HC Deb 29 April 1993 vol 223 cc1136-8
5. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made with amending the minimum landing size of lobster in the EC.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

The Undersized Lobsters Order 1993 was laid before Parliament today and comes into force on 20 May 1993. It establishes carapace length as the only measurement to determine minimum landing size of lobsters and sets minimum landing size at 85 mm carapace length.

Mr. Field

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is to the lasting credit of British fishermen that they were so concerned about conservation that they drew this matter to my hon. Friend's attention? Is it not enough to make a blue-blooded Englishman's blood boil and turn red with anger that this particular regulation slipped by officials unnoticed? Or is it yet again the French fishermen's rule that if it is old enough to live in the sea it is ready to be eaten?

Mr. Curry

It did not slip anybody's notice in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. When the rules were changed, nobody picked this up—and that includes all the fishermen's organisations.

Mr. Field

That is what I said.

Mr. Curry

As soon as we discovered that there was a problem, we sought to have it remedied on a Community basis and we made it clear that if that was not possible we would do it unilaterally. The industry accepted that, and we worked closely together. We have now laid the order. It is an example of how we can work together on technical conservation matters, which is very important.

Mr. Morley

I note that the Minister conceded that it was the fishermen themselves who pressed for tighter regulations on the minimum landing size of lobsters. Does the Minister agree that fishermen are responsible in relation to conservation measures, and does he recognise the frustration that fishermen feel at the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992? Would he agree to sit round the table with the fishermen to discuss genuine, constructive and workable conservation measures as an alternative to the crude and simplistic days-at-sea measures?

Mr. Curry

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is behind the times. A meeting took place last Monday between my officials, my scientists and fishermen's representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom in an attempt to work out what would be practical in technical conservation terms. It will be difficult—probably impossible—to find measures of technical conservation that would be acceptable to the industry and would do all of the job that can be done by the other methods. Therefore, we have a mix of remedies to the problems of technical conservation and over-exploitation and we are pursuing that course.

We will not withdraw the proposals in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992, but we have every intention of pursuing with the industry in good faith and at a technical level—the matter is now being considered by a technical working group—measures to try to identify enforceable, workable and efficient technical conservation measures.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fishermen, particularly in Dorset and the Isle of Wight, were very co-operative on conservation measures for lobsters? They want to ensure that decent sized lobsters are taken out, and the original conservation measures taken had improved the quality of the catch. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that the rest of the European Community will keep to the same standard as our inshore fishermen?

Mr. Curry

This is a case in which we sought to have a defect remedied on a Communitywide basis. We did not succeed in doing that, but we will return to the attack in that regard. The choice was between trying to put it right in our waters, at the demand of our fishermen, or doing nothing. In those circumstances, the sensible cause is to take the remedy that is at hand. We have done that and it is a good example of co-operation. Technical conservation measures are not always acceptable to all fishermen in the United Kingdom. Very often, one group of fishermen in one port is at odds with another group of fishermen in another port. That is part of the problem that we have to face.