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Working collaboratively is vital if we are to realise the changes that we want to achieve. I am pleased that fishermen have been working closely with scientists through our fisheries science partnership. That has built
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up trust between often sceptical fishermen and my scientific advisers, leading to improved fisheries research overall. There are other examples of such activity: for instance, earlier this year fishermen and anglers worked collaboratively to draw up the recreational sea angling strategy that I published for consultation this morning.

To achieve sustainability, we need to build stocks. We must also put the right regulatory framework in place, both domestically and at the European level, to enable the fishing industry, sea angling businesses and others who depend on this vital resource to operate efficiently, profitably and in an environmentally responsible manner. We need a clearer, simpler and more transparent rights-based system for accessing fisheries, and we must make sure that the economic and social benefits from fishing, whether commercial or recreational, are shared fairly.

At a European level, we want the 2012 reform of the common fisheries policy to result in a decisive break with micro-management from Brussels and a major shift in long-term management plans for key stocks. We want the fishing industry and other stakeholders to be more fully engaged in the regional advisory councils, which need a more central role. We want a dramatic reduction in the number of annual decisions and in the volume of EU legislation. In addition, we need to make sure that our policies do not result in unintended negative impacts such as the tragic discards of North sea cod about which we heard this morning.

To achieve all those things, however, we need to work closely with our European partners so that we tackle the challenges together. We also need to work collaboratively across the UK, as we will have much more influence and be more effective in delivering real reform if the UK speaks with one voice.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the Minister agree that it would be easier for him to make his case at the top table in Europe if he had the ally of an independent Scotland sitting shoulder to shoulder beside him?

Jonathan Shaw: If the policy of the hon. Gentleman’s party is to pull out of the CFP, he will not be at any table. As the UK representative, I work with the Administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and, after a very good process of negotiation, we have agreed our position.

Mr. MacNeil: Does the Minister perhaps feel that Scotland would be better off going toe to toe with the EU, as Norway does, as opposed to having to take part in horse trading afterwards?

Jonathan Shaw: Members of the EU cannot pick and mix their policies. They cannot say, “We’ll be part of this but not part of that.” Signing up to the EU means signing up to all of its policies, so leaving the CFP would mean leaving the EU. However, as long as there is a UK Government, we will work with our partners and allies to develop a new CFP with much more effective regional councils. To achieve that, all member states must work together.

We must not try to manage fisheries in isolation. We are bringing forward proposals for a marine Bill that will give us the modern, streamlined, forward-looking
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management framework that we need if we are to achieve sustainable marine development. The proposed legislation will streamline regulation and make our marine laws more effective. It will provide the better, smarter, clearer regulation that fits with the Government’s broader policies of good regulation.

The integrated package of measures in the marine Bill will include proposals for a system of marine planning, as well as stronger arrangements for protecting marine nature and a streamlining of the process by which marine works such as wind farms are licensed. The Bill will also set out proposals to reform the sea fisheries committees and make them responsible for inshore fisheries management. The reform will be underpinned by a shift towards an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

In short, the Bill will provide much better co-ordination between the management of new systems and those already in place, with a stronger focus on sustaining our marine resources.

About two thirds of the fish that we eat is imported—a fact referred to by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill)—so we have a responsibility to contribute to the sustainability of fisheries globally. We are therefore leading global efforts to stop illegal fishing, which is a major threat to the sustainable management of fish stocks, and to biodiversity. It also threatens the livelihoods and basic food supplies of coastal communities. Illegal fishing is valued at $1 billion a year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), and I are working closely with businesses to address environmental issues and develop work on those concerns.

The work on illegal fishing follows on from the very good progress made by the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who was an excellent Fisheries Minister for a number of years. He championed that cause in his role as chair of the high seas task force. As the UK leads on the issue, I highlighted the importance of addressing the problem at the recent ministerial meeting on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Lisbon. I underlined the important role of UK fisheries, and retail and processing companies, that are developing systems to trace food from trawl to plate. In the European Commission we are championing seamless systems, such as those used by Young’s Bluecrest in Grimsby, so that minimal regulatory burdens are created when we regulate to prevent illegal fish imports.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I echo the Minister’s praise for Young’s, a firm of which we in Grimsby are very proud. The principles of traceability and sustainability are embodied in the new Great Grimsby range of fish products. All other fish fingers are now made in Germany by Birds Eye. At the party conference, our party leader praised the principle of British fish fingers for British consumers.

Jonathan Shaw: No one will disagree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: British fish fingers are now made in Grimsby. I know that my hon. Friend is retiring from the House.

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Mr. Mitchell: No.

Jonathan Shaw: Oh, he is not. That was clearly a fisherman’s tale, then. Birds Eye now produces fish fingers in Germany; perhaps Young’s needs a figurehead to promote Grimsby fish fingers, and I can think of no one better to display on its boxes of fish fingers than my hon. Friend.

Before I report on our priorities at the December Fisheries Council, I should like to mention other matters of importance, and to state what progress has been made this year. Many of our stocks remain in a fragile state, but there are signs of recovery. For the first time in eight years, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—ICES—has advised a non-zero catch for North sea cod. That is because fishing mortality has reduced to lower than precautionary levels, allowing the size of the mature stock to rebuild relatively rapidly to above the biologically safe level of 70,000 by 2009.

The improved situation has been achieved in part by the 2005 year class of cod approaching maturity. Importantly, because we have managed to cut the fishing pressure on cod, it is now at about 50 per cent. of its peak level, and is at a level that ICES terms “sustainable”. I shall return to that issue in the context of the forthcoming negotiations, but I highlight it now to demonstrate the action and responsibility that stakeholders across the sector have taken and the genuine sacrifices that people have made to achieve long-term sustainability. That joint action in pursuit of a shared goal was demonstrated in March, when stakeholders worked together to find more effective ways to assist the recovery of the Community’s cod stocks. That is indicative of the increasing role that stakeholders are playing in fisheries management.

We still have a lot to learn from fishermen and other people closely involved with the domestic fishing industry. The UK championed the establishment of regional advisory councils in the last round of common fisheries policy reforms in 2002, and the councils are now beginning to bear fruit in developing practical ideas to improve fisheries management. A significant number of recommendations made by regional advisory councils on, for instance, the cod recovery plan, the future of the Shetland box and the management of bottom gill nets have all been embraced by the Commission, member states and the fishing industry alike.

Stakeholders across the sector have shown leadership, and have taken action to improve the sustainability of fisheries. I am delighted that an industry-led shellfish strategy was published earlier this year, setting out a framework for achieving a sustainable and profitable shellfish sector. The next step is implementation and making a real difference on the ground. I am pleased that the industry is approaching that with equal vigour. I wish it every success, and I will help where I can to achieve those outcomes. The industry is involved with our science programmes to establish trust and a shared understanding of fish stocks. In particular, the fisheries science partnership brings together fishermen and scientists to address a range of problems. This year’s programme includes: putting bottom panels into the nets of south-western beam trawlers to release unwanted by-catch and improve the quality of the fish; looking at the survival rates of rays caught and released in the Thames and the Bristol channel; and plotting the distribution of
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cod across the whole of the North sea. Most importantly, a series of projects around the coast have been used to monitor the state of particular stocks, and for the first time the data generated have been used in international stock assessments, thus directly contributing to more effective fisheries management. I thank everyone involved in those projects.

Balancing the opportunities to catch fish with the available resource is one of the biggest challenges for fisheries management. There is a particular challenge this year—the quota available for vessels under 10 m in length and the creation of a sustainable inshore fishing fleet. That will require action in both the short and the long term. I have met a number of hon. Members and their staff to discuss the issue. I have spoken to many of the under-10 m fleets, and I am pursuing proposals for next year.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The Minister mentioned the positive and constructive role played by the industry in initiatives such as regional advisory councils and through other means. He will know that the Trevose closure off the north Cornish coast is entering its third year. Has he had an opportunity to review the success of measures such as closed areas, as opposed to a continued dependence on quotas? There is significant concern about the problem of discards, and it is not possible in the present scheme to distinguish between an intended and unintended over-quota catch.

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to look at closures, as I suggested to hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies. If the councils can develop and mature, closures will take place to ensure that juvenile stocks are avoided. That is how we should reform the common fisheries policy, rather than undertake a rather crude cut in days at sea. That will certainly be part of our negotiating position on North sea cod in December. More widely, that is how we want the CFP to develop, and we will be actively involved in such measures.

Mr. Goodwill: I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way again. Given what he said about learning from skippers and people in the industry, has he, like me, had the opportunity to go out with a potting vessel inshore, or perhaps deepshore for white fish, to see at first hand the associated problems and the discards going back into the water?

Jonathan Shaw: I regret that since my appointment, I have not been out on a fishing boat. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate the price of fuel and the fact that boats are often unsure how long they will be out. In his constituency, fishermen are rather reliant on the weather. However, a number of my officials have made trips on fishing vessels. I have visited a range of fisheries across the UK and it is my intention, after I have dealt with the Fisheries Council in December, to go out on a fishing vessel next year. Perhaps that will be off Scarborough. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he will bring the seasickness tablets. I am very grateful.

Our seas support a wide range of productive ecosystems that sustain extensive fishing industries as well as tourism, angling, diving, boating and other activities. We need to conserve these ecosystems to provide rich resources today and for future generations.

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Minister is right to highlight the rich and diverse ecosystem for which he is responsible. In my constituency we have an invasion of signal crayfish, an American type of crayfish that is driving out white crayfish—the British crayfish. As I understand it, permission for the introduction of that species was given by the Environment Agency. Should we not be very cautious when we allow non-native species to be introduced because of the potential effect on the ecosystems that we treasure?

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I shall look into the matter that he has raised on behalf of his area.

The major event before the year end is, of course, the December Fisheries Council where total allowable catches and other measures such as setting days at sea for cod fishing will be decided for 2008. The European Commission recently published its proposals for the regulation that sets the limits for 2008. Given the poor status of some of the key stocks, it is likely to be a significant challenge to deliver the necessary stock recovery while ensuring the long-term viability of the European fleet.

Following the EU’s negotiations with Norway, we agreed the TACs for several North sea species, including a cod TAC increase of 11 per cent., to which I referred this morning. This is a significant step, but only one step, in helping fisheries managers to reduce discards. We need to look at more innovative and creative ways to avoid catching too much cod in the first place. The UK is committed to reduce discarding in fisheries that catch cod. The UK is piloting a number of measures to that end, such as the voluntary real-time closures pilot in Scotland, which I have mentioned.

Andrew George: Will the Minister give way?

Jonathan Shaw: For the last time. Many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Andrew George: I shall be quick. Given that in the western approaches the quota of cod was caught in the early autumn, it is clear from the recruitment and mortality rates that cod stocks are recovering. Will the Minister bear that in mind when he is negotiating in Europe? It is clear to the fishermen in the south-west that the quota does not match the health of the stock.

Jonathan Shaw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have visited the south-west. I have not yet been to Newlyn, but I have been to Brixham. Many fishermen there tell me that they have had a very good year, not least for catching alternative fishes. Cuttlefish in particular have sold well. It is interesting that they are exported. When we go on holiday to Spain and other countries we eat cuttlefish there, but we do not seem to eat it in this country. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. In all these matters we need to balance conservation and ensuring that the fisheries are viable. I have said throughout my speech that we need to engage with the fishermen, but there need to be partnerships with the science as well.

The UK managed also to prevent too large a cut in the amount of haddock available to fishermen. This is important because, if we are to encourage fishermen
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not to catch too much cod, they will need other stocks to fish. We were also successful in limiting Norway’s proposed 80 per cent. cut in the TAC for whiting to a 25 per cent. reduction. That was a reasonable outcome, given the uncertainty in the scientific indicators for this species.

We supported the Commission in seeking to limit the extent of the cut in the herring TAC in line with the unanimously agreed pelagic regional advisory council position, and we regret the fact that Norway was unable to accept that advice. I am sure that the Scottish National party Members heard that; Norway does not always get it right.

I have jointly agreed with Michelle Gildernew, Richard Lochhead and Elin Jones, my colleagues in the devolved Administrations, the UK priorities for the December Fisheries Council. Those include resisting further blunt cuts in days at sea in favour of more focused management measures designed to reduce fishing mortality, such as real-time closures, increased use of more selective gear and new incentives to avoid catching cod. Those appropriate options are currently being discussed with UK industry.

We will also seek to ensure that there are no cuts in total allowable catch for stocks in respect of which the Commission’s justification is simply that the quotas have not been taken up in previous years; unused quotas are not necessarily indicative of reduced availability, but often reflect fishermen’s reactions to varying market conditions for particular stocks. We need to maintain that potential flexibility.

As I mentioned earlier, the scientific work undertaken in collaboration with the industry is bearing fruit, and we intend to deploy the latest material to support our case when it suggests that the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is not sufficiently current. I am also pleased to report that, following concerted pressure from the UK—in particular during our presidency—the Commission and ICES have developed an improved timetable of scientific advice and consultation in the run-up to December’s meeting. From next year, ICES will release its scientific advice in July, thereby enabling earlier publication of proposals by the Commission. That will allow more time to consult the regional advisory councils and other stakeholders, and to influence the Commission’s formal proposals. That is clearly a welcome development.

I am pleased to have made my first address in this fisheries debate and to see so many Members here. I look forward to hearing their contributions.

4.1 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I pay tribute to the brave fishermen who have lost their lives in the past 12 months. We should always remember that fishing is a dangerous occupation; sadly, fishing families and communities suffer terrible tragedies. I also pay tribute to Fishermen’s Mission, whose badge I am wearing—that unique charity, founded in 1881, deserves our thanks.

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