Select Committee on European Communities Report



14.  SECOND SUPPLEMENTARY MEMORANDUM CONCERNING A PROPOSAL FOR A COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) AMENDING FOR THE SIXTEENTH TIME REGULATION (EEC) NO. 3094/86 LAYING DOWN CERTAIN TECHNICAL MEASURES FOR THE CONSERVATION OF FISHERY RESOURCES (5971/94)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  At their meeting last week, Sub-Committee D considered your non-paper on drift-net fishing and have asked me to write to you.

  The Committee considered the Commission's initial proposal in detail in their report "Regulation of Drift-Net Fishing" (13th Report, Session 1993-94, HL 77). The Sub-Committee supports your attempt to break the deadlock in Council. However, the Committee are concerned that, in order to achieve progress on the remainder of the proposals, your non-paper proposes to drop the provisions of the Regulation relating to the control of drift-net fishing for salmon. The Committee would like clarification on why the Government is willing to exempt salmonid drift-net fishing from the proposed phase-out, given the decline in salmon stocks, the damage to them done by drift-nets and the capability for the drift-nets of one Member State to interfere in the migration of salmon to the waters of other Member States.

  While we understand that the non-paper is to go to the Fisheries Council on 24 March, the scrutiny reserve is nevertheless maintained pending your reply.

16 March 1998

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Your letter to me of 16 March asked why the Presidency initiative to ban high seas drift nets did not maintain the provision in the Commission's original proposal on coastal drift nets for salmon.

  Our initiative, and indeed, the Commission's original proposal, was a response to the growing concern about the levels of by-catch of small cetaceans, sharks and other species in high-seas drift nets. For some dolphins, our scientific advice is that this level of by-catch may not be sustainable.

  Salmon drift nets do not pose the same by-catch problems as high seas drift nets. Catches of species other than salmon and seatrout are rare; harbour porpoises are occasionally entangled in coastal salmon drift nets but, since these nets are constantly attended, it is usually possible to release them unharmed.

  It is the Government's policy that coastal net fisheries which intercept salmon stocks from more than one river should be phased out. So far as the main salmon drift net fishery is concerned, that off North East England, this policy was recommended by the comprehensive 1991 Review of Salmon Net Fisheries in North East England and East and North East Scotland; the Environment Agency, which is responsible for the management of salmon fisheries in England and Wales, has since adopted it for other coastal salmon and seatrout net fisheries. The Government continues to be guided by the Review's conclusion that there was no evidence that the North East coast drift net fishery posed an immediate threat to stocks, and that there was, therefore, no justification for depriving existing licensees of their licences at a stroke. No new evidence has emerged since the review was completed which seriously challenges these conclusions or which would provide justification for immediate action to close down this fishery. If such evidence were to emerge, we would, of course, take the necessary action; we have adequate legal powers under our own legislation.

  The phase out of the North East coast fishery is, in any case, taking place more rapidly than was originally expected. Since it started in 1992, the number of net licences has fallen by 40 per cent from 142 to 81 last year. If the phase out continues at its current rate, we can expect the number of licences to fall to 25 per cent of their 1992 level by 2004 and the level of exploitation to fall by the same amount two years later.

  Your reference to the capability for drift nets in one Member State to interfere in the migration of salmon to the waters of other Member States is clearly a reference to the effect of Irish drift nets, which do take salmon of English and Welsh origin. We are working with the Irish Government to assess the impact of the fishery on English and Welsh stocks but, as yet, there is no evidence that the level of exploitation of these stocks in this fishery is serious enough to justify changing our policy on salmon drift nets in our own coastal waters or for involving the European Community in the regulation of salmon fisheries within our six mile limit. The regulation of in-shore fisheries for salmon, as well as for other species, has traditionally been the responsibility of the coastal state concerned and I do not believe that a case has been made for passing this responsibility to the Community.

  I should also point out that Ireland has recently adopted a number of measures intended, among other things, to reduce the exploitation of non-native salmon and of early running fish. These include restricting drift netting to within the Irish six mile limit, delaying the start of the drift netting season until 1 June and reducing the length of the fishing week. It is too early to say what effect these measures will have, and the Government will continue to keep the situation under review.

23 March 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Elliot Morley, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  At their meeting last week, Sub-Committee D considered your reply to my letter of 16 March concerning the Government's non-paper on drift-net fishing. The Sub-Committee have now lifted their scrutiny reserve. They have asked me to write to thank you for your swift and full reply and to request that you keep us informed of future developments.

8 April 1998


 
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