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A noble Lord: And the gander.

Earl Haig: Yes. I went to Moss near my home in September, I believe it was. I counted 600 goosanders in an area of about an acre. They were congregating there for some reason which I did not know. It is an indication of the enormous number of birds in the Tweed valley which do an enormous amount of damage to our young fry and smolt in the river. They have a very bad effect.

I offer these comments together with my genuine support for the strategic proposals in the report which seek to deal with many complicated problems. I hope that the Government will pay some heed to the report. I congratulate the NRA on producing it and I wish the Environment Agency in England and Wales a successful outcome as a result.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I hurried back from Cardiff this afternoon to take part in this debate for two good reasons. The first is to express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Mills, not just for initiating this debate, but, even more important, for being the principal progenitor of this strategy for salmon management. The second is to emphasise the significance of this new strategy, which was one of the final achievements of the NRA before it handed over its responsibilities to the new Environment Agency.

The NRA spent a great deal of time discussing fishing issues at its board meetings. I very much doubt whether the new agency will be able to do the same. The pressure on its agenda will be immense and for a time at least I suspect that both the board and the senior managers of the agency will have other priorities.

From the time that has been devoted to salmon in this House--we have returned again to the subject tonight--one might have thought that the only thing of real interest in the whole issue of protecting salmon in British waters was to end very speedily the north-east coast fishery. The NRA document at least has one benefit: it brings out very clearly that there is much more to it than that.

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The issue of the net fishery has been discussed so often that I do not intend to say very much about it tonight except to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that from the start, and not belatedly, it was the NRA's clear view that mixed stock exploitation should be phased out. But equally, we took the view--we believe that it was firmly based on law and not simply on opinion--that it was for government to decide how best to deal with the social consequences.

Without an immediate threat to stocks it was not for the NRA, and will not be for the Environment Agency, to take the more immediate and violent action that has sometimes been advocated, and has indeed just been eloquently advocated by my noble friend Lord Haig.

In the wider context, the NRA did think it right to set as an objective for the strategy the aim that surplus stocks should be exploited in a way that optimises their total economic value so long as that does not jeopardise achieving optimal spawning escapement or ignore considerations of social equity. I believe that my noble friend Lord Haig was a bit tough in his remarks about the economic policy in suggesting that it ignored the prime importance of conservation when in fact conservation was put right up as Objective 1 and that this very objective spelt out very clearly that it was dealing only with surplus stocks in terms of economic exploitation.

Section 3.1 of the strategy document makes it very clear that the issues are complex although they are frequently over-simplified by those who have a case to make. It involves achieving the correct balance of exploitation by nets and rods. At present the Environment Agency, like the NRA before it, has no powers to change resource allocation. It can advise on the scientific aspects and act, as my noble friend Lord Mills, pointed out, as an honest broker if fishery owners or anglers want to buy back the net fisherman's right to fish. But any compulsory change in resource allocation will require action by government and legislative change.

Perhaps I may make one reference to my noble friend Lord Mills and his powerful argument in favour of a buy-out. If we are to do it we had better get on with it. Simply to talk about it encourages existing fishermen to continue to fish in the hope that the buy-out will come. There is some quite strong evidence that the numbers are being held up at the present time for that reason. So if there is to be a buy-out action needs to be taken quite fast. I think too that it should be understood that the costs of policing the fishery will probably rise because the licensed netsmen play a crucial part in ensuring that indiscriminate poaching does not take place in the area.

Earlier this year the NRA was asked to consider whether there were sound grounds for postponing the start of netting off the north-east coast until 1st May, a fact referred to in strong terms by the noble Lord, Lord Mason. It seemed quite clear to us that there were no adequate scientific grounds for doing that at present. The impact on stock numbers in the rivers would have been negligible. I found that evidence pretty compelling. We read it most carefully and discussed it at great length. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord that it was not a lack of will that prevented us taking action, but the scientific facts and the numbers as we interpreted them.

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However, apparently the Minister was not entirely convinced. I therefore proposed an ongoing discussion involving MAFF, the Scottish Office and all other interested parties so that the matter could be kept under review and those involved could return to it. Against the background of the views expressed by the Minister, we were surprised when our scheme to increase the net licence charges was amended to reduce them in that part of the country. That seemed a slightly inconsistent approach. The noble Lord also referred to that point. The charging scheme that is now in place is clearly the Minister's, rather than that of the NRA.

That brings me to the whole question of government support. The very sharp cut in grant in aid funding has been referred to by others. I have to say firmly that enough is enough. The NRA learned the hard way how difficult it is to devise an acceptable and workable scheme so that riparian owners contribute to expenditure which certainly benefits many of them. A great effort has undoubtedly still to be made by a variety of means to maximise resources, possibly by partnerships in which fishing associations, clubs and owners would work with the Environment Agency, not necessarily contributing in cash, but in a variety of other ways. There could be direct contributions from the beneficiaries of agency work, including those who fish and those who own fisheries. There could be sponsorship of the kind that has been so successful on the Thames. There could also be cost recovery from those who damage fisheries.

Having said that, and having freely conceded that all those must contribute, I have to say firmly to the Government that in my view and in the view of my former colleagues in the NRA there are overwhelming arguments for the maintenance of substantial government funding for fisheries. Last year we presented a powerful and detailed case to Mr. Hogg, and to Mr. Hague at the Welsh Office. That case is set out again very clearly on page 34 of the strategy paper. The Government have a clear duty to continue to fund the law enforcement activities of the agency in the face of increasingly professional and often violent poaching activities; to help to put right the historic damage caused by industrial and economic activities in the past; and to take some proper account of the wider public benefits that arise from the presence of fish in our rivers, not just for those who catch, or seek to catch, them.

The strategy is very much based on consultation. There has been widespread consultation during its preparation. Its future success will depend on an effective process of ongoing consultation, co-operation and ownership, harnessing local knowledge (of the kind referred to by my noble friend Lord Radnor) with the best available scientific information.

Catchment management planning has been the key instrument of the NRA in effectively achieving an integrated approach to water management, because healthy fisheries depend on adequate flows, good water quality and a suitable physical habitat. Within the catchment management arrangements, we are now to have salmon action plans. Do we need a strategy? Yes,

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I am sure that we do. I am sure that the use of spawning targets gives us a basic measure against which that strategy can be measured.

I should like to touch on one or two other points that have been raised in the debate. I agree with those who believe that at present the law is extremely cumbersome and that we need a faster way of changing the by-laws, particularly in an emergency. We really do need to have much more flexible arrangements than exist at present, but we must, of course, protect individual rights and interests in any process that is introduced.

The strategy lays a good deal of emphasis on genetic diversity and on the importance of maintaining a rigorous approach to stocking practice. I think that that is wise, particularly as much of the evidence suggests that stocking is frequently not a cost-effective option. There needs to be an active exchange between the scientists, the agency and fisheries' owners on such issues, because I do not think that that fact is widely understood.

The subject of avian predators has been raised. My noble friend Lord Kimball accused the NRA of ducking its responsibilities. I think that my noble friend got it wrong. It is not our responsibility. It is clearly the responsibility of Ministers in MAFF and the Welsh Office. It is not a subject which the NRA or the Environment Agency control.

I am glad that there has been a reference to herons. I think that it is the herons who are taking both the trout and the salmon from my little trout stream. The fish are not there in the quantities of a few years ago.

On rereading the strategy, like many others I was struck by the need to place greater emphasis on what is happening out in the Atlantic. There is an urgent need to understand much more about the consequences of changing weather patterns, currents and temperatures. I believe that they are of crucial importance. My noble friend Lord Kimball referred to the fact that the plankton may be further away. There is much historic evidence that previous cycles have affected the distribution of fish. If we do not understand what is happening out there with those vast forces, our puny little efforts at home may well be misdirected and the results of our analysis may not be properly understood.

I have one final point. There is a need for discipline and self-restraint, particularly if we want to see the return of spring-run salmon stocks. There is a great deal of evidence that there has been over-fishing by rods on certain rivers, certainly on the Wye. I welcome the support that has generally been given on that by all but a few.

We owe a considerable debt to my noble friend Lord Mills and to all his professional colleagues for their work. It is a particularly happy circumstance that the author of this important document should be able to present it in your Lordships' House. It is rather a good justification also for the inherited principle.

7.39 p.m.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I must declare an interest as chairman of the company which manages the river whose name I bear. I am also a member of the

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Caithness Fisheries Board. Like all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, for the opportunity to debate this excellent strategy document. Indeed, I congratulate the noble Viscount on being the author of a document which is not only lucid and clear but which also sets out the problems and some of the solutions for salmon management in England and Wales in a way that is both comprehensive and structured.

It is difficult for me to take part in a debate in your Lordships' House without making reference to my father. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the noble Viscount is that all of the things my father taught me about salmon management, and a great deal more, are contained in his report. A number of overall themes come through repeatedly and strongly. I should like to touch on one or two of them.

I refer to the need for co-operation and consensus among all those involved in the management and exploitation of this valuable resource; the identification in the document of the current lack of co-ordination and co-operation between many of those involved in fisheries as a primary deficiency in present management; the insistence on a scientifically-based approach to the problem, which comes through again and again in the document, and the clear need for more data and study; and the great importance of understanding and nurturing the river environment, particularly the riverine habitat. I include the sea as part of habitat management. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, in regard to what he termed the hungry gap.

I turn first to the environment. I have long been of the opinion that many of the problems encountered in salmon management and the reduction of stocks in many of our rivers have been caused, not by one drastic event or easily identifiable source, but by a combination of factors that have insidiously over a period of time come together to create the difficulties we now face. Although I know of many rivers whose entire population of salmon has been wiped out by pollution or other environmental factors, I am not aware of any river whose population of salmon has been entirely wiped out by human fishing activity. Therefore, I believe that one of the most significant points in the document is the importance that it attaches to habitat management. It is said on page 20 that increasingly it is recognised that often habitat restoration and improvement can be a more efficient, self-sustaining and cost-effective means of increasing fish production and stocking.

As to my own river, I am extremely fortunate that not only do I own it from source to sea, as well as the estuary fishings, but I own or control most of the land adjacent to the river. For as long as I can remember my father worked to maintain and, where possible, improve the habitat. Our methods were built up over many years, very often by trial and error and the application of common sense. In addition to monitoring and maintaining where possible the condition of redds, in particular by being able to prevent excessive access to the riverbank by stock, which avoids degradation of the riverbank and consequent silting, we have also sought to increase the territories available for young salmon,

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thereby increasing the size of the smolt run. I recognise that I am very fortunate as a sole owner to be able to act--I hope--as a beneficial dictator. Clearly, on larger rivers with multi-ownership and many differing interests, it is far more difficult to gain the necessary consensus to achieve the actions necessary for habitat conservation and improvement. I emphasise that this is an area where much more work of extreme benefit to fisheries can be done.

As the beneficiary of the hereditary principle, not only in your Lordships' House but also in fisheries management, it would be impossible for me to take part in a debate on this subject without referring to netting. I was particularly pleased to read in the report that the proposed strategy took into account the legitimate interests of all who benefited from the salmon resource, including netsmen. I have a clear interest here as the owner of a number of netting stations. However, the estuary netting on the Thurso is a vital element in the total management of our resource. Quite apart from employment and other benefits which accrue from the activity, I average a bottom line profit which is used entirely to pay for the majority of work undertaken each year in maintaining the river and employing watching staff. The simple truth is that on this river without that income it would not be possible to undertake the environmental management or river-watching activities by water bailiffs which contribute so much to maintaining the overall prosperity of the enterprise. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that any significant increase in a rod catch can take place as a result of closing the net operation. Consequently, it would be impossible to replace the lost revenue which is so vital to us.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Earl, Lord Haig, touched on the economics. I am also in the very fortunate position of owning a hotel where fishermen stay. I have a kind of monopoly. Therefore, I have a total interest in getting the maximum economic benefit, because wherever it comes from I will get it. It seems to me that the economics depend upon the assumption that for every extra fish that goes into the river there will be another angler to catch it. I believe that the lucky anglers on the Thurso will just end up catching a lot more fish. I would not have a penny more but would merely have lost quite a lot of money.

However, the following two general observations about netting are perhaps more important than the economic value to the river. First, I echo a sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He referred to the increase in illegal netting as a result of netting stations stopping. The bailiff of the Caithness District Fisheries Board, who is also the river superintendent on the Thurso, is of the opinion that where traditional netting stations on the north coast have closed they have been replaced by illegal sea fishing operations. His estimate is that there are now far more fish being caught illegally off the north coast of Scotland than were ever taken by legal means. Where a legal netting station exists the owner or tenant of that station has a strong interest in protecting his property and rights, and consequently keeps a watchful eye on it. Once the netting station has been bought out he has no further interest and

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consequently it becomes much easier for the poacher to operate. Obviously, the poacher wishes to maximise his gain by using the most efficient nets available and fishing at the best time for his operation, whereas the legal fisherman by and large operates within the law. This is perhaps an unforeseen result of the buying out of netting stations, and it is one I should like to see studied further. I submit that it is better to have a legal netting station subject to proper rules and control, correctly exploiting the resource, than to have a large scale illegal sea poaching operation.

The second, and perhaps more contentious, observation is that most netsmen, particularly in the north of Scotland, are locals, whereas most anglers are perceived by those locals to be rich and from the South. There is a degree of resentment in local communities where long-established traditional net fishing is being stamped out for the benefit of the few. This creates a wholly unnecessary social divide; we must be very careful to guard against it. I believe that all those who have a legitimate interest should have a seat at the table. I urge the more hysterical elements of the angling community--if I may use that expression--to think long and hard before they vilify all netsmen.

I turn to stocking. I was fascinated by this section of the report. I was particularly interested to note the dangers of introducing to a river genetically unsound stock. It was something of which I had been unaware. On the Thurso we have our own hatchery. After the fishing season is over in October we take sufficient ova to produce approximately 150,000 fry which we put in the river the following season. We have reduced the number of ova that we have taken over the years. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s we sold fry to other rivers, we now take only what we require to stock the Thurso. That is an example of our management technique changing by trial and error and subsequently discovering that it is sound in scientific terms.

I was interested to hear of the concept of trapping; it is something I should like to examine on my river. One interesting change we have implemented recently concerns the location at which we net the brood stock. For many years it was traditional to fish in one or two fords on the river. Our river superintendent noticed that there was almost no natural spawning at those points thereafter. About four or five years ago he introduced a policy of leaving various fords fallow and fishing the whole of the river in rotation. The result of that is that we appear to have stopped doing the damage that was taking place and natural spawning has now returned to fords which were previously barren.

I was interested to read of the dangers of introducing genetically different stock. For a number of years in the mid-1970s my father donated annually 10,000 fry from the Thurso which were placed in the Thames at Teddington. I should like to hope that in a small way that contributed to the return of salmon to the Thames, although I now wonder what the consequences of that action might be. I wonder whether it would be an interesting subject to study. Presumably one could do that by examining the DNA of salmon in the Thurso and salmon in the Thames. Again I echo the views of the

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noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. We need to know much more about stocking. It is clear that owners, too, need to know more.

One of the most important areas touched upon in the document is the pressing need for national co-operation in our own country and international management. Whereas there is a strong case for a properly regulated and maintained traditional coastal, and, particularly, estuary netting, I believe that deep-sea exploitation of multi-source salmon is a more recent development and extremely dangerous. However well I or any other fishery manager tends his habitat and manages his fishery, if large sea catches are being made all that good work can be for nothing. I support wholeheartedly the noble Viscount's call not merely for a national but an international strategy.

I had the pleasure recently of entertaining Mr. Orri Vigfusson to tea in your Lordships' House and of hearing from him the excellent work he has done in buying off the deep sea fisheries. That is clearly an area where a contribution by the Government would be beneficial.

One of the benefits of the district fishery board system in Scotland is that we can raise rates and use those funds to pay for the activities we wish to undertake. In Caithness, we are using William Shearer, who is referred to in the report--he is one of the sources--to undertake a study of our different river habitats, going around each of the rivers in the district over a period of about five years. I do not know whether there is anything to be learned in England in Wales from the way in which we raise our finance in Scotland, but we seem to have the benefit of a slightly more sensible system.

This has been a truly fascinating debate. I shall be reading it again in Hansard to ensure that I have taken it all in. I thank the noble Viscount for giving us the opportunity to discuss his excellent document. It is in the clear interests of all of those involved in the exploitation of the salmon resource, be they owners, operators, anglers, netsmen or the general public, to ensure that the resource is sustained and improved. We must all work together to achieve that common objective. The strategy document is an excellent blueprint for realising that goal.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Gallacher: My Lords, this is a unique occasion in my experience. The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, whom I congratulate both on the NRA strategy document, of which he is the author, and on the manner in which he introduced it, was successful in the Ballot for Motions for Debate, and chose his own document for that purpose. That has enabled your Lordships to return to a favourite topic, even though limited to England and Wales, with allusions to other important countries and distant waters fisheries.

The occasion is even more historic, having regard to the origins of the NRA. Some would describe the NRA as a quango, but it was, by custom and use, more than just that. Indeed, it nearly became an estate of the realm. Noble Lords will recall that the NRA was the product

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of second thoughts at a time when there was much justifiable criticism of proposals for privatising the regional water authorities. The public rightly criticised the idea of water plcs being judge and jury in their own cause. Subsequent criticism of various aspects of the operation of those plcs shows that the Minister then concerned was wise to think again and to legislate for the establishment of the NRA.

We have now entered a new phase in the NRA's role with the creation of the Environment Agency in England and Wales from 1st April 1996. The strategy document acknowledges that at page 1, when it says that the Environment Act 1995 will undoubtedly influence future salmon management. In the light of tonight's discussion, we need some indication of the resources which the Environment Agency will make available to the NRA for the work it is doing. My impression about the likelihood of adequate resources is slightly unfavourable in the light of what has been said about that aspect.

The position of Scotland is also of interest to us. At page 3, the document commits the NRA, MAFF and the Welsh Office to liaise with the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture about matters affecting salmon fisheries in the UK. The noble Earl, Lord Haig, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, have given us an update on the current position in Scotland, but for those who see it from a distance we should still like to be aware of what changes in the provision and supply of water in Scotland, comparable to those which gave birth to the NRA in England and Wales, are now under way. Can one ask whether there are to be any changes to present arrangements for Scottish salmon rivers of which the House should take note in our deliberations this evening? It has been urged, quite rightly, by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that we need a four-nation policy covering salmon in order to deal adequately with the whole question.

The NRA strategy sets out four objectives for the future management of salmon fisheries, and subsequently examines them in some detail. It claims that that is a new approach involving target setting, stock monitoring and performance of fisheries. No claim is made for completeness in such regards, and variation in salmon numbers, year on year, is acknowledged for both fresh and sea water. Such caution should at least allow your Lordships' House to continue its annual discussion on the effectiveness of salmon management.

Funding and the provision of resources are naturally at the heart of the strategy. Her Majesty's Government are asked to continue paying for law enforcement and repair of historic and unattributable damage to fisheries as well as direct and indirect benefits that the public receive from salmon. The EU funding for management activities under the habitats directive is discussed as a possible resource. Her Majesty's Government's response to those financial probings will be of interest to your Lordships, even if there is no definitive answer tonight.

Objective 4 at page 7 points out that grant-in-aid effectively funds 80 per cent. of expenditure on salmon and sea trout fisheries. It then considers the relative

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contribution by direct participants in those fisheries--that is, rods, nets and owners--as compared to that made by government. That section, while looking to contributions by developers of barrages or reservoirs, which may have a detrimental effect on salmon, and towards pre-and post-impact studies, including the NRA's costs, seem to expect such work to be at least part publicly funded. The justification for that is that much damage to salmon fisheries, not exclusively historic, is unattributable. In today's climate for public finance, it may be that expectations should not be pitched too high, even if strongly pressed.

The section dealing with fishery-based management actions will undoubtedly attract much attention--as it has already done this afternoon--and especially the section on net fisheries.

The NRA finds current administrative procedures to promote orders or change by-laws cumbersome--a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell--and promises discussions with MAFF about the possibility of simplification or streamlining. The strategy of rapid response to introduce or relax fishery control measures is canvassed, including the feasibility of promoting legislation to acquire such powers. One is always wary of proposals for legislation, at least until one has seen a Bill. Old hands will recognise the importance of pre-consultation in such areas, as well as a sympathetic ministerial ear and a gap in the legislative timetable.

The question of drift-net fishing is ever present--it has made its appearance yet again tonight--and one hopes that the NRA policy declaration on exploitation at page 16, which believes that the exploitation of single river stocks and the phasing out of mixed river stocks over an appropriate timescale will meet with acceptance at least in principle.

Most noble Lords will welcome the firm tone of the strategy's reference to the drift-net fishery operating around the southern, western and north-western coasts of Ireland. As paragraph 1.2.2 at page 24 clearly shows, this is an unwelcome growth area from a United Kingdom standpoint. The NRA recommendation to the Government for the phasing out of this mixed stock fishery deserves a sympathetic ministerial reply.

The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, expressed a belief that a north-eastern buy-out of those drift-net fisheries would strengthen our hand in dealing with Ireland. Of course, I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the more we talk about such a buy-out the higher the ultimate cost will be.

Perhaps I may raise a matter of some concern which reached me only this afternoon; namely, problems arising from the spread of the oil slick from the "Sea Empress" in Milford Haven which created a sea trout problem. This slick spread from Carmarthen Bay to Aberystwyth. Rivers affected include the Towy, the Teifi, the Ystwyth and its tributary the Rheidol. Those are important for sea trout and are now closed for fishing with no date to re-open. For Wales, such rivers provide game fishers with more exciting fishing than for salmon. Their closure causes losses of tourist trade. For instance, I am told that one US syndicate has fishing rights on the lower reaches of the Towy to fish for sea

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trout from now until October and may cancel its rights if the river is out for the season. I am also told that Towy sea trout are in many instances severely damaged and show signs of swimming through heavily polluted sea to spawn. Damaged fish have signs of burning on their skin, which is the result of swimming in polluted sea. The policy for salmon may be all right but what about sea trout? Can the Minister say or write to me as regards what the NRA and/or the Environment Agency are doing about the resultant damage to Welsh coastal and inland waters caused by the "Sea Empress" incident?

The Motion before us tonight is to call attention to the NRA's strategy document and to move for Papers. On the assumption that, as is customary, it is subsequently and with the leave of the House withdrawn, one wonders what will happen now. I hope that we may have a reply to that question. The noble Viscount has produced at the right time a document which, if not for bedside reading, will be a resource for some years to come.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mills for providing this opportunity to debate the National Rivers Authority's salmon management strategy. It is an important and ambitious exercise which, taken with the strategy currently being prepared for Scotland, will do much to safeguard salmon in Great Britain and to ensure their sustainable development. I know that my noble friend played a major role in preparing the strategy and I congratulate him warmly on it. It certainly taught me a thing or two.

I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for elaborating on the strategy and for his comments on some of the points which noble Lords have made.

The idea of a Great Britain salmon management strategy, which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised, has its attractions but we do not believe that a single strategy would be the best way to proceed, given the differences in the nature of fisheries north and south of the Border and in the way that they are administered and regulated. However, the separate strategies for England, Wales and Scotland, will need to be co-ordinated.

As your Lordships know, the strategy serves two distinct purposes. It sets out clearly the way in which the NRA believed that its own salmon management responsibilities should be carried out and it gives the NRA's views on how policy on salmon management should develop. It will be for the new agency to decide how best to carry this work forward. Nevertheless, the Government consider that the NRA's proposals are sensible and believe that they provide the Environment Agency with a sound basis from which to carry out its own management responsibilities.

We particularly endorse the concept of the setting of spawning targets for individual rivers. These, together with enhanced monitoring of stock levels, will ensure

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that the future regulation and management of salmon fisheries is on a more consistent and scientific basis than hitherto. The maintenance and improvement of water quality and the improvement of habitat will also benefit significantly salmon stocks and salmon fisheries.

The Government share the NRA's view on the importance of maintaining the diversity of salmon stocks. We are also pleased that the strategy recognises the need to protect and enhance stocks of spring run salmon. The importance of this was highlighted in the Salmon Advisory Committee's report on the run timing of salmon.

There will of course continue to be a need to regulate fishing for salmon in both the net and rod fisheries. Each case will have to be considered on its merits. We nevertheless support fully the NRA's policy of phasing out predominantly mixed stock fisheries; that is, fisheries which exploit stocks from a number of different river systems. This policy is consistent with the measures adopted in the north-east coast drift-net fishery following the Government's 1991 report on salmon net fisheries.

I know that there are those who consider that mixed stock fisheries should be phased out more quickly. We do not believe that such action can be justified where there is no immediate threat to stocks. The reasons for our position were set out clearly by my noble friend Lord Lucas in the debate on this issue in December last year and I will not repeat them now. However, I must stress that if stocks are threatened further action will clearly need to be taken. Similarly, if the level of exploitation in a rod fishery were to pose a threat to stocks additional restrictions would have to be considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, raised the issue of the north-east coast drift-net fishery. Our policy on that was set in previous debates and most recently by my noble friend Lord Lucas in the debate on salmon drift netting on 5th December. I am sure that your Lordships know the whole policy off by heart, so do not expect me to repeat it again. Suffice it to say that the policy remains unchanged. Nevertheless, we and the NRA are continuing to monitor the fisheries, and action will be taken if catches in the fishery threaten stocks. In the meantime, if others see a benefit in a faster phase-out, there is nothing to stop them from negotiating a compensation arrangement with the netsmen.

My noble friend Lord Mills asked about the relative cost to the public purse of maintaining the north-east coast drift-net fishery as compared with ending it and also whether the Government might consider diverting any savings that might arise as a result of ending the fishery into a compensation scheme for the netsmen. The NRA has said that the ending of the drift-net fishery would result in only modest savings in its expenditure. It is estimated that the cost of checking boats in the licensed fishery to be around £15,000 a year. It has made the point that that amount would not necessarily be saved if the fishery were to come to an end. There would still be a need to protect salmon stocks, including those returning to rivers in Scotland, from illegal fishing off the coast, and that would reduce the scope for actual

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savings. In view of that, we do not believe that diverting savings into a compensation fund is a particularly promising option. However, the phase-out of the fishery has been carried out in a way which would enable those who see benefit in a fast phase-out to negotiate private agreements with the netsmen concerned under which they would surrender their licences in return for compensation. I understand that certain interests are looking at the feasibility of such an agreement.

The strategy also considers the management of salmon stocks outside of the NRA's area of jurisdiction and looks in particular at the Faroes and Greenland fisheries and the drift-net fishery operating off the coast of Ireland. The regulation of the Faroes and Greenland fisheries is a matter for the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation. One of its principal purposes is the establishment of the quotas for these fisheries. The setting of spawning targets for principal English and Welsh salmon rivers will aid this process.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, called on the Government to contribute to the cost of the buyout of the Greenland and Faroes fisheries. Those fisheries are subject to quotas set by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation. The buyout of those quotas is largely a private matter between the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and the fishermen concerned. The Government take the view that it is up to those who see a benefit in going beyond management measures agreed in NASCO to organise and fund that themselves. It is not something on which we could justify spending taxpayers' money, especially at a time when we are committed to reducing public expenditure.

As to the future of the Irish drift-net fishery, this is a matter for the Irish authorities. As my noble friend Lord Lucas explained in the debate on salmon drift-netting, the Irish Government have established a task force to consider practical long term strategies for salmon management with a view to developing a system for the sustainable management of stocks. In this context, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food drew the attention of the Irish Government to our policy on mixed stock fisheries and the means by which we are phasing them out, and suggested that they might wish to consider a similar approach. I understand that the Irish Government are currently considering the report of their task force with a view to taking a decision on future policy.

My noble friend Lord Haig suggested that the NRA's views on the Irish drift-net fishery are not entirely consistent with its policy towards the net fisheries operating in the coastal waters around England and Wales. However, it is clear from the strategy that there is no conflict. The NRA's policy was to phase out those fisheries which exploit predominantly mixed stocks, and that is the policy that it would like to see adopted in the Irish fishery.

The Government have also noted the NRA's views on the future development of salmon policy. A number of the measures it suggests would require changes to the law, and we will certainly consider these in any future review of the legislation governing the regulation and management of salmon and freshwater fisheries.

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However, any changes must be consistent with the Government's wider policies. This is particularly relevant in relation to the NRA's recommendations on carcass tagging and salmon dealer licensing which were mentioned specifically by my noble friend Lord Mills and the noble Lord, Lord Moran. The possibility of introducing such measures was considered in some depth by the Government in the late 1980s. They concluded, however, that there were practical difficulties with both schemes and that they would place undue burdens on business. This latter consideration is even more relevant today, given the Government's current policy of avoiding additional regulation wherever possible and keeping burdens on business to a minimum. We are therefore unlikely to change our views on these ideas unless we are presented with convincing new arguments.

The strategy goes on to address two other areas of policy which are particularly contentious: resource allocation and the financing of the NRA's and agency's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries. There are, I know, some who consider that recreational rod fisheries should have preferential, or even sole, access to the salmon resource. The strategy looks at this issue in some detail. It also notes that the NRA does not have the power to seek a reduction in netting effort simply in order to increase the share of the catch taken by anglers. Its powers to regulate exploitation, which have been inherited by the agency, may only be used where there is a need to conserve or improve the management of stocks.

This is clearly an issue which will have to be considered in any future review of legislation. But, as the strategy document makes clear, this is a complex area, and the arguments for change will have to be considered very carefully, particularly as any change could involve the further restriction or even complete removal of a public right dating back to the Magna Carta, in favour of private rights. This is not something that should be undertaken lightly.

The question of funding is also a complex one, as I believe my noble friend Lord Mills acknowledged. This year, something like 80 per cent. of the agency's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries will be financed by the Government from grant-in-aid. The Government remain committed to paying grant-in-aid in support of the agency's fisheries function. But the public purse is not bottomless, and there are many competing demands for resources which need to be balanced. This inevitably means that those who benefit from the agency's work will need to make a greater contribution to its cost.

The NRA has already made some steps in this direction. It has increased the level of licence duties for fishing for migratory salmonids with rod and line. And it has embarked on a rationalisation of net licence duties which will involve significant increases for many licence holders. These changes were the subject of consultation and were subsequently approved--with modifications in the case of the net licence duties--by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Wales. Their decisions are the subject of an application for

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judicial review which has been lodged by the Salmon and Trout Association. Therefore, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that I cannot go further on that subject.

I note the comments of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell on the need for grant-in-aid. The Government accept that much of the work done by the Environment Agency's fishery function, and by the NRA before it, cannot be attributed to any specific groups or individuals. They accept also that the agency spends considerable sums of money on enforcing the law. The grant-in-aid paid to that fishery function reflects that. But the division between those activities which should be publicly funded and those which should be paid for by the beneficiaries of the agency's fishery function is not clear cut.

For example, in Scotland the enforcement activities of the District Salmon Fisheries Board is funded by fishery owners. Nor should the Government necessarily pay for the repair of what is sometimes referred to as historic damage to fisheries. Those who owned the fishing rights at the time may well have been responsible for and benefited from the activities which gave rise to the damage in the first place.

The amount of money which can be raised from duties on rod and net licences is clearly limited. The agency will therefore have to consider alternative sources of income. Levying contributions from owners of salmon fishing rights is one option which is being considered by the agency. But it may be necessary to carry out a more fundamental review of the way in which salmon fisheries are managed and funded. This is something which the agency will have to reflect on.

My noble friend Lord Kimball raised concerns about the stripping of salmon. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Mills will take account of those views and take them back with him to the Environment Agency.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, and my noble friends Lord Kimball, Lord Radnor and Lord Haig all mentioned cormorants. We are well aware of concerns about the effect of predation by cormorants and sawbills on salmon and freshwater fish and I shall write to my noble friend Lord Radnor about herons. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, cormorants and sawbills are both protected by EC legislation and in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Act makes provision for birds to be shot under licence in cases where they are causing serious damage to fisheries, but only as an aid to scaring where other methods of non-lethal scaring have been shown to be ineffective or impractical.

I know that there are those who would like to see a cull. However, equally, there are those who believe that shooting is unjustified. However, the Government must work within the constraints of the law. If the law is to be changed, then it needs to be demonstrated that the existing arguments are not sufficient to protect fisheries from serious damage. That is why the Government have commissioned a major R&D programme over three years to look at all aspects of the problem. I shall tell my noble friend Lord Kimball that the Government

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continue to support a wide programme of research, which includes research into the diets and behaviour of seals.

I note the concern of my noble friend Lord Radnor about the plight of the southern chalk streams. They are suffering particular difficulties. Both we and the agency are aware of that and are investigating ways to address the issue. However, I agree that it is important that the agency should consult with local riparian owners and anglers, and take account of the views expressed.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Haig for reminding us of the need to pay attention to the fate of salmon at sea. Monitoring salmon at sea presents particular problems and is expensive. Nevertheless, the research and development programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food includes projects which consider factors affecting salmon at sea.

I have not dealt with many of the questions that were raised, but I am faced with the usual problem of time. Moreover, I might just bore your Lordships. Therefore, I shall write to all those noble Lords whose questions I have not answered, and I apologise to them for not doing so tonight. However, I believe that the NRA has provided a firm foundation upon which the Environment Agency can build. It really is to be congratulated.

8.22 p.m.

Viscount Mills: My Lords, I first thank all noble Lords who have taken part in tonight's debate. I believe that your Lordships have made a stimulating and quite fascinating contribution to the ongoing salmon debate. I am most grateful for the wide support given to the strategy and for the kind comments which have been made to me. However, I should like to take the opportunity to acknowledge my NRA colleagues without whom the document would not have been produced and with whom the much greater responsibility of implementing it lies.

I shall not attempt to try even to address the perceptive points raised by many noble Lords. However, I am sure that they will be widely discussed outside the House. I hope that they will be fully considered both by the Government and by the Environment Agency. I should like just to pick up on one point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Radnor regarding the fact that the strategy may be 10 years too late. I hope that my noble friend is wrong in that respect; but I feel that we should heed his advice and act quickly.

I also thank my noble friend the Minister. I am glad to hear of the Government's general endorsement of the strategy. However, I was disappointed to hear from my noble friend that she was not optimistic about the opportunities for diverting funds into decommissioning the north-east drift-net fishery. I was also disappointed by my noble friend's comments on dealer licensing and carcass tagging. I say that because there is clearly widespread support for those very sensible and cost-effective measures. I wonder why the Government are not at least prepared to reconsider those two measures. I must also say that I was disappointed by other aspects in my noble friend's response, especially on the matter of funding. However, for now I shall just have to remain disappointed.

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Within the strategy, the NRA calls for a vigorous debate about the management issues surrounding our salmon. I am glad that part of that debate has taken place within this House and that I have had the privilege to participate in it. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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