Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Amendment 121C is a simple consequential amendment because of the insertion of the new provision. I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that I am not going so far as to accept his amendment because the intent behind it is already substantially subscribed to by the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Ministers. They will give effect to this in statements that they will make this week. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment with confidence and that, in due course, the government amendments will be supported.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that substantial statement, which has clarified several issues—in particular, that the intent of Welsh Ministers is clearly to sharpen up considerably the necessary protection. The second point concerned the memoranda of understanding. I hope that the Government will spell out in due course what the parameters of these will be. Although I wanted to test the Government’s commitment to sustainability, the Minister has certainly proved that this is the intent of Welsh Ministers. I am confident, because of what is in the Government of Wales Act about sustainability, that this will be carried out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 121B withdrawn.

Clause 184: Coast protection boards in Wales

Amendments 121C and 121D

Moved by Lord Davies of Oldham

121C: Clause 184, page 107, line 6, leave out “follows” and insert “set out in subsections (2) and (3)”

121D: Clause 184, page 107, line 11, at end insert—

“( ) In section 27(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c. 69) (interpretation of Part 1), in paragraph (c) of the definition of “authorised person”, for “by any” substitute “by—

(a) the Welsh Ministers, in relation to things done for purposes relating to fishing or fisheries in the Welsh inshore region (within the meaning of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009);

(b) any”.”

Amendments 121C and 121D agreed.

Clause 186: Regulation of nets and other fishing gear

Amendment 122

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

122: Clause 186, page 108, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) An order under this section may require the use of equipment, methods or material, the purpose of which is to seek to prevent or reduce bycatch.”



19 May 2009 : Column 1345

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this amendment was previously tabled in Committee. The Minister gave us many assurances that current legislation would certainly allow for the enforcement of certain methods and equipment, and that these powers would be exercised to reduce by-catch. I tabled the amendment in order to probe the Government’s policy on by-catch a little further. I am afraid that I will raise again the ever-present spectre of EU legislation, which is why I did not raise this point in Committee but, instead, left it for the less drawn-out Report stage.

What are the Government doing at the European level to make the necessary changes to reduce the shocking number of fish that are thrown back, dead or dying, to meet quota requirements that limit only the amount of fish landed, not the amount of fish caught? It has to be at the European level, if it is to have any effect. The discard figures are truly shocking. What is worse, according to figures provided last November to my honourable friend in another place, they are not improving. Over 80 per cent of the cod caught by Scottish-registered vessels was discarded in 2007. The figures are not much better for other species. Rather confusingly, however, they appear to be a little better—only 40 per cent—in English and Welsh-registered vessels. If the Minister has any information to explain this discrepancy I would be very glad to hear it.

Even 40 per cent is deeply disappointing, but the high figures are not surprising. On an extremely useful visit to the research vessel “Cefas Endeavour” a few weeks ago, we saw how a simple change in the way that nets were strung could significantly impact on the ability of small fish to slip through and escape. We were also shown a chart that showed how fish of different species are a similar size at different stages of their lives, so that young cod—which are too small to meet the quota requirements—are caught in nets designed to catch adult haddock. The obvious solution for fishermen struggling to sustain their living and to meet the quota requirements is to catch everything and throw back what they cannot sell. This is not acceptable. The quota is there to protect and restore fish stocks, not to limit fishermen’s income. If it is not achieving the former, it is achieving nothing.

The Conservative Party has come up with a proposal that would improve our knowledge of just how many fish are caught and discarded and stop the wasteful practice of dumping dead fish back into the sea. We propose establishing a pilot scheme whereby all fish that were caught would be landed. Fishermen would receive a share of the commercial value of the by-catch, a proportion of which would be dependent on the sustainability of their equipment and fishing methods in order to reward good practice.

This would not solve the problem overnight, but as has been made clear over the past months, one of the great obstacles to the effective implementation of a sustainable marine policy is the lack of accurate information about so much in our seas. By-catch is no exception; the figures that have been published are subject to all sorts of health warnings due to the expense of monitoring fish catches accurately. Our proposal would mean much less distortion of the figures and therefore a better chance of accurately

19 May 2009 : Column 1346

calculating how many fish remain. It would also prevent waste. Under the current system, these fish are being killed anyway; they are being poured back into the sea to rot.

I do not expect the Minister to come back with an amendment that resolves this issue—that clearly is impossible—but I hope that he will be able to come back with more information on what the Government are doing about the problem and what chance he thinks there is of meaningful reform of the quota requirements in the near future. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. As your Lordships’ House will know, I come from the fishing industry, and I know exactly what he is talking about from having seen it done on my own boats. The problem is that the fish are dead anyway. If we bring them back exactly as he has described, we will know what is happening.

My noble friend did not mention, although he could have done, that his proposal is not new; Norway has been doing this for a very long time. It knows exactly what fish are being caught in its waters and exactly who is catching it. Given that we are not allowed to police other countries of the European Union that also have a quota which they are fishing out in the waters around this island, and given that 80 per cent of the fish left in the European Community are fished out of the waters surrounding this island, if we adopted my noble friend’s proposal we would at least have some idea of the amount of fish that is being dumped at sea. There is no reason why science cannot measure that, too. I urge the Minister to consider, if at all possible, Norway’s method of attacking this problem and to support my noble friend’s suggestion.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I note the terms of the noble Lord’s amendment, but I had some engagement with the fishing industry when I was a Member of the other place and I am not sure whether an amendment such as this is needed to require different mesh sizes or to introduce square-mesh panels; I seem to recall that it happened anyway as a result of attempts in times past to try to reduce the size of by-catches and to ensure that smaller fish swam through the nets rather than getting caught up in them.

Nevertheless, the noble Lord does the House a service by raising the more general issue of fisheries conservation as well as the important issue of how one reduces discards. The reduction of discards has been widely discussed over many years and seems to bring everyone together in principle. Fishermen say that they do not like throwing fish back into the sea, and conservationists and politicians say that they think it is a complete waste, too. As yet, however, no one seems to have come up with a very satisfactory way of dealing with this.

It is incumbent that all with an interest in sustainable fisheries in the seas around this country direct their attention to scientific and technical means, and, if necessary, legislative means, to engage the industry and scientists in devising a way forward. There are suggestions that under the common fisheries regime

19 May 2009 : Column 1347

there is an incentive for fishermen to throw fish back into the sea if they feel that they can land larger catches or better-sized fish. That is a consequence of the common fisheries policy, which undoubtedly needs to be looked at.

There are a number of dimensions to this. Certainly, the engagement of the regional advisory councils on fisheries, which involves the industry as well as science, communities and politicians, is an important way forward too. I do not think that this amendment is necessary, but it raises an important issue. I look forward with considerable interest to the Minister’s response.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very glad to respond to this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that the amendment is not necessary, but I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, put it down to allow for a wider debate on the joys of the common fisheries policy and the interesting questions raised by noble Lords. I know that behind the amendment is concern about the conservation powers available to us. Doubt was raised as to whether we have powers to require the use of certain types of fishing gear.

Section 3(1) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 states:

“The Ministers may make an order for securing that the nets and other fishing gear carried in any relevant British fishing boat registered in the United Kingdom comply with such requirements as to construction, design, material, or size, including, in the case of nets, size of mesh, as may be prescribed by the order”.

The section continues with provisions which provide even more flexibility in the use of these powers. The powers more than adequately cover the use of equipment, methods and material, with the purpose of seeking to prevent or reduce the by-catch of non-target species. If powers are required to regulate fishing gear to prevent or reduce marine environmental by-catch—for example, dolphins and porpoises—we can use the combined powers available under Sections 3, 5 and 5A of the Act, which provide for restrictions on fishing for marine environmental purposes. These powers can clearly be used in a way that requires the use of certain types of fishing gear when fishing for a particular species or in a particular area.

The problem with the amendment is that it could have serious consequences by casting doubt on the legality of any existing use of these wide-ranging powers. I understand why noble Lords are concerned about the whole issue of by-catch and why they are seeking to know what the Government are doing about it and what the result of discussions in Europe are likely to be. We are funding a range of work in collaboration with the industry to look at the marketing of less commercially valuable species, which are often discarded, as well as making the respective fishing activity more selective in terms of species or size. We will continue to encourage the industry to use such gear modifications as prove successful on, for example, vessels that have been allocated additional days at sea under the cod recovery programme.

In June 2008 the European Commission published a non-paper containing proposals to address the problem of discard. It acknowledged that a number of instruments are needed to reduce by-catch and eliminate discards

19 May 2009 : Column 1348

effectively and that they will vary from fishery to fishery. These proposals were discussed by member states during 2008. Although legislative proposals are yet to come forth from the Commission, my understanding is that the fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, has made clear that the issue is high on his agenda.

The non-paper proposed experimenting with the application of maximum allowable by-catch limits set at levels significantly below that which is currently understood to be discarded. The onus would then be on fishermen to reduce significantly the by-catch from current levels and they will only be permitted to land by-catch within the maximum allowable limits. Under the proposal, by-catch within the MABL will be given or sold to a body designated by the member state, although the Commission was not specific on what use could be made of the by-catch and whether the MABL would count against quota. If by-catch caught is above the MABL, quota adjustments are then made for the following year depending on the overshoot, although we have expressed our concern to the Commission about the implications for quota management of those aspects of the proposal.

5.15 pm

We see logic behind the suggestion that fishermen should keep all the catch instead of dumping a significant part of it into the sea, and we support the principle of targets for allowable by-catch to achieve rapid reductions in discarding where current discard levels are high. However, we have to be realistic about the fishing industry and what it can achieve without threatening its long-term viability. I do not believe that anyone thinks that there are any easy answers to this.

During last year’s EU-Norway discussions, a high-grading ban was introduced for 2009 in the North Sea and eastern Channel. This ban prevents the discarding of fish caught which are within quota and over the legal minimum landing size. The signs are that the EU-Norway agreement is capitalising on management measures to address the issue of discarding in a practical way. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that, on our visit to the “Cefas Endeavour” on the Thames, it was interesting to discuss with the scientists some of the measures that can be taken.

Our shared objective as responsible fisheries managers is to minimise and eventually eliminate discarding as an issue. I do not think that there is any doubt or disagreement between us about the importance of this matter. Whether a discard ban would help to achieve this in EU fisheries is part of the debate on common fisheries policy reform and obviously will need to be considered carefully in association with the progress we are making more generally on resolving the discard issue. The EU committed to a ban on high grading through the EU-Norway agreement and the TAC quota regulation. We think of the high-grading ban as having a positive influence on fishers’ behaviour. While some parts of the EU legislation have to be revised to remove conflicting regulations, we think that this sends a positive signal that fishermen cannot discard fish based on their perceived commercial value. The message is that if it is legal, it should be landed.



19 May 2009 : Column 1349

The UK has been at the forefront of cod recovery measures to reduce discards of cod by implementing a number of spawning and real-time closures through both the Scottish conservation credits scheme and the England and Northern Ireland equivalents. In 2009, this scheme has been accelerated with mandatory closures in operation throughout the cod recovery zone and incentives for the uptake of selectivity measures to reduce discard mortality on cod stocks.

There is always a question about the national powers available to ban discards and our view is that it is much more effective to tackle this problem under the common fisheries policy as discards occur in Community waters where a number of member states’ vessels fish. National powers under the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 cannot be used to weaken any provisions under the common fisheries policy, such as allowing fish which do not meet CFP size requirements or allowing fishermen to land outside set quota limits. We are in discussion about whether we can reform the CFP. Let me say that my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies, the Minister with responsibility for fisheries and the marine environment, and the manager of this Bill, wrote to Commissioner Borg to press the case for reform of the CFP to deliver a much closer integration and broader marine environmental policy. Commissioner Borg has said that he shares the Government’s view that,

and that the CFP needs to become,

These are early days in the journey of reform to the CFP but we have to take that response as an encouragement. I certainly do not underestimate the task that lies ahead of us, but that is entirely how we wish to see the CFP reformed.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness in relation to the Norwegian issue, we think that the ban is worth looking at, although it may not be appropriate for all fisheries. The benefit is that the Norwegian authorities have provided the Commission with their experience of operating a discard ban. The expectation and hope is that the Commission will use that experience to draw up further initiatives in this area. Of course, the circumstances of fisheries in EU waters are different. The situation in mixed fisheries pursued by vessels from a number of states is different from Norwegian fisheries which tend to be directed more towards single species. We are not clear whether measures used in Norway would be as effective within the Community. We need to look at that matter very carefully.

A ban in itself does not prevent by-catch; the fish are still caught but they are not returned to the sea at the point of capture. There is also the question of what happens to the non-discarded fish, especially if they are undersize. We do not wish this to lead to the development of a market for juvenile fish. So although it is not a simple solution to discarding, our preference has been to avoid by-catch in the first place by making fishing activity more selective.



19 May 2009 : Column 1350

This brings me back to the issue of a much more fundamental reform of the CFP. The signals coming out of Brussels have been positive, not only in the sense of what Commissioner Borg has written but in the general sentiments that have been expressed about the CFP simply not working at the moment.

I hope that I have at least convinced noble Lords that we understand the importance of dealing with by-catch and discards. We believe that we have to work within Europe. We think that the Norwegian experience is relevant and we expect the European Commission to use that example in framing its own measures. Fundamentally, we have to go to the core of what the CFP is all about. I have no doubt that there is a challenging time ahead of us on that issue, but the signals are probably more positive now than they have been for some years.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, which contained some encouragement. Certainly there is encouragement in the fact that in Commissioner Borg we have someone who is sympathetic to the challenge of seeking to reform the CFP and dealing with the huge problems that it currently presents to both the regulatory authorities and, more importantly, to the fishing industry and fishermen and their livelihoods.

The risk, of course, is that we have had a health check on the common agricultural policy and we know how disappointing that has proved to be. The contrast between the aspirations of Members of your Lordships’ House and the return on the CAP shows that the health check was a bitter disappointment. However, there are certainly signs that the Government appreciate the difficulties caused by the CFP. Let us hope that there is drive and continued pressure from Her Majesty’s Government on the European institutions to make sure that the reform of the CFP takes on board the issue of discard. The problem has not just arisen; it has been around for some time. It serves neither the viability of the fishing industry nor fish conservation and it needs to be reformed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 122 withdrawn.

Clause 193 : Power to make orders as to fisheries for shellfish

Amendment 122ZA

Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

122ZA: Clause 193, page 112, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) In section 1 of the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 (c. 83) (power to make orders as to fisheries for shellfish), subsection (4) is omitted.”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, this amendment returns us to an issue that we discussed in great detail in Committee: how the unsatisfactory position has arisen whereby the shellfish industry, in the Menai Strait in particular but now along the whole of our coastline, is effectively on hold and no new shellfish fishery will be begun because of the unacceptable uncertainty that now hangs over any new investment as the result of a legal challenge. I have retabled the amendment today because there have been some

19 May 2009 : Column 1351

developments since we met in Committee and I want to give the Minister an opportunity to inform us of what they are and his department’s reaction to them.

The most significant development has been that the House of Lords in its judicial capacity has rejected the petition that the Crown Estate took on this issue to overturn the appeal. The situation threatens one of our most important exporting industries; its shellfish are very sought-after and it supports many of our coastal rural communities, which, as the Minister will know, are some of those that are most in need of economic investment. For all those reasons, while the Crown Estate was within its duty to take its petition, now that that is out of the way, the situation needs to be resolved as speedily as possible.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page