Total Allowable Catches and Quotas 2002

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Lawrie Quinn: Given the onward agenda for Community enlargement, will the Minister tell us how arrangements for potential entrant countries are progressing? I am thinking particularly of the Baltic and of its proximity to the North sea. There is growing concern in ports in my area about possible problems, particularly given the more industrial capabilities of some Baltic fleets.

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but those states will have to negotiate the details of their accession, and fisheries will be part of the agenda. Existing EU member states will want to retain the present system, which is based on relative stability, and we do not see that being undermined by the accession of new member states. In that respect, there is a safeguard for the present distribution keys of quota within the EU, and we foresee no problem with the accession states.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I start by adding my congratulations on your convenorship, Miss Begg. I am glad to be taking part in my first Standing Committee on a subject that is so important to my

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constituents, who live in one of the largest fishing constituencies in the north of Scotland.

To return to the North sea herring TAC and the agreements between the EU and Norway, the Minister will be aware that the Netherlands requested an adjustment to the tonnage allocated to the northern and southern areas of the northern sea. It was agreed to increase the southern area's allocation at the expense of the northern area, and the Scottish Pelagic Fishermens Association estimated that the net effect on the Scottish industry was a 5 per cent. decrease in its North sea herring share and that the southern area enjoyed a 140 per cent. year-on-year increase in its tonnage. I would be interested in the Minister's thoughts on that.

Mr. Morley: Yes, I have talked to the pelagic sector about that. There was a good scientific case for the split, but it does not alter our relative stability share. Even though there was a change in the split between the southern and northern North sea, the quota that was changed went to the UK pro rata. I should also tell the hon. Gentleman that the herring that was split in that way represents a tiny proportion of that available in the north North sea.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): I also add my congratulations to you, Miss Begg, on becoming a Committee Chairman.

The Under-Secretary said in his statement that the Council rejected the Commission's proposal for a 25 per cent. cut in the nephrops quota, and I thank him for the part that he played in bring that about. However, we in the west of Scotland still have the 10 per cent. cut in the quota that was imposed the year before; not because nephrops were at risk, but because of the danger of cod by-catch. What scientific research is the Department doing to evaluate whether that cut has had a beneficial effect on cod and whether it is necessary to assist the cod recovery plan?

Mr. Morley: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments about the UK's role in the matter. As part of our case to the Commission, we did detailed research into the level of nephrops by-catch in the cod fishery and that of cod in the nephrops fishery. Our research demonstrated that the level of cod by-catch was very small and that the Commission's figures were an overestimate. That strong scientific case allowed us to pull the position back, because we could argue our case in relation to the principle and back it up with facts. Of course, we keep the situation under review, and we are examining the levels of uptake. We must take into account issues such as whitefish by-catch, and we are also interested in the development of separated trawls in the nephrops fishery. We must keep all those issues under consideration and review. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are alive to the issue and we will keep looking at the figures. We will, of course, always argue for an increase in TAC where there is a scientific case for doing so.

Mrs. Winterton: I, too, congratulate you most warmly, Miss Begg, on chairing the Committee. It

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will be a great pleasure to take part in the proceedings and I am sure that we shall be ruled with a firm hand.

The Under-Secretary mentioned that he favoured more effort control over deep sea stocks. I am sure that he is aware that those species have been targeted by British vessels in the last eight years, almost as a direct result of his suggestion that fishermen seek ways to compensate for their reduced earnings due to diminishing quotas in areas such as the North sea. Will he put up a strong case for those who have diversified into deep sea stocks? He will understand the unfair disadvantage that will be suffered by young British skippers, many of them from Scotland, who have shown initiative in both the production and marketing of the species but will, it seems, catch a cold. Will they be compensated in any way for the investments that they have made, and will he argue for that in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Morley: I have heard that once or twice. It is always fascinating when the industry claims that it has targeted stocks thanks to a suggestion by me. I have never noticed the industry taking much notice of what I have to say in general, so it is surprising that they have adopted particular practices as a result of my advice. The reference period is key to the distribution of stocks. Certain member states will argue for a reference period that suits their track records. I assure the hon. Lady that we will not stand for that; we expect a reference period to be put in place that is fair and that reflects the development of the fishery by our own deep water fishery. So far as TAC is concerned, we will have to see what emerges from the Council of Ministers. However, I repeat that a TAC approach to deep water stocks would not necessarily be right. We are concerned that there might be discrete stocks of deep water species on the edge of the deep water continental shelf; stocks could be targeted on a quota, and the focus might move on until a great deal of damage had been done to each individual stock. We think that the effort control approach is the right one and I assure the hon. Lady that we shall argue for the our industry's track record to be taken into account in the same way as other countries.

Lawrie Quinn: Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary give us his view on the list of designated ports and their status? Will it be possible for any changes to be made to the list on the basis of that designation?

Mr. Morley: The list was drawn up fairly and took into account a range of factors, such as whether sea fish inspectors were present, whether there was a market, the level of landings and the size of vessels. There will be a review of designated ports in due course and we shall take into account any further representations that we receive at that point.

Andrew George: May I ask the Under-Secretary a question about access to community waters, bearing in mind that I welcomed his reassurance on something that I had taken for granted; that protection of the six and 12-mile zones was always going to be without any serious question? I have seen a draft of the route map that raises further questions about access to areas outside those zones. I quote from the source that I have and would ask him to comment. It says,

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    ''to gradually extend free access to community waters beyond the 6-to-12-mile zones by rationalising existing access arrangements. For that purpose, it will necessary to identify, before the end of 2003, those access arrangements that correspond to genuine conservation needs and to remove those that do not''.

This is the kind of question that I would expect the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) to ask, but will the Under-Secretary clarify the Commission's thinking and say whether he has any concerns about the approach and its possible impact on the British fishing industry?

Mr. Morley: Again, we need to wait for the Commission's proposals before we can definitively comment on them. I can depend only on the statements of Commissioner Franz Fischler and on the Green Paper, which made it clear that the Commission recommended the retention of the six and 12-mile zones.

In our discussions at the Council of Ministers, I have consistently argued that the six and 12-mile zone is an important conservation tool. Within that zone, there is exclusive control up to six miles and a certain control up to 12 miles, which means that we can apply unilateral non-discriminatory conservation measures to all vessels working in those zones. It also means that we can respond quickly in relation to conservation management and give special consideration to the needs of our inshore, under–10 m fleet.

There are perfectly justified reasons for the retention of those limits on conservation grounds alone. That is the majority view in the Council of Ministers, and I confidently expect them to be recommended in future proposals.

Angus Robertson: To return to the issue of the herring TAC and the rearrangement in terms of the southern North sea, I was interested to note the Minister's remark that it affected only a tiny proportion of herring available in the north sea. If that TAC were so insignificant, would he not consider using the formal mechanism to allow United Kingdom fisheries departments directly to intervene and apply a margin of correction to the United Kingdom internal allocations? Will he confirm, too, that the scientific evidence to which he referred is in the public realm?

Mr. Morley: There was a change in the relative quotas, which caused an increase in the southern North sea, as the hon. Gentleman says. The overall quota for herring and other pelagic species is a tiny part of that, which we should bear in mind. It is also worth noting that there has been no readjustment in previous years when those fishing in the southern North sea suffered a disproportionate reduction in their quota share. There was an argument about the distribution of the quota, which we acknowledged, as was only fair and reasonable, but there was no loss to the United Kingdom allocation in the distribution.

 
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Prepared 23 April 2002