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Emily Thornberry: Of course it is, but it is also about taking responsibility for our island and for the seas around it, which we are looking after for a period and
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must pass on to the next generation. We must make sure that when we do, there are sufficient fish there.

People who catch scampi use small nets with small holes, which catch far too many other species, particularly cod, which are then chucked overboard, dead and dying. It used to be that one could simply catch cod with enormous ease. That is no longer so. It may be down to global warming and it may be because they are hiding round the back of Iceland, but I suspect not. I suspect it is because we have caught too many.

Mr. Salmond: What percentage does the hon. Lady believe that the cod stock, which she seems to think is the only important species in the sea, represents of the entire fishing industry that she seeks to destroy by her policy?

Emily Thornberry: I am not seeking to destroy the fishing industry. I am seeking to ensure that there is a fishing industry in five, 10 or 50 years. In 50 years’ time there should still be a fishing industry, but there will not be if we carry on catching fish. Of the eight main species of fish that we catch from the North sea, five are being over-fished. My constituents and I understand that.

Michael Jabez Foster: My hon. Friend pursues an interesting argument, but what does she suggest that the fishermen of Hastings and Rye do in the next five years while her moratorium takes effect?

Emily Thornberry: There are plenty of types of fish that can be caught apart from species that are at crisis level such as cod. I want to put the following point on the record so that we understand the nature of the problem that we are talking about: over the past three years, levels of cod have been a third below the absolute minimum precautionary levels. That is serious. That is not funny; that is not something to laugh at. We do not want to lose the cod from our seas, and we should do something about this problem.

One policy idea that we should look at very closely is putting quotas on cod by-catch. A cod by-catch quota would address the by-catch of cod, which effectively doubles the amount of cod caught each year and undermines the cod recovery plan. I suggest that the cod quota be the same as it is now, but that it covers all catches of cod so that the cod by-catch would meet the quota.

Mr. Carmichael: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: I would like to make a little progress, if I may. Given that the current cod by-catch would cover the entire quota, we should take a careful look at the fact that we are throwing half our cod into the sea dead and dying and that we are running out of cod.

The fishermen—those whom my hon. Friends and other Members represent—have a responsibility to ensure that when the children and grandchildren of my inner-city constituents go to the seaside there is still fish in the ocean. They have a responsibility to ensure that when the grandchildren of my constituents go into a fish and chip shop they do not have to buy chips alone.
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Mr. Weir: I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but do not her inner-city constituents also have a responsibility to buy not cod but something else when they go to the supermarket? Many of them will probably eat cod or cod fish fingers for their tea tonight.

Emily Thornberry: I agree, and that leads me on to my next point.

During the brief period that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have been going around my primary schools—there are more than 20—and talking to their pupils, particularly about the marine Bill and its importance. I have been struck by the passion of such young children when they are told that we are overfishing five out of eight species and that there are a possibility of there no longer being the traditional fish that they thought would always be in the seas because they thought they would always be safe from extinction. When they are told that we are running out of such fish and that we have to take radical steps, they are spurred into action.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have posters from Rotherfield primary school—although I am not allowed to show them as we are not allowed to use visual aids in the Chamber. I also attended an assembly of class 6 of St. Mary Magdalene primary school at which pupils got up and explained how important it was that we preserved our fish. A little child of about 10 years of age stood up and made an impassioned speech about how important it is that there are still fish in our seas. The point that I have made about fish and chip shops was her idea; she asked her fellow pupils whether they wanted to grow up in a world in which when they go to a fish and chip shop they only get chips. That makes the point absolutely clearly.

Bill Wiggin: Was the hon. Lady as dismayed as I was to learn that the Government will not introduce the marine Bill in the current Session—and that on top of its not having been introduced in the previous Session? We were told by the Minister today that it will not be introduced until before the next general election. In light of that, how will she now answer the children she has mentioned when they ask her about fish and chips?

Emily Thornberry: I understand that the manifesto commitment is that we will have a marine Bill, and I want to do as much as I can from the Back Benches to ensure that there is a marine Bill—and that it is an effective one. I understand also that there will be a White Paper in the near future. I represent 70,000 constituents, and I hope that I will be able to have a say in respect of that White Paper so that I can make it clear that the seas are important to everyone—not just those who represent constituencies on the margins of Britain.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: My hon. Friend’s fisheries policy seems to be formulated on the basis of what the children of Islington want, and because of that she is asserting a logical impossibility. There will be fish in the fish and chip shops. There will not be a total absence of it, but it will probably come from Iceland where, as Members have pointed out, the catches are increasing and the stocks are being sustained because
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they are managed by Icelandic fishermen rather than by a European common fisheries policy. She is implying that there should be a ban on all the ancillary catches to which cod is a by-catch, so that fishing of haddock and many other fish would be banned. The real problem is getting sustainable yields from cod stocks. The question is whether we can return to that situation in the light of climate change, which is pushing the cod stocks north.

Emily Thornberry: I do not believe that there is such a thing as a sustainable level of cod catch at the moment, because for the past five years scientific advice has told us that we should not be catching any. I know that, as politicians, we have to be pragmatic in this House and elsewhere, and that politics is about compromise. If there has to be a yield, it must include the by-catch; otherwise, it means nothing.

Mr. Carmichael rose—

Emily Thornberry: If I may, I shall move on to my next point.

Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: We have heard a great deal from the hon. Gentleman and as he tells us, he has many opportunities to speak in many different forums. I have given way many times already.

The children in year 4 of Clerkenwell Parochial school will not get an opportunity—

Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May we now establish whether or not the hon. Lady is giving way?

Emily Thornberry: I give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—for the last time.

Mr. Salmond: Speaking from what the hon. Lady described as the margins of Britain, I should point out that, whenever her new policy on the fishing industry is considered, it will be recognised that in the past 10 minutes she has done more to assist my party’s campaign for the Scottish Parliament than any other Member has done for many years. I encourage her to speak in every debate, so that those of us from the margins can understand the Labour party’s view from Islington.

Emily Thornberry: Whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, those who are by the sea and are therefore on the edge of Britain are on the margins. I am sorry—I was being deliberately provocative and I should not have been; I have many more important things to do than deliberately to provoke the hon. Gentleman.

I have some examples of the letters written by children in year 4 of Clerkenwell Parochial school. One states:

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The Labour politicians and electorate of Islington have a great belief in closed circuit television. One young boy from the school who shares that belief thinks that, if we put more CCTV cameras around the edges of the sea and by the rivers, we might be able to prevent people from overfishing. Perhaps my Government could consider that idea.

Let me read another letter from a year 4 pupil:

So there have been letters, posters and petitions. I want to finish—[Hon. Members: “No. More.”] Members may know that “Another Brick in the Wall” was sung recently by Islington children. I am not going to sing—I am told that I am not allowed to—but alternative lyrics to that song have been written by a child from another Islington school. The lyrics to “Another Fish in the Sea” are as follows:

4.38 pm

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to take part in another annual fishing debate. This year’s debate has been different from previous years. The contribution of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) certainly approached the fishing debate from a different angle than we are used to.

Another difference has been watching Conservative Front Benchers undertake a very slow U-turn. We were speculating a year ago that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was initiating that U-turn. It is still under way, and I hope that the Conservatives arrive at a sensible fishing policy once they have finished their inquiry. We certainly need to operate within a common fisheries policy, and I hope that it can be reformed, so that it gives local fishermen and other stakeholders a much better say in the management of their regional waters. The regional advisory committees are a welcome step forward, but we need more progress and I hope that, in time, they will become regional management committees with a real say in how fishing operates in their areas. We must get away from the annual horse trading at the Fisheries Council in Brussels in December every year.

I was pleased to learn, when we had a debate in the European Standing Committee about a fortnight ago, that in future the scientific advice from ICES will come forward much earlier, in June instead of in October. That will allow more time for debate, instead of the rushed debate we have to have between October and December.

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Nephrops is the main species fished for on the west coast of Scotland. We have seen some scientific to-ing and fro-ing in recent months on nephrops. This year there were significant increases in nephrops TACs on the basis of the advice from the Commission’s Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries last year. However, this year ICES suggested another methodology, but it would have resulted in a cut in the TAC. I am pleased to say that the Commission’s advisers have rejected that methodology and stuck to their 2005 methodology. If accepted, that will mean an increase in the TAC on the west coast of Scotland.

Nephrops stocks on the west coast of Scotland are certainly healthy. The ICES advice is that in the North Minch nephrops stocks increased sharply between 2001 and 2003. The higher level of abundance in 2003 has been maintained in the latest survey. In the South Minch, the population fluctuated without trend between 1995 and 2000, but remained more stable and at a slightly higher level from 2001 to 2003. A further increase in abundance in 2004 has been maintained in the latest survey.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned CCTV and she will be pleased to learn that ICES does in fact carry out television surveys under British waters. In the Firth of Clyde, for example, two surveys were conducted in the past year and the result suggests that the population of nephrops there has increased steadily since 1999, with the latest estimate being the highest in the series. A similar television survey in the Sound of Jura suggested that the nephrops population has been fairly stable for the past five years. Surveys in sea lochs with important creel fisheries also suggest a widespread distribution of nephrops. Without a doubt, nephrops stocks are healthy.

Investigation has also shown that by-catches of cod when fishing for nephrops are low in the west of Scotland. There is, therefore, no reason for any reduction in TAC or fishing effort. The west coast TAC has not been fully fished out this year, but I hope that the Commission will not use that as a reason to reduce next year’s TAC. That would be illogical, because it would punish fishermen for fishing moderately instead of making an all-out effort to catch the whole TAC.

Despite the healthy stocks of nephrops, there is a serious threat to the prawn fleet, which is the proposed 25 per cent. reduction in days at sea. That proposal has no scientific foundation. The scientific surveys have shown that the nephrops stocks are healthy and that the cod by-catch is very low. Therefore, I urge the Minister to fight vociferously against that proposal in Brussels.

In the spring, when there is a concentration of spawning cod in the Firth of Clyde, the spawning area is rightly closed to fishing to preserve stocks, so there is no justification for a further cut in days at sea. The Minister must ensure at the Fisheries Council that there is no cut in days at sea for the nephrops fleet and that the nephrops TAC is set at a level no lower than this year’s.

4.45 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Fishing debates tend to be dominated by MPs representing coastal constituencies with strong commercial fishing
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interests. We heard an interesting contribution from the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox), but all hon. Members who care about the aquatic environment will be interested in a wonderful book by The Daily Telegraph’s environment correspondent, Charles Clover, called “The End of the Line”. Vivid and eye opening, it argues that our passion for fish is simply unsustainable.

Seventy five per cent. of the world’s fish stocks are now fully exploited or over-fished. The most popular varieties risk extinction in the next few decades. The problem with commercial fishing is that fish are a wonderful source of protein, for poor countries’ swelling populations and—because they are generally better for us than meat—for health-conscious gourmets in richer places.

As our appetite for fish has grown, so has our ability to catch them. Modern gadgets such as sonar, global positioning, systems plotters, sea mapping software, echo sounding, radio beacons and bathymetric generators enable today’s vast fishing boats to find and catch their prey as never before.

Some types of fish, such as prawns and salmon, can be farmed, but industrial fishing remains largely a matter of hunting down prey—what Charles Clover calls “fish mining”. That is an apt term, as commercial fishermen now haul fish out much faster than they can replenish stocks.

As my hon. Friend the Minister noted earlier, the global outlook is extremely bleak. In many places, certain species may never recover, but some fisheries policies have been proved to work. Mr. Clover suggests that we opt for independent management, long-term transferable quotas, marine reserves and, above all, much greater openness. Ideally, that openness can be achieved by satellites and the internet revealing what every boat is doing. In other words, Mr. Clover is arguing for a marine Bill—or probably a marine Bill-plus. If hon. Members are short of Christmas reading, I strongly recommend “The End of the Line” as a stocking filler.

I want to focus on issues related to freshwater fisheries, especially in the context of today’s welcome announcement by the Minister that the Government are to implement the bulk of the recommendations of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review carried out in 2000 by Professor Warren and her committee. The history of fisheries legislation, especially in respect of freshwater fisheries, is somewhat chequered. A previous Government commissioned the 1961 Bledisloe report, but anglers had to wait 14 years for the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. We have had to show great patience in the six years since the Warren review, but the Government are to be commended for halving the time that it has taken them to respond.

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