HC Deb 01 December 1988 vol 142 cc860-1
3. Mr. McAllion

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his Department has recently held discussions with fishermen's organisations regarding the phenomenon of the incidental capture of marine mammals.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson)

My Department has developed plans to seek the co-operation of fishermen to monitor more closely the extent of incidental capture of marine mammals and will be in touch with fishermen's organisations.

Mr. McAllion

Unlike Scottish Tories, grey seals are an endangered species about which the people of Scotland really care. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he agrees that everything possible should be done to try to control the activities that threaten the remaining seal population off our shores. When he meets representatives of the fishermen's organisations, will he ensure that the representatives of the appropriate scientific groups are also there, and that practical solutions to remove this threat from the seal population around our shores are found?

Mr. Thompson

It would be no good meeting fishermen's group unless both we and they were properly backed, or we would not reach any commonsense arrangement. This problem is greater in the Pacific, where the mammals swim along with the tuna, than it is in the North sea. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should visit the Pacific to see what is being done there.

Mr. Ian Bruce

What is happening about the checking of other vessels off our shores, and particularly in the taking of catches that are not allowed by law? We have good policing arrangements in force when our fishermen dock into our ports, but what are we doing to ensure that these regulations are properly policed within our territorial waters?

Mr. Thompson

I will stick at this point on marine mammals. The Wildlife Link umbrella group will be as influential in other countries as it is in this, and I am sure that fishermen in other countries see this as great a problem there as it is here, and will be making their own arrangements.

Dr. Godman

Given that cetacea of all kinds are now covered by schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, can the Minister assure the House that he will advise fishermen that they need not fear prosecution if they report any such incidental catches?

Mr. Thompson

As the hon. Gentleman says, all whales and dolphins are given a general protection in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 against being caught. However, a fisherman accidentally taking a protected animal would not be held liable, assuming that he acts in a reasonable manner. This will be made clear to fishermen so that they can be reassured about reporting information for our monitoring scheme.