Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the recent decision to prevent the feeding of mammalian protein to any livestock on farms--and that includes horses--is designed to prevent leakage which may be occurring either on farms or in feed mills. We realise that it is within the feed industry and feed practices that, mostly unintentionally, there have been imperfections. Both with the regulations that we have introduced and with the progressive tightening of existing regulations, which we shall inspect so as to ensure compliance, we are determined to close off any possibility of continuing BSE infections from such sources. We take that very seriously indeed.

Lord Winston: My Lords, will the Government tell us what steps will be taken to examine the brains of the animals which are being culled histologically and whether or not the findings of the histopathology will be made available to Parliament and publicly? If it is not possible to examine all the brains, will the Minister give an indication of what percentage of the brains will be examined so that we can judge the effectiveness of

1 May 1996 : Column 1696

the cull and also how necessary the cull was? It is quite important to establish that not only for our own safety but also for our standing in Europe.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for that question. I remind the House that in our view the ban on the consumption of meat from animals over 30 months of age is essentially temporary. The advice from SEAC was that meat from such animals should merely be deboned. But we did not have the facilities to debone overnight all the meat from such animals. Therefore, given the concern among consumers, it seemed a logical response to ban temporarily all such meat from animal and human food chains.

In relation to the random or complete testing of the brains of animals, I shall write to the noble Lord because there is a fairly complex and technical explanation as to why the experts from SEAC see that as being a wasteful use of resources. One reason I remember for that is that the symptoms which can be detected within the brain appear only three weeks before the clinical symptoms are detectable in the rest of the beast. Therefore, the ratio of contamination within the brain which can be detected from such sampling would be minute. The experts believe that that would not give any significant indications. However, I shall write to the noble Lord because there is considerable detail attached to the subject.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister highlights the problem in the answer that he gave to my noble friend Lord Winston. He is saying that the vets say that deterioration in the brain can be identified only within three weeks of the conclusion of the disease. One of the difficulties in this whole process is that it is not until a very advanced stage of either BSE or CJD that the disease appears to be present. It is not until post-mortem examination that that can be confirmed.

The concern which my noble friend raised and which I too wish to mention is that surely we should use the culling and disposal programme to obtain information. We shall spend vast amounts of money on purchasing, slaughtering and disposing of animals. Surely it makes sense to spend a very small amount of money to make that examination to find out whether there are any traces of BSE in the animals that are slaughtered.

I wish to ask the Government whether they will make available facilities for the validation of tests being developed to try to determine whether BSE or CJD is present prior to post-mortem examination. That is one of the most crucial tests which needs to be devised. Again, the culling of large numbers of animals which may have BSE will provide a marvellous scientific opportunity to validate the tests. Will the Government make available those facilities?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the answer to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is simple. We have millions of pounds devoted to research into CJD and BSE. It is for the experts to tell us how they wish to deploy those funds; on which sites they are best deployed; and whether live animals, animals culled through the cull programme or animals which have died

1 May 1996 : Column 1697

for other reasons, are the best material with which to work. They are the experts on the subject and they have the discretion to inform us as to what they need in order to do their job properly.

Salmon Management

6.9 p.m.

Viscount Mills rose to call attention to the National Rivers Authority's recently published National Strategy for the Management of Salmon in England and Wales; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I must immediately declare an interest and a responsibility. I was an employee of the National Rivers Authority and project manager of the group which produced this strategy for the management of salmon in England and Wales. I am now employed by the Environment Agency which from 1st April this year took over the work of the NRA, including its responsibilities for fisheries and the implementation of this strategy. However, the opinions that I shall express this evening are entirely my own.

I put forward the Motion for the debate because I am aware that your Lordships' views on salmon matters are both well respected and widely listened to. Also, I believe that it is an opportune time for those views to be made known. Thanks mainly to one man, Orri Vigfusson, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, the exploitation of our salmon in distant water fisheries has practically ceased. Surely now we must concentrate our attention on the effective management of home water salmon stocks. How we might achieve that in England and Wales is the subject of tonight's debate.

It was the need to provide a framework for more effective management and the best use of our resources that led to the idea of a salmon strategy just over three years ago. It was decided at the outset to base it upon the existing legal and administrative framework in order to make immediate progress towards better management of our salmon stocks. However, its development was slow and, at times, tortuous. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about salmon, it is that everyone has different ideas about how best to manage them! Consultation was extensive both within and outside of the National Rivers Authority, and many valuable contributions were made. The strategy was scrutinised and endorsed by 10 regional fisheries advisory committees, three executive committees, including the main board of the NRA of which my noble friend Lord Crickhowell was chairman, and five successive heads or acting heads of fisheries.

In its final form, four simple objectives are proposed: to ensure that there are sufficient salmon to provide fisheries and to spawn; to maintain individual, genetically distinct salmon stocks as well as particular components of those stocks, such as spring run fish; to optimise the total economic value of surplus stocks; and to meet the necessary costs of managing the resource. Throughout the extensive consultation period I cannot

1 May 1996 : Column 1698

recall anyone seriously disagreeing with those objectives or indeed presenting alternatives, but perhaps your Lordships may wish to do so tonight. However, there has been no shortage of comments upon how those objectives should be achieved and the issues surrounding them.

Not unexpectedly, it is the allocation of catch between nets and rods, who pays for what, as well as issues such as the north-east and Irish drift-net fisheries which have generated the maximum interest. I shall return to them in more detail later. It is rather more difficult to evoke a passionate response about spawning targets, and maintaining genetic diversity and yet, ultimately, all else depends on these.

We certainly cannot afford to be complacent about such matters. Preliminary estimates indicate that spawning targets are not being met in 14 out of the 19 Welsh salmon rivers examined so far. In many of our salmon rivers the spring running component of stocks continues to decline and in some rivers the introduction of stocked fish has already altered the genetic make-up of the native stock. Perhaps most alarming of all is the dramatic decline of salmon stock in our southern chalk streams and in particular the Hampshire Avon. I hope that my noble friend Lord Radnor will say more about that.

However, it is by no means all doom and gloom. There have been a number of successes in recent years; for example, on the River Usk in Wales effective anti-poaching measures have resulted in both increased stocks and catches. Salmon have been restored to a number of rivers, including the Taff, the Thames and the Tyne. As water quality improves, there is a real debate about whether or not it is desirable to encourage the restoration of other river systems, such as the Trent and the Humber, so that they, too, could support runs of salmon for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

Whether declining or improving, however, we must be able to make objective decisions as to how to manage our salmon stocks. The approach proposed by this strategy is to develop local action plans which will set targets, and in particular spawning targets, for all the principal salmon rivers in England and Wales by the year 2000. The performance of both stocks and fisheries will be monitored and assessed in relation to those targets and appropriate management action taken if the targets are not being met.

Such an approach to managing salmon is not new. Spawning targets have been used in North America, particularly in Canada, for a number of years and have played a major role in the management of both their home water and distant water fisheries. If spawning targets are not met, it will be necessary to try to identify the factor or factors which are limiting salmon survival and production and to apply the appropriate management actions to overcome those limiting factors. Of these actions, the proper control of legal and illegal exploitation is of obvious importance. I wish to highlight just two of a number of recommendations made in the strategy concerning such controls.

First, does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that we need to develop cost-effective ways of preventing poaching? If so, I wonder whether my noble

1 May 1996 : Column 1699

friend will be kind enough to say whether the Government would be prepared to look again at carcass tagging and dealer licensing?

The second recommendation concerns the need for new legislation to introduce rapid fishery control measures, for example, to safeguard stocks during prolonged drought conditions or perhaps from a sudden outbreak of disease. I believe that that is very topical. At present we have little, if any, flexibility to react to changing circumstances where a rapid response may be required, and this shortfall needs to be addressed.

In the time that I have left I should like to talk about the issues of the Irish and north-east drift-net fisheries, resource allocation and funding, all of which I referred to earlier. First, let me try to address the issue of the north-east drift-net fishery. It is clearly stated in the strategy that the NRA's policy is to phase out, over an appropriate time-scale, all fisheries which can be shown to exploit predominantly mixed stocks.

That policy is already being applied to the north-east drift-net fishery. The time-scale for the phase out is 30 to 40 years and this was guided by the Government's 1991 report titled Salmon Net Fisheries. That allows all existing net fishermen to continue in the fishery until retirement.

That is the current position. I am fully aware that the time-scale for phasing out this fishery is unacceptable to very many of your Lordships. Further, the issue has dominated discussions about salmon management both within and outside Parliament during recent years. Is there an alternative way forward? I believe that there could and should be.

In 1986, during the passage of the Salmon Bill through this House, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, put forward the idea of a phase out of the north-east drift-net fishery linked to government compensation of the fishermen involved. In 1992, he raised the matter again during the debate on his Unstarred Question. My noble friend Lord Howe, responding on behalf of the Government, confirmed that it would be perfectly feasible to introduce a private "buy out scheme" but rejected the notion of any government involvement.

More recently, the North East Coast Working Party consisting of representatives from MAFF, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Salmon and Trout Association and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund investigated netsmen's interest in possible decommissioning of this fishery. Similar initiatives have already been implemented successfully in both home and distant water fisheries. If a compensation deal can be brokered to bring forward the closure of the north-east drift-net fishery on a voluntary basis which satisfies both nets and other interested parties, then surely that presents a better way forward and is where we should be concentrating our energies.

In the context of what I have just outlined, might I ask the Minister whether she can comment on the relative cost to the public purse of maintaining the present fishery as compared to a decommissioned fishery? If it is more costly to maintain the present

1 May 1996 : Column 1700

fishery than decommissioning it, might not the Government consider diverting the balance of the funding into a compensation scheme?

The successful resolution of the issue would, I believe, not only help at home but also abroad. In the strategy it is recommended that the Government press for the phasing out of the Irish drift-net fishery. I understand that they have, and I hope that they will continue to do so. However, if the north-east drift-net fishery was already phased out I believe that our case would be further strengthened.

That brings me to resource allocation. The question as to who should harvest the salmon resource is a long-standing issue. In the past, fierce debates have revolved around the relative economic value of rod and net fisheries. I believe that line of approach is broadly correct. In the strategy it is a stated objective to optimise the total economic value of the resource while allowing for social equity considerations. That objective is consistent with a national resource whose management is largely publicly funded. Salmon have a range of economic values which include their carcass value, the rental and capital value of salmon fisheries, the revenue from tourism generated by these fisheries and the conservation and heritage values of salmon and their fisheries.

To optimise the total economic value depends on achieving the correct balance of exploitation by nets, rods or even traps. As discussed at some length in the strategy document, predicting the results of changes in the exploitation of salmon is complex and depends on a wide range of factors, many specific to the river in question. However, in order to optimise the total economic value of the resource it might be necessary compulsorily to change resource allocation on certain rivers. Government alone could do this, as this would require legislative change.

The legislation we have today has its origins in a bygone age when netting of salmon as a source of food was paramount. The value of net-caught salmon is falling in real terms. It is now only one-third to one-half of that in the late 1970s. This is largely due to the production of farmed salmon which is 85 times greater than the total catch of wild fish. In contrast, the capital value of rod fisheries in England and Wales, now estimated at £100 million, has increased significantly over the past few decades. The legislation needs to reflect these changes, and until we have new legislation our ability to obtain the greatest economic return to the country as a whole will necessarily be limited.

Finally, I turn to the subject of funding. Government grant-in-aid paid for the majority of the NRA's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries last year--over 80 per cent. However, the total amount of this funding has declined from £13.4 million in 1991-92 to £7.5 million for the Environment Agency this year--a 44 per cent. cut. I hardly need to tell your Lordships that this is having a major impact on the services which can be provided. The Government have made it clear that they expect the direct beneficiaries of the resource to pay more. However, in raising this extra sum (indeed, all fisheries income), Government require the NRA and

1 May 1996 : Column 1701

now the Environment Agency to seek to establish fair charging policies which will maximise income. This has provided these bodies with a conundrum. Set rod licences high enough to generate significant extra income and, in order to be fair, net licence charges need to be raised to a level which puts netsmen out of business. Set net licence fees at a level which is viable for netsmen, and rod fishermen claim that in comparison to their own fees it is neither fair nor will it maximise income. To this conundrum should be added the Section 142 charging scheme for riparian owners which has proved, as yet, to be quite impossible to implement with the result that not one single penny has passed from riparian owners to the NRA via this route.

We must have a workable funding system and a willingness to pay for this resource from all concerned, if we are to manage our salmon fisheries properly. As a first step, we need to establish from Government what aspects of management will be publicly as opposed to privately funded. We then need to ensure that the total funding, grant-in-aid, rod and net licence income, charges from riparian owners and others, is adequate to safeguard this valuable resource and to implement the necessary management measures that this strategy proposes. Let us not end up, as has happened elsewhere, finding adequate funds only when the resource has disappeared.

There is much that can be achieved if this strategy is implemented. We have established clear objectives and policies and provided a framework for management. I believe the setting and assessing of spawning and other targets is crucial if we are to protect stocks and identify where best to put our resources. It will be a major step forward to have local action plans for all our principal salmon rivers and it is particularly important that these are developed and carried out in partnership with local interests. Likewise, we must work closely with other salmon producing countries and it is hoped that this strategy will help to improve further the contribution that the United Kingdom can make to international salmon management.

To achieve all of this it is essential to have a workable funding system and adequate funds. I have highlighted some of the problems relating to our current system. I hope that both the Environment Agency and the Government will give these matters their full and speedy attention. However, to implement parts of this strategy fully will require changes to legislation, especially with regard to resource allocation and funding. There is growing pressure for new legislation. I hope that this strategy will act as a further catalyst for change. In the time available I have only been able to cover a fraction of the issues relating to salmon that the strategy covers. However, no doubt your Lordships will comment comprehensively on both the strategy and the issues. I look forward very much to hearing what noble Lords have to say. I beg to move for Papers.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, on his principal role in the preparation of this plan. I believe it

1 May 1996 : Column 1702

is a job well done and it has been well researched. I wish to place on record also our appreciation of those who helped him in this exercise.

Such a strategy was much needed and the Salmon and Trout Association welcomes it. I speak as a member of the council of the association. If we are to succeed in restoring the salmon to its historic level in our rivers, or even to start encouraging that process, we have to recognise the steps that need to be taken at all stages of a complex life cycle and the resources which need to be allocated to achieve that.

Habitat enhancement in fresh water and the need to set targets for spawning escapement are covered in some detail in the strategy, and the detail therein would be difficult to improve on. However, our concerns are whether the new Environment Agency will have the resources to implement this part of the plan. As the noble Viscount has already told us--it is in the document--government grant-in-aid to fisheries has reduced from £13.4 million in 1991-92 to a proposed £7.5 million in 1996-97. That is a huge reduction and I know that the National Rivers Authority has entered the Environment Agency with, I gather, 1,200 fewer staff than it projected when the agency was conceived two years ago.

The association was also pleased to see that some of the critical comments it made during the consultation phase of this plan--with particular regard to exploitation of the salmon resource by nets--have been incorporated into the final document. The section of the plan which deals with this aspect illustrates quite graphically the constraints facing the agency imposed by fisheries legislation which is rooted in the past and which frustrates its fisheries staff from taking much needed management decisions. The sooner time can be found in this or another place for revised legislation, the better. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, on that point.

The association was also pleased to note during earlier debates a growing recognition that a national salmon strategy should be just that--salmon do not respect the boundary between England and Scotland--and we applaud the increased dialogue between salmon interests north and south of the Border, both between government departments and angling organisations such as the Scottish Anglers' National Association.

However, despite statements in the plan highlighting the need for increased protection for spring salmon, and strong statements condemning interceptory drift-netting of mixed stocks, particularly the Irish drift-net fishery, we remain concerned that in its last months the NRA failed to implement some important changes which would have afforded additional protection to salmon stocks. Ministers had urged the NRA to consider postponing the opening of the drift-net season to 1st May, a move in line both with the recommendations of the scientists of the North Atlantic Salmon Organisation and also European Union Council Directive 92/43 concerning the protection and conservation of salmon stocks. That suggestion was also made by Ministers in 1991, and for a second time. I am sorry to say that the NRA declined to implement the measure.

1 May 1996 : Column 1703

The Salmon and Trout Association very much hopes that the new Environment Agency has the courage of its convictions and moves swiftly to implement this proposal. This would indicate both that it means business and that the salmon management strategy is not just another good intention destined to gather dust on the shelf.

We shall also look to the new agency to make progress on a number of issues that it has inherited from the National Rivers Authority. The first, as the noble Viscount said, is the matter of the north-east drift-nets, as I have pointed out in past debates in another place and in this House over the past 15 years. There is indiscriminate damage caused to salmon stocks by the nets, and the stocks that the nets exploit are destined for the Yorkshire Esk and the east Scotland salmon rivers. My Scottish colleagues are equally concerned that this pernicious fishery should be phased out as quickly as possible. It is bad management practice; it is indiscriminatory; it is embarrassing to us within the North Atlantic Conservation Organisation. It is a practice totally contrary to the conservation of salmon. A buy-out agreed with these part-time netters should be sought. It should be possible. It has been done in major industries and can certainly be done in this one.

As an ordinary angler I remain concerned at the growth in the cormorant populations on our inland lakes and rivers and the damage that they are wreaking on our stocks of coarse and game fish. Is the Minister aware that, while we support the joint Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Department of the Environment three-year research programme on fish-eating birds, we expect the agency to take a proactive role in supporting anglers in their attempt to collect evidence of damage to fish stocks and support applications for licences to cull the cormorants where such damage can be proven.

Again as a regular angler, I am dismayed at the Minister's recent decision to increase rod licence charges for migratory fish while reducing the proposed increases for net licence charges. The Salmon and Trout Association feels so strongly about this issue that it has applied for leave to challenge the Minister's decision by judicial review.

Brian Clarke, a noted angler and correspondent, wrote recently:


    "The study of netting licences, which are permissions to fish, was completed last year. It had the effect of highlighting what had long been known, that 700 commercial licence holders take more salmon in England and Wales than all the anglers put together; 56% of the total catch by one measure and around 70% by another. Yet the netsmen were contributing just 20% of licence income--the anglers 8%".
I ask the Minister: why is that so? Cannot this imbalance be rectified--especially when all the evidence shows that the economic, social and employment benefits from rod and line angling are much greater than those provided by commercial netters. I hope that the agency will recognise that the future of salmon management lies in recognising the overwhelming value of the recreational rod fishery and riparian owners and the angling community as their principal customers.

Finally, I turn to the problem of salmon poaching. I really do welcome the proposals for tougher penalties on these criminals. Pages 17 and 18 of the report list

1 May 1996 : Column 1704

many measures that ought to be taken. Indeed, it necessitates legislation, and I hope a Bill will be forthcoming. Teams of poachers operate in organised gangs earning up to £1,000 a week netting, harpooning and gassing whole stretches of water, selling specimen salmon at £1 per pound on the black market. That alone increases the argument for tagging all caught salmon. We must also bear in mind that the theft of a typical 10lb henfish can mean the loss of up to 8,000 eggs in a river's gravel spawning beds, upsetting the ecology of the river. Therefore I agree that bailiffs should be given increased rights to search and arrest in order to stamp out this crime on our rivers. I know it is a costly exercise--£4 million last year. Fighting crime usually is. But I hope that the agency, and the ministry, will seriously consider the legislation that is called for in this strategy.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, we all agree, and are most grateful to my noble friend for his part in the production of this quite excellent strategy by the outgoing National Rivers Authority for the incoming Environment Agency.

I shall deal with just three aspects: first, the "hungry gap" for smolts when they leave our rivers and before they reach the plankton in the Arctic; secondly--a point which I believe should be developed--the preservation and procreation of the multi-sea winter salmon and the early running springers of which every river in the United Kingdom is now so desperately short; and thirdly, I shall develop further the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mason, made about the missing section in the strategy on predation on the spawning grounds and on the salmon parr.

One of the most worrying features today is that the excellent, prolific spring migration downriver of smolts going to the sea which still takes place in so many rivers fails to come back as grilse or salmon in anything like the proportions that it used to in the 1960s. We cannot just go on blaming, as we did in the early 1970s, the Icelandic fisheries, the illegal driftnetting around our coast or the other interceptory fisheries, which have been curtailed. The problem is far worse than that. It is that the right quantity of fish is no longer there to be intercepted.

We have had a series of warm winters and, as a result, the plankton is further away. It has nothing to do with global warming; it is simply the result of a change in climate, which is always happening in this country. The very first thing that the smolts leaving our rivers rely on when they reach the sea is an abundance of sand eels as their main food supply. Today, we are allowing the Danes to fish our sand eels to power their electricity. That is detrimental, as we all know, to the food supply of some of our sea birds. But worse still, it is lethal for the smolts, and it creates the "hungry gap" for the fish that have spawned, passed through the stages of parr, smolted, gone to sea and never reach their main food supply in the Arctic.

We all know, or think or hope we know, that "like breeds like". This problem of the shortage of early spring fish stems from three things. The extraordinary

1 May 1996 : Column 1705

thing is that it may have to do with the temperature of the water. We all know that a good, early running spring fish is a free taker. So a higher proportion of these fish get taken by the rod fishermen than does any other group of the population. There is also the problem of over-redding on the redds. The early spring fish mature earlier. Their redds get dug up by the later running fish--particularly when there is a shortage of spawning grounds--which go to spawn in exactly the same place and dig up the redds of the earlier fish. So we have a problem with the limited spawning grounds of the later running fish digging up the redds of the fish we want to procreate.

The other problem is stripping the fish in the rivers. It is an awful business. One sees on an early winter's day in mid-November a gang of men going out with nets and buckets. They charge about on the precious redds, catch as many fish as they can which they hope are fertile and fertilise them in the bucket. All they have to do is obtain sufficient spawn to take back and fill the hatchery. The problem is more serious and scientific than is realised. Such people do not know what spawn they are taking and what spawn they are fertilising.

For 21 years I was chairman of the fisheries board. During that time, with the help of Liverpool University, we carried out what would have developed successfully had we been able to spend the money on it. We carried out a successful experiment on trapping the fish that ran the river in February and March and holding them till they were ripe and ready to spawn in special tanks. We stripped and put back into the river only the fry from the early running fish. Within a seven-year period, there was a marked improvement in the spring run, but it is difficult and expensive to do, one needs a lot of construction and the fish need nurturing until they are ready to strip. I am sorry that the strategy document, which puts so much emphasis on the need to restock rivers with their own naturally run stock of fish, does not make the point that we should only strip the early running fish and return that spawn to the river.

In addition, there is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason: the missing strategy on predation. We cannot duck the issue in the first instance of mammalian predation around our coasts by the grey seal. When the salmon fishing was really good in the 1960s, the total grey seal population around the whole of the United Kingdom was 24,000. Today it is 108,000 and increasing at 9 per cent. a year. It is said because of what I can only regard as a slightly bogus scientific survey that salmon is not the principal food of the seals. The survey was based on droppings taken from seals when they haul out before they pup. Most people realise that the seal is the one mammal which goes into decline before it pups. The droppings--which were not picked up at sea, that would not be possible--were picked up on the land where the seals were hauling out to pup. The droppings showed a high preponderance of sand eel. When the Aberdeen research unit succeeded in catching seals at sea, those seals had a high percentage of salmon in their stomachs. If one examines the stomach of a seal

1 May 1996 : Column 1706

that has been caught in a net and killed, the first thing a seal does when it is caught is to empty its stomach and as a result there is no incriminating evidence.

So much for what I believe is important: the damage done by mammalian predators. The avian predation on the spawning grounds is even worse and it is particularly dangerous when we put the fed fry back into the river. The fry have no idea that the shadow of the cormorant is not the shadow of the hands that fed them in tanks. Therefore, they do not take cover from cormorants, mergansers and goosanders. With respect to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, it is fair to say that the National Rivers Authority has ducked the issue of giving people licences under the necessary wildlife registration order to cull the cormorants. The authority will only issue a licence if one can prove serious financial damage.

Until a few years ago, the cormorant was a shore nesting bird. We used to control cormorants, we went to sea in March and shot them all around the mouth of a river so that the population was maintained at a level equal to the food supply at sea. That discouraged the cormorants from coming inland and fishing up the river; they are not inland birds.

I would not wish to stray into a major argument on avian predation in this country. It is too late this spring, but as a compromise we should be allowed next spring to have a policy of egg pricking for the birds which are nesting inland. I do not suggest that we should start a campaign of shooting them because that is not allowed, but there is no reason why we should not prick the eggs of all inland nesting cormorants. Then we may hope that the population will begin to decline.

It is urgent that we look at the problem of the hungry gap. The Government bear a responsibility for allowing the Danes to fish out our sand eel population. The sand eel population is important to much else, but it is vital to our salmon stocks. The strategy set out in the document on restocking needs refining, and we must know what fish are being stripped. Finally, we can no longer go on ducking the issue of predation, both mammalian and avian. Both must be managed.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Viscount for giving us this opportunity to debate salmon policies and for the clear, constructive and stimulating way in which he introduced the subject. I must declare an interest in that my family owns a small salmon fishery on the upper Wye and I am a vice-president of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association.

The first time I spoke on salmon in your Lordships' House was on 19th February 1985, when I said (at col. 526 of Hansard):


    "I think that there is an urgent need for an effective national salmon management policy which does not exist at the moment, when we have four Ministers concerned with fisheries problems in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, as a result, we have an unco-ordinated policy; for example, drift netting banned in Scotland but permitted in England where I believe the great majority of fish taken are headed for Scottish rivers".

1 May 1996 : Column 1707

That was 11 years ago. Nothing much has changed except that the Government set up the Salmon Advisory Committee under the late Professor Dunnet, but they have now wound that up. I also pointed out in that 1985 debate that, despite the unanimity and deep knowledge displayed by Peers in salmon debates in 1980 and 1981, after those debates nothing happened. I hope that that will not be the case after this debate.

Now, much later, we are still no nearer a genuine national salmon policy, embracing, as it should, the whole of the United Kingdom. But at least the noble Viscount and his colleagues--a number of whom I know and very much respect--are to be warmly congratulated on having produced a salmon management strategy for England and Wales. That is at least a good beginning. As such, it is very welcome, as is the setting of objectives and the defining of the steps needed to attain those objectives.

The new strategy will need to be co-ordinated with the policies which come out of the review of Scottish salmon fisheries currently being conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, and with policies for Northern Ireland rivers. If that is done, we shall really move forward.

So far as the strategy itself is concerned, I strongly support what is said about habitat enhancement and all the recommendations listed on page 18; that is, carcass tagging, dealer licensing, prohibition of the sale of rod-caught salmon and encouragement of more effective action by the courts against poachers. In fact, I argued for all those during the passage of the Salmon Bill in 1986. The Government then rejected tagging in favour of dealer licensing, only to abandon that in 1987, after planning to introduce it. They told me also that prohibition of the sale of rod-caught salmon was too draconian a measure, which seemed and seems to me to be nonsense. Some of the recommendations have been put forward repeatedly in the past. For example, as I told the House in January 1988, dealer licensing has been put forward repeatedly by committee after committee for 60 years.

I very much welcome what is said in the strategy about legislative proposals and the streamlining of procedures, on page 15. Far too much fisheries legislation is now out of date. I also welcome the reaffirmation of the NRA's policy against fishing of mixed stocks, on page 16. It took some time for the NRA to come round to that view, but I am glad that it has. I welcome the call for an end to the Irish drift-net fishery, a matter which I have brought up several times in your Lordships' House. The call for research on salmon in the marine phase (on page 24) is extremely important and should be pursued both nationally and internationally.

I should say a few words about spawning escapement targets, which are discussed on pages 8 to 11 of the strategy and given great emphasis in the report. I believe that it is very much for the long term. At the moment, we do not have accurate data. It would be very difficult to measure the parameters. On my own river, the River Wye, only now do we have an experimental acoustic counter, which is being evaluated. We do not yet know

1 May 1996 : Column 1708

the size of the run, let alone how many fish successfully spawn and what could be the ideal number. What is said about spawning targets is very sensible but it is very much for the long term. We should be careful not to be too hasty in taking management decisions on fairly speculative information. It also needs to be borne in mind that there is always a need for an exploitable surplus in any river, not just for the survival of the stock.

An important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, about whether the Environment Agency will have adequate resources. I know that on the River Wye the excellent fisheries officer has just had his post abolished, which shows the pressure that resources are under. The noble Lord, Lord Mason, made very strongly the point about the north-east drift-net fisheries. I remember during the passage of the Salmon Act, with the support of the late Lord Home, urging that that fishery should be phased out in five years. What is said in the strategy about the north-east fisheries repeats the previous NRA unwillingness to act effectively to implement its own stated principle of ending the exploitation of predominantly mixed stocks. It used to be said that natural wastage would bring the fishery to an end in 30 years. That now seems to have become 40 years, but in any case that is far too long.

We should strictly control industrial fishing, especially for sandeels, as I urged in our debate on fish stocks on 16th April. We should aim to eliminate entirely interceptory fisheries for mixed stocks and salmon should be harvested in their rivers of origin, as the Hunter Report recommended some 30 years ago.

The noble Viscount talked about distant water fisheries and referred to the admirable work of Orri Vigfusson in arranging for compensation schemes to pay Greenland and Faroes fishermen for not fishing their NASCO quotas. I do not believe that the problem has just gone away. There are good prospects for a renewal of the Greenland ban. Nonetheless, the need for finance is still very important. Given the cost effectiveness of the compensation scheme--a cost of about £5 for each extra fish in UK waters compared with between £80 and £180 for hatchery-reared fish--I wonder whether the Environment Agency would be prepared to consider making a direct contribution to the UK share of that scheme. It would be greatly appreciated if it were to do so.

The strategy makes strongly the point about the current shortage of multi-sea-winter fish, the "springers", about which noble Lords have already spoken. I was a member of a deputation that went to see Mr. Waldegrave when he was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We asked him, in the light of the compensation schemes in Greenland and the Faroes, to consider asking the NRA to bring down the date of opening the north-east fisheries to 1st May. He thought about that and agreed to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Mason, pointed out, Ministers twice encouraged the NRA to take that step to protect the spring fish and it is cause for great regret that it declined to do so.

Quite a lot is said in the strategy about sustainable exploitation. It is explained that the NRA had no remit to consider the allocation of resources. I wonder whether

1 May 1996 : Column 1709

the Environment Agency, which, unlike the NRA, has a requirement to operate under the principle of sustainable development, will be able to take a different view. It would be helpful if it were able to do so.

One of the primary deficiencies in the present management is described at the bottom of page 4 as:


    "The lack of clear ... economic, social and political objectives".
The aim is stated, on page 5, as:


    "management ... [resulting] in a net economic gain to the country as a whole as well as providing social and conservation benefits".
Together that would seem to justify a management policy that takes into account the impact of different types of fishery on regional economies.

Your Lordships will know that the greater contribution of rod fisheries to local revenue, through all the related expenditure on accommodation, services and tackle, has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently in the 1991 study commissioned by MAFF.

NRA scientists have done very valuable work. The strategy is an important legacy for the Environment Agency. I am only sad that in its last months the NRA has taken some steps which seem to be inconsistent with its duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries; namely, refusing to move the north-east fishery opening date to 1st May, continuing to subsidise commercial netting and applying, 11 days before it went out of existence, for a navigation order on the Wye, which, even though less bad than it was originally, is still one to which many fishery interests on the river will be bound to object.

The noble Viscount spoke interestingly about funding. I have always thought that enforcement against poaching, which is enforcing the law of the land as laid down by Parliament, should be paid for from public funds. There is a limit to what can be expected from fishery owners. The scarcity of salmon means that it is often difficult to let salmon fishing in England and Wales. So, too much should not be expected from them.

It does not seem fair that the Scottish fish element of the north-east fisheries should be ignored in setting licence charges for that fishery. If netting is allowed to continue, net licence levels must reflect catches far more closely than they do at present.

In general, this is a valuable strategy. We must thank the noble Viscount and his colleagues for the work that they put into it, which I hope will be carried forward by the Environment Agency.

7 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Mills, not only for bringing this subject before us, but also for producing, together with others, a remarkable document. I disagree with very little in it, though I shall comment on it from a different angle as I proceed.

My first comment--or mild complaint--is that I was sorry that Scotland was not included. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, from the far North is sitting in the Chamber and will no doubt tell us something about

1 May 1996 : Column 1710

Scotland. But it seems a pity that we missed some cross-pollination of information that might have taken place between England, Wales and Scotland.

My other sorrow is that this wonderful document came 10 years too late. The writing has been on the wall for a long time, with the situation with regard to salmon stocks becoming serious. That leads me on to another important point. The document is full, quite rightly, of ways of assessing what stocks there are--presumably the numbers of redds and so forth. It gives the idea that we are at the beginning of a situation and are going to go through an assessment process.

The fish stocks committee recognised that the assessment of fish stocks in the oceans was an imprecise science. I still believe that it is imprecise in the case of rivers too. I hope that we have got past the point of deciding what to do with regard to some of the rivers--the noble Viscount said a large proportion in Wales. We have got to work to a certain extent on hunch, knowledge and local knowledge and do something now. In the seas it is called a precautionary attitude: be careful; do something now; do not let the situation deteriorate any further.

The noble Viscount suggested that I might talk about the Avon. I have got 14 minutes and have never spoken for more than about 10. However, I point out that we used to catch around 65 salmon fairly high up the river, just below Salisbury, every year. Our best year was when we caught 99. That was when the water meadows--a feature of Wiltshire farming--went out of business, the sluices were drawn and fresh fish could get through instead of just the red spawners. Last week I asked what the situation was this year. We have lost one fish on our water, not surprisingly, because we discouraged people from fishing. The poor man who was fishing was fishing with a rather small cork with the barb cut off. The rest of the treble was cut off and the salmon eluded him--he was going to return it to the water anyway.

Roughly speaking, the catch used to be 400 to the nets and 400 to the rods. This year, with a restricted season, four fish have been landed so far on the whole river. That underlines that something must be done on the Hampshire Avon, and that may be so on many other rivers. We have heard a lot about the counting of redds, electric fishing power and that kind of thing. But the moment for that is over. It can run on in parallel, but something must be done now. As I said, that is probably so with other rivers also.

I looked at this question again when I read the document, which I enjoyed, and I agree with it. I thought of the three places where salmon come to grief: on the high seas, in the estuaries and in the river. Having come from the fish stocks committee, I began thinking about the high seas and all the problems that we came across with other fish. There is a lot of talk about drift-nets being successfully "off" off the coast of Ireland. There is what sounds rather a fragile agreement relating to waters off the Faroes because that agreement has to be renewed. Without being too unpleasant, I wonder who monitors that. The trouble with all the rules in relation to the rest of the fish species is that nobody sticks to them but they all pretend that they do.

1 May 1996 : Column 1711

Likewise, salmon do not just go "off". We found that they concentrated off the Faroes. But the salmon have to get to the Arctic. I take a fishing magazine called Fishing International. I picked up a snippet from a copy that was on my desk this morning. Apparently an Icelandic ship has just been equipped with a new purse-seine net, the circumference of the mouth of which is 3,600 metres. That can gobble up cod, hake and every other sort of fish including, presumably, salmon as they wander on their way. We cannot ignore that a lot of damage may be being done in large parts of the ocean, but we are pretty sure that there is nothing that we can do about it, apart from the agreements involving the drift-netting.

Then we come back to the estuaries. I do not know much about it, but it is said that the fish are trapped by the seine net in the Avon, but I believe people use stake nets in other places. I agree with previous speakers that that is an archaic way of gathering fish. It may have been suitable when fish were plentiful. It is time that the regulations were speeded up or laws altered and nets bought out at a fair price, rather as an ocean-going vessel can be decommissioned at a fair price. I have made that suggestion on a number of occasions in regard to the Avon and have been told every time that it is not possible. I take courage from the report that it is possible and I shall go into battle once more.

I believe that that will make a considerable difference. If we cannot control what is happening in the oceans perhaps we should over-control what is happening in the estuaries to counter-balance the situation. The same applies in the rivers. If nets are restricted then, where needed, severe restrictions should be placed on rods in all the various ways that the NRA document mentions--for example, shortened seasons, certain types of bait and so forth. I believe that many people are doing that already, certainly on the River Avon.

In regard to the message about co-operation and arrangements between the agency and riparian owners, I should like the co-operation to start with somebody from the agency discussing the problems and the history of the river with the people who really know; that is, the people who live on it. So often it has been my experience that somebody gets in touch, having given reasonable notice though sometimes it is quite unreasonable, and asks whether they can electric-fish parr, clean gravel banks or something of that sort. It seems that they never think to come and ask whether they are going to clean a gravel bank where salmon have never been known to spawn or whether they are going to the right one. That may perhaps be an exaggeration, but not entirely so.

Finally, I must support strongly my noble friend Lord Kimball in respect of the plan of the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, and the business of predation. There is something idiotic about spending a lot of time, thought and money preserving a wonderful species of God's animal and at the same time not being allowed to protect it from a rather grizzly bird which is hugely on the increase and should be dealt with in one way or another.

1 May 1996 : Column 1712

We shall never get rid of all the cormorants or the herons, so I do not know why the RSPB is so worried. Those are the two birds, with the black backed gulls, that are crippling some of our chalk streams. It is not just a matter of the ones which nest inland. As soon as they finish nesting they will be coming up in droves, and they fish and they fish. I can put up with grebes, of both kinds, with kingfishers of course, and with all the lovely things, but the cormorant to me is not a lovely thing. Some people may think that there are only a few herons in the world. I am a fish farmer and I netted over my fish farm at enormous expense after I counted, standing in three columns around the fish farm waiting to go in, 327 herons. My sales went up to £160,000 the following year. Predation is a vital point.

That is all I have to say except once more to congratulate the noble Viscount on an excellent job done.

7.11 p.m.

Earl Haig: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Mills for initiating this debate. We are considering a document, which I understand was written by the noble Viscount himself, which deals very comprehensively with our concerns about a resource which is nationally and internationally important. My noble friend kindly urged me to take part in this English/Welsh debate though I am a Scot because, as he put it, it has a strong international dimension. I would agree with that approach, although I am not entirely satisfied that it is followed in the document.

My noble friend indicated that there was a reason for that. However, I would have hoped that the problems affecting salmon in fresh water had been given the same attention in the document as the need to protect them on their dangerous sea journeys. The problems of whose nets and whose hooks are to be used at home are fully explored, but the problems of shortage of feeding in the sea are hardly touched on. The paper rightly stresses the need to find out more about what happens to post smolts, but it should urge greater use of modern equipment to pinpoint all the journeys of salmon at sea, as is now possible in rivers. I mention, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned, the good work of the North Atlantic Salmon Trust in preventing over-exploitation near the feeding grounds.

A serious decline would affect many local communities, particularly in Scotland, where visitors come to catch salmon or just enjoy their presence. They are a species of fish whose beauty of form and movement is a joy to behold. I should like to pay a particular compliment to the drawings in the document which cheer it up considerably so far as I am concerned. The document sets out a strategy for their management in England and Wales. Coming from Scotland as a Tweed riparian owner I speak with an interest to declare. The strategy which is set out in the document corresponds to the strategy which may be adopted in Scotland. So it is perhaps a timely moment for me to say something about Scotland.

A salmon strategy task force has been set up by the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view to recommending a strategy,

1 May 1996 : Column 1713


    "for the management, conservation and suitable exploitation of the stocks into the next century".
The task force is expected to report by the end of the year. The Tweed is represented on this body by our clerk, Mrs. Judith Nicol. Scotland along with the rest of the United Kingdom and the whole of Northern Europe and the North Atlantic must unite in a joint strategy. It is only if all of us work together that our aims will succeed. Our strategies must be based on the principles proposed in this document though, as it concedes, the tactical battles will always be affected by local conditions and by the seasons.

The report is, I repeat, on the whole disappointingly non-international. It is almost isolationist in its tone. It appears to drop a curtain between the river and the sea. Even the references to Scotland are sparse. It also concentrates very much on "cost benefit" and the sustainable development of the salmon resource without emphasising the needs of conservation and research. That is not to say that the NRA is not trying to avoid further dwindling stocks and it makes many useful proposals in many important directions. It makes a good case for an element of public money to be spent on salmon fishery improvements. I hope that the Government will examine the idea of giving public money in Scotland.

At present, the riparian owners pay all the costs of running the Tweed Commission. I would hope that the main responsibilities and powers will be left in its hands and in the hands of the Tweed Foundation. Good management strategy requires teamwork and a sense of urgency to overcome obstacles and to reach objectives. The Tweed has an excellent team at commission headquarters and among the staff and down as far as the bailiffs on the ground.

There is a saying about waiting for officialdom which equals waiting till kingdom come. This can happen. Plans take time to materialise from theory into practice. For example, on the Tweed the design of cauld reconstructions, whose systems may form barriers and may be unhelpful to the river as a whole, have been slow to accomplish. Nevertheless, new fish passes have been built on the Till in Northumberland with the help of the NRA and Northumberland County Council. That is an example of good cross-border co-operation. The cost of cauld reconstructions on fishing beats is the responsibility of riparian owners but fish passes on the Till and other spawning areas are not and cost money. There is a need for public money support for those kinds of improvements. There is a particular argument for spending some public money in Scotland, because it is there where most of our salmon rivers exist, with their surrounding dependent communities.

I should like to support the NRA's wish to strengthen legislation to improve fishery control measures. I am less happy with its intention to stick to a policy of only phasing out the north-east drift-net fishery. The document states that under this policy only the reallocation of surrendered drift-net licences will be prohibited, and that without there being clear evidence that stocks need to be conserved, any speedier phasing out or closure of the fishery would require action by the

1 May 1996 : Column 1714

Government. Could the NRA not have gone as far as to say that it would welcome such a move on the part of the Government? I was happy to hear from my noble friend Lord Mills that he would welcome that move. Although the NRA is unwilling to close down the fishery, it is quite ready to offer its services as a go-between to allow river interests to buy out and close a fishery.

The Government should be reminded of their pledge when the Salmon Bill was debated some 10 years ago. Under pressure from your Lordships, the then Minister, my noble friend Lord Belstead, undertook to reconsider the problem if after a five-year period the drift-net catches were to reveal serious damage to fish stocks. In 1991 the Government took the view that there was no evidence of an immediate threat to stocks and recommended a phasing out policy. Today the records are available and show an annual catch of 40,000 fish, of which a quarter are destined for the Tweed. The harvest of 10,000 Tweed fish equals one-third of the Tweed catches, one-third being caught by rods and one-third by river nets. These are our salmon runs which enter the river in spring and summer when the nets are in action, runs which are in decline and which are badly needed for our economy.

In my view, the drift-nets are a great threat to the stocks of the Tweed. According to the NRA, the north-east drift-nets will not be phased out for 40 years, although they will have been half-closed in 10 years' time. Given improved techniques, the net catches will go on rising, so the same number of fish will be caught with half the number of nets. Although they take a large share of our fish, they do not contribute to our river management: instead, the value of their catch is included in the Northumbrian assessment.

I find the NRA's acceptance of a slow phasing out process in the north-east fishery to be in sad contrast to its policy of recommending a quota system for Greenland and the Faroes and to its welcome for a possible Irish Government move to ban completely all drift-net netting round the Irish coast. I wish it had gone as far as recommending an equal welcome to a British Government move to ban all drift-netting round the British coast.

By failing to establish on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom a common drift-net policy target, the NRA is guilty of adopting double standards. It is failing to give a strong message which will tell the international community that the United Kingdom is determined to win the battle to preserve the salmon.

In 1995 there was a decline in the number of rod-fish caught on the Tweed. We caught 9,600 fish, which is 4 per cent. down on 1994 and 6 per cent. down on the previous five-year average. These disappointments are reminding us of the need for constant awareness and readiness to act. The last sentence,


    "Any decision to terminate or reduce exploitation would have to be taken after the spawning escapement had fallen significantly below the target level",
indicates a dangerous policy. To wait until the resource has declined to low levels is too late. It is also a reminder of the danger to our local communities if we

1 May 1996 : Column 1715

fail to restore a resource which is so important for the future. This resource is particularly valuable in the Borders. I am worried by the research quoted in Objective 3, under the names of Radford, Hatcher and Witmarsh, who reject the economic value to the community as a measure of the value of rod-caught salmon by substituting the value of catches less the value of anglers' expenditure. They reject the people and the families who work in and benefit from the restaurants, shops and hotels in river valleys. This is a serious and anti-social reassessment of salmon-related value to the community.

My noble friend Lord Kimball and the noble Lord, Lord Mason, made a plea about the need to restrict predators. One bird which was not mentioned by them which affects us very badly on the Tweed is the goosander.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page