HC Deb 24 January 1991 vol 184 cc440-1
3. Mr. David Porter

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on industrial fishing; and what representations he has received on it.

Mr. Curry

Industrial fishing is not acceptable if it endangers stocks. Human consumption fisheries must always take priority.

Mr. Porter

I welcome my hon. Friend's condemnation of industrial fishing for the damage that it causes. Will he take this opportunity to confirm that it is the Government's policy to support the whole United Kingdom fishing industry in whatever part it occurs, whether it involves inshore fishermen, deep-sea fishermen, merchantmen and so on? Will my hon. Friend make every effort that he can to continue to support that industry?

Mr. Curry

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will know that we fought very hard to get a good deal in Brussels against proposals that were extremely dismal for the British industry. We got a particularly good swap for sole, which will benefit Lowestoft in which my hon. Friend takes a great interest. We are pushing for conservation measures at home if we do not get Communitywide agreement. Those two points are essential for the future of our industry.

Dr. Godman

Speaking as one who would like a complete ban on industrial fishing, may I offer my compliments to Her Majesty's Government for the decision to close the Shetland sandeel fishery? What compensation is being offered to Shetland fishermen who are being denied access to that fishery and who have to find alternative forms of fishing?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman will know that conservation measures are in the interests of fishermen above all. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has direct responsibility for that fishery. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Scottish Office has acted promptly. We regard conservation very seriously indeed, which is why we are consulting our own industry on conservation measures at this moment.

Mr. Salmond

Would not a clamp-down on industrial fishing on a European level be an infinitely preferable conservation measure to the eight-day tie-up which will risk the lives of fishermen at sea? Has the Minister seen the latest announcement on substantial aid to French fishermen in the current crisis? How can he justify the fact that every other European country is giving substantial aid to the fleet while he washes his hands of the fate of Scottish fishermen?

Mr. Curry

First, it is false to suggest that if industrial fishing ceased we could abandon all other conservation measures. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman said and it is ridiculous. Secondly, my responsibilities cover British fishermen and I work in the interests of all fishermen in the United Kingdom. I do not have the narrow parochialism which the hon. Gentleman persistently demonstrates. Thirdly, the Government put a great deal of support behind the fishing industry. The volume of Government support is considerable in relation to the size of that industry.

Mr. Morley

I add my congratulations to the Government on the action that they have taken in closing the Shetland industrial fisheries. It is an important conservation measure. But does the Minister accept that the eight-day tie-up is a restriction on fishermen who have used a wider mesh net, which is effective as a conservation measure? Why should those fishermen suffer from that blunt, ineffective and possibly downright dangerous measure? I understand—the Minister will perhaps confirm it—that the measure was suggested by our Government in Brussels.

Mr. Curry

I refute what the hon. Gentleman just said. The measure was in the Commission proposals. It derives from the recommendation that fishing effort should be reduced by 30 per cent. The reason for the proposal is that an absolute tie-up delivers a reduction in fishing. We have to recognise that that is the objective. However, the Government recognise, and have always preferred, measures to restrict gear, as they are more effective and a better means of tackling conservation. We have submitted to Brussels an alternative which is under consideration now. If Brussels accepted our proposal to use larger mesh sizes as an alternative it would enable us not to apply the eight-day rule. It is important that we deliver the conservation. We cannot do so unless fishermen recognise that the object is a lower effort against the fishery.

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