Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Mrs. Winterton: There will obviously be hard negotiations with the Commission on the establishment of sensible effort measures. I want to rephrase the question that I asked earlier, to make it clearer. If a vessel has had its days limited because of its cod catch, will it be able to fish against other stocks when it has used up its quota effort?

Mr. Morley: The days allocated under the scheme would be the total of days permitted for the vessel in the year, so the answer is as I thought. Discussion on the subject is at an early stage in Brussels, and I am sure that we can deal with any problems. It is not unusual to have restrictions on a species. That happens now in relation to quota. Vessels can run out of quota for a species and can still fish, but cannot retain that species. That is not an ideal solution but, in the management of quota, vessels take care to ensure that they have some quota to cover an accidental by-catch, so that they can keep it commercially. These days, vessels can also trade and lease quota. We may want to consider the kilowatt day in terms of flexibility. That is still for discussion.

Lawrie Quinn: The documents recognise the importance of the processing industry in this country compared with other parts of the EU. That is quite right from the perspective of Members of Parliament who represent fishing communities. Is the Minister in a position to anticipate whether the Commission is more likely to be favourable to marketing and restructuring initiatives? What type of application of structural funds for such an important part of the industry does he expect the Commission to go for in future?

Mr. Morley: We have to have that discussion but, in relation to the talks that the Council of Ministers has had, the thinking of the Commission and some other member states appears similar to our own. The use of

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public funds to expand fishing capacity by new build, even with an aggregation penalty, is not sustainable and not a good use of such funds. We do not say that we should not support our fishing industry—we do, through structural funds; we say that the funds should go to areas where fishermen can maximise the value of their catch. In our country, that includes giving support for refrigeration equipment on vessels, and for marketing and processing and some onshore facilities connected with that. It is appropriate to give such support to maximise returns to the industry, but we do not want public subsidies to increase the amount of fishing capacity in European Union waters. I strongly believe that, and it is a matter that we shall have to argue about at the Council.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): When do the Government intend to introduce shellfish licensing? Clearly, there is support for it and worry has been expressed about when it will happen. I should be grateful if the Minister would say when such licensing will be in place and what steps the Government will take to enforce the licensing system.

Mr. Morley: I am very committed to the shellfish licensing scheme. It is the right way forward. Some delicate negotiations have taken place with the industry. We have been trying to take into account its views, which, as the hon. Gentleman may appreciate, are not always unanimous on such issues. Sometimes, conflicts arise about pot limits among the shellfish sector, the more mobile sector and people who do not fish shellfish, but who may want to do so at some stage. Last December, the negotiations were quite difficult and my Department has been stretched with common fisheries policy reviews. I accept that there has been some slippage, but I want to see the matter progress quickly and I am working towards that end.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): The Green Paper shows that the amount of money that is spent on the common fisheries policy from the pockets of European Union taxpayers is 1.1 billion euros compared with a value of about 9 billion euros. What does the Minister believe is an appropriate level of public subsidy for the fishing sector?

Mr. Morley: That is a good question. It is not easy to answer because, overall, the fishing industry is a small part of our national gross domestic product. We must also accept that, in some parts of the country, the fishing industry is of particular regional importance, and the level of support depends on the different regions where the industry is active. I have not given a precise answer, because I cannot give an exact figure. However, the approach that we must take is to recognise that fisheries are of regional importance.

Lawrie Quinn: The documents before us this afternoon recognise the number of women throughout the Community who are involved in fish processing. Has the Commission or the Minister considered the tremendous socio-economic impact of that on some of the poorest communities throughout the European Union and how that could be affected by the changes in patterns of fishing and the amount of fish that would be available as a raw material? Is there any possibility of giving further socio-economic

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assistance to those fishing communities that could be hard hit, particularly the women, who often have to keep a large family together on the income from their employment?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. The processing sector of the industry employs a lot of workers, many of whom are women. Many processing factories are in areas that currently qualify for regional assistance. Like any food industry, the factories qualify for selective assistance, depending on what it is, whether they are expanding and where they are. In some cases, they can also qualify under the marketing and processing grant. There is facility for the industry. We recognise that its processing side is a big employer and an important part of our food industry.

Andrew George: I should be grateful if the Minister would deal with effort control—capacity reduction—as set out in Council document 12475/01. It reports that the United Kingdom has met its global objectives for multi-annual guidance programme reductions, but not for tonnage. That raises the question of whether we are better off employing effort control or capacity reduction. There is keenly-felt debate in the industry about whether fishermen are more likely to accept decommissioning schemes or different methods of effort control, which, in the main, they tend to resist.

Mr. Morley: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. There is debate within the industry about effort control versus other methods of fisheries management, in particular quotas and total allowable catches. In my view, there has to be a combination of the two. There is no doubt that there is overcapacity in the European Union fleet, so some fleets have to make reductions. Some countries need to make more progress on their MAGP targets. We are not too far off our target and generally fall within it, although some segments do not. There is also the issue of overall tonnage, but generally our progress has been very good.

We have recently had a decommissioning round, the results of which will affect our MAGP, which is also linked with a ''days at sea'' effort management regime. There are arguments for and against effort management. I think that it has some benefits for the industry, but it will not solve overcapacity problems, because fishermen would have to restrict their days at sea to a level at which it would be hard to make a living. We have to make sure that the availability of fish is in line with the capacity of the fleet. A bit of both approaches is therefore probably needed.

Dr. Vis: We talk about quotas and volumes. Is there talk at a European level about the health of fish? We are concerned about the health of food, including meat and other products that come under the Minister's responsibility. What is the nature of discussions about the health of fish?

Mr. Morley: There are many discussions on the subject. We must recognise that the health of the seas is an important part of the health of the fishing industries. There are biodiversity, conservation and sustainability issues that we realise are compatible with a commercial fishing industry. In fact, in our submission to the CFP review, we emphasised that

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there must be awareness of the environmental impact of the commercial fleet.

Quality control of the product is also an issue. Many fishermen realise that it is in their interest to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. A top-quality product commands a premium price, and many of our south-coast fleets export their fish and shellfish to continental markets. Some 90 per cent. of the catch from the south coast goes to the continent. To command the top prices, the catch has to be top quality. The fleets know that and deliver on it. We focus finance, training and health on quality control.

Mrs. Winterton: Referring back to the Minister's answer to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), is not it the Commission's intention that vessels that have caught cod will be limited to kilowatt days and will have no other effort allocation to catch other quotas?

Mr. Morley: That is true. Discussions on that subject have started, because we need clarification of what that means, but no decision has yet been taken by the Commission.

Lawrie Quinn: May I turn to the issues surrounding salmon fisheries, particularly that in the North sea? The Minister is well informed about the problems of buying out current licences that are available in some of the very old ports that have a tradition of salmon fishing, such as Whitby. Will the Minister advise the Committee whether there is a consistent approach throughout the EU to inshore fishery, which is labour intensive, often seasonal, and sometimes linked to agricultural enterprises, or is there change?

Mr. Morley: There are similar concerns and arguments about inshore fishery mainly in the Republic of Ireland. As my hon. Friend rightly says, there are voluntary negotiations between parties with salmon rod fishing interests and the salmon netsmen on the coast about the possibility of buying out some of the licences. The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs offered a contribution to the fund, which both sides welcomed. The discussions are well advanced. The Republic of Ireland has expressed concern about the effect of salmon netting and is discussing the issue. That, quite properly, is a matter for them.

 
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