Previous Section Index Home Page

Given the time available, I will now raise the issues that are pressing in my area of Na h-Eileanan an Iar-a constituency that I am sure the Minister looks forward to pronouncing at the end of the debate-on the west coast of Scotland. If I can translate from Gaelic, the main point made earlier today by Duncan McInnes of the Western Isles Fishermen's Association is that the squid and crayfish that are currently caught as part of cod recovery should be excluded, as the cod by-catch in
1 Dec 2009 : Column 1069
the fishery is effectively zero. I hope the Minister will look at that issue. Prawn fisheries in which the cod caught accounts for less than 1.5 per cent. should also be excluded, and those concerned should be given 200 days at sea and the ability to land the by-catch.

The Minister may need to know that although west coast prawn numbers are currently low, they were also low in 1981, yet 1982 and 1983 were almost record years. Prawn numbers are cyclical. The difficulty with the science is that it often takes snapshots, reporting things as they are and attributing them to whatever reasons or causes come to mind. We really do not know the reasons and causes, but we can learn from history about what happened in the prawn fishery before and see that the years after were successful years.

With a 30 per cent. by-catch of cod, haddock and whiting in some prawn fisheries, fishermen's leaders feel that the haddock should be removed from that category, because stocks of haddock are so good. The haddock fishery is in a very healthy position. John Hermse of Mallaig and North-West Fishermen's Association echoed that point. He would like some help to be given to the prawn fishery, which is experiencing some difficulty, with a 15 per cent. increase in megrim and a 30 per cent. increase in monkfish, to help make the fishery pay for those fishermen. This issue is highlighted in an e-mail I was sent earlier today from the fishing vessel Astra in Stornoway. Given the limited time available, I will spare the House from having the e-mail read out, but it underlines the points made by Mallaig and North-West. I will of course make the contents of the e-mail available to the Minister if he would like to read it.

Mallaig and North-West also made an important point about the continuing catch of dogfish. At one time, these fish were caught and landed, but because of the bureaucratic drop in quota they are now caught and discarded. If that issue could be looked at, it would avoid the wastage of good food being thrown over the side.

Will the Minister also look at the tagging of nets? It is very annoying to fishermen when their boats are boarded and time is wasted while the inspectors check their nets; they might already have been checked in the very recent past. They could be easily be tagged to indicate that they had been looked at recently, so the lads can get back to their fishing.

On a lateral issue, I would like the Minister to consider Filipino fishermen, who are a welcome addition on the west coast. They are liked, wanted and needed there. I have been in talks with the Filipino ambassador about this. I hope that the Minister can use his position in Government to impress on the UK Border Agency just how important these fishermen are. The immigration Minister was helpful earlier in the year in ensuring an extension when there was a threat of having some of these fishermen removed from the country, but the immigration advisory council has delayed re-categorisation, so we still need a bridging period until this matter can be sorted out. I hope the Minister will ensure that if any fishermen return to the Faroes for the Christmas period, they will be allowed to come back. This issue also affects the processing sector; if these fishermen are not there to catch the fish, there will be no jobs in the processing sector, because the boats will tie up without them.

1 Dec 2009 : Column 1070

I wish the Minister well at the talks-the annual horse-trading, as it is dubbed. Let me say that it might be easier for him if he had alongside him the ally of an independent Scotland, which might happen in the not- too-distant future. Finally, I would welcome the Minister to Stornoway at any time in the near future.

9.32 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I should like to thank our two Front-Bench spokesmen with all the venom and sarcasm I can muster for limiting Back-Bench contributions down to what is now more likely to be a shopping list than a speech; so I had better get on with it.

I praise the Minister and all concerned for the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009-an excellent example of how well we can legislate.

I urge the recreational angling sector to participate in the excellent "Your Seas, Your Voice" campaign, which it was my privilege to launch the other week in Westminster. It seeks public and stakeholder involvement in the identification of these important marine conservation zones. It is important that all stakeholders contribute to ensuring that we have conservation zones in the right places for the right objectives.

The Minister will have heard me say this before, but I would like to press him on the new IFCAs-inshore fisheries and conservation authorities-and ensure that sea angling is properly represented on them, as it was woefully under-represented on the old sea fisheries committees.

I thank the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) for his support for the Angling Trust. It is true that I launched it in January and that he was in the audience. I was pleased to see him there. For the first time, the Angling Trust has got its act together for the world of recreational angling and has actually produced a briefing for Members of Parliament-100 years too late, but a new first. Many of us will be thankful for that.

In exchanges on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, the Minister gave a commitment to revisit the appalling decision of his predecessor on bass minimum landing sizes. I would like some timetable from him as to when that decision is to be reviewed. Alongside the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, we have finally seen the implementation of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review. New fish removal byelaws are being put in place and special measures are being taken to protect freshwater eels, which are fast becoming an endangered species. Separately, we have seen fish passage regulations and regulations in respect of hydropower to ensure that migrating fish can make their passage up river to the spawning grounds-an issue to which I shall shortly return.

Secondly, it was my privilege to participate in the launch of the Our Rivers campaign, with which the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) was also involved. It was a joint initiative from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Angling Trust and the WWF. That campaign highlights the fact that we are likely to miss dramatically the target that we need to meet under the water framework directive, which is for the majority of our rivers to have a good ecological status. At present only 20 per cent. of them have that status. There has been severe criticism of the 11 regional
1 Dec 2009 : Column 1071
management plans presented by the Environment Agency. There has been a lack of effective stakeholder engagement and a lack of ambition. Those points were teased out in an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 13 May.

I share part of the River Kennet with the hon. Member for Newbury. We have seen increased turbidity in the river as a result of the opening of the Kennet and Avon canal, increased abstraction as a result of increased demand, point source pollution, and a prevalence of invasive species such as signal crayfish, which are decimating fish stocks. Some crayfish will actually lie under the vent of a spawning fish, eating the eggs as they emerge and thus preventing all opportunities for the recruitment of new fish.

I was disappointed by Ofwat's draft determination, and also by the marginally better final determination that was published last week. I made serious criticisms of Ofwat-particularly in respect of the Thames Water region-for failing to take account of the need for continuing increased investment in dealing with waste water and sewage and tackling leakage, and, incredibly, failing to address the necessity of examining the impacts of climate change. It is true that Ofwat has allowed some significant investment. The Thames Tideway tunnel will make a major contribution, and despite the half-witted opposition of people such as Shaun Bailey and the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, Stephen Greenhalgh, I believe it will make a radical difference. However, I worry about whether there will be sufficient investment in the 300-odd smaller sewage works which have an impact on Thames tributaries, including the Kennet.

The current situation is ludicrous. On the one hand, we are seeking to ensure that migratory fish can run the rivers and reach the spawning grounds. On the other, Natural England talks of reintroducing the beaver, the one creature which, by creating dams, will ensure that all our legislation on fish passes becomes absolutely worthless. If we really have to introduce endangered species, why do we not take the DNA of Tyrannosaurus Rex or the wolf and bring them back to Britain? There must come a point at which reality impinges on what Natural England-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. There must come another point as well.

9.37 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Like other Members, I am conscious of the time, so I shall restrict my remarks to a shopping list consisting of a few items. It is unfortunate that we have to do so, because there are bigger issues at stake which deserve the time of the House. It is nothing short of scandalous that we are not able to give them proper ventilation.

As the Minister prepares for the European Union- Norway talks, and subsequently the December Council, let me impress on him again the importance of preserving the mackerel allocation that we currently enjoy. The pelagic fleet is of supreme importance to communities such as Shetland which are highly dependent on fishing. The mackerel is probably the single most important element of the species available to those fishermen, and
1 Dec 2009 : Column 1072
it should not be used as a pawn in some wider game with Norway. I have observed with some frustration the breakdown in international co-operation in that regard, which has seemed simply to disappear.

The Minister will recall discussions last year about haddock. That remains a problem for fishermen on the west coast of Scotland, particularly on Orkney, and it seems that we are still far from a solution. However, the situation relating to the west coast quota will be greatly ameliorated if the Minister is able to preserve for the EU the 65 per cent. allocation of the total allowable catch of haddock around Rockall that we currently enjoy. Of course, that should never have been put beyond EU waters. It is nonsensical that haddock and other deep-water species are not party to EU waters, but that is an issue for another day.

The fishermen whom I represent are particularly concerned about the effect of the 90 per cent. cod quota uptake. When fishermen hit the 90 per cent. allocation, they are required to start using separator gear. That means that they now cannot fish the last 10 per cent.-they are unable to fish up to the full quota. That may be a technical point, but I hope the Minister will accept that it is important and take it to the negotiating table.

On the shopping list, may I draw to the attention of the House the importance of megrim? When I first started taking part in these debates some eight years ago, it was a species about which we hardly spoke at all, if at all. It is now one of the most important North sea species for the whitefish fleet. About 97 per cent. of the catch in the North sea comes to the United Kingdom, and about 80 per cent. of it comes to Scotland, and just about all of it is landed in Scotland. It has become enormously important, and it is deserving of a degree of attention this year-and, I am sure, in years to come-that it has not, perhaps, had in the past. May I also remind the Minister of the importance of monkfish? Brevitatis causa, I ask him to take on board my comments on that subject in previous fishing debates.

We are now entering one of the most important phases of the coming years, as we look towards the reform of the common fisheries policy. As the Minister knows, I have a concern that while the Green Paper's analysis of the problem is welcome, it does not seem to accept the Commission's central role in creating that problem. In particular, I have a concern that the Commission seems to think that overcapacity is universal throughout the European Union, but it is not; the Scottish fleet, and in particular the Scottish whitefish fleet, have already experienced drastic decommissioning. We must be given the fullest possible credit for that as we go forward in the reform process.

9.42 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I can also be mercifully brief. I simply want to make three representations on behalf of the fishermen of the far south-west, who see the reform of the common fisheries policy as an opportunity to put in place a far better system for preserving fish stocks and supporting our fishing industry.

On discards, I have already mentioned the voluntary trial that is taking place among several trawlermen operating out of the west country. They are experimenting with mesh sizes and changing gear so that fish they are
1 Dec 2009 : Column 1073
not seeking to catch have an opportunity to be released before the nets come to the surface. As I have mentioned, early results show a 60 per cent. reduction in discards. The fishermen are doing this voluntarily, and they say that they would like more such schemes to be developed in future. However, there needs to be an incentive in the form of some kind of enhanced quota when such cutting-edge measures are being introduced. I hope the Minister will take that on board in his negotiations with our European Union counterparts.

My second point is about the quota system. It currently runs rigidly from 1 January to 31 December. My local fishermen tell me that far greater advantage could be won by having a more flexible system, such as the system for milk quotas, where both surpluses and amounts not yet used can be carried forward for at least one year over the 31 December deadline-the expression they have used is banking and borrowing. I hope the Minister will take that on board, because in future there must be a more flexible system than we have had in the past.

Thirdly, as we have heard, good science makes for successful quotas. We need more scientists to go out on board the boats and more accurate surveying to be done, so the science and the fishermen interact more closely. I support the introduction of marine coastal zones; they are an excellent way forward. However, there needs to be full engagement and proper consultation with the fishing industry. I am sure the Minister intends that to take place.

In the past, we have had a top-down, bureaucratic, heavy-handed EU system that, frankly, has delivered the worst of all worlds: the devastation of our fishing industry, while not really preserving our fish stocks. The future must be all about flexibility and devolved decision making, and it will certainly include technical means to reduce discards with a benefit to fishermen, banking and borrowing, and better science to get quotas right. In short, we need to trust the fishermen and build a partnership with them.

9.45 pm

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I was delighted to learn that on 12 August this Minister was the first UK Fisheries Minister to visit Northern Ireland in more than 10 years. I can assure him that he was very welcome. He heard for himself that the Irish sea fishermen consider themselves to be the poor relations of fishermen from other parts of the United Kingdom. I understand that he was told in no uncertain terms when he visited Portavogie that issues concerning the Irish sea should be at the top of the UK fisheries team's agenda for this autumn's negotiations. The increases in the cod quota in the North sea are good news for fishermen based in other parts of the UK, and are of course welcome, but what are the proposals for 2010 in respect of the Irish sea? I think that they are unjustified proposals made by Europe that will have an impact on Northern Ireland's fishermen.

I wish to discuss the proposal for area 7 prawns. One matter that has frustrated me over the years has been the disagreement between fishermen and fisheries scientists about the state of fish stocks in the Irish sea. Yet I am delighted to learn that on prawns there is complete agreement between fishermen, fisheries scientists and officials; prawns are described as being fished "sustainably".
1 Dec 2009 : Column 1074
Underwater camera surveys show a stable population-in fact, they have shown a significant increase in the Irish sea in 2009. This year's catches have broken all records, yet the Commission has proposed a 30 per cent. reduction in the quota, following a 17 per cent. increase three years ago. Of course the question we ask is, why?

The Minister needs to be aware-he certainly has been made aware-of the social and economic consequences if any of those cuts are agreed. I agree with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) on this. The County Down coast in Northern Ireland is home to the commercial industry, and Kilkeel is the largest of the fishing ports, being a town of about 6,500 people. Some 12 months ago it had three major employers, but unfortunately two of those have seen a dramatic collapse in their business because of the economic slowdown, resulting in hundreds of jobs being lost. The fishing industry is, thus, vital. Fishing is a traditional, locally owned industry and it is the last bastion of employment in Kilkeel and the other communities in the area, and if the December Fisheries Council agrees to any reduction in the prawn quota, that last bastion of employment will fall. That would be disastrous for the economic well-being of those communities, so I beg the Minister to ensure that that is not allowed to happen. He knows that he has the entire Northern Ireland team behind him: the Minister in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, her officials, the fisheries scientists, and the entire industry. Following a recent debate in the Assembly, everyone, including all those from Northern Ireland in this House, oppose any reduction in the prawn quota. As far as we are concerned, this is a red line issue for Northern Ireland.

Let us consider other issues briefly. I know that the Minister has acknowledged to industry representatives that when he signed up to the long-term cod recovery plan on 19 November 2008 the plan was flawed, and in the intervening 12 months, even more flaws have been identified. That, unfortunately, is an expensive mistake, with which we are going to have to live for another two years. The proposed quota reductions in respect of whiting and sole are disappointing, and greater scientific emphasis needs to be put on the impact of other factors affecting fish population.

In the midst of all this, it is good to have some positive news from the Irish sea. A roll-over of the haddock quota is good news, as is the proposed 15 per cent. increase in the plaice quota. The latest scientific report advocating a 15 per cent. increase in the Irish sea herring quota must be pursued with vigour and a quota increase must be ensured. We wish the Minister well in his deliberations and I can assure him that he has the support of Members from Northern Ireland. I trust that he will bat for our industry and its survival in Northern Ireland.

9.49 pm

Next Section Index Home Page