HL Deb 06 July 1896 vol 42 cc754-6

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that, with the exception of a few drafting alterations, it was identical with the Bill introduced last year by the then President of the Board of Trade. The Bill was divided into two parts, the first dealing with sea fisheries and applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom, and the second dealing with fresh water fisheries and applicable to England alone. The first clause of Part II. had been embodied in a separate Bill which had passed the other House, and had been read a Third time that afternoon by their Lordships. He should therefore propose in Committee that that clause should be struck out. The remaining clauses of Part II. were framed merely to clear up certain doubts which had arisen as to the interpretation of previous fresh water fishery Acts. Part I. was designed to put a stop to trading in undersized fiat fish, and was founded on the Report of the Select Committee which sat in 1893 under the Chairmanship of Lord Tweedmouth. Previous to the appointment of that Committee, strong representations had been made to the Board of Trade by fishing associations and by private persons in favour of restricting the sale of undersized and immature fish, and it was alleged that unless some action was speedily taken not only would the trade of our fishing fleet be damaged, but also a source of food, so important to the country, would be greatly decreased. Not only was there great waste in consequence of the number of these small fish that were thrown away, but the price of larger fish was increased, since the cost of the freight of the whole consignment had to be defrayed out of the proceeds of the sale of that portion which was marketable. It was true that the figures laid before the Committee showed, on the whole, that there had been a slight increase in the number of flat fish caught within recent years; but that increase did not seem proportionate to the enormous growth in the number of steam trawlers, to the improvements in nets, and the extended area over which fishing vessels operated. After hearing a great deal of evidence on this point, Lord Tweedmouth's Committee came to the conclusion that in regard to the more valuable classes of flat fish, especially soles and plaice, the fishing grounds of the North Sea had become considerably depleted, and that there was a great falling off in the size of flat fish caught in the older fishing grounds of the North Sea. The Committee recommended that a size limit should be fixed by law, and it was suggested that eight inches should be the limit in the case of soles and plaice, and 10 inches in the case of turbot and brill. Those limits were adopted in the Bill, as they approximated as far as possible those in force in other countries. In France, in Belgium, and in Denmark, restrictions of this kind had already been imposed. It had been argued that before a Bill of this kind was passed some arrangement should be arrived at with foreign countries for general action. He could not see any force in that contention. Whether it might be possible in the future to arrive at an international understanding was a question on which he could hardly express an opinion. He hoped that it might be possible, but however that might be, surely the possibility of such action in the future constituted no valid reason why this country should postpone doing what it could to remedy an undoubted evil. The passage of the Bill would in no way hamper future action on international lines. On the contrary, he believed it would facilitate it. It might be said that to forbid the sale of these small fish would not prevent their destruction, that no legislation would deter them from entering the net, and that unless the fishermen was compelled constantly to raise his net, most, if not all, of the fish would be dead before they were taken on board. But he asked their Lordships to remember that the places where these small fish abounded were well known, and therefore by prohibiting their sale it was hoped to make it no longer worth the while of steam trawlers to frequent those localities, and to establish sanctuaries in the sea where such fish could be preserved. He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill.


did not wish to let the Bill pass without a single word because it seemed to him that the method adopted for securing life to these small fish under the Bill was not sufficient. The noble Lord had pointed out very clearly the weak spot in the Bill in his last remarks. Unfortunately it was impossible to avoid catching small fish, and when they got into the net they were so much injured that they were practically dead when brought on board. Consequently if these fish were not allowed to be sold a great amount of stuff which was good for food would be wasted. What was wanted was to prevent fishermen going to those particular portions of the sea where these small fish were found, and the only way to arrive at that was by a convention of the various nations fishing the North Sea, and to apply rules which were agreed on by fishermen of the different nationalities. That was the method which commended itself to the noble Marquess opposite last year, for on the Third Reading of the Scotch Fisheries Bill, he introduced a provision which prevented the proposals of the Bill from coming into operation until they had been assented to by a convention of the other Powers fishing in the North Sea. The restrictions which would be imposed by this Bill would be chiefly felt by shrimpers and other small fishermen in shallow waters. It could hardly be contended that their operations seriously reduced the stock of fish in the sea, and he doubted whether it was quite fair to apply the proposed prohibition to them. He held that it would be far better not to put into operation the proposed provision for the prohibition of the sale of fish unless they could obtain a general agreement among all the Towers fishing in the North Sea to the establishment of sanctuaries in the sea where these small fish might grow to maturity unharmed.

Read 2a (according to Order); and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.