Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Mr. Hoban: The Minister referred to overcapacity in fishing fleets and the importance of the fishing industry to certain regions of the European Union. The Green Paper refers hesitantly to the need to reduce subsidies for construction, which indicates a potential lack of political will in the Commission to push it through. Will the Minister elaborate on what discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues in the EU on the reduction of fishing fleets?

Mr. Morley: There is a majority view that there is overcapacity in member states. Some member states do not agree entirely and say that, although they have a lot of capacity, it does not matter if the boats go out only Monday to Friday and tie up at the weekend. There are issues of enforcement and the killing power of fleets, which we must take seriously. I must be honest with the Committee and admit that there have been disagreements on the use of public funds for new build. Some member states are keen on subsidies for new build and modernisation, and there is a split in the Council. It is a disagreement of principle. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany—we are backed by the Commissioner—believe that it is not a sustainable use of public funds. It is not good for the fishing industry for capacity to be artificially increased when the earning power in relation to fish stocks is not there. The danger is that it will encourage illegal fishing to keep up with capacity and, in some cases, with the borrowings that are part of the investment. The Commissioner is firmly committed to this principle, as are the UK and other member states. However, strong disagreement exists within the Council. We had a taste of it in December when wrangling about the structural funds broke out. That is why the wording in the Green Paper is careful. The fact that it is there at all demonstrates the Commission's commitment, which is welcome.

Lawrie Quinn: If I understand the Minister's answer to my last question, he is about to commission further work on seals. If so, would he write to members of the

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Committee—particularly those in contact with fishing communities—and set out the details? We could then share the information with the industry, which would understand that the work was carrying on. The Minister accepted that current available evidence was somewhat dated and it is important to debunk some of the mischief making at the quayside, notwithstanding the interaction between my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac).

Mr. Morley: Yes, our hon. Friends are represented in the local newspaper as ''clubber versus cuddler'', which is why I am reluctant to become embroiled in these arguments.

I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) that research is under way and I will be only too pleased to update him.

Norman Lamb: I am sorry to be a pain, but I should like to return to shellfish licensing. I do not doubt the Minister's personal commitment to introduce it and I recognise the competing priorities within the Department. I know that the Government are enthusiastic about setting targets and wonder whether the Minister could be tempted into offering a target date by which he hopes to introduce a scheme. Would next year be possible? I understand that the sea fisheries committees will be responsible for enforcing a licensing scheme, but they have limited budgets. What work is under way to ensure that they have the capacity to organise and operate a licensing system?

Mr. Morley: I regret that I cannot provide the hon. Gentleman with an exact date. I will write and update him on what progress is being made with the negotiations. We have not quite resolved the role of the sea fisheries committees, but I believe that they are the appropriate body to administer shellfish licences within inshore waters. Resource issues are also important: they are complex, which explains why we need enough time to deal with them. I repeat my commitment to making progress on this front.

Mrs. Winterton: If the Commission finds against the Shetland and Orkney fish purchasing scheme, who will be responsible for repaying the moneys already invested, plus interest?

Mr. Morley: The case would probably end up in the European Court. I am sure that the Shetland Islands council, which administers the scheme, would want to challenge any decision of that sort. The Commission has not yet taken the decision. I inquired about the scheme when it was introduced and was assured by the council—and, indeed, by fishermen's organisations—that it was operated as a commercial scheme. The council bought in the quota and the fishing industry leased it at a commercial rate. On that basis, it is difficult to object. It is in the interest of the fishing industry to have some sort of collective ownership of quota. I strongly support the producer organisations.

It is right for the industry to organise itself, so I can see the logic of what the Shetland Islands council did. It has some advantages with resources that other parts of the country may not have. However, if it is running the scheme on a commercial basis with a commercial

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lease to the industry—I am assured that that is so and that the Commission is looking into it—it is comparable with arrangements in other parts of the country.

Lawrie Quinn: Turning to the role of key stakeholders in the industry across the Union, Council document 7262/01 of 23 March 2001 refers to their greater involvement, but it seems extremely timid. Can the Minister confirm whether the British Government would be more vigorous in supporting a larger role for key stakeholders in the management of the industry? Will he also tell us which EU members are dragging their heels in that respect?

Mr. Morley: I do not know whether it is the role of this Committee to name and shame member states. I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK Government would go further than what is set out in the particular document. Progress has been made: joint committees have been set up in relation to the North sea—on flatfish, for example. My hon. Friend is right that the measures are modest, but they are confidence building—step by step. We shall argue for greater involvement, but we are moving in the right direction and building on the gains. We shall pitch our objectives beyond what the Commission is proposing.

Andrew George: May I ask the Minister more about his support for low-impact fishing? He made it clear earlier that he supports mackerel hand-lining. Towards the end of last year—albeit for a short but profitable period—mackerel hand-liners were unable to go to sea because the quota had been filled. Does the Minister realise that low-impact fishing methods have a genuinely low impact on stocks compared with the trawlers with which they compete for quotas. Does he agree that it is essential for Britain to engage in dialogue with its European partners to establish a pan-European policy in support of low-impact fishing? In the past, the Minister has made his support clear and has acknowledged that it cannot be achieved unilaterally, so what progress is being made in achieving it?

Mr. Morley: It is in our submission. In our response to the Commission Green Paper, we flagged up the issue of low-impact fisheries and the need for special recognition within the CFP. It will be one of the main negotiating issues ahead. We have underpinned and supported mackerel fisheries and guaranteed the stocks. My officials bent over backwards to achieve a quota for mackerel fisheries and to keep the process open as long as possible—in fact, until just before Christmas, which is not bad going. It meant some juggling around with the mackerel quota, which will have to be resolved in the coming year. The work of my officials demonstrates our commitment to that particular fishery and our recognition of its low-impact status. Some recognition of the Department's work in securing the quota would not be amiss.

Dr. Vis: Not many trawlers leave my constituency; indeed, I am not sure what I am doing on the Committee.

We are talking about quotas. In the Minister's previous reply, he advanced the interesting notion of good-quality fish being exported. My local chippie tells

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me that it is expensive because we cannot fish enough. Part and parcel of that problem and of having general quotas, is associated with how we may, or may not, have any regulation on our imports and exports of fish, and whether from that we can extrapolate anything about the quotas for our own trawlers. Will the Minister please comment on that?

Mr. Morley: Yes. This country is not self-sufficient in fish; we rely on third-country imports—traditionally, white fish from Russia, Norway and Iceland—much of which goes into the processing sector. A lot of home-caught fish, especially haddock, goes to fish and chip shops. As I said, much of our premium-quality fish is exported to the continent and to other countries.

There is a growing market for the restaurant trade, which will buy only top-quality fish, at top prices, which is good for the industry. I am pleased that many supermarkets have reintroduced fresh fish counters. They, too, want top-quality produce and, encouraged by television cookery programmes, people are becoming more adventurous about the species that they buy. That is good news for the fishing industry and for the consumer, and it has our support.

Andrew George: I acknowledge that the Minister's officials bent over backwards to assist mackerel hand-liners late last year, but that was after 300 tonnes had been taken away in November.

Will the Minister comment on the Shetland box and the fact that in one week, purse-seiners catch the equivalent of what the mackerel hand-liners in Cornwall catch in one year? In spite of that, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), to whom the issue is of great importance, I encourage the Minister to do all that he can to retain the Shetland box. Many other European nations consider that it sets an unwelcome precedent and will contest it. May I have the Minister's assurance that he will continue to argue strongly for its retention?

 
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