HC Deb 08 January 2004 vol 416 cc386-8
3. Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

What support she will provide to the east coast fishing industry following the recent catch and catching time restrictions imposed under the common fisheries policy. [146370]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The settlement we achieved at the December Council provides good support to the east coast industry through increases in quotas and the roll-over of the fishing days for cod vessels in the North sea.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's concern but I wonder whether he is being a little overoptimistic. The financial situation of the Grimsby fishing industry and the east coast fishing industry in general is desperate. We suffer from the same restrictions on catches and days at sea as the Scots—the restrictions were imposed because of the disastrous failure of the common fisheries policy—but although the Scottish industry got a £10 million lifeline last year and hopes to get a lifeline of the same scale this year, the east coast industry got nothing. Surely it is important to keep a viable English industry going on the east coast so that we can inherit the better times that should lie ahead. What is he doing about that?

Mr. Bradshaw

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the hard times faced by the industry in Grimsby in recent years, but I ask him to recognise the very real gains that we made at the December Council: a 55 per cent. increase in the haddock quota in the North sea and a 28 per cent. increase in the prawns quota. The chief executive of Grimsby fish market, Mr. Martin Boyers, said: It is as good an outcome as you could possibly get", and Arnold Locker, who will be known to my hon. Friend, said that the outcome was encouraging …it means that the East coast fleet will be economically viable.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

I do not know what world the Minister is living in. Does he not understand that the increase in the haddock quota has been totally wiped out by the ridiculous map that he and his officials accepted, which bears no relation whatever to the proposals of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation? Does he not understand that the major haddock fishing area has been put into a cod-restricted zone, which means that on one side of the line it will be impossible to fish the quota, and on the other the fishermen will be lucky if the catch lasts until June?

We want to know who was responsible for this monumental disaster. Was it the Minister and his team; was it Ross Finnie and his team; was it the European Commission and its team; or did it take the combined efforts of all three?

Mr. Bradshaw

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. We achieved at the December Council much of what he has been calling for over the last six months: a massive increase in the haddock quota for the areas that he is talking about and a huge increase in the prawns quota. I shall quote the industry spokespeople in Scotland, rather than the hon. Gentleman. The head of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, Alec Smith, said: The increase in haddock is good news", and John Patterson, from Peterhead fish market in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, said: The deal overall must be welcomed. Yet there has been not a word of congratulation from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will know that it is not all bad news on fish stocks: there is an abundance of herring off the east coast, which shows that fish stocks can recover if not too many are taken out. Will he set up a small study group to see how we can derive value from that herring? The inshore fishermen of Lowestoft could make a living from it if they could get a price, but at the moment they cannot. How about a marketing initiative for herring?

Mr. Bradshaw

My hon. Friend makes an extremely constructive suggestion, which I shall consider carefully. He is absolutely right; one of the sad things about the current state of the industry is that some of the species that are most plentiful, such as herring, do not have an enormous domestic market, although there is a market in other parts of the world, not least in Europe. We therefore have a successful, thriving export industry of herring and herring products. I recommend bloaters to anyone who has not yet tried one, and I think that the most delicious fisheries product is soft herring roe. I shall try to do everything that I can to encourage more people to eat herring and herring products.