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Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
The Earl of Kimberley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they propose to ban permanently drift netting for salmon, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom and Ireland are the only countries in Europe currently permitting drift netting; and what is the expected effect of the different increases in the cost of rod licences and net licences.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, the subject has become a hardy perennial. I believe that this is its 10th year of flowering. Hopefully, this year the Minister's answer may be better than usual, as the honourable Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury has been appointed PPS to the ministry and is extremely knowledgeable about salmon, as also is his wife, who casts a beautiful fly and catches fish! It is also interesting to know that, likewise, my noble friend who
The National Rivers Authority has moved to phase out north-east drift net fishing by introducing a 10-year net limitation order which came into effect in 1992. No doubt my noble friend will say that there has been a 30 per cent. reduction in the number of nets from 140 in 1991 to 99 in 1995.
Unfortunately, that net reduction has not been followed by a reduction in the catch, which continues to increase each year. Herewith are the figures: in 1992, 19,144; in 1993, 41,790; in 1994, 46,554; and in 1995, 49,801. The figure is provisional for 1995 but it is a combined net catch of salmon and grilse from Northumbria and Yorkshire as audited by the National Rivers Authority.
While those figures probably reflect increases in the overall salmon stock returning to east coast rivers, there is concern among salmon and conservation interests that the intention of the net limitation order is not being achieved. The netsmen dropping out of the fishery are the elderly and the incompetent. I do not believe that real reductions in catch will be achieved until the phase-out of the fishery can be accelerated or quotas imposed.
There is also considerable anger in Scotland since 80 per cent. of the fish caught by the north-east drift nets are of Scottish origin, reared and paid for by Scottish district salmon fishery boards and bound for Scottish east coast rivers.
I applaud the recent MAFF initiative in setting up a working party with MAFF officials, Orri Vigfusson, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association which is investigating ways in which the phase-out of the fishery can be speeded up,
Salmon conservation interests are also waiting for the National Rivers Authority to implement MAFF's recommendation that the start of the drift netting season should be postponed to 1st May in order to conserve spring fish. In fact, the 1991 review of salmon net fisheries made a similar recommendation which was never implemented. United Kingdom interests are contributing £180,000 per annum as their share of the high seas buy-out negotiated by Orri Vigfusson, and already more spring fish are returning to our rivers. However, it would be scandalous if any fish saved by that far-sighted approach were to be caught by the north-east drift nets.
Still on the subject of salmon conservation, can my noble friend give noble Lords the tonnage of fish which a seal eats annually? Also the majority of conservationists do not wish to make the cormorant extinct but would like the RSPB perhaps to be a little more adamant that cormorants need not be protected so completely and utterly.
I now turn to rod and net licences. Her Majesty's Government will probably say that charges are yet to be confirmed by the Minister, who at 25th November was still considering objections. Licence increases are designed to help supplement reductions in grant-in-aid. If imposed, the rod licence increase of £10 will bring in about £270,000. The net licence increase will bring in about £65,000. The rod licence increase is 22 per cent.; net licences will increase on average by about 75 per cent. The Salmon and Trout Association is up in arms about that.
First, the new charges followed a widespread consultation on net licence charges undertaken earlier this year. The Salmon and Trout Association welcomed that review because it said that any charges should be "fair and consistent" with rods. However, in order to achieve consistency, net licence charges would have had to rise between 400 per cent. and 600 per cent.
Secondly, linking an increase of £10 to the rod licence came as a complete surprise to the Salmon and Trout Association and made it very angry. Far from achieving the consistency hoped for, it increases the gap. The rod increase alone will bring in £270,000, which is more than the entire income from net licences of £165,000. As the nets catch 70 per cent. of our salmon stock--that includes the Scottish component of the north-east drift nets which the NRA has conveniently omitted from its calculations--and pay less than 20 per cent. of National Rivers Authority fisheries income, it must be obvious to all that it is grossly unfair.
Thirdly, the NRA also announced the intention to move to a £75 rod licence and to achieve parity of net licence income "in an appropriate timescale". The Salmon and Trout Association has said that it would accept the proposals if a firm five-year timescale were introduced.
Fourthly, MAFF has privately admitted that there is no way in which net licences can be increased to achieve parity without driving netsmen out of business, which it says is illegal. Effectively, that means that MAFF is prepared to subsidise the activities of commercial netsmen. The Salmon and Trout Association believes that that is illegal and may take MAFF to judicial review. But before taking further action the Salmon and Trout Association will await the Minister's decision as to whether he confirms the National Rivers Authority's proposals.
Lastly, I have three more questions. Will my noble friend give any assurances about the Government's intention to achieve parity between rod and net licence income? Secondly, can he comment on the seeming determination of his officials effectively to subsidise the operation of commercial netting interests to the detriment of the rod fishery and all the perceived benefits angling brings to the rural economy?
My third question is this. Does my noble friend believe that a further punitive increase in rod and net licence charges, which between them will realise only £330,000, can in any way substitute for Her Majesty's Government's £8 million cuts in grant-in-aid from 1993
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I am only too pleased to support the noble Earl on this issue, as I have done on previous occasions. He and I have probably participated in every one of these debates on the abolition of North Sea drift netting.
I believe that it is really time this indiscriminate netting of salmon in the North Sea was stopped. I just cannot understand why the Government and the National Rivers Authority do not recognise that indiscriminate, interceptory drift netting is bad management practice and should be deplored by the National Rivers Authority.
The long nylon monofilament gill nets are taking salmon in the North Sea as they make their way to their home rivers--indiscriminately. That means south of the River Esk (Yorkshire's salmon river) the drift netters could well be taking most of the spawning salmon heading for the Esk--quite indiscriminately--denuding it of its stock. That is obvious bad management practice. The National Rivers Authority has a statutory duty to, "maintain, improve and develop" fisheries. Through the allowing of this drift netting, the Yorkshire Esk is being denied the right to improve and develop its fishery, and therefore the National Rivers Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are in breach of their statutory duties. That is my first charge.
Secondly, the nylon monofilament gill nets should be banned. These nets are almost invisible and quite deadly in operation, trapping the salmon by their gills. Because of their strength they take seals and porpoises, too. If a net breaks, it hangs in the sea. It becomes a ghost net, continuing to kill fish and diving birds--especially gannets--for years thereafter, unlike the old hemp nets which gradually rot. Surely the Government cannot condone such a practice. So, my Lords, I ask: why not ban these gill nets?
Thirdly, why do the Government continue to be internationally embarrassed in the councils of NASCO--the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation? NASCO, the North Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association--all international and national salmon conservation bodies--have campaigned for years to conserve salmon stocks and persuade governments to cut back on salmon netting--with some success overseas, but not with the British Government. When called upon to ban drift netting within the councils of the international NASCO--embarrassingly so--what is the Government's reply? Perhaps it is, "We are phasing out, under recent net limitation orders"; or, "Set up a working party". I believe that to be government procrastination, there is no need to delay. How long, I ask, will it take to end this indiscriminate, bad management practice? Ten, 20 years? I know that the concern is of course the jobs of the netters. These are part-time fishermen; they can work only when the salmon are running--a few months. They could be quickly phased out with compensation.
The Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the National Rivers Authority should turn their minds to this problem. Let us rid ourselves of these hated gill nets; let us have better conservation of the salmon and increased protection of the seals, porpoises and diving birds in the North Sea. It would remove the hindrance to the spawning salmon. Salmon rivers would be better stocked, and above all, the international embarrassment removed in future NASCO meetings.
Lord Moran My Lords, I too wish strongly to support what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, and the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley. It makes me rather sad that we have been deliberating over this question for so long, as the noble Earl pointed out. On looking back at previous copies of Hansard, I find that just under 10 years ago I proposed an amendment at the Committee stage of the Salmon Bill on 30th January 1986 which suggested a five-year phasing out of the north-east drift-net fishery. With my noble friend Lord Perth, I proposed another amendment at Report stage. If that had been accepted, the fishery would have been closed about five years ago. That would have been a good thing, but unfortunately the Government decided on the long phasing out by the retiring of fishermen. As the noble Earl said, although it has resulted in a substantial decrease in the number of licences from 130 to 99, it has not resulted in any decrease in the number of salmon caught by that fishery--rather the reverse, because the salmon come up a narrow corridor and it only takes a small number of efficient fishermen to catch a great many of them.
There is one aspect which worries me very much. I remember going with some of my colleagues to see the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Waldegrave, to discuss the problem, after which he helpfully set up the working party to which the noble Earl referred. In referring to the report on run timing of salmon by the Salmon Advisory Committee, he said in a news release on 28th June this year:
I now turn to the question of the Irish drift-net fisheries. I gave the Minister notice that I should raise this particular point. I should explain that I have an interest in Wales because my family has a salmon beat on the Wye. The Welsh Region of the NRA has done research for 10 years on the tagging of smolts and on what happens to them when they go down to sea. The scientists in the Welsh region are extremely good. They are particularly knowledgeable about salmon and sea trout. In June, they wrote to the then Secretary of State for Wales stating the three key findings of their 10-year research. The first was that,
Clearly this is a matter within the competence of the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I hope very much that the Government, both bilaterally with the Irish authorities and in the European Union, will do their utmost to persuade the Irish either to cut out or reduce very substantially the drift-netting which is damaging stocks in Wales, western Scotland and elsewhere. It is extremely important that this should be done. I know that many people in Ireland who are very knowledgeable about salmon conservation are working hard to that end. I hope that the Government will use all their influence to achieve some progress. I shall be very grateful if the Minister can tell me what is being done on that score.
Lastly, I turn briefly to the question of licence fees, which was raised by the noble Earl. A problem arises from the reduction in the grant-in-aid given by the Government to the NRA, said to be from £13.4 million in 1991-92 to £8 million in the current year. The reduction has been very damaging. It is very important that we should do all we can to conserve stocks of salmon, which are subject to so many threats all over the world.
We must bear in mind that a great part of the costs incurred by the NRA are incurred as a result of the need for enforcement. Parliament has laid down the law, stating that it is a crime to pursue salmon or sea trout illegally. Very often there are violent gangs engaged in this practice. Action against them by the police and by bailiffs is enforcing the law as passed by Parliament. It is not reasonable that the whole cost should fall on the beneficiaries. The grant-in-aid should certainly be restored to a level of at least £10 million, and preferably more. Certainly it would be absolutely wrong for it to be cut further.
The NRA is faced with the current problem of trying to raise enough to deal with its work on migratory fish. The expenditure on coarse and trout fishing is ring-fenced; that pays for itself. The licences cover the cost; but they do not go anywhere near covering the cost on salmon and sea trout, the management of which is a much more expensive business. The NRA conducted a review in which it stated that it wanted the cost of the licence to be consistent and fair as between the nets and the rods. The problem is that it is in no way consistent and fair at the moment since, as the noble Earl said, the nets take 70 per cent. of the catch. Even if the Scottish element in that is excluded, it is still a great deal more than half. The netsmen, however, pay only 20 per cent. of the cost. They have been, and still are, subsidised. That appears to many anglers as a deliberate policy of keeping commercial netsmen in business at the rod anglers' expense. It is also damaging the future of salmon. That policy must be examined.
In the past we allowed the licence rates for commercial netsmen to fall so low that they are now a ridiculous sum. They contribute only something between £160,000 this year and £300,000 next year. That is a trifling sum, whereas the anglers are being asked to produce £1.3 million. It is very important to get the level right. I realise that it cannot be done in one
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