would still be unavailable until later in the year. It may be that the main stocks in terms of volume and value—nephrops stocks are the main ones for the UK industry, followed by the pelagic and white fish stocks—would be made available earlier, which would be helpful.
Mr. Carmichael: May I refer the Minister to page 23 of the bundle? Step 1 of paragraph 3.5, which is headed “Changing the timing of legislative proposals and decisions”, relates to the period June to October. It outlines the proposals in relation to the management of stocks for which the Community alone has responsibility and
“for which ICES scientific advice is available in June”.
The final sentence of step 1 says:
“This approach could be extended in future to pelagic stocks managed by the Community alone and (subject to reaching earlier agreement with other coastal states) to blue whiting, mackerel and shared herring stocks.”
Can the Minister say what is being done to achieve that, because it could be significant?
Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot, but I imagine that such issues are being closely discussed with Norway, Iceland and the other countries with which we have the annual negotiations. I imagine that it would also be in their interest to reach agreement as early as possible so that they, too, do not face the same time pressures as we have done. The hon. Gentleman will remember that a couple of years ago we did not get an agreement with Norway in time for the December Council. That made life very difficult.
Bill Wiggin: Currently, there is a general rule that TACs are not usually altered by a margin of more than 15 per cent. Is the communication likely to lead to more instances in which special circumstances mean that that general rule will be circumvented?
Mr. Bradshaw: I very much doubt it. As I explained in my answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), the trend is towards more multi-annual approaches because that provides more long-term stability for the industry.
The contrary to what the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) suggests will be the case. He will find that there will be fewer examples of the Commission or member states being prepared to go outside the 15 per cent., up or down. However, there are occasional exceptions to the rule. I mentioned nephrops earlier. A year or two ago, there were sole in the south-west. When we got an increase significantly bigger than 15 per cent., that was a big benefit to our industry. However, such cases are exceptions and we shall see fewer and fewer of them.
Mr. Reid: Can the Minister tell us during which month the scientific advice on nephrops will be available in future?
Mr. Bradshaw: June.
Bill Wiggin: Has the Minister done an assessment of the impact that changing from over-fishing, which I think is where we are at the moment, to maximum sustainable yield will have on the 26,000 jobs that depend on the UK fishing industry?
Mr. Bradshaw: No, we have not. The process is long-term; we aim to conclude it by 2015. However, as I said in a previous answer, it would be wrong to see achieving maximum sustainable yield as a zero-sum game. Although there may well be difficult decisions in the short term, the long-term objective is to have a much bigger and healthier stock and therefore a bigger and healthier fishing industry.
Mr. Carmichael: May I take the Minister to page 26 of the bundle? It is an extract from the European Scrutiny Committee’s 37th report. The bottom of the page states that
“catches of many demersal species, such as cod and haddock, have declined dramatically in recent years, as a result of too much fishing in relation to their productive potential.”
I do not hold the Minister responsible for the content of that report, but will he confirm that that statement does not bear robust scrutiny, particularly in respect of haddock?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes. That is surprising; the hon. Gentleman may like to raise the issue with the Committee.
Mr. MacNeil: Has the fishing, the economic exploitation, of any other species been adversely affected by the strictures of the cod recovery plan?
Mr. Bradshaw: I suppose it could be argued that this year’s fishing of haddock has been marginally affected. If boats are not able to use technical measures to avoid catching cod and they are targeting haddock and reaching their cod allocation, that, of course, will have an impact on whether they can carry on fishing for haddock.
Bill Wiggin: What other measures does the Minister think that the EU needs to resolve to meet the Johannesburg commitments to maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields and will that be done by 2015, the target date?
Mr. Bradshaw: I hope that it will be done by 2015, because they are important commitments that have been signed up to not only by the EU and us as a nation state but by the world community. There is growing concern, not only in this country but around the world, about the over-exploitation of our marine resources. A report recently suggested that if we did not do something drastic over the next few years, most of the world’s commercial fish stocks would be at or near extinction by 2045. I think that that was slightly over-dramatised, but it gave people an indication of the seriousness of the challenge. As I have said, the UK Government is in the vanguard of the countries in the European Union that are doing their best to hold the Commission and the other member states to those commitments.
Bill Wiggin: What does the Minister think will be the key objectives for the December Fisheries Council and for the EU Norway negotiations? Will he tell the Committee what he would consider to be a successful outcome for the British fishing industry?
Mr. Bradshaw: That is a subject for a whole other debate, which we will have on the Floor of the House in the next couple of weeks. The UK objective—I am sorry that this is the answer that I give every year—is to maximise fishing opportunities for our industry where that is justified by the science, but to be prepared to take tough measures where there is real concern about the health of a stock in order to secure that stock and fishing opportunities in the future. In terms of an overall agreement, we will hope again to try to persuade the Commission that it needs to stick as closely to the scientific advice as it possibly can, while recognising that there needs to be an agreement and that in order to have a qualified majority sometimes the original recommendations and proposals need to be changed somewhat. We will certainly be fighting for British interests but, more importantly, I think, we will be fighting for the interests of fish.
Mr. Carmichael: The Minister will see in the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, on page 27, the various elements that would be involved in the construction of a long-term plan, one of which is that it would
“be based on impartial scientific advice”.
So say all of us. What can the Minister do to ensure that we broaden the base of that scientific advice, particularly if there are now challenges to what the Minister describes as the scientific consensus, for example about the impact of water temperature on fish stocks? How can we ensure that that information is fed in and that work is expanded and resourced in the way that the traditional stock level research has done?
Mr. Bradshaw: That is certainly an issue that we have been feeding in, and that I know that the North sea regional advisory council has fed in, to the process of preparation for the December council. It is important that ICES and other organisations look as far as they can, given the uncertainty about the potential impact of warming that I referred to earlier. It is important, too, that we do not take on some of the drastic recommendations that have been made by august institutions such as the Royal Society to close off most of the North sea based around the state of one stock that might well be threatened in that area because of multiple causes, not just over-fishing.
Bill Wiggin: May I press the Minister a little more on the scientific basis that was the core part of that question? Who will provide the science for the basis of the Commission’s policy statement that will be published in April? Will it come from ICES, STECF or someone else?
Mr. Bradshaw: It will come primarily from ICES, which is the internationally recognised institution that provides such advice, but we feed in our own views based on some of the successful fisheries science partnerships that the Government have pioneered in recent years. I recognised when I came into this job that in many cases there was a Berlin wall between the industry and the scientists, and that we would not get anywhere unless there was much better buy-in by the industry to the science. Some of the schemes have been very successful. For example, I hope that one of them will lead to a positive move on monkfish in Scotland at this December’s Council.
Mr. MacNeil: For the record, I would like the Minister to explain what he believes are the positive achievements of the cod recovery plan. What yardstick will be used to mark its end, or will it carry on for an infinite period of time?
Mr. Bradshaw: I do not want to be accused of being complacent about the cod recovery plan. Although the decline in cod was steady and dramatic for a number of years, it now seems to have stopped. As I said earlier, the 2005 recruitment is better than it has been for several years, but, by historical standards, it is still low. It is only one year class, and it can be fished out quickly and easily.
The measurement of success for the current recovery plan is whether it hits its objective of recovering stock to a safe biomass. We are still a long way from that, which is one of the reasons why the Commission is considering a root and branch review of the plan next year. It is important that we are engaged intensively in that and that we get it right.
Bill Wiggin: Under the plan, quota management will be separated from other management decisions such as those relating to fishing effort. Is there likely to be further separation, or will that structure remain in place?
Mr. Bradshaw: There is likely to be further separation between effort and quota management because of the need for a more sophisticated approach to managing our fisheries. We are already seeing an increasing role for effort controls as opposed to quota management. For example, a drastic reduction in the TAC for cod this year would not make much sense because of the new recruitment. All that it would lead to would be an increase in discards. Effort would be a more sensible way of addressing the continuing need to protect cod.
Bill Wiggin: Could the Minister let us know the timetable for the other management decisions and separate regulations that are mentioned in section 3.6 of the communication?
Mr. Bradshaw: As I said, the Commission has already committed itself to producing more details on that next year, and we will certainly keep up the pressure for the rest of the proposals in the original action plan to be addressed as soon as possible.
Bill Wiggin: In the Minister’s explanatory memorandum, he states that
“Commission clearance procedures prevent early release of formal proposals”.
With that in mind, how accurate will the Commission’s policy statement be, and how much of it is likely to correlate with the formal proposals?
Mr. Bradshaw: Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the December Council proposals? His question is not clear.
Bill Wiggin: I think I am asking the questions in this Committee.
The Chairman: I think that the Minister has answered as best he can.
Mr. Bradshaw: Without clarification as to whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to the December Council proposals or the maximum sustainable yield proposals, it is difficult for me to answer the question, Mr. Weir. [Interruption.]
The Chairman: One at a time, please, gentlemen. We shall now move to the motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
“That the Committee takes note of European Union documents No. 9898/06, Commission Communication on improving consultation on Community fisheries management and No. 11373/06 Commission Communication on implementing sustainability in EU fisheries through maximum sustainable yield; as well as the Commission’s policy statement on fishing opportunities for 2007; and supports the Government’s objective of ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish stocks through an effective management process, whilst at the same time, providing a sustainable future for the UK fishing industry.”—[Mr. Bradshaw.]
5.19 pm
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