HC Deb 03 December 1992 vol 215 cc387-9
11. Mr. Sproat

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on official procedures for informing fishermen when their right to fish is to be stopped.

Mr. Curry

Fishermen are informed of fishery closures by means of variations to their licences, wherever possible immediately before a closure.

Mr. Sproat

While fish quota management is extremely difficult, surely there is something seriously wrong with the system when the fishermen of Harwich and the Thames estuary can be told their quotas for the rest of the year on 27 October, and they plan on that basis, only to be told two weeks later that the quotas have been slashed by three quarters and a week later that they have been abandoned all together, thus wiping out their livelihood for the last six weeks of the year. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he is looking for, and will find, a more fair and effective method of quota control?

Mr. Curry

If my hon. Friend wishes us to move to individual transferable quotas, where the fisherman is given a clear quota to exploit throughout the year, I shall be happy to examine that, but the fishing industry has shown strong hostility to it. Under the present rules, the one thing that we cannot control is how frequently fishermen go to sea and how much they catch. There is always a delay of a couple of weeks before statistics are available. If we say that we are going to close a fishery in five or six days, every fisherman in creation will set out to sea, stay there for as long as possible, and come back with a large catch, which will represent a significant overfish. I understand the problem, and have told each group of fishermen where problems occur. If there is any justification for reopening I shall do it, and I have already met a significant number of groups of fishermen. If we can improve management we shall be open to doing so.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

The Minister is going to have to stop a lot of other fishermen, in the dictatorial way in which he has just stopped the Grimsby producer organisations' cod quota, if the multi-annual guidance programme targets that he has just agreed in Brussels come into effect. How can the Minister justify an agreement which cuts by one fifth the British fishing effort—the nation which provides the majority of the fish stocks in the Common Market pool—and leaves the massive Spanish effort with a 4 per cent. cut only?

Mr. Curry

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the flag of convenience that he is wearing. As usual, he has got his facts wrong. The multi-annual guidance programme targets are identical for all member states. The effort that they have to apply to each sector depends on how their fleet is divided between various sectors. We shall monitor carefully what the Spanish and everyone else is doing. We have an outstandingly good deal for the British fleet, which I shall explain to him at length and very slowly if he so wishes.

Mr. Harris

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Cornish fishermen, especially those from my constituency, are hopping mad because of what they regard as the premature closure of the hake fishery? Two days ago they were suddenly told, without warning, that the Minister had closed that fishery, even though the Cornish fish producers organisation has 20 tonnes of unused quota at its disposal. Surely they are being penalised because they have managed their sector of the quota well, whereas others have managed it badly.

Mr. Curry

The people who are hopping mad are the quota hoppers, because they are the people who are most affected by this closure. When we have the up-to-date figures, I am sure that my hon. Friend will find that there is no deficiency left on the tonnages which have been taken. I give him an assurance, as I do all fishermen, that if we find that there is so much as one fish left, we will authorise them to go and catch it.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister claimed in Standing Committee that opinion in the industry was divided on the question of borrowing forward on the haddock quota. Given that the entire Scottish industry was in favour of this proposal, can the Minister name the fishing organisation that was against it?

Mr. Curry

I can name the organisation that failed to administer its quota effectively this year, and that is the producer organisation that is supposed to be disputing that decision on haddock. Those haddock are on the margin of the minimum landing size. If they are caught next year they will be bigger fish, better fish and worth a great deal more to the industry. The sensible thing is to catch them next year when they have a reasonable and sensible quota.