Correspondence with Ministers October 2006 to April 2007 - European Union Committee Contents


Letter from the Chairman to Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  I refer to your Explanatory Memorandum of 14 August on the above subject, which Sub-Committee D considered at its meeting on 18 October 2006.

  The Committee considered the proposals in this document alongside those in another (11984/06), relating to the rebuilding of cod stocks in the Baltic Sea. Fortuitously, we had before us also press reports of a call, by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, for a temporary halt on cod fishing in the North Sea in order to rebuild depleted stocks.

  The Committee is content to clear both proposals but has asked to be kept in close touch with developments on the issue of fishing sustainability.

  I have been asked to seek your comments specifically on the reports of a need for a temporary halt to cod fishing in the North Sea and to raise with you, in addition, concerns which a number of Members felt over the need to ensure that the rules designed to achieve fishing sustainability are applied equally in designated areas to all fishing nations. This latter request stems from reports that have reached some Members of the Committee that fishing for bass in the Bristol Channel is being exploited by certain other Member States in contravention of the rules and to the detriment of British fishermen.

19 October 2006

Letter from Ben Bradshaw MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 19 October. I am writing in response to a number of concerns you have raised regarding a possible temporary halt to cod fishing in the North Sea, other Member States' compliance with enforcement rules and the current situation on fishing for bass in the Bristol Channel. I will deal with each in turn.

  You will be aware that this is not the first time that there has been a call from ICES for a moratorium on cod fishing in the North Sea. In the past, the Commission and Member States have avoided taking such draconian action in the light of socioeconomic concerns about the future competitiveness of the EU catching sector and other ancillary elements within the wider industry. We would anticipate a similar approach from the Commission this time around, with a focus on reducing the quota for the stock and further controls to ensure the effectiveness of the cod recovery programme—in the form of additional pressure on days at sea for vessels catching the species. We will support the generality of such an approach. However, given the significant contribution already made by the UK whitefish fleet in reducing effort on cod in recent years, we will be looking to ensure that other fisheries where cod is a by-catch, also make a full contribution to reducing cod mortality, commensurate with the particular impact of that fishery.

  Your letter also said that some of your Members had concerns about the need to ensure that the rules introduced to achieve fishing sustainability are applied equally to all fishing nations. I can assure you that inspection missions to Member States, including the UK, are carried out by EU Inspectors on a regular basis. These look at the levels and means of controls that are being applied to such measures on recovery stocks, thereby ensuring any deficiencies in application are identified and quickly addressed.

  Finally, you have drawn attention to fishing for bass in the Bristol Channel by other Member States in contravention of EU rules. In the absence of further detail, l am assuming that you refer to activities by Belgian beam trawlers.

  I am aware that there have been reports from the UK industry about Belgian beam trawlers switching to the use of twin otter trawls in the six to 12 mile limit in UK waters. I should make it clear from the outset that this activity is not illegal.

  My officials have made extensive checks, using VMS data, to assess the extent of this activity and have discovered the following: recently, two Belgian beam trawlers have switched to the towing of twin otter trawls instead of beam trawls as part of a Belgian Government initiative to run trials (with subsidies from the Belgian Government) to see if these vessels, which are heavy users of fuel, could fish more efficiently with these lighter trawls. Both vessels have been operating in the Bristol Channel & Celtic Sea area and made several landings into Milford Haven. We understand that this subsidy scheme is due to be reviewed and may terminate shortly. Reports from the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) indicate that these fishing activities have not yet proved to be cost effective and it is considered unlikely that owners will be able to sustain this method of fishing for much longer. The catch composition of these landings is similar to that resulting from beam trawling but the quantity is significantly reduced, so that whilst fuel savings are achieved, there is no overall improvement in profitability. Both of these vessels are active off the south coast of Wales.

  No fishing activity by any Belgian vessels over 221 kW and converted to twin otter trawling has been evident within 12 miles of the north coasts of Devon and Cornwall with the exception of one vessel that fished for four hours in the six to twelve mile zone off the coast of Devon. The same vessel also fished for a period of 48 hours to the north of Lundy Island in the outer belt towards the end of June.

  We will of course continue to monitor the situation, but at present, there does not appear to be a clear cut case on conservation grounds for approaching the Commission to request that the twin otter trawling activities should be banned. You should also note that any ban could not be restricted to Belgian vessels, but would have to be extended to all EU vessels eligible to fish in the six to 12 mile zone.

3 November 2006

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