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Baroness Byford: My Lords, is that system already in being? If not, how advanced is it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot give the exact date but it has been a good four or five years since it was in being. I shall write to the noble Baroness about the precise point of legal application.

Clearly that does not address all the problems of sales of quotas because quotas have a price and people have to be able to afford that price. But, legally, whoever the buyer is and at whatever price, they have to demonstrate a benefit to the UK.

As regards conservation, the Select Committee pointed to the lack of success in mixed fisheries and in conserving stocks through the use of tax and quotas. Clearly we need to go further. As the noble Earl indicated, cod stocks are the most depleted. For these, we need interim EU measures in place in the North Sea and the West of Scotland which restrict the number of days at sea and the type of gear used. In July, the Commission produced new proposals for the long-term measures to promote recovery. As noble Lords have pointed out, it is true that the Commission was a long time in producing these proposals, but it also true that the interim measures which set out significantly to reduce effort on cod are now in place and need to be followed through.

As we said in our response to the Committee's report, the Government agree that recovery plans should be established for cod and hake. We took that line last year and we continue to do so. We hope to see progress on that issue as rapidly as possible. We must ensure that the new regulations are likely to be effective and properly enforced.

We also need to ensure that the size of the fleet is in balance with the available stocks. We have been very positive in this regard in terms of the decommissioning grants we have made available in England and Scotland. In addition, at the start of this year the department announced further funding of about #50 million to reduce the size of the UK fleet.

That will obviously have implications for the fishing communities. My noble friend Lady Billingham and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, were particularly concerned about the coastal rural communities in which most of our fishermen live. While a smaller fleet is potentially more viable, it will require local communities to adjust to lower levels of employment. This is where the regional policy and the role of RDAs and so on come in. It is important that we ensure that the RDAs are focused on this issue in relation to the

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relatively few, but nevertheless often quite remote, coastal towns which have historically depended on fishing.

My noble friend Lady Billingham asked why we were not providing the same transitional aid in England as in Scotland. The aid that Scottish authorities have provided was to get over the present difficulties, whereas now we are looking forward. We cannot really talk in terms of transitional aid in respect of a long-term decline in the fisheries sector. The Government have also consulted on the future structural fund policy, and the best way forward seems to be in an EU framework, which provides for help to those areas most hit by the decline of the sector.

The regional advisory councils, to which many noble Lords have referred, will be international bodies. All stakeholders can participate, but they must be regionally based bottom-up organisations developed and run by their own members. It will take a bit of time for those bodies to operate, but we need to give our full backing and ensure in particular that the progress already being made with international groups of stakeholders in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the South West results in effective organisations. The Commission is likely to produce a formal consultation on that matter for a council regulation in the very near future.

One important matter that I need to spell out relates to the environmental aspects of CFP. There has been quite a bit of progress on that front under the new CFP since December. In July, we gained Commission action to take emergency measures to protect the Darwin Mound coral reefs from trawling. Also in July, a regulation to tackle the problem of shark finning was adopted by the EU. To address the central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, the Commission has introduced a draft regulation to address small cetaceans by-catch. That will obviously be a major part of the overall approach to by-catch, which is a very serious problem.

We welcome the draft directive, and the UK is in the vanguard of the member states attempting to deal with the unacceptable dolphin and harbour porpoise death in fishing nets. We need to take action at an EU level, as the measures provide. In the mean time, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said, Defra has successfully run trials for a grid system capable of saving dolphin lives in the sea bass fisheries. We are considering promoting that more widely.

The noble Lord, Lord Eden, also referred to the potential dangers of using sonic technology to deal with that issue. We must bear that in mind in relation to smaller cetaceans, as well as to the larger animals to which the report referred.

It is clear that there is already a growing list of EU measures and proposals that expand on the new framework under the CFP. We look forward to that being intensified and built into a new eco-system-based approach to fisheries management, delivering the environmental objectives as well as the sustaining, and reversal of decline, of stocks.

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Fish stock management operates on long timescales, and we need to look well ahead. Long-term sustainability is a key aim for the Government, and the work undertaken by the Committee gives us a basis for approaching that. The work will be taken further by the strategy unit. At European level, we are rapidly approaching this December's Fisheries Council. The UK is far from being alone in seeking a long-term solution in the interests of a healthy fishing industry as well as for a marine environment. However, in order to have a long-term future, we need to preserve and reverse the decline of stocks now, which means that, at the very minimum, the effective enforcement and success of the decisions taken in December needs to be built on, and built on rapidly.

I conclude by thanking again the noble Earl and his committee for the report, and all noble Lords for participating in this informative and worthwhile debate.

Lord Brightman: My Lords, I should like to ask a question about an area on which I am totally ignorant. Does the farming of fish have any impact on the preservation of stocks of wild fish? A Member of your Lordships' House told me recently that, if I went to Billingsgate, almost all the fish I saw would be farmed fish. Presumably, that would exclude fish that were trawled; I was told that the rest of the fish were farmed. Does that have any impact on the problem that we now face?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the bulk of farmed fish will be fresh water fish. There is no significant farming of cod, for example, which is one of the species with which we are most concerned in the context of the debate. With most deep sea fish, there has been some indication that the Norwegians in particular are moving towards substantial cod fish farming, too. However, that requires vast areas to make it successful, and it has had little impact.

One area in which wild sea fish have been affected by farming stocks is one that noble Lords have debated on several occasions, relating to North Sea salmon. There are probably environmental problems affecting North Sea salmon in any case, and we had a debate on that subject only a few weeks ago. Clearly, the vast bulk of salmon sales are now of farmed rather than wild salmon. Therefore, in that area there has been a significant effect. However, most deep sea fish are fished rather than farmed.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in this very depressing debate. I owe an apology to my noble friend, as clearly our report ruined her stay in Wales.

I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response. I have much admiration for the way in which Elliot Morley negotiated. It is a thankless task being a fisheries Minister, for reasons that the Minister has explained, and we all recognise the way in which Elliot Morley tried to bring an element of reality into Fisheries Council meetings.

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I wish to pick up on the observation made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, on fish farming. When we considered the matter in a previous report, we were aware of the problem of feeding fish stock that is being cultured. The fish have to be fed on something, and one is unlikely to be able to get the food from a land-based crop. Effectively, one hoovers up sand eels to feed the fish, which ends up making the problem worse. However, long-term research is being done.

The prospects of farming cod did not seem at all realistic to us. Farming salmon is much more common but, as the noble and learned Lord will be aware, there are considerable cultural problems.

The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, referred to veterans of two reports. I admit that I am a veteran of four reports over 11 years, and I fear that I get ever shriller and more exasperated. However, there is an element of urgency. If the report and this debate have persuaded others, particularly the blocking minority referred to so often, that there is a desperate need for the European Union to get its act together with fisheries and act responsibly, perhaps we have not wasted this Friday morning and afternoon, and there will have been some advantage in having depressed ourselves so extensively on the subject.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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