HL Deb 02 December 1959 vol 219 cc1081-2

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to prevent the ruthless over-fishing of the North Sea and, in particular, the catching of immature herring by Continental countries which has caused this year's autumn fishing to be the worst on record.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have played a leading part in the formulation of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention, which has been signed by all the European countries fishing the North Sea and the wider waters of the North-East Atlantic. Her Majesty's Government have ratified the Convention, and ratification by other signatory States is awaited. This Convention envisages a wider range of conservation measures than the existing Convention which it will supersede, and it applies to all species of fish, including herring, which is not a protected species under the existing Convention.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has carried out investigations, in which our own scientists have participated, into the effect of the fishing for young herring for industrial purposes in the North Sea. It has been shown that this fishery, at its present intensity, cannot be regarded as the main cause of the decline of the East Anglian herring fishery. Her Majesty's Government will continue to co-operate in the scientific study of the problems of the herring and white fish fisheries and to press for the adoption internationally of whatever measures are found to be necessary in the interests of conservation.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that there is a sharp difference of opinion between the scientists and the herring fishermen on this subject? The herring fishermen have no doubt that it is the catching of immature fish which is the main cause of the trouble. May I also ask the noble Earl whether he does not think it is rather unnecessary to subsidise the fishing industry on the scale that we do if we acquiesce in the relentless destruction of the stocks of fish in the North Sea that is going on at the present time?


My Lords, I am aware that there are differences of opinion on this subject, but I think there are differences of opinion upon every subject under the sun. The view of the Ministry's scientific experts, however, is that the Bløden fishery for young herring, which is clearly what the noble Lord is referring to, is not the main cause, but that it is the over-fishing of adult herring stocks. As to whether we spend too much money on our fishing industry, I do not think we do; but noble Lords will have ample opportunity to discuss that point when the Sea Fish Industry Bill is before your Lordships shortly.