HC Deb 21 November 1991 vol 199 cc408-10
6. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to meet representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to discuss matters relating to the future of the fishing industry.

Mr. Curry

I have regular meetings with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, at which we discuss a wide range of subjects.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave guarantees on the dolphins population on 3 June this year. Can the Minister tell us how many dolphins have been killed as a result of drift-netting since 3 June?

Mr. Curry

No, I cannot.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman did not specify which boats, which drift nets or which ocean, which is why I could not give him a reply. Five were caught through drift-netting by British boats. The hon. Gentleman will know that as a result of the agreement that I reached in the Fisheries Council last month, drift-net fishery will, in practice, cease.

Sir Michael Shaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that according to the salmon net fisheries report, administrative convenience is by no means an adequate reason for phasing out the north-east drift-net fishermen, whose trade has been pursued for many generations on that part of the coast?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend will know that we published a report on the north-east coast drift-net fishery, which is a different matter from that raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). We decided on a long-term phase-out because of the difficulty of management of stocks when it is a multi-species catch by drift net. Although it is a long-standing fishery, the introduction of monofilament net has meant a quantum leap in the technology applied to it. There is no threat to the stocks and that is why we decided on a long-term phase-out and said that fishermen would be allowed to finish their current licences. The National Rivers Authority has been invited to submit proposals, including one for a possible increase in fishing attached to the shore.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

On another aspect of the fishing industry and in particular conservation, can the Minister say, following Monday's meeting, what aspect of the eight-day tie-up he is prepared to be flexible about, given the serious threat, financial hardship and dangers that that tie-up is causing to the fishing industry? In advance of the meeting of the Council of Ministers, will he ensure that a constructive debate on the matter takes place with representatives of the fishing industry and that there will he no more childish outbursts from the Minister such as was witnessed recently in Fife?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Lady knows that my door has always been open to the fishing organisations. That will continue to be the case. At the moment we do not have the proposals from Brussels which will go forward to the Fisheries Council in December. There are two important matters. First, we shall clearly need some continuation of effort controls, because conservation is paramount. Secondly, we shall seek significantly more flexibility in the way in which those controls are applied in the event of future controls as a result of the negotiations. By telling people the simple truth—that conservation matters must be taken seriously—my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is merely doing his job effectively.

Mr. Michael Brown

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I were delighted to see my hon. Friend purchasing kippers and monkfish. As he eats the monkfish over the weekend and perhaps has the kippers tomorrow morning, will he ruminate on the call by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations for a decommissioning scheme? He has written to me and to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby about the case, but the organisation feels that there is a need for such a scheme to bring fishing into balance with the number of vessels.

Mr. Curry

I trust that my wife will cook my monkfish in a way that avoids rumination on the subject—[HON. MEMBERS: "French wife."] Yes, I have a French wife. We have made it clear to the fisheries' organisations that decommissioning could form part of a package, provided that it included long-term effective effort control measures. We have invited them to put such a package to us so that we can discuss it with them. I have already started the conversations and a constructive dialogue is under way. However, I insist that a package must contain effective long-term effort controls that go beyond mesh sizes and the sort of measures agreed recently by the Technical Conservation Council.

Mr. Speaker

I am ruminating on whether fish should be sold in the House of Commons.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister recall that, on 3 June, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food lost his temper with me when I suggested that dolphins could be caught in a long drift net, and denied that that was so? Given his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Minister was wrong? Will he further confirm that, since the Fisheries Council meeting, European fishermen will still be allowed to use long drift nets for another two and a quarter years?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman knows that when I went to the Fisheries Council the objective was to get the French on board. We had to get a deal that would bring all drift netting under control in the Community. Only five British but 60 French boats were involved. Therefore, if we had merely controlled the British fishermen, the majority of damage would have continued to be inflicted by other people. Therefore, we had to bring everyone under the same regulations. We achieved that only, after intervention by the French Prime Minister, by granting a limited extension to boats with a two-year track record in the fisheries. We had to pay the price, but it was a price worth paying because the alternative would have been no control at all, which would have been bad news for conservation, starting with the dolphins.

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