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Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

Fishing Activities (Monitoring)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Eric Martlew
Barlow, Ms Celia (Hove) (Lab)
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
Mudie, Mr. George (Leeds, East) (Lab)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Winnick, Mr. David (Walsall, North) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
MacNeil, Mr. Angus (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) (LD)

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 12 December 2006

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Fishing Activities (Monitoring)

[Relevant Documents: EU Document No. 14181/04 relating to Electronic Recording and Reporting of Fishing Activities and Means of Remote Sensing.]
4.30 pm
The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I regret that it was not possible for this debate to take place before the November Fisheries Council, where unanimous political agreement was reached on the presidency compromise text contained in document OS 814/06, which hon. Members have before them.
The text provides for the following: the use of electronic logbooks and landing declarations by over-24 m vessels 24 months after the entry intoforce of the detailed implementing rules; the extension of the provision to over-15 m vessels after a further18 months; the use of electronic sales notes from1 January 2009 by registered buyers and sellers of first sale fish who have an annual turnover of more than €400,000; and member states to have capacity to use remote sensing from 1 January 2009, but only where there is clear evidence of the cost benefit.
All members of the Committee would agree that compliance with fisheries legislation is extremely important for profitability and sustainability. The introduction of the buyers and sellers requirement into the UK, which was done in the teeth of considerable opposition from some sectors of the industry, has resulted in an 8 per cent. increase in the value of fish landings in the UK in the past year, partly due to the squeezing out of illegal fish.
Electronic recording systems, or e-logbooks for short, offer a further opportunity to use new technology to improve the effectiveness of our enforcement and, at the same time, to deliver significant reductions in the administrative burdens placed on both fishermen and fisheries administrations. Although we are enthusiastic about the opportunities that that the proposal offers, we were concerned to ensure both that it worked and that we had enough time to make the necessary changes. The successfully completed secure and harmonised European electronic logbooks, or SHEEL, trials have answered the first of those points. I also believe that the lead-in times agreed at the Council in November will give us enough time to develop our systems to achieve the maximum possible improvements.
Remote sensing is the means to detect the presence of fishing vessels using satellite imagery. It is not a major element of the package, but it can, in certain circumstances, provide a useful means of targeting aerial or surface surveillance resources. We already have the capability to use that technology, so the proposal has no major implications for us.
Finally, the European Scrutiny Committee raised concerns about the potential costs to the industry of the new requirements. In fact, nearly all of our vessels that will be affected already have the necessary computer hardware and will only have to acquire the relevant software. Transmission costs should not exceed £250 a year. I believe that the potential savings in time and effort to the industry, given the current paper-based system, will justify those modest additional costs.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. May I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and should be asked one at a time? I am sure that there will be ample time for hon. Members to ask all their questions.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Martlew. What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship.
I thank the Minister for his opening statement. The regulation was designed to prevent illegal fishing. What estimate does he have of the amount of fish that is currently caught illegally? Which member states vessels are the worst offenders?
Mr. Bradshaw: It is very difficult to give an estimate of the amount of fish that is caught illegally, because by definition, such activity is illegal. A number of estimates have been made and a number of studies have been done. I believe that I am right in saying that the European Commission publishes an annual reporton levels of compliance in member states. As far asthe UK is concerned, the situation has improved dramatically in recent years, particularly as a result of the introduction of the requirement for the registration of first buyers and sellers, to which I referred. That measure means that, for the first time, there is proper traceability all the way through the system, from the catching to the selling of the fish. As I also said, that has squeezed out illegal landings and has benefited the majority of fishermen, who have always acted within the law. They have seen a robust increase in the price and value of their landings as a result.
The Chairman: I call Alistair Carmichael, whom I recognise, even with the beard.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Martlew. I welcome you to the Chair.
The Minister referred to the welcome and dramatic impact of the changes that have come into force in relation to merchants. When he considers the extension of the provision to boats of 15 m or more, will he factor in that benefit when doing the cost-benefit analysis in relation to smaller boats? They will have very different margins from boats of a larger size.
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, and that is partly why the compromise introduced the threshold for buyers and sellers and gave a longer lead-in time for smaller vessels. However, we will certainly factor in those differential cost-benefits.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will there be a period in which the industry will have to have both hard and digitalised copies of records? Has the Minister assessed the burdens that that would place on the industry?
Mr. Bradshaw: There should already be hard copies in the form of logbooks. The proposal would simply replace the rather onerous paper-based system with a more easily transmissible electronic one that many fishermen already use—for example, for marketing purposes—well in advance of the introduction of the requirements. When we trialled the system, the fishing vessels, one of which was from the west of Scotland in the nephrops fishery—I cannot recall where the other one was—the skippers were so pleased with the results that they are already using it for their own benefit.
Bill Wiggin: Why has it taken more than two years for the regulation to get this far? The original one was supposed to come into force on 1 January. When will it actually become law?
Mr. Bradshaw: It has taken so long because of shared concerns about the readiness of the software, which is why we piloted it, not only in the UK, but in other countries. Before we voted in the Council and committed our industry to implementation, we wanted to make sure that it worked. Members will remember occasions on which measures have been passed in the Council when the technology was not right. A classic example of that is pingers and cetacean by-catch. It was sensible to wait, and I have nothing to add to the datelines that I gave in my original remarks.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): On Saturday, I had occasion to discuss the proposal with Fred Normandale, a skipper and owner of a number of boats in Scarborough. There is an acceptance—enthusiasm is perhaps too strong a word—in the industry that if the proposal can help to clamp down on illegal fishing by other member states, it is to be welcomed.
The Minister mentioned that there will be a lead-in time to provide sufficient time for the technology to be installed. The problem is that some people might wait until the last minute before making the expenditure. Has he considered any incentives for early adoption of the technology to ensure that not everybody does that?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am gratified to learn that there is already a certain level of knowledge and recognition of the proposal, judging from the hon. Gentleman’s conversation with Mr. Normandale. He makes an important point: although compliance in this country is generally regarded as pretty good, the same is not true in every EU member state. The proposal is yet another measure to help the Commission ensure a level playing field in fisheries enforcement.
There is still some time to go before the detailed proposals are drawn up—it is likely to take at least another year. The 24 months and further 18 months that I mentioned in my introductory remarks are in addition to that, which should give the industry plenty of time to prepare. As I said, many skippers have adopted the technology already and simply need the software. I suspect that many will get it well in advance of the detailed proposals, because it will bring other benefits.
Mr. Carmichael: As I read them, the regulations will require daily and real-time reporting. The Minister will be aware that from time to time computers and telecommunications fail. Most of the boats to which the regulations will apply earliest will be working 10-day trips, at least. What provisions will be put in place in order to ensure that other options will be available to skippers in the event of technological failures, short of returning to port?
Mr. Bradshaw: Certainly, I want UK fisheries inspectors, including those in Scotland, to implement the regulations sensibly and proportionately and to bear in mind genuine problems with technology. The critical thing is that the regulations are about making sure that catches and landings are recorded accurately. The absolute requirement for daily recordings—particularly on long trips, which might have technical problems or challenges—will, I am sure, be taken into account by the fisheries authorities on both sides of the border.
Mr. Williams: The regulations require that initially the technology should be used on vessels of more than 24 m, and then, after an assessment, on vessels of more than 15 m. They also give the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the power to require vessels of less than 15 m to use the technology if it believes that that would be of benefit. What view has DEFRA taken on that?
Mr. Bradshaw: We have not yet taken a definitive view; we want to see how the technology works on the big vessels first. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out something that I omitted to say in my initial remarks—that the extension of the technology to vessels of more than 15 m will be subject to a review. That could mean that the matter comes back to the full Council, rather than being settled in committee as the initial stage will be.
Bill Wiggin: Section (6a) on page 47 states that the
“formats which national competent authorities will use to exchange information for control and inspection purposes should be defined in detailed implementing rules.”
Will the Minister provide any details on those rules and when we can expect them to be produced?
Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot at this stage. Those implementing rules still need to be negotiated, and it is likely to take at least 12 months for those to be agreed and put in place. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could come back to me at that time. Otherwise, I promise to write to him once we have a better idea of what those rules will entail.
Mr. Carmichael: May I draw the Minister’s attention to page 8 of the bundle? The second sentence in the first paragraph of the explanatory memorandum states: “Since 1992 it”, that is, the European Community,
“promoted the introduction of the satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) as a tool to efficiently control its fishing fleet,”—
the grammar is not mine—
“irrespective of where it is operating, and third country fleets when operating within Community waters.”
What is the position particularly in respect of Norwegian fleets operating in the North sea?
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Prepared 13 December 2006