HC Deb 30 November 1983 vol 49 cc872-4
9. Mr. Hugh Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals are being considered regarding salmon fishing in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

My right hon. and noble Friend is discussing a number of issues with representatives of salmon interests, including local management structure and finance, conservation and exploitation of the stocks and sales control.

Mr. Brown

Does the Minister, as he is a bit of a fisherman himself, welcome the return of salmon to the Clyde? Will he urge his hon. and noble Friend to recognise that there is an urgent need for consultations with all the interested parties concerned with the Clyde, including the United Clyde Angling Protective Association, which is a responsible and well-regarded body?

Mr. MacKay

I add my welcome to the return of salmon to the Clyde, and I look forward to casting a fly in that river one day and, perhaps, even catching a salmon.

The Clyde river purification board is calling a meeting early next month to discuss the problem with various parties including, I believe, the association. My right hon. and noble Friend has asked the Crown Estates Commissioners, who have a role in this matter, for a report on salmon fishing rights in the Clyde as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Onslow

As a salmon fisherman, albeit an English one, may I put it to the Minister that if effective action is to be taken to save our national salmon stocks before it is too late we need close and urgent co-ordination between his Department and those who are responsible in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Can my hon. Friend assure us that we can expect comprehensive Government legislation before it is too late?

Mr. MacKay

I assure my hon. Friend that we are in close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the south about this issue. Unfortunately, there are many differences between the various bodies interested in salmon protection and conservation. That has made it difficult for us to proceed and devise a legislative structure to preserve the salmon.

Mr. Mason

Has the Scottish Office been consulted during the lengthy review by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on inland waters and coastal estuaries? In view of the fact that this review established a salmon sales group and recommended a salmon tagging system to curb salmon poaching, what are the reactions of the Scottish Office to that recommendation? If that recommendation is adopted in England and Wales, will Scotland follow suit?

Mr. MacKay

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), we are in close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the situation in England. We are considering with interest the salmon tagging proposal. One of the main differences between Scotland and England that would make it difficult for us to undertake salmon tagging in the way that is suggested for England is that we do not require salmon anglers to have rod licences. In Scotland it is necessary to look more deeply into the problem than in England to find a way round the omission of rod licences for salmon fishermen.

Mr. George Robertson

Is the Minister aware that it was in my constituency, at Blantyre weir, that the historic return of the salmon to the Clyde was first noticed? [Interruption] I am encouraged by hon. Members who cry that that is a good line. Is the Minister aware that there is genuine concern throughout the Clyde valley that the return of the salmon may affect the character of the Clyde and that what is now a recreation area for thousands of anglers might come to be regarded as a privileged place for the few who can afford to fish for salmon?

Mr. MacKay

I look forward on my fishing trip to the Clyde to being accompanied by the hon. Gentleman, whose background in my constituency means that he should be quite a good fisherman. He has made a valid point. The trout fishing in the upper Clyde is one of a number of points that must be considered at the meeting and included in the report that the Crown Estates Commissioners will be preparing for my right hon. and noble Friend.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my hon. Friend accept that we are unlikely to see an improvement in the spring and summer salmon runs unless we tackle the issue of drift netting off the English and Irish coasts? Will my hon. Friend hold discussions on this issue with his hon. and noble Friend and the Dublin Government?

Mr. MacKay

There is great anxiety about drift netting off the coasts of England and Ireland and the illegal drift netting off the coast of Scotland. There are many who feel that the salmon stocks have moved towards an autumn run and away from a spring and a summer run because of drift netting, but other factors may be involved. We are in contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about nylon monofilament drift netting, and we shall maintain those contacts.

Mr. Johnston

Is it not a matter of equal importance that heavy fishing by the Danes and the Germans off Greenland has cut off the salmon from their source? What contact has the Scottish Office had with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about that?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman is correct. There is a problem with the interception of salmon at sea. My Department has had contact with the Ministry and with Greenland. We have an agreement with the Faroese to reduce their take of the north Atlantic salmon passing through their waters. We can proceed only by agreement. If the Faroese take some proportion of the salmon stock that feed off their coast, they must be reasonable or they will kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister agree that the Crown Estates Commissioners have been somewhat dilatory in this instance? The Minister must push hard if there is to be an urgent inquiry, because the record leaves a great deal to be desired. We want a regime that will afford maximum access consistent with the conservation of stocks, and this should be achieved a great deal more quickly than the Crown Estates Commissioners have acted in the past.

Mr. MacKay

This is an extraordinarily complex matter, affecting heritable rights that have been exercised for more than a century. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my hon. and noble Friend is interested in developments and that he will urge the Crown Estates Commissioners to present him with a full report as soon as possible.

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