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That situation has been made slightly worse because the industry is smarting from the decision that the Fisheries Council took last week on the west coast white fish sector. That is likely to have an impact, not just on the Scottish industry but around the country, because of the displacement that may be caused, because of other factors and, more importantly, because of the attitude taken by the Commission. There is deep concern, certainly about the attitude of the Fisheries Council,
because the decision seemed to show that it is still in the driving seat, and that there is still centralised control. The industry saw the emergency regulations introduced earlier in the year as temporary, and there was real concern and surprise when the Council extended them. That is a serious matter for concern.
It is quite clear from the UK industry-this comes through in the NFFO publication mentioned earlier, and in publications from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation-that it strongly wishes to move away from the current centralised approach, and towards a regional management system, whereby local decisions can be taken by stakeholders under a process of rigorously applied and regulated criteria. That is certainly set out in the Commission's green paper, but the question is whether the attitude recently shown by the Commission suggests that it is seriously likely to consider that route. That is something that we need to consider carefully.
The Minister mentioned the number of jobs in the industry, but he did not mention the onshore side of the industry-the fish processing side. It is going through difficulties of its own. It suffers the same uncertainty about supplies, but of course it can, and does, import from ports around the world. Like every other business, fish processing businesses are under pressure, particularly because of the lending position taken by many banks. Those businesses face the same difficulties as the rest of British industry, and we should recognise the importance of fish processors to the fishing industry.
The Minister rightly paid tribute to those fishermen- 12 this year-who have lost their lives in the UK fishing industry. We all know that the fishing industry is the most dangerous industry in this country. A research project carried out by two academics at Swansea university and published in 2007 set out the shocking figures. The fatal accident rate for UK fishermen between 1996 and 2005 was 115 times higher than that of the general UK work force. By comparison with other specific areas of work, that rate was 81 time higher than that in manufacturing, and 24 times higher than in the most dangerous onshore industry, construction.
That research was followed by a report by the marine accident investigation branch, which was published last year. I know that the MAIB is not part of the Minister's Department, but it investigated the causes of death of the 256 commercial fishermen who died in 180 separate marine accidents between 1992 and 2006. Those statistics were added to and highlighted when Seafish published its report "The Price of Fish?" earlier this year. Seafish is to be congratulated on the report and on the work that it is doing on the subject.
The title of the report is apposite, because we know that as the economics get tougher in any industry, particularly the fishing industry, more and more risks are taken; that is a sign of the times. That is a matter that we need to be cautious and careful about, and we need to invest much more to tackle the problem. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) talked about the culture of the industry. One anecdote that has stayed with me throughout the time that I have represented a fishing community is that of the old fisherman who was shown a new type of lifejacket. His first response to it was, "Aye, son, but does it catch fish?" That is the culture of the industry. It is a dangerous
culture, and we need to work to change that. I make a simple plea to the Minister: in all the hectic rounds of talks and negotiations over quotas, which do not happen just at this time of year but throughout the year, will he and the Government as a whole not lose sight of the importance of the safety of our fishermen?
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I begin by praising the work of the Angling Trust, whose headquarters are in Leominster, in my constituency. I am very proud that it has chosen to base itself there. Herefordshire has the famous River Wye, the finest salmon river in England. The Angling Trust came into effect in January 2009-the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and I were there-and it has provided a unified voice for angling needs, which is a tremendous asset. Some 4 million anglers contribute £1 billion to the economy and support more than 20,000 jobs. The trust has done a good job of keeping the interests of angling to the fore in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that it is essential that angling interests are properly represented on inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and are not just lumped in with other interests. They need a proper voice.
Angling is a great inclusive sport. I would also like to pay tribute to the organisations that support disabled angling, particularly the British Disabled Angling Association. Unfortunately, last year the Government hit disabled anglers with a one-third increase in their fishing licence fees, and 140,000 senior and disabled anglers are now paying more for their concessionary rates.
In a written answer to me, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), then a DEFRA Minister, confirmed in April 2008 that there would be another review of the concessionary rates for the licence fee in 2010. I hope that this Minister will ensure that that review takes place and that angling groups and disabled anglers, in particular, are fully included in that review and that the concessionary rates do not remain as they are but go down so that more disabled anglers find it easier to go fishing.
Article 47 of the related EU Commission regulation is the other serious concern against which anglers have been battling. It would take the amount of fish caught by anglers and put it in with national quotas. As for the progress that has been made, it is a case of so far, so good. I tabled early-day motion 528 on this matter last year and I think that the European Economic and Social Committee has highlighted the impact on the commercial sector and amended the wording. However, although I welcome the progress, we have to be careful. Some of the terms in the existing wording allow the Council to introduce "specific management measures", including catching declarations and fishing authorisations, where it is thought that a recreational fishery is having a "significant impact." The danger may have abated, but it has not gone away. I hope that the Minister will keep the House updated on such proposals and ensure that we veto them if the opportunity arises in Council.
The Minister mentioned the bluefin tuna. It is a tragedy that, even though that species is one of the most endangered in the world, members of the International
Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas-ICCAT-voted in November to allow 13,500 tonnes of bluefin tuna to be caught next year. That fish will be extinct in two years' time; it cannot be fished at that level, and it is a real mistake to allow it. More needs to be done to prevent illegal tuna fishing and we certainly should not be considering having such big quotas.
On whaling, I must encourage the Government to take a very robust approach. Just recently, we saw the Japanese make significant progress: they actually managed to win a vote. When that happened, I checked to see what the Government had done to encourage other countries to join the moratorium on whaling. Very little had been done and so I take this opportunity to say to the Minister that he must not take his eye off the ball-we are all agreed that whaling cannot be allowed to be brought back.
We must ensure that effort goes into bringing on board countries that are not members of the International Whaling Commission. When the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) was the relevant Minister, he gave me a written answer that said that, of the 57 countries to which the Government sent their documents, only 15 were non-IWC members. Seven of those have still not joined: Bosnia, Latvia, Malta, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. I hope that the Minister will ensure that pressure is put on those countries to join the IWC and to ensure that whaling is not brought back.
On the Marine and Coastal Access Act, I think we all welcome the progress that has been made. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) on the excellent job that he did in a very consensual and positive way. He made sure that the Bill was as good as it could possibly be, and I congratulate him on that. One thing is still of critical importance-that other countries respect our efforts to preserve the marine environment. At the moment, they do not have to do so, which is why within six miles of our shore foreign fishermen can be obeying a completely different set of rules from those observed by British fishermen. We saw that with bass pair trawling-a way of fishing that is especially damaging to dolphins and that goes on just out of range. I urge the Government to do everything they can to ensure that the six and 12-mile limits are respected and that other European countries obey the same rules as British fishermen.
I know that the Minister will be discussing fish stocks in December, and he will know that 88 per cent. of fish stocks in Europe are over-fished, compared to a global average of 25 per cent. Some 30 per cent. of stocks are outside safe biological limits and 14 of the 47 fin fish stocks of importance to UK fishermen are now fished outside those limits. Only eight fin fish stocks are within those limits. If the Minister can do just one thing in his term of office it should be to ensure that those fish stocks are preserved. Everyone agrees that discards are wrong, but until we start to measure what is caught, we will not have the scientific evidence that we need to enforce proper discard bans. The hon. Member who mentioned what his fishermen were doing with larger mesh sizes was right, but at the moment there is no incentive for fishermen to be more selective in their gear-they do it out of the goodness of their hearts-and
we need to ensure that, if at all possible, we reward best behaviour. At the moment, that is not happening and we need to do far more.
Under the sustainable access to inshore fisheries project, the Minister introduced the environmentally responsible fishing pilot scheme for 31 vessels in the under-10-metre fleet in three areas. Those vessels can fish without restriction and land their catches instead of discarding them. That is tremendous, but what I want to ensure is that the fish that are caught are recorded, so that we have proper scientific evidence and know what other people are doing. If that happens, there is hope for our industry. We have heard how dangerous it is, and we should remember those fishermen who have lost their lives at sea. This is an important issue and I wish the Minister well in the debate in Europe.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): At this time of year, the Northern Ireland fishing industry faces the Christmas season with dread and almost despair because of the growing inability to earn a living at sea. I do not intend to address the broader issues, because they have been, and will be, so eloquently addressed by other hon. Members. I will discuss the more parochial aspects of the issue that I would like the Minister to consider.
I endorse the praise for the Minister that has come from both sides of the House tonight for his administration of this difficult industry. However, I shall unfortunately strike a discordant note. The House may be aware that the operation of the Hague preferences is particularly important to the island of Ireland, both north and south, but there is a feeling among the fishermen of Northern Ireland that they are now making an undue proportion of the contribution under the Hague preferences. Until last year, the buy-back or swap of the losses was compensated for by the UK as a whole, but it appears to Northern Ireland fishermen that this year they were the primary contributor to the swapping process.
In an effort to gauge accurately the scale of the swaps, fishermen asked DEFRA to give a summary of the Hague preference losses for the Irish sea since 2000. They were advised that the information could not be released because although the December negotiation teams had the information, they could not divert resources to release it. I find that a rather weak reason these days, when we have the technical ability to transfer data almost immediately. I must say, however, that I am disappointed because, in preparing for that point, I wrote to the Minister on 6 November, but as yet I have not even received an acknowledgement.
I shall move on, however, to the more important issue of the yearly quota cuts, including the one that will no doubt come from Brussels this month. The Minister
referred to the importance in certain fishing communities of this vital industry-on both sea and land-to their economic welfare. That could not be better exemplified or illustrated than in my constituency of South Down, where two thirds of the fishing effort is concentrated; the remaining third is in the neighbouring Antrim constituency. In my constituency, and in one port in the Strangford constituency, the industry employs 1,200 people, contributing nearly £100 million to the economy. That would be severely affected by a further decline owing to the small-industry wipe-out that has taken place in constituencies such as mine and the complete collapse of the construction industry.
The largest sector in the Northern Ireland fishing industry is the prawn and nephrop sector-some 90 per cent. of the fishing fleet fishes for nephrops. That is the direct result of the yearly purges of the cod quota, resulting in an overall cut in the quota to date of 84 per cent. Only six boats in Northern Ireland still fish for cod.
That dynamic change, however, has not been particularly recognised by Europe, whose main proposal this year is to cut the nephrop and prawn sector by a further 30 per cent. If I remember rightly, last year, a more modest proposal for a 2 per cent. cut came out of the negotiations, but even that cost the economy in small communities in Northern Ireland £2 million. We could extrapolate a 2 per cent. cut from a 30 per cent. cut, but we still do not know what might happen. If the proposal is taken forward, at that rate of cut, several fish processing factories and more than 200 jobs will be lost immediately.
On the prawn quota, the scientific evidence gathered by the Agri-Food and Bio Sciences Institute is positive, and shows that prawns in the Irish sea are fished sustainably and that stocks are on an upward trend. Yet we have this proposal from Brussels for yet another massive cut. Like the Northern Ireland regional agriculture and fisheries Minister, I would like the Minister to confirm whether the area 7 prawn quota will be the No. 1 priority in the negotiations.
Since 1999, the European Commission has cut the cod quota by 84 per cent., the whiting quota by 95 per cent. and the plaice quota by 96 per cent., with further reductions proposed of 25 per cent. for cod and plaice and 30 per cent. for prawns. We must ask ourselves, "How can we protect our fishing industry?" It is not just a question of the income, but of the tradition, know-how and intimate knowledge gained over generations of fishing in particular places.
One of the problems of Northern Ireland's fishing industry is that it always feels one step away from the negotiating table. I welcomed the Minister's saying earlier that regional devolution to some extent, under broad guidelines, can take place. That would be very much welcomed by the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, which co-operates fully with the scientific regime that is measuring and advising on these matters.
I hope the Minister will take on board the fact that the industry in Northern Ireland is on a delicate knife
edge between reaching critical mass and suffering total annihilation, and sustaining the livelihood of those communities in the years to come.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The next speaker may take the eight minutes that is allowed, but after that I propose to reduce the time to five minutes, to try to get as many people as possible at least to make some contribution.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is that time of year again when the CFP gets its usual bad name. No one in Westminster seems to have a good word for it, but because of the great deities hanging around our necks, it is not, unfortunately, challenged seriously by any of the current big parties in the House, so fishing priorities are diluted. From the perspective of Scottish desires, the priorities are diluted in the British Union. The UK's desires are further diluted in the European Union, but that is the CFP for us. I could go on for far longer, but I notice that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), my ally on this issue, is not in his place, so perhaps I will spare the House, as hon. Members might not have the stomach for it.
We are where we are. What message do I want to leave ringing in the Minister's ears before he goes to Europe? I have a shopping list of things, and I am sure he will be taking notes on them or reading about them tomorrow. First, as has been mentioned, he should protect the mackerel, Scotland's second most important quota after langoustines or nephrops-call them what we will. I hope that the Government at Westminster will not blink on the issue. We hold the cards on mackerel. We should keep those cards and not trade mackerel away for any other species.
In the wider fishery, Scots fishermen in particular have led the way on conservation issues, as has been mentioned. That should be recognised and rewarded, not subject to the penalisation that so often characterises the common fisheries policy. On the wider philosophy of fishing, a mixed fishery with quotas is just not working. For instance, the Faroese are using an effort-based approach. They seem to be far more successful and are much happier with what is happening with their fishery-they are also outside the common fisheries policy, of course. One of the issues with quotas is that scientists emphasise the lowest stock in a mixed fishery, which leads to a perverse approach to the management of that fishery.
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