Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

16 Apr 1996 : Column 565

Business of the House: Debate, 17th April

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Richard set down for Wednesday 17th April shall be limited to six hours.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, how many speakers are on the list for this debate? I believe that I counted at least 40 speakers this morning. How many minutes will that permit if the debate is confined to six hours? Why has a time limit been imposed on a Wednesday debate when there are 40 speakers?

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, perhaps I may assist in this matter. This Motion is tabled at the request of the party which is in charge of the debate. Tomorrow's debate is a Labour Party debate. We have chosen a very topical and interesting subject. As a consequence, there are a large number of speakers. On these Benches, we traditionally hold the view that a debate on a Wednesday should be for five hours. By convention, that is the length of a normal debate. That five hours may be used to debate one subject or be divided into two--either two two-and-a-half hour debates or a three-hour debate and a two-hour debate.

When we chose this topic, we thought that there should be one debate but when we saw the number of speakers we realised that we would need to look carefully at the time for the debate. I am sure that the noble Viscount is well briefed on this issue, but when we analysed the matter, we realised that each speaker would have not less than six minutes. We thought that by the time the 36th, 37th and 38th speakers had been reached, six minutes would be as much as the House could stand.

Therefore, we took the view that it would be helpful to the House to restrict the debate to six hours. Those speaking at the end of the debate will be here until 9.30 p.m., and of course there may be a Statement. A Statement is to be repeated today and that may well also be the case tomorrow. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe will also have noticed that there is the Second Reading of a very important Bill to follow the six-hour debate tomorrow. Therefore, in all the circumstances, we tried to take into account the interests of the whole House in reaching our decision.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that some of us are extremely grateful to be protected by the six-hour limit?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, faced with such a formidable, analytical combination, I can say only that I have nothing to add.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 566

Business of the House: Debates, 24th April

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Elibank to be taken before that in the name of the Lord Willoughby de Broke on Wednesday 24th April.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Fish Stock Conservation and Management: Select Committee Report

3.12 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton rose to move, That this House take note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Fish Stock Conservation and Management [Second Report, HL Paper 25].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was privileged to be chairman of the sub-committee which undertook the inquiry. I am deeply grateful to all the members of the sub-committee, to our specialist adviser, Professor John Beddington, to our Clerk and to our Scientific Assistant. Without their help, my task would have been impossible. I found it both fascinating and frightening. At the outset, I was lamentably ignorant, like most people, of the scale of the global problem and the appalling difficulties involved in solving it.

I begin in an unorthodox way by stressing what the report is not about. I do so because most of the discussion about fish that has taken place in this House over the past few years has concerned the common fisheries policy of the European Union. We were not asked to examine that policy. That policy decides every year on two groups of things. First, it determines the total allowable catches in European Union waters for all species of fish. That determines the size of the cake. Secondly, it splits those allowable catches into quotas for each member state. That determines the size of each national slice.

The sizes of those slices matter vitally to fishermen. They are the source of bitter disagreement between the member states. Ministers boast of having obtained the biggest slice of this or that fish and, in consequence, they are the stuff of all media headlines. By contrast, the size of the cake receives very little public attention. Yet if that is too large, fish stocks will be depleted. Fish stocks are depleted whether they are fished by British or Spanish fishermen. The size of the slices is of no account.

Our remit was to conduct an inquiry into the scientific aspects of fish stock control and management. In our call for evidence, we made it perfectly plain that we did

16 Apr 1996 : Column 567

not mean to confine the inquiry to fisheries in European Union waters but that we recognise that the problem is world-wide.

The report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 1995 entitled The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture showed that world-wide, 69 per cent. of all normally edible species of fish were either exploited fully, over-exploited, depleted or gradually recovering from depletion.

Our report has three chapters. The first reviews the evidence from the reports which existed and from other published works. The second reviews the written evidence that we received from 45 witnesses and the oral evidence that we took from 15 of them. That chapter is supplemented by three appendices which describe the visits that we made to the Scottish Office's laboratories in Aberdeen, to Bergen and to Austevoll in Norway. The third chapter, drawing on the information from both chapters 1 and 2, sets out our opinions in relation to the current situation and our recommendations.

I should like to highlight four aspects of the report. The first is the scientific basis for the exploitation of fish stocks. As a stock is harvested by fishing, the demographic response is that that stock increases its growth, its survival and reproduction. That allows a sustainable yield to be taken year after year without depleting it, provided that the harvest is not too large.

Perhaps I may take cod as an example. The harvest in relation to cod is already too large. Cod reaches maturity--the time when it begins to spawn--only when it is five to six years-old. A mature cod spawns only once a year but lays something like 2 million eggs. Those eggs drift in the currents, hatch into larvae and both eggs and larvae form part of the food chain of all sorts of other fish. They are at the mercy of predators and pollution. They depend on a supply of nutrients in order to grow and their growth depends also on the temperature and salinity of the sea water.

It is not surprising that the proportion which survives and becomes young fish is both small and extremely variable from year to year. Our scientific knowledge of the effect of each of those factors is incomplete, but what can be measured with some certainty is the number of young fish added each year to the stock. That is known as the annual recruitment. As I said, that fluctuates widely and is the main factor on which total allowable catches are calculated each year.

The problem is that the relationship between that annual recruitment and the number of spawning cod is unknown. In a year where the variable factors favour the maturation of young fish, a relatively small spawning stock may produce a very large recruitment. That, in turn, leads to a large total allowable catch and consequently a further fall in the spawning stock which may eventually lead to a collapse altogether of the stock. That is what happened on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and off the east coast of the United States. That is what threatens North Sea and North Atlantic cod, where the estimates on spawning stock have been gradually declining over the years.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 568

The second aspect of the report that I should like to highlight is the method currently used to control stocks by the common fisheries policy--namely, the total allowable catches. Clearly that method just does not work because overfishing was identified by almost every one of our witnesses as the biggest problem of all. In our report we have identified many reasons why TACs are inadequate--mostly because they are set too high, because the minimum landing sizes are too small or because the nets are inadequate and call for discarding fish. Many of our recommendations consist of suggestions about improving each of those causes. There is, indeed, agreement everywhere that those things need to be done; but intense competition between nations for bigger shares in the total catch make it extremely difficult for them to agree to do them.

The first cause of inadequacy is that, in setting TACs, fisheries scientists, who are well aware of all the uncertainties in our scientific knowledge, have felt themselves unable to give clear and precise advice to managers; managers who, in turn, are all too well aware of the social and economic implications of setting total allowable catches low and who have, therefore, tended to use the imprecision of the scientific advice as an excuse for setting TACs higher than the scientists have suggested. A witness from MAFF put it very well to us, saying that,

    "unquestionably if scientists were in a position to give crisp hard advice as to exactly what was and what was not desirable in terms of levels of fishing it would put Ministers in a much stronger position to say to fishermen that it was necessary to take this or that tough decision. The clearer and sharper the advice the better".
We therefore make recommendations about improving the communication between fisheries scientists, fishermen, managers and politicians. We call for governments to adopt a precautionary approach to fisheries management in the belief that that could lead to definitions of total allowable catches that set upper limits which could not safely be exceeded.

The second inadequacy of the total allowable catch system of control is that the minimum landing sizes set for different species of fish are frequently set far below the size of a mature spawning fish. Considering cod once again, the minimum landing size is 35 cms, but even when cod reach 60 cms long only half of them have matured. Few cod would reach spawning size at all if another biological response did not lead to some maturing younger and earlier than normal.

The third related factor is that the nets that are used are permitted to have mesh sizes that are too small to allow young fish to escape. That is especially true in mixed fisheries where the target species is smaller than the young of larger species; for example, when fishing for haddock and catching cod. In such circumstances the cod may be discarded either because they are below the minimum landing size or because the fisherman has already caught his full quota of cod. Almost all discarded fish are dead, having been killed by the catching process. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. of the world's total catch of fish is discarded--that is, some 27 million tonnes every year, and an almost unimaginable waste of food.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 569

We make a lot of recommendations to try to counter those inadequacies. We recommend the consideration of introducing legislation to require the use of various technical measures to improve the selectivity of nets, but I shall not go into that detail. We considered the question of following the example of Norway where discarding fish is illegal. However, we recognised that there are many more difficulties in the European Union in imposing a ban, compared to Norway which controls its own waters. Therefore, we ask that, first, a sampling scheme for discards be started; and, secondly, that the implications of a ban be examined as a priority. Further, we recommend that areas where juvenile fish are found to be congregating should immediately be temporarily closed to fishing. That is already done by Norway but, again, it would require European Union action to be effective in our waters.

The third aspect that I should like to highlight is that of finding an alternative method of controlling overfishing rather than continuing to rely upon total allowable catches. There was general agreement from all our witnesses that fishing overcapacity had the greatest effect on overfishing. Again, the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates overcapacity worldwide at 30 per cent. The organisation also estimates that the world's fishing industries make a loss every year of 50 billion dollars, and that this is paid for by national subsidies and grants.

The best way of stopping overfishing is by reducing the fishing effort; in other words, reducing the number and efficiency of fishing fleets. The only feasible way of reducing that is by progressively decommissioning existing fishing boats. That was accepted as a policy under the CFP as early as 1987 when the Multi Annual Guidance Programme was introduced. It provides subsidies to fishermen willing to decommission their boats.

In 1993, however, the European Court of Auditors concluded that between 1987 and 1991 the subsidies and measures aimed at reducing fishing capacity had in fact actually led to a net increase in capacity. That was because any reduction in the number of boats was more than compensated by the increase in the efficiency of the new ones. Further, the decommissioned vessels were frequently not scrapped but sold at very low prices to fishermen in developing countries so that, on a worldwide basis, the decommissioning scheme was stultified.

We therefore recommend that the Multi Annual Guidance Programme should be supported wholeheartedly by European Union member states, with more radical decommissioning targets and with financial aid for fishermen who decide to retire from the industry. We also recommend that there should be agreed guidelines for the disposal of decommissioned vessels in order to protect subsistence fishermen in developing countries from the competition of commercial fishing boats. The fact is that those developing countries are also being tempted to sell their own fishing rights in their territorial waters in order to get some badly needed overseas currency. That is a terrible danger to subsistence fishing; and, indeed, millions of people could be put in danger of starvation.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 570

We recognise that for the European Union to abandon control by total allowable catches and to move to total reliance upon effort control is a step that can be taken only after a full examination of its implications, which are likely to be complex in the extreme. Nevertheless, we recommend that such a full examination be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

The fourth aspect of the report that I want to highlight is the growing importance of aquaculture as an alternative to capture fishing. In 1993, the worldwide total of fish harvested reached over 101 million tonnes, of which 16 million came from aquaculture. The question has naturally been raised as to whether capture fisheries, like the hunting of animals, could give place to farming. However, there is general agreement that that is unlikely. There are only a limited number of sites that are suitable for fish farming.

All seawater fish currently feed on animal protein which is obtained from industrial fishing that produces fish meal. Each kilogramme of salmon produced by farming requires three to five kilogrammes of fish meal which is not a very efficient method. Furthermore, there are problems in preventing the spread of disease among farmed fish and problems of environmental damage from using drugs, including antibiotics, in their control.

Our principal recommendation about aquaculture is that the Government support research into the possibility of devising a diet for cultured salt water fish that does not depend on fish meal.

We make one general recommendation; namely, the establishment of an intergovernmental panel on the oceans, as suggested in the first report of the UK Government's Panel on Sustainable Development. The very existence of such a panel would serve, we believe, to push global concerns about the oceans up the political agenda. They desperately need such attention.

I believe that I have said enough to explain why I found our investigation both fascinating and frightening. I quote the final two sentences of the report,

    "In their heart of hearts, scientists, fishermen, managers and politicians must all know that action must be taken now to prevent a repeat of the Grand Banks fiasco nearer to home. The question is, will they take it?"

The Government's reply to our report reached me last week and has not yet been considered by the Select Committee. My personal reaction to it does not, I fear, give me much hope that the answer to that last question in our report is likely to be yes. While I welcome the Government's general approval of our ideas I find their overall attitude complacent and wholly lacking in the sense of urgency that affected every single member of the sub-committee throughout our inquiry.

I shall mention one point to illustrate what I mean. We asked the Government to press for an urgent examination by the European Union of how to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction in fishing effort through decommissioning. In their response they point out that decommissioning alone does not target stocks of individual species of fish so that it could not guarantee that fishermen could continue with their accustomed fishing patterns. They conclude that to replace total

16 Apr 1996 : Column 571

allowable catches wholly by effort control would be inappropriate. They stated in addition that the Multi Annual Guidance Programme was their contribution to reduction in the size of the fishing fleet.

All of that is absolutely true and we were aware of it. However, the response makes no reference to the need to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction in fishing effort which all the measures currently in force have--as we have shown--signally failed to do. As we have emphasised, the Government can do little by acting alone, but we seem to have failed to persuade them that the situation is so critical that they should be ringing alarm bells loudly in Brussels and at the FAO in a desperate attempt to get international action. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Fish Stock Conservation and Management [Second Report, HL Paper 25].--(Lord Perry of Walton).

3.33 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I start by heartily congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, on the way in which he introduced the Motion and chaired the sub-committee on which I was pleased to serve. Noble Lords will have gathered from his clear speech that this matter constitutes an almost intractable problem. I think that everyone agrees that there is a problem and that scientists have been drawing attention to the problem for 90 years. It is 90 years or more since the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) was formed in 1902 with the one objective of drawing attention to the danger of overfishing, and yet we appear to get ever further from resolving the problem of how regulations and policies on the management of fisheries can be put in place based on the scientific advice which is available.

The question which the Science and Technology Committee had to address was whether the scientific advice was defective and whether that was one of the reasons that regulations have failed to be informed by science. Alternatively, is the advice sidelined because it is inconvenient, inexpedient or too dangerous politically? What is needed by policy makers and by the fishing industry to make the scientific advice more effective? It is probably only in the latter half of this century that the problem has come to the attention of the public at large. Although, as I said, ICES was drawing attention to this problem at the beginning of the century, there was a perception that fishing catches around the world were limited by the fishing resource; that is, the amount of fishing effort. Now the perception is quite different. Now the situation is the opposite in that the catch is limited by the size of the natural resource. Between 1950 and 1989 the global catch rose but by 1989 it peaked at about 86 million tonnes. Since then it has stagnated and, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, has explained, a number of fisheries have declined or collapsed.

The amount of fish available for human consumption has been maintained through aquaculture. If we are to see the amount of protein for the world's population that is derived from fish being maintained, clearly an awful

16 Apr 1996 : Column 572

lot will be asked of aquaculture. It does not need a deep inquiry to demonstrate that already aquaculture in many parts of the world has caused problems of pollution. Sometimes it has reached the limit of its exploitation. After all, it requires a great deal of protein in order to produce protein. It seems totally unrealistic to believe that we shall be able to make good the projected deficits from the catch from the wild resource. Depending on what population scale one wishes to use in one's calculations, by the next decade and well into the next century there will be an alarming deficit in protein derived from fish.

We must remember that only two-thirds of the catch is used for human consumption; the other third is used for animal feeds. That is partly because of the nature of the catch but it is also the result, quite frankly, of an extremely inefficient use of at least part of the catch. One may ask why this matters to the developed world as there will be other sources of protein. We shall obtain protein from plants and we may be able to obtain protein from other farming systems. Of course the problem is much more immediate in parts of the third world. In many parts of Africa and Asia, as we set out in the report, between 40 and 60 per cent. of the protein that is derived from animal sources comes from fish. In the third world there are few alternative sources of protein. The matter we are discussing will give major cause for concern as regards many developing nations where the per capita consumption of protein is already dangerously low.

There is agreement that an international attempt needs to be made to balance the take from the natural resource with the availability of the resource. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, has already pointed out that this obvious strategy is already being thwarted by massive subsidies which are given, in their wisdom, by member governments. It is not fair to blame the scientists for this problem but it is nevertheless a fact that improved technology, improved engineering and improved techniques increase effort. However, above all, it is the failure, time and again, to put in place international measures to share this resource in an equitable fashion that has led to the problem. If one discusses the failure of the fisheries policy as regards our home waters, the debate is invariably polarised to the matter of the Spanish and the British quota hopping and other such matters. Such debate is a scapegoat for the failure of the overall framework to be adequately set, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, pointed out. There needs to be a major initiative to draw to the attention of world leaders that sustainable development is perhaps as important as any issue.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to recognise that in the past 12 months one modest measure of an international nature has been taken: that is the United Nations agreement on straddling and migratory species. That is welcome. It is a modest proposal. In so far as it is a start, it must be a precedent.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 573

I must declare that I am a member of the UK Government Panel on Sustainable Development. As your Lordships have heard, we suggested, and the Select Committee report repeats, the recommendation that there should be an intergovernment panel on the oceans. I congratulate the Government on having set up in November the London Oceans Workshop, which I was able to attend, at which that concept was discussed. It did not find approval from the delegates, although, surprisingly, the underlying need for such a panel was emphasised. The workshop agreed that there was indeed a need to improve co-ordination of the world fisheries. There was agreement that there was a need to achieve consensus. There was agreement that there was a need to improve the effectiveness of scientific advice. But the representatives were representing their own organisations. The last thing they wanted was the setting up of another organisation.

My conclusion is that many of those organisations, including those for which one has a great respect such as ICES, have failed lamentably over the past 20, 30 or 40 years to make an impact on international governments, including our own, and the European Union. Unless this concept is moved up the political agenda and given the force required, we shall continue to make little progress. I remain unrepentant. Despite the conclusion of the workshop, which I accept--it discarded the idea of a new panel--I believe that if we are to break the mould something of this nature needs to be undertaken urgently.

The workshop will report to the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Commission on Sustainable Development may lead with the force and vigour required. I think that we shall all pray that it will succeed in doing so.

When people get together to analyse what is going wrong, it does not take long to agree that in each fishery and subsection of those fisheries around the world there has to be a management agreement on what constitutes sustainable fishing. It will differ according to the species, the latitude, the type of fishing, and so on. None the less, someone has to put in an agreed policy on sustainable fishing. One has to put in policies to reduce the by-catch and, above all, to discourage discards and losses in storage and distribution. One has to find equitable ways of reducing the fishing to sustainable levels. One also needs to put in place policies which protect the marine resource from pollution and degradation. Therefore, it is not a matter just for fisheries. It is extremely important, for example, in this country to bring in the Department of the Environment as well as the Ministry of Agriculture. One of our recommendations--I hope that it is not seen as a criticism so much as an urge for better things--was that the Department of the Environment and the fisheries department should work more closely together.

I commend a recent initiative. It is led by both Unilever and WWF. They have established an independent marine stewardship council which will create market led economic incentives for sustainable fishing. This will

16 Apr 1996 : Column 574

establish broad sets of principles for sustainable fishing and set standards for individual fisheries. Only fisheries meeting those standards will be eligible for certification.

Those are precisely the initiatives required. There needs to be a framework in which all fisheries put together policies which are then defended to the hilt by the national governments involved. I am sure that our own fisheries Ministers and other national governments would welcome a much stronger steer not just from scientists but from the other components of the industry. It is no good denying that there are enormous socio and economic pressures. It is no good denying that if one is a Minister having to make a difficult decision it must sometimes be a relief that there is an element of doubt. If one has rival claims from competing fishermen, one is bound to support one's own.

We were impressed that the Norwegians had brought together the different components of the fishing industry in a way that we have been unable to achieve. I refer to an advisory council on which scientists, fishermen, consumers, environmentalists and policy makers are all represented. It is a very powerful committee. I recognise that in the European Union the issue is not so simple. It would be unrealistic if we thought that Spanish fishermen and Cornish fishermen, for example, would sit on a committee together and collaborate happily to determine an equitable solution. But even if we have to do it on a UK scale to begin with, it has to be done. It seemed to us surprising that there were so few examples of interdisciplinary panels on which all people come together, share the problem and ultimately own the problem. At the end of the day, that is the firmest advice that we can give.

At present scientists are not getting the message across. They are blamed by policy makers for being imprecise. They are blamed by fishermen for getting their science wrong. But as regards the other side of the equation, one finds that there is a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes misinformation. Communications are appallingly bad. Even between the south west and the north east of the United Kingdom communications seem to be poor. If ever one needs to bring together interested parties, this is the sector where it should occur.

We need to develop robust management strategies throughout the world. We have to start at home; and we need to put in place some mechanism which we sorely lack at present.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Butterfield: My Lords, I am delighted to have served on the sub-committee. I begin by paying my regards and respects to our chairman. He made a marvellous opening speech. I honestly believe that we should seek some way of nominating him for an award on conservation. From the moment he took on the leadership of the sub-committee he played an active role in the conservation of fish. I am well aware that not many housewives seem concerned. Until fish and chip shops start to close, which would put people back into the kitchen producing their own evening meals, the seriousness of the situation may not be properly underlined in the public mind.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 575

We were also lucky to have a specialist adviser of the quality of Professor Beddington. I am not sure whether it is improper in this House to say so, but in Philippa Tudor we had an excellent clerk. She was able to deal with large quantities of information; that she and the chairman were able to deliver a report as slender as it is is a tribute to their mastery of the facts and the language.

I wondered, in preparing for today's debate, how I could make a strong impression. I believe the situation to be urgent. What happened off the fishing banks in the North Atlantic is an important lesson which does not seem to have gained the public mind or the world political mind as much as it should. I read the recently released government response to our report. I am delighted that the Government distributed it to other governments through the European Union. However, I am a little sad that the urgency of the situation did not seem to be reflected as strongly as I would have wished in those government remarks. It is still open to the Government to take strong action and to make as many powerful remarks as they can about an awful situation.

Funnily enough, in the reading associated with the sub-committee's papers, which were voluminous, two documents made a big impression on me. They highlighted certain aspects of the problem of climbing up the agenda. The meteorologists have climbed the international agenda to the heights through the whole question of global warming. I find it fascinating that people are becoming concerned about the pollution of the seas by noise. It may be due to the power of ships' engines. Some new ferry boats produce an incredible amount of noise which is distressing to sea mammals, whales and dolphins. It is also probably having a serious impact on the way fish communicate with each other.

Taking matters a step further, I say to myself: "Isn't it interesting that there has been so much discussion in America about the possibility of detecting global warming by firing charges off California and picking up the sound on the other side of the Pacific Ocean?". If the Pacific Ocean is warming, the message is that the sounds will get through faster to the New Zealand and Tokyo listening points. There was considerable discussion but I was pleased to hear that the Americans had decided to go ahead. Global warming is a big problem. However, it was decided to restrict the number of charges fired to two or three a week rather than every hour which would have been a terrible noise for the poor whales. It was agreed to consider the situation at the end of the year and perhaps call the experiment off if it was causing too much trouble to the fish. That is the most marvellous example of scientists realising the importance of problems of fish and fish pollution. I apologise for the digression, but to me it is an interesting situation.

No one sitting on the sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Perry, can have any doubts that there are grave difficulties of communication. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to them beautifully in his presentation. It is worrying when fishermen say, "We don't believe the scientists." It is worrying to hear members of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food imply that their job would be much easier if those damned scientists did not

16 Apr 1996 : Column 576

come forward with worrying information. In a democracy, where those wanting authority have to rely upon votes, it is difficult when the information you are given means that you must bring unhappy and unpleasant tidings to some of your constituents. Nevertheless, if the fishing effort worldwide has to be reduced by 30 per cent. to ensure that our children and grandchildren have fish of reasonable quality and different species to eat, we must somehow make that leap in communication.

The Scottish Office, which is concerned with fisheries, suggests more education. The Government, in their response, rightly said that they would look into the matter but thought that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals or a similar organisation could bear the burden and carry things forward. My feeling is that headway will only be made if so much noise is created in the magazines that ladies read at hairdressers about the need to protect fish that fishermen's wives and daughters will say to fishermen, "You'd better go to this course and learn about the science and problems that fisheries will face in the future". That may sound a puerile approach but until the public at the level of fishermen and their families become more interested in recognising what the science problems are and what has been learnt by organisations like ICES and FAO, the communication problem will be insurmountable. It must be surmounted.

Like my chairman, I wish to repeat the closing part of the report, which summarises where we stand. I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to say that there is growing interest in the urgency of meeting the problems that we find. I am an ordinary doctor but I came out of the discussions convinced that the fisheries scientists, the fishermen and fishing managers who are trying to control fisheries and preserve them need more support. It was, I am sure, our chairman who wrote on page 54 of the report that,

    "the lesson to be learned from the collapse of the Grand Banks fishery is that ignoring the warning signs year after year can end in the loss of thousands rather than hundreds of jobs. In their heart of hearts, scientists, fishermen, managers and politicians must all know that action must be taken now to prevent a repeat of the Grand Banks fiasco nearer to home".
I would add, more generally, on the high seas.

If I were asked to compress the message that I am trying to convey in support of my chairman, I would say that we must take the whole question on board as a matter of great urgency.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I also would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for the clear way in which he introduced the report and the debate. I also thank the members of the sub-committee. All three speakers so far have been members and the two who are to follow me were also members. The report is clearly the result of a searching inquiry and it is thorough and frank. The key sentence, in my view, in the conclusions is:

    "Immediate steps must be taken by all developed nations to reduce their commercial fishing effort very significantly".

16 Apr 1996 : Column 577

That is a short, clear sentence. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, and other speakers have fully explained what the sub-committee found in the course of its inquiry and the reasons for those conclusions. The report confirms the impression which I and, I am sure, some others had formed about the extent of over-fishing. I shall not repeat or expand on material in the report. My contribution, which I hope will be fairly brief, will be to consider the immediate practical questions: how the need to reduce fishing effort can become acceptable among those involved in sea fisheries and how this reduction can best be carried out, particularly in the United Kingdom. Neither will be easy, although all British fishermen's organisations know that conservation measures are essential. They ask for such measures to be fair, sensible and properly monitored and policed.

On the question of acceptability, I shall quote from a statement made less than two weeks ago, on 3rd April, by the Scottish Fish Merchants' Federation, which represents an important part of the industry but not the fishermen. The statement said:

    "The present management of the quota system has failed miserably. We urgently need a complete overhaul of the system for the future well-being of both catchers and processors".
I believe that we are all in general agreement on that, or at least we appeared to be in our debate on the common fisheries policy on 14th February. The statement continued:

    "Quotas should be set at a realistic level and should not be solely based on scientific evidence, which can be inaccurate".
That is a recent example of scepticism about the findings and opinions of scientists which exists within the industry. The federation was advocating even larger quotas than those adopted recently in the European Union. We must recognise that, while conservation of stocks as a principle is widely supported, there are parts of the sea fisheries industry that will not agree with the suggestion in the report that quotas should be lower than they are, especially if apparently based only on scientific advice.

I, however, accept the Select Committee's conclusions, and I want to concentrate on the second question: how the necessary reduction in fishing effort can best be carried out in this country. The principal method must be decommissioning schemes. I shall not dilate on that, as I described what happened in our debate on 14th February. Most of the other fishing nations in the European Union had already adopted decommissioning schemes; so, given our scheme, British fishermen can now feel in a similar situation and need no longer be confined to harbour for weeks on end as they were under the previous British "limited days at sea" system.

The decommissioning scheme is voluntary. It is questionable whether enough money has been made available and whether the inducements are enough to produce the scale of reduction that is needed. I am worried, in addition, that new fishing boats coming into service may almost equalise the vessels that are being retired. Knowing that today's debate was in the offing,

16 Apr 1996 : Column 578

I asked a Starred Question less than a month ago (on 19th March) in the hope of obtaining the latest information. I was not disappointed. In the exchanges my noble friend Lord Lucas gave the House some very relevant facts. If I understood him correctly, he stated that licences for British boats to fish are being issued only if a new boat has a lower tonnage and less engine power than the boat it is replacing. I do not know whether or not it has to be much lower. I presume that no licence is issued unless a new boat is a replacement. That is a sensible policy, but it could take a long time before existing boats are replaced; and if the reductions in tonnage are small, they will not add up to very much.

The British decommissioning scheme is separate and unconnected with licensing. Because it is voluntary its impact depends on the public money available and the number of applications being made. If my noble friend has time when she replies to the debate I hope she may be able to give the House the latest information on the rate of decommissioning in this country.

While most, if not all, speakers in this debate will no doubt agree with the Select Committee's conclusion that a significant reduction of effort is necessary, we must consider the effects on the fishing communities. They are mostly now in small concentrations on the coast, many in our less populated areas where there is little alternative employment. I would support carefully crafted schemes for alternative employment designed to offset the required reduction in fishing boats operating from those areas. That would be part of a deliberate national strategy to conserve fish stocks.

The fact must be faced that in future there will be fewer fishermen working in their occupation at sea--not only in this country but also in other developed countries. One reason, as in other industries, is that less manpower is needed owing to modern technology. The other is the deliberate reduction of effort that is now necessary.

As regards advances in technology and in efficient catching power and equipment, they follow previous patterns and are not new in the fishing communities. For example, in Scotland it is reckoned that the amount of fish expected to be caught 60 years ago by 100 men during four weeks, with their contemporary types of boat, methods and gear, can be caught by 10 men in four days now. The vital question is whether the fish will be there to be caught in a few years' time.

For most of my life my home in northern Scotland has been close to fishing communities, some of which were in my constituency when I was in the other place. In the past, it was a day for celebration, which we all joined in, when a new up-to-date fishing boat first came into service. Now, modern, sophisticated additions to the fleet are possible only under the restrictive licensing that I mentioned. Fishermen whose fathers and grandfathers were fishermen cannot be certain that their sons will be able to follow on that path.

Another factor affecting these close-knit communities is that most of the boats nowadays are owned by groups of individuals, often within families. They are share fishermen, not employees of companies. The large British trawlers which habitually went on fishing

16 Apr 1996 : Column 579

voyages to Iceland and similarly distant fishing grounds have almost disappeared following the general adoption of 200-mile limits in 1976 and 1977. Most of them were based in Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood. They were owned by companies and the fishermen were their employees, many of them members of the seamen's trade union. The companies were able to see the warning signs and carry out a contraction over a period before the 200-mile limit was generally adopted, painful though that contraction was.

The large majority of British boats now are of medium size, normally at sea for less than a week at a time, and the emphasis has moved to Scotland, where operations are spread over many ports and harbours.

Moving out of fishing altogether can pose problems for the boat owners, who are individuals and families, apart from the loss of a traditional occupation and business. For example, a large tax bill may be presented--an accumulation which has been postponed, or rolled over, with the building and purchase of new boats in the past.

The boatbuilders upon whom the fishing industry relies, and will continue to rely in future, must also be borne in mind. They are likely to have fewer orders in future. But it would be a tragedy if they were all forced or encouraged to go out of business.

I could say a great deal more, but I hope that I have said enough to draw attention to the human, social and demographic problems which can arise from the necessary reduction that must take place. Every effort should be made to explain the cogent reasons for the reduction to all sections of the fishing industry and their families. The dreadful warning and lesson of the Canadian Grand Banks fishery and similar disasters should be pointed out, together with a reminder of the crisis nearer home when the herring fishery in the North Sea had to be closed for several years. It will be necessary to demonstrate that other fishing nations are deliberately reducing their fishing effort to a comparable extent. Unless action on these lines is taken there is bound to be dismay and discontent. I hope that most of our fishing industry will be convinced, through the good communications recommended by the Select Committee, and will co-operate fully in a long-term strategy.

I end on a lighter note. Although we are a maritime nation, the media are careless with descriptions and terms of a nautical nature. Fishing boats are described as "trawlers" in cases where clearly they are not. Even when a newspaper report describing an incident or dispute indicates that the operation in question is lifting creels by a shellfish boat, the boat is called a trawler. The same applies with seine-net boats and others. All fishermen are "trawlermen", though most of them have never been in a trawler in their lives. I say this because I believe there is a gulf between the fishing and maritime communities and the rest of the country. Even when a dispute about methods being used is reported, vessels using drift nets, which are quite different from trawls, and others using long lines are again all called trawlers. How can the fishermen involved and their families respect what they read in the press when they see the

16 Apr 1996 : Column 580

most elementary mis-descriptions? It is difficult for the public to understand the issues and appreciate the livelihoods of our coastal communities in those circumstances.

Of course, on the other side, there are technical terms which may confuse: a cod-end is not a codpiece. Jargon in international circles also makes comprehension very difficult. Noble Lords will know the term "straddling stocks" and understand what it means. But it is not so easy for our landlocked citizens to know what it means, especially when they do know that very few fish have legs.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, it was a privilege for me to be invited to become a co-opted member of the sub-committee conducting such an interesting and important inquiry. I very much enjoyed working under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, with the expert advice of Professor Beddington, and we were all greatly helped by our extremely capable clerk, Dr. Tudor.

The report has been very timely. It coincided with an upsurge of public concern and interest in this problem, reflected in the fact that, although many reports of your Lordships, into which a great deal of work and care has gone, do not attract any public attention, this report certainly did. It had a great deal of publicity, which was very useful.

Previous speakers indicated the fundamental problem: the enormous reduction, year on year, of the stocks of fish all around the world. Occasionally, that can be due to natural and man-made hazards. Apart from pollution and oil spills, holes in the ozone layer may, for example, be reducing the numbers of photosynthetic plankton--the microscopic plants on which the planktonic animals, the zooplankton, which include krill, feed, so affecting sea life higher up the food chain. Also, of course, fish eat each other; we know that the whiting is a particularly voracious fish. The other day, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave us some startling figures about the estimated consumption of fish by seals around our shores.

A particularly serious problem is when natural hazards are joined to man-made hazards. A notable example is the collapse of fisheries by 90 per cent. in six years in the Black Sea, reported on in New Scientist late last year. That is one example of collapse of a fishery which is not due to over-fishing but to the fact that the deeper waters of the Black Sea are filled with rotting vegetation brought down by the many rivers. Therefore, they become anoxic and virtually a desert which supports no life. A comb jellyfish imported in ballast tanks from the United States has multiplied fantastically and eats all the eggs and larvae of the fish. Combined with the terrible pollution from Russia and eastern Europe, that has effectively wiped out that fishery.

But in most parts of the world the collapse of stocks is due simply to overfishing. The Food and Agriculture Organisation records that the world's commercial marine catches rose from about 20 million tonnes in

16 Apr 1996 : Column 581

1950 to 86 million tonnes in 1989, an increase of well over 300 per cent. in less than 40 years. It calculates that 25 per cent. of fish stocks are overfished, depleted or recovering; that 44 per cent. are either heavily or fully fished and at risk of overfishing; and that since 1970 there has been a 62 per cent. decrease in the global index of fish resources abundance and a 73 per cent. decrease in the abundance of high value species. As a result of that overfishing, a number of major fisheries have collapsed or may soon do so.

Reference has already been made to the Grand Banks Fishery, which is perhaps the single greatest and most famous fishery in the world, about which Kipling wrote in Captains Courageous. It has been virtually wiped out and I believe that so far there is no sign of any recovery. In the Whitsun Recess last year I was in New England and met a Mr. Charles Collins who had produced a report on the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine Fishery off New England. He very kindly gave me a copy of that report, which I circulated to my colleagues on the sub-committee. It was striking that the problems there were almost exactly the problems that we faced in the North Sea.

But we ourselves cannot do anything about the problems in distant parts of the world. The only area in which we have a limited influence is European waters. So far as we are concerned those are controlled by the common fisheries policy. I noticed when we were making our inquiry that we covered quite a lot of the same ground as an earlier report in 1992 by a sub-committee of the European Communities Committee had covered, specifically on the common fisheries policy. That inquiry was chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and both the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and I were also members. I noted that when we discussed such matters as the over-fishing of cod and haddock, discards and black fish, decommissioning, square mesh panels and TACs, we were treading familiar ground.

But, in fact, the problem is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and succeeding speakers said, that it does no harm to have it revisited. The more we can do to bring the seriousness and urgency of the problem to the attention of the public the better. The essence of the problem, as others have said, is over-fishing. The passage that struck me most in all the evidence given to our committee was made by a leading authority, Professor McIntyre, who said:

    "We know what the solution to the problem is, and that is simply to reduce fishing effort. If we doubted that at all we had the excellent examples of the two world wars where for four years fishing effort was practically stopped. Before each of these world wars the stocks were in a poor state. Four years later they were in a first class state".
That is a clear example of the kind of direction in which we should be moving.

The common fisheries policy is in a state of some crisis. As I have mentioned before in this House and most recently in the debate last night on the IGC, the Factortame judgment, which legalised quota hopping, torpedoed the whole basis of the policy which was based on national quotas and the principle described as "relative stability". In fact, one quarter of our entire

16 Apr 1996 : Column 582

quota is fished by foreign boats--150 of them. The Government say that they propose to pursue that in the IGC but the prospects of achieving anything where unanimity is required seem pretty thin.

Last year we had the North Sea Conference. That was primarily a conference of environment Ministers, but a leading expert--Dr. Mark Tasker, of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee--said then that North Sea cod would become commercially extinct within the next five years. It was likely to vanish in commercially harvestable numbers because EU states would not make the 50 per cent. cut in fishing that was necessary to save it. A move was made to include in the conclusions of the conference a statement about the absence of political will exhibited by North Sea fisheries Ministers. But that was deleted. It was felt that environment Ministers could not criticise fishery Ministers. All the conference decided was that there should be another conference this year in Norway to talk about fishing.

We know that there are great problems with TACs. In fact, the system of total allowable catch and single species quotas used in the common fisheries policy to control exploitation does not work. The quotas set by politicians are often much too high; also, as English Nature pointed out, they are based only on the landed fish rather than the actual catch at sea. In the words of English Nature therefore, "the system fails". With mixed stocks the system leads to massive discards--the throwing over the side of unwanted fish because they are the wrong species or too small. Those fish die. The FAO estimates that the world annual level of discards may be 27 million tonnes, described by our adviser, Professor Beddington, as,

    "a staggering figure in the context of a total world catch of less than 100 million tonnes".

At this point I draw attention to a fish that is seldom mentioned in your Lordships' House; that is, the basking shark. It is a fish that visits our waters in summer. It is a huge fish--the second largest in the world--and a harmless plankton eater which enjoys no protection. It is hunted by one single fisherman who has killed 440 since 1983. The Government say there is as yet insufficient evidence to support protection. However, it seems wrong that that great and harmless fish should not be conserved. If we care about conservation the Government should put in place some measures to protect it.

I want to say something on industrial fishing, which is covered in our report. Industrial fishing means fishing by fine-mesh nets for smaller species of fish like sprats, sandeels, capelin and Norway pout. Inevitably the nets catch many juveniles of food species, all of which are turned into fishmeal or used in the manufacture of oils and fats. It is a method practised by the Danes and, to some extent, by the Norwegians.

Industrial fishing accounts for no less than half of all the fish removed every year from the North Sea. I am glad that our recommendation to promote a TAC for sandeels has been accepted by the Government. I understand that at the next meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers in Luxembourg on 22nd April the

16 Apr 1996 : Column 583

Minister of State responsible for fisheries--Mr. Tony Baldry--will propose the introduction of that precautionary TAC.

An important point made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is the localised impact of industrial fishing. It points out that in 1993 the Danish fleet took the staggering figure of 100,000 tonnes of sandeels off the Wee Bankie, on the Fife coast of Scotland. MAFF undertake no research on sandeels and we have no knowledge therefore of the impact of such enormous catches on local human consumption fisheries and other wildlife such as sea birds and marine mammals. Apart from the need for a precautionary TAC for sandeels generally, the RSPB believes it important that quotas are set for individual sandeel fishing grounds such as the Wee Bankie. That is extremely important and I support what the society has suggested.

The Salmon and Trout Association, which is concerned about migratory salmon and sea trout, agrees with the suggestion and recommends that there should be a full multi-species assessment of the effect of industrial fishing in the North Sea and that, in the meantime, we should protect the position with a precautionary TAC. I shall be interested to know whether or not the Government will consider recommending such a full multi-species assessment. That too is important.

I should like to mention one further matter raised in the report; that is, the question of drift nets. As your Lordships will know, at the moment there is a restriction of 2.5 kilometres on the length of drift nets. That has proved almost impossible to enforce. Initially, I understand that Ministers felt there was not enough scientific evidence to justify a total EU ban on the use of high seas drift nets. But our committee recommended such a ban on the basis of the precautionary principle.

At the end of last year MAFF published its latest research on by-catch in the UK tuna fleet. It indicated that somewhere in the region of 1,500 dolphins were being killed annually in the North East Atlantic tuna fisheries. There is therefore a problem. MAFF may be thinking of trying dolphin doors; that is, areas in the netting which are open to allow dolphins to escape. As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that dolphin doors may be effective in reducing a dolphin by-catch. In any case, the nets may catch other species such as turtles and sharks in large numbers. There is therefore a strong case for a ban, as we propose.

The question of research was of great concern to our committee. Professor McIntyre, to whom I referred earlier, emphasised the need for more medium and long-term research such as looking at both the physical and biological interactions in the sea and the behaviour of fish in relation to fishing gear. He also recommended that in aquaculture a priority should be research into fish diseases, which is of obvious importance.

The RSPB is concerned about the possibility that the Directorate of Fisheries Research may be given agency status. If that is done, it may encourage a shift to expedient, short-term research, thus weakening the United Kingdom's fisheries science base. That would be a great pity because the directorate has done admirable

16 Apr 1996 : Column 584

work. I went with some of your Lordships recently to a presentation arranged by Mr. Tony Baldry at which we were able to talk to a number of the MAFF scientists. I was very impressed by what I learnt on that occasion, and I should be very sorry if there were any weakening of our fisheries research, especially at this time.

One aspect we considered was the question of beam trawling. That is covered in the Ministry's response where it plays down the damage done by the trawling. I have always understood that carrying a heavy tickler chain along the seabed is an extremely destructive practice to all kinds of species, particularly as many areas are raked by these beam trawls seven or eight times a year. However, the response from the department tends to discount that. I wonder whether that is justified.

My final point concerns our recommendation about scientific advice, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. In paragraph 3.17 of our report we say--I am sure this is right--that scientific advice must be presented clearly and concisely. At the end of the paragraph we say:

    "But scientific professionalism is currently providing an excuse for political compromise".
I hope that that will not be taken as a criticism of scientists or as a suggestion that they may be pulling their punches in making their recommendations. I do not think they are. I have had a careful look at the advice given by ICES to the Commission on cod, haddock, whiting and saithe stocks in the North Sea over the period of years from 1989. Again and again it has set out in extremely clear terms the dangers of taking no action. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one or two examples. In 1989 it said:

    "The stock of cod has been fished down to a very low level and survival is so low that recruitment is insufficient to maintain the stock in most years".
It goes on to say:

    "The immediate prospects for the North Sea haddock stock are very disturbing".
Year after year it has said that fishing should be limited to 70 per cent. of the 1989 fishing effort. In 1992 it said:

    "Seen in isolation, fishing effort on cod should be reduced to zero".

It seems abundantly clear that where we have gone wrong is in not taking any notice of what the scientists have said. The fault lies with the politicians rather than with the scientists. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Perry, that the government response is disappointing, but I welcome Mr. Tony Baldry's decision to bring together the scientists and the fishermen. That has been extremely useful; it is an initiative we can warmly welcome.

4.34 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, I am grateful to have sat under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and I found the whole experience, although extremely alarming, one of considerable interest. If I were a manager I think I would have found plenty of ways of wheedling my way into the various arguments that have been put forward and finding an excuse to

16 Apr 1996 : Column 585

procrastinate and delay for yet a little longer. So I thought I might speak as though I were painting with a very broad brush and emphasise the point which I think is the most important of all. It will not surprise my noble friend on the Front Bench that that is to cut fishing effort by decommissioning.

Noble Lords may remember that some time back, when a report of Sub-Committee D was mixed up with a fisheries Bill, I managed to win an amendment to that effect by no fewer than 53 votes--my personal best. The fact is that if only this 30 per cent. decommissioning could take place all these other problems would be solved almost at a stroke. It would cost an enormous amount of money. So far this country, lagging a little behind our partners in Europe, has managed to cough up £54 million. In point of fact the fishing effort has hardly gone down at all because, as other speakers have said, there have been improvements in tackle, engine power and so on.

We are talking about decommissioning world wide and that means involving the great fishing nations. Obviously one has to leave out artisanal fisheries, where someone sits in a canoe with a throw net or something of that kind, but it strikes me that if the International Monetary Fund can come to the rescue of bankrupt nations, why should it not come to the rescue of bankrupt oceans? We are dealing with an extremely serious matter, the fishing out of all the oceans--something that could have been the subject of an H.G. Wells book years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, said that 69 per cent. of the oceans are in a depleted or unsatisfactory state of one kind or another. That is saying quite something, especially if one flies across the Pacific from Sydney to Hawaii and one then goes on to Vancouver, but I can well believe that it is true.

An international body will have to be formed if anything is to happen and the sooner nations get together and do just that the better. They should then approach the source of money which I mentioned, no doubt putting in some themselves. This is not just a theoretical business--the Georges Bank and the Newfoundland Bank have serious problems and the pollack fishery off Alaska is in an even worse state. In the United States the other day I met the young skipper of a deep sea trawler. His partner was on the vessel in the Caribbean. The skipper said that they were under this TAC system and that instead of throwing back nets full of cod he had been told on the radio that they had to throw back a blue-finned tuna weighing about 1,000 pounds because, unfortunately, they were over quota.

Perhaps I should continue the story in case any of your Lordships doubt the efficiency with which those vessels can fish. I said to that same man, "Your base is Boston. If you have to go all the way back there to sell your fish, that will cut you down to size". As the report shows, that is what happens to the Norwegians; they have to return to only a very few ports. Indeed, our vessels have to come back to port. However, that man said, "Oh no, our vessel is big enough to carry the right sort of cartons in which to

16 Apr 1996 : Column 586

pack the fish. We can dock anywhere reasonably close to a sensible airport. Our agent in Boston is radioed. He sells the fish, which goes as frozen cargo on a plane to the appropriate place". Like the American seventh fleet, that man's vessel seldom has to go home except for a refit.

I should like to refer to another point on which I have a question for my noble friend. The report refers to "ownership" and to a sense of ownership in relation to fisheries. It refers particularly to the European fisheries and the individual transferable quota. I am a great believer in the idea that ownership means a lot. By that token, the common fisheries policy is bad for fish. I am not making a political point, but in relation to fish conservation, a common fishery tends to be worse than if nations looked after the stocks within their own 200-mile limit.

My question is: is there technically any way out of the common fisheries policy, which, with respect, is such a disaster? I believe that 20 years after its start the whole matter is to be reviewed. Does my noble friend think that it would be right for us to try to extricate ourselves from a situation which Brussels now admits is pretty disastrous? This country has been complimented. It has been said that we do not cheat--of course, euphemisms were used--quite as much as other countries.

The common fisheries policy has caused endless trouble. It has caused dislike between nations. It has caused deceit, cheating and black fish. Like the cheating, the whole system of discards undermines the data which the scientists use to set the next lot of total allowable catches. So, the whole thing goes round in a mad circle. That is why I ask that question.

I should like to raise two small further matters. First, although I have not been to Norway recently--I went there quite a long time ago to look at its fish farming and fish markets--I believe that notice should be taken of how that country operates its fishing. I refer particularly to the fact that Norway involves its fishermen in its deliberations whereas we do not. My noble friend may say, "Yes, we do", and may point to certain areas, but we certainly do not do it enough. That in turn has created its own troubles and antagonisms.

Finally, I must say something about fish farming. Unfortunately in the first five minutes of our first meeting we discovered that my fish ate more fish than they produced fish flesh themselves. In point of fact, the whole thing was a total disaster and the return was absolutely nil. On the other hand, developing countries are interested in fish farming--but one must be careful about what one classes as a "developing" country. At home we had the pleasure of entertaining President Wasmosy of Paraguay and the whole of his Cabinet for lunch. He wanted to see the fish farm. We took him round it and I sent him masses of information from Stirling University. Perhaps he is now getting going on that. I am sure that in the Middle East, South America and Africa there is a huge amount of scope to develop fish farming with

16 Apr 1996 : Column 587

tilapias and carp. They are not my favourite dish, but they might keep someone alive who might otherwise die.

4.44 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, not only the whole House but the whole Community owes an enormous debt to the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and his committee for its report and for the noble Lord's illuminating description and exposition of it. It is, indeed, a devastating report for the whole Community, for our fishing community and for our colleagues in Europe. All who read the report must regard it as a salutary warning which will be ignored at their peril. It is not that the report refers specifically and only to European waters; it also covers the broader perspective of the world-wide problem in great detail. As has been mentioned, there is a problem in Alaska, in the north-west Pacific and, indeed, throughout the world.

Members of the committee have clearly pointed out all the elements of the report and its conclusions, so I shall not dwell on them too heavily. However, I must mention that in previous debates on this many speakers have called for the reform of the common fisheries policy. I note that it is a universal request that it be reformed. I have pleaded that the policy should be debated at the IGC. It is perhaps the consternation over quota-hopping and not this report which has induced the reference of the policy to the IGC. That is excellent, if ironic, news. I trust that the opportunity will be taken at the IGC to have a thorough-going review of the policy in all its aspects, especially in the light of this report. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in his reservations about the usefulness of that. Nevertheless, decommissioning is required and it is only through the CFP that we shall achieve the full amount of decommissioning that is required--that is, at least 30 per cent.

I have no panacea to reinforce the committee's call for urgent action, but it would perhaps be useful to promote one activity immediately. The Ministry's Directorate of Fisheries Research gave evidence, highlighted in the report, on the modification of trawl gear to allow small fish to escape through the introduction of separator panels and square mesh inserts. The matter of the square mesh inserts is well advanced, but I hope that the line of research on separator panels will be vigorously pursued and that a proposal based on the research will be promoted throughout the common fisheries policy. I believe that that would do much to relieve the besetting and ugly problem of discards.

All noble Lords have spoken of Norway. On reading the report, I noticed particularly how Norway has benefited from being outside the common fisheries policy and how well it is doing. What an example to us. I note that my noble friend Lord Radnor asked my noble friend on the Front Bench whether we can get out of the CFP. I feel that that is doubtful. We seem to be irretrievably locked into that policy, which is particularly harmful to the UK and its fishermen. A fish rearing project has been promoted by the Norwegians and it is to be hoped that the Norwegians will develop a policy that eliminates the use of organophosphates and

16 Apr 1996 : Column 588

other dangerous chemicals in promoting fish farming on a wider scale. I do not know whether that is possible, but I think that such a proposal should be pursued. We should co-operate with the Norwegians in every possible way because they seem to be extremely successful in the light of our failures.

Lastly, I suggested to the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, that his report should be translated into all necessary languages and distributed throughout the European Union. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether at least the conclusions in Chapter 3 of the report can be translated into the necessary languages and sent to all Heads of State and certainly to all directors general of the European Union. The authority of your Lordships' Select Committee will undoubtedly give them pause for very grave and deep thought.

4.50 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, although I am not a member of the distinguished committee which produced this report, my home is at Fraserburgh which is one of the leading fishing ports in the country. Its prosperity was founded on fish, and its prosperity still depends upon it. The practice of discarding fish in order not to exceed the quota or the total allowable catch, or because the fish are under sized must be abhorrent to all sensible people, not only because of the waste involved--since almost all discards die--but because pollution of the water from large quantities of dead or dying fish cannot be conducive to a healthy environment for the fish which remain in the sea and are left to breed.

I urge the Government to press for a combination of escape panels in fishing nets, as described in Chapter 3, paragraph 3.23, of the report of the Select Committee, and an increase in the money available, as mentioned in particular by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for decommissioning. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, indicated that the total allowable catch and quota system was responsible for much of the discarding. I believe that it should be phased out and that other methods of control should be introduced.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate in which many points have been covered. When I heard that there was to be another report on fishing by a committee other than the European committee I wondered why, since the European Committee had just produced an excellent report. However, my noble friend extended the scope in a way that the European committee could not and started off by quoting the devastating fact that some 69 per cent. of the stocks in the world were over-exploited, were on the way out or were becoming so. This is a world-wide problem.

In particular, I was interested to note that the report went much wider than the great troubles occasioned by the enormous advance in technology, the greatest of which was the advance in navigation to enable a fisherman who could work his machinery to go to a spot in the sea within 100 yards of where he knew the fish were. This has led to an enormous advance in the

16 Apr 1996 : Column 589

number of fish that a competent skipper can catch. The report also focuses on the problems of the Bangladesh estuary and the under-developed world where a lot of people are getting a much smaller headage of protein from fish than before. The problem is highlighted by the report. The European situation does not give the full extent of the disaster that faces the fishing community and the human race who eat fish.

One of the matters that has been highlighted by a number of speakers, the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for one, is that we should learn from the examples which work. There is no question but that the Norwegians are making a much better job than anybody else of conserving the fish in their area. They are patrolling the area. Their fishermen are consulted. Fishermen are not allowed to discard; they bring home the fish. They are doing all of the things that we in Europe should be doing.

I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, on one matter. It is essential that we have a common fisheries policy. We can all agree that the present policy is all wrong, but that we have to have a common fisheries policy there is no doubt at all.

I also disagree slightly with the noble Earl and say that total allowable catches are absolutely essential. They should be based not on political considerations but on a combination of what fishermen know and what scientists say. What is wrong is the way in which we have applied the restrictions on catches, because they do not have the confidence of fishermen.

A number of speakers have said--it sticks out a mile--that decommissioning is the answer. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said, it is no good replacing a boat with one that is slightly smaller but has a much higher level of catching ability. One has to work out a decommissioning policy in which enough money is applied to reduce the total number of people who catch fish and to find alternative employment for them.

The transferable quota system is easy to work but it lands us in the situation where a fisherman's quota is worth more than his boat. One creates an intolerable situation in which no young man can come into fishing, even if he gets a licence, without paying an enormous sum for a quota which is artificially created. I see no reason why we cannot work out a licensing system that prevents a grave situation in which an artificial obstacle is created to stop young men coming in.

We talk about the necessity of a common fisheries policy but we must be willing to pay for it. There must be a common inspection service, a quango--call it what you will. While the fish landed in northern ports in Britain and elsewhere are logged fairly accurately, if one considers the inspectors in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, their figures are totally wrong. There is no possibility of those figures being right until there is a European body to control the matter.

Perhaps the Minister will tell me how many fishery patrol vessels and helicopters we have in Britain. What size of force or unit is devoted to fishery control and what is its cost? What is the position in the rest of Europe? The answer will be that we spend far more and

16 Apr 1996 : Column 590

that in the rest of Europe the amount spent is totally and completely inadequate. If fishermen are to have a decent policy, they must be subject to control. After all, a whisky producer in Scotland or elsewhere is not allowed to keep the key to his own still so that the Government can collect the revenue. In this case, it would be worth putting up with a good deal of control to ensure that there were fish left to catch.

The report is wide ranging on a serious problem. The FAO needs to be the leader in controlling the catching and preservation of fish world-wide. It appears to be the natural body to do so. It exists, and it has a great deal of knowledge. The report did a great service in pointing out that we must have a substitute for fish meal if we are to carry on fish farming. The enterprise of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, may still pay well if it takes 5 lbs. of cheap fish to convert into 1 lb. of expensive fish. But the lesson we are learning is that we must find a protein fish will eat if fish farming is to play the part that it needs to play in feeding the world in future. It is a good report.

5 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and his colleagues for producing an excellent report which gives a good analysis of a problem of world-wide dimensions. If one reads between the lines of the report, one has the feeling of a combination of pusillanimous governments, scientists hobbled by budgetary constraints, fishermen who are adept at massaging and managing whatever controls are applied and a general reluctance to accept that drastic measures are required if an acceptable solution is to be found.

A number of the most important and relevant points have been covered in the debate. I should like to touch upon just a few of them and then consider a problem which is mentioned in the report but which, for understandable reasons, is not addressed in any great depth; that is, the effect on developing countries of the fishing effort of the countries of the EU and others being diverted to the coasts of Africa and Asia, with a particular example from the Gambia, which graphically illustrates the problem.

I think that we can all agree that the biggest scandal in all fisheries management is the problem of discards. The report sets that out extremely well. There is a famous aphorism in paragraph 1.5, with which we are all familiar:

    "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life".
The temptation is to paraphrase that and to suggest that teaching a man to fish now requires him to be taught how to discard 27 million tonnes per annum world-wide, while the developing countries are crying out for protein. It is a curious harvest indeed when 25 per cent. of the total catch is wasted.

The report grapples exceedingly well with the problem of relating TACs to the discard problem, but one is driven to the conclusion, which is implied in the report, that it will be impossible to solve the discard problem while TACs are the main chosen method of controlling the fishing effort.

16 Apr 1996 : Column 591

The subject of fisheries research is well analysed in the report. Paragraph 2.36 points out that total government spending on fisheries research is £19 million per annum for an industry worth £500 million in terms of fish landed annually. Paragraph 2.29 of the report and paragraph 54 on page 177 of the written evidence say all that needs to be said about our research effort. I quote the ministry's evidence:

    "The difficult area in decision making is the work which although valuable may seem unlikely to produce usable results within a reasonable timescale. Where there are pressures on research budgets this is the kind of work which will be given lower priority".

When are there not pressures on research budgets? What is a reasonable timescale in this context when we are dealing with a problem of, as I said, world-wide dimensions? It is also to be hoped that fisheries research will not be bedeviled by the artificial construct of "near market" and "public good" research which has so affected agricultural research in recent years.

I was struck, as were a number of noble Lords, by the evident approval in the report for the Norwegian management of its fisheries. On a lighter note, I am sure that noble Lords must be relieved that my noble friends Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Bruce of Donington and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, are not here to point out the evident advantages of not being members of the common fisheries policy.

Paragraph 2.79 of the report has a quotation from Dr. Garcia of the FAO who pointed out the different objectives and lifestyles of fishermen, scientists, governments and politicians, and when I read it I thought how relevant it was. In the committee's conclusions I thought that there were overtones of the BSE crisis when it pointed out that,

    "scientific professionalism is currently providing an excuse for political compromise".
Curiously, there are other overtones of the BSE crisis in the report, particularly when it refers to the feeding of fish to fish in paragraph 2.115. I agree that we must find alternative sources of protein. The effect of the BSE crisis will be a substantial increase in the price of fish meal.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page