HC Deb 19 July 1978 vol 954 cc521-3
13. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many fishery protection vessels are now operating in waters of the 200-mile limit off the west of Scotland; and how many aircraft patrols fly each week over this area.

Mr. Millan

Two offshore vessels and either two or three inshore vessels are normally on fishery protection patrol in west of Scotland waters at any one time. Additional surface surveillance is available as circumstances require. Royal Air Force Nimrods patrol the area regularly and are currently giving it close attention.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there will be a big extra strain on the fishery protection services when, in October, the pout box is extended and when—I think it is in November—the minimum mesh sizes have to be surveyed much more rigorously than before—a matter in which the aeroplanes cannot play a part?

Mr. Millan

I think that I have said in the House before that I believe that our fishery protection forces are adequate to do the job. I think that all experience shows that that is so. Perhaps I may take the west of Scotland as an example. Since 1st January this year there have been boardings of 66 foreign vessels, and there is a similar level of activity in other parts of our waters.

Mr. Watt

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is blatantly obvious that his fishery protection vessels are not adequate to do the job? Is he aware that his Minister of State was unaware of the presence of Norwegian vessels in the west of Scotland in recent weeks? Is it not time he sought the co-operation of the industry much more than he has in the past, in reporting the presence of poachers?

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. There is no question of inadequate facilities. We were perfectly aware that Norwegian and Dutch vessels were fishing off the west of Scotland before the ban was imposed.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that at present there is a considerable amount of aerial surveillance in the North Sea and over the west coast, as a result of which reports are made on all vessels, whether they are passing through or whether they are fishing? This is a worthwhile scheme, operated by the Nimrods. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to keep our fishery protection fleet and the aircraft surveillance operating at full speed in order to check quickly what has happened?

Mr. Millan

Yes, Sir. I certainly agree. We must deploy the forces depending on where the problem is at any particular time. But there is no evidence that we have inadequate surveillance. The industry does not complain about this.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Has the right hon. Gentleman gathered from the industry that it is satisfied that the protection available will be adequate to deal with the substantial increase in the work load in consequence of the extra conservation measures?

On a separate matter, will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to indicate whether he will ensure that any stock measures taken in the west coast mackerel fisheries are appropriate to the needs of the market? In particular, will he give an assurance that the measures will not be more restrictive than those implemented in the south-west fisheries, bearing in mind the relationship of this matter to the conservation measures that we have discussed?

Mr. Millan

I frequently see representatives of the industry. There has never been a complaint to me, over all the period that I have been meeting them, about the level of surveillance in the North Sea or anywhere else.

On the hon. Gentleman's second question, discussions are going on between the fishermen and my Department. There are certain complications on the question of licensing, the levels of catch allowed, and so on, for mackerel fishing, but we are dealing with a substantially increased quota at present. There is a good deal of mackerel available and we are discussing with the industry how best to license it.

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