HL Deb 10 December 1968 vol 298 cc481-506

6.21 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to draw attention to the urgent need for international agreement to limit the taking of Atlantic salmon by drift-netting on the high seas; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think there is any need for me to stress the economic value of salmon to Great Britain, and indeed to other countries throughout the world, as food, as giving direct and indirect employment, as giving enjoyment, and as giving a strong fillip to tourism. One has only to look at the Report of the Highland Development Board to see that great importance is placed by that body upon the preservation and development of salmon.

On July 5, 1965, I raised in your Lordships' House the dangers to Atlantic salmon from the growth of in-shore fishing off Greenland, and I said that the fishing had risen in catch from 2 metric tons in 1957 to more than 1,000 metric tons in 1966. That menace continues, but now it has been overtaken by a second and greater menace; namely, drift-net fishing on the high seas in international waters. This deadly trapping of salmon near their feeding grounds is an increasing danger. I think that tribute should be paid to the last Conservative Government and to the present Administration for their courage in continuing the prohibition of drift-net fishing off our own shores in our own national waters. But that does not remove the menace which is growing in international waters, and mainly in the Davis Strait, off the West coast of Greenland.

The expansion of that fishing is rapid. In 1965 two experimental boats commenced this drift-net fishing. Those two boats jumped in 1967 to 11, belonging to three different nations. If this expansion continues, as seems likely, there will be more boats in 1968, possibly up to a total of 30, as more nations come into this drift-net fishing business. These fleets are already packed with cold-storage ships and are thoroughly well organised. The catch in 1967 from this drift-netting in international waters off the Davis Strait is likely to be 100,000 fish.

That is a grim position, but there is yet a further explosive factor to which I must draw the attention of your Lordships, and that is the introduction of what are called "mono-filament" Japanese nets. The effective proof of these nets is to be seen on the Pacific coast of Canada, where they have been used in estuaries and bays. The catch of salmon would increase by 50 per cent. over previous years through the use of this mono-filament net. In open sea the catch would increase by 30 per cent. The captain of one of the drift-net ships off the Davis Strait has said that he expects the mono-filament net to be in use in the Davis Strait in 1968. I calculate that an escalated fleet of 22 boats using mono-filament nets may well extract from the high seas no fewer than 750,000 salmon in a year.

My Lords, this is a grim story, but there is yet one more factor which makes it even grimmer. In this drift-net fishing there is no close season; there is no respite for breeding time, and no limitation on the size of the fish that are taken. The result will be catches for 12 months of both mature and immature fish. This grim outlook can be checked, I believe, only in one way, and that is by international action. But, so far, international action has not succeeded in getting off the ground. I am not here to belabour in any way Her Majesty's Government, provided they take the common-sense view that of course grave damage is being done to stocks—damage which will show in four years' time—and provided they do not take refuge behind such statements as: "There is not sufficient scientific proof as yet." Scientists—the boffins—rarely come to positive conclusions, and when they do it is usually after the events they have been investigating have occurred. The experts have been tagging a few hundred fish off Greenland. I am informed that directly a tagged fish is caught in one of the drift-net ships it goes overboard. Anyhow, only seven of the Greenland tagged fish have been recovered.

The Government's replies in the past in your Lordships' House to Questions and to debate have been rather on the lines that there is not enough scientific proof yet; but I am glad to say that at the International Commission on North Atlantic Fisheries this view was not put forward by Her Majesty's Government's representative, who put up a stout plea in support of a Canadian proposal for stabilising driftnet fishing at its present level. Our representative said that the United Kingdom would prefer prohibition on the high seas, but that if prohibition was not possible temporary stabilisation was justified while further research continued.

The Canadian proposal was supported by Her Majesty's Government, the United States and Soviet Russia. The Danes stalled, and Norway and Iceland likewise, taking refuge in that position which I have just mentioned of saying that there is not at this stage enough scientific proof. It is a very easy position for anybody to take, and an excuse for doing nothing. The necessary two-thirds majority could not be obtained at the Commission for proposals for stabilisation. Instead, a rather weak, wishy-washy resolution was agreed to, without dissent, which was to draw the attention of member Governments to the serious concern expressed by the International Commission on North Atlantic Fisheries and requiring priority to be given to further studies. We have all been present at many conferences when that kind of rather futile resolution is a conclusion when differences which are highly irreconcilable exist.

I venture to put the view to Her Majesty's Government that one cause of the inability to obtain a two-thirds majority for the proposal for limitation, for stabilisation to present levels, was that there was rather inadequate preparatory work for that Conference, and there was lack of communication between the various Governments concerned. I will not weary your Lordships with a list of the countries concerned, but most of the countries in Europe were represented. I am informed that afterwards several countries—Spain for one; I believe France for another—said that had they had preparatory information and knowledge and background education as to what the resolution was going to do, and why it was being moved, they would have certainly supported it. I am told that the Canadian proposal reached the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries only a few days before the Conference. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be able to tell me whether my information is corect, that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food here had only two or three days to give consideration to the proposal which was going to be put forward at the Conference.

Meanwhile, my Lords, the tide flows strongly towards a final extinction of Atlantic salmon in a few years. When that happens, those in charge of our affairs at that time will say: "How did this ever occur? Why was it not stopped before?". But it will be too late then, as we have seen with other birds, beasts and fish throughout many countries of the world. I ask the Government tonight not to look at this problem through scientific lenses, but to start a political approach based on a common-sense view that grave damage is being done and must be checked before it is too late. As I said earlier in my remarks, the scientists, the boffins, must be respected but they must not rule policy. They must be our servants and not our masters. I urge a new political effort, starting with high-level private exchanges, to educate and persuade all the countries which are members of ICNAF, this preparatory work to lead to an international commission, after proper preparatory groundwork, to consider, with all the commercial and scientific information available, the evidence from all angles and to try to work out proposals for limiting and controlling salmon catches on the high seas on an international basis and, I believe, for the benefit of the whole of mankind. My Lords, I beg to move.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I am very glad that he should have brought it up again and drawn our attention to this new danger, which I believe, like him, is even more severe than the danger of the inshore drift netting which was the subject of a previous debate. I think I should declare an interest. I am the proprietor of certain fishing in Scotland and also director of a salmon netting company. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has drawn our attention to some very alarming figures. These are all figures that I know well, too, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is very familiar with them also. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, would not object to my adding a little to what he has already said.

On this question of the mono-filament net, which has been invented by the very ingenious Japanese, it is a fact that catches have been enormously increased—by 50 per cent., as Lord Balfour told us, off the coast of Canada and the bays and estuaries, and by 30 per cent. on the high seas. These mono-filament nets have so far been used by only a very limited number of netsmen and they are now in production. They are expensive, but very effective, and I do not doubt for one moment that the efficiency of these high-sea netsmen will increase very rapidly indeed. I believe at a rate even more rapid than the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has suggested.

There is no reason at all why any country should not participate in this, what I might call the bonanza of salmon. It is not in any way limited to the Danes, the Faroese, the Norwegians, the Greenlanders. Any country engaged in fishing on the high seas can take part in it too, and so far there is absolutely no control, nothing to prevent a scramble for these fish. The members of ICNAF are nearly all what I might call producing countries. In other words, they are countries where salmon spawn and breed. As your Lordships know, all salmon have to breed and do breed in fresh water; they return to fresh water. Canada has been very alarmed by the fishing off the West coast of Greenland. The Canadians have evidence supplied to them by the scientists (the boffins, as Lord Balfour calls them), who have, I think Lord Balfour would agree, given an enormous amount or help to this fishing industry.


Oh, yes.


I think we should be grateful to them. But there is clear evidence that something like 60 per cent. of the fish which are being caught off Greenland are it fact fish which are born in Canadian waters. This is of course a very serious situation for the Canadians. This was the reason why they were the prime movers in the Conference in June this year in London for the stabilisation or the abolition of netting on the high seas.

I would entirely endorse everything that Lord Balfour has said about this Conference. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be able to give us reassuring information about what is proposed for the next Conference, which I understand is due to take place in Warsaw in June of next year. It seems to me that if Lord Balfour's advice could be followed, and if careful preparatory work were done, it would not be too difficult to convince the representatives of the producer countries that it must be—I repeat, must be—in their interests to limit this netting of salmon o a the high seas.

The techniques are improving very fast, not only the techniques for catching fish but the techniques for locating them. I believe it will not be very long before marine biologists and scientists in other departments will be able to discover the breeding grounds of salmon far more easily than they have already. If this is exploited, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has told us, it will mean that immature fish will be caught, and of course many of these fish are not in good condition. We have proved that a number of the fish caught off the coast of Greenland were immature; they were long and thin and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will know quite well, were rather like a kelt. They were poor, and I am glad to say that when sold in the Danish market they fetched rather a low price. This does not apply to all fish caught with drift-nets but it does apply to fish in certain cycles of their lives. I will not bore your Lordships with scientific data, but I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has said, that Her Majesty's Government should follow up the good start that was made at the last Conference, to get together with the representatives of other interested countries and ensure that a strong resolution is passed.

I cannot entirely follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, on the question of research and perhaps I have misunderstood him a little. I do not believe that in the long run it will be possible to have a lasting agreement unless it is based on scientific data which directly relates the catches on the high seas to the countries of origin. This idea has been accepted by the International Pacific Convention, and surely the principle should be accepted by ICNAF also. In other words, those countries which produce should have a larger say and a larger right to stocks in the high seas than countries that do not. This may be a difficult thing to bring about but if the countries that produce are so discouraged—in other words if their fish are taken in this manner—they will cease to take trouble over the protection of their fisheries inland. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, knows, a great deal is being done to improve our fisheries. The Norwegians have improved their fisheries enormously and Canada and other countries also, but if all their fish are caught on the high seas by other countries that effort will cease. So I beg the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to bring to the notice of Her Majesty's Government the serious situation that exists and to use all the persuasion at his command to see that real steps are taken to bring about a satisfactory resolution in June of next year.

In addition, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, what steps are being taken to increase the study of the salmon by means of tagging. The tagging which has been done so far has been on a very small scale indeed—in hundreds, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, reminded us. Surely it should be done in thousands before an adequate result can be produced. This will cost money, and also it will be necessary for our own people to see the thing right through, because naturally if you were a Danish fisherman and you caught a fish with a tag on it you would not produce the evidence against yourself. So it will be necessary for those countries which are anxious to limit—or to abolish, as I hope—this fishing on the high seas, to make a far greater effort than they have up to now in the matter of tagging. I simply wish to add my entire approval and support to this Motion, and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be able to give us a reassuring answer to how he hopes our representative will behave at the next ICNAF Conference.


My Lords, before the noble Marquess sits down, will he tell us ignorant ones what a mono-filament net is?


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will understand that there are many different meshes. The mono-filament net is one that is virtually invisible and has a very small mesh, so that it is possible to catch a salmon as small as 2 lb. and up to 30 lb. This is absolutely revolutionary in the history of netting. I am not of a very scientific turn of mind, but I hope that this explanation will satisfy the noble and learned Lord.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I ought first to declare an interest as I am myself the owner of a beat on the Wye. Considerable concern has been expressed by fishery owners on that river about the extent to which this drift-netting on the high seas could affect our catches. Many rivers in this country have already had a very bad time during the last couple of seasons, due to the salmon disease. That is a serious thing in itself but it is a natural phenomenon, and the salmon population has suffered from it before and has recovered. This matter of fishing off the Greenland coast and on the high seas is very much more serious and is by far the greater potential danger. The catches off Greenland, although serious in themselves and a considerable drain on stocks, seem to be relatively stable. During the past four years they have fluctuated between about 860 and 1,400 metric tons. Drift-netting is by far the greater danger, and it will become even more so as the fishing fleets of more and more countries climb on the bandwaggon, particularly with the improvements which are being made (as we have already heard) in fishing equipment and fish locating equipment.

As my noble friend Lord Balfour has said, in 1965 two boats, one Faroese and one Norwegian, caught between them 40 metric tons. In 1966 the same two boats caught between them 70 metric tons, and in 1967, as my noble friend said, the number of those boats was increased to 11 and their catch was 315 metric tons. I do not think any information is yet available for this year. As my noble friend said, there is nothing that can be called a "season" in deep sea fishing, so one will have to wait for such figures as are available at the end of the year. However, after the success achieved last year it is reasonable to assume that the catch will have increased considerably this year. If the fishing fleets start using the Japanese mono-filament net the increase in the catches may be considerable. I believe I am right in saying that after the extraordinary catches which they produced on the Pacific coast of Canada, those nets were banned in that area, and I hope that it is not too late even now to nip in the bud the use of the nets before it starts.

A lot of salmon are also being caught by long lining, even closer to our shores off the Faroes, and the Danish and Swedish fishermen are believed to have found one of the migration routes of Greenland salmon and to be catching them in large quantities. Although some of the figures for catches off Greenland are available, it is clear, I think, that we are not getting news of all the salmon which are being caught on the high seas, and it is very unlikely that we shall ever do so.

year at the meeting of the International The resolution which was passed last Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries is no really satisfactory solution, but it is easy to understand that to obtain complete agreement to ban this drift-net fishing is likely to be very difficult when several members of the Commission have no direct interest in salmon rivers but do, of course, have a direct interest in the success of their not inconsiderable fishing fleets. So far as Greenland is concerned, the Danes have always asked for proof that our rivers are affected before they will agree to take any action themselves, and it is perhaps rather difficult to reconcile a drain of our stocks with the fact that many rivers in this country seem to have had exceptional runs of salmon during the last two or three years. Certainly up to 1967 there must have been what we might call a cycle of plenty at sea, which seems to be borne out by Billingsgate returns, and these presumably would consist mainly of net-caught fish. However, the years of the salmon disease in the last century also coincided with one of these cycles of plenty. It is possible that in some mysterious way the extra number is provided by nature to compensate for losses from disease, so it is very serious if these reserves are going to be decimated before they ever reach the rivers from which they first came.

Game fishing in our rivers is a very important source of revenue from overseas visitors, and the nations who carry on this drift-netting on the high seas must be made to realise that they are killing the goose which lays the golden eggs. I hope Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to persuade these countries to agree either to limit their catches or to prohibit this drift-netting altogether, and also to impose restrictions on the equipment used. If this is not done at once, in a few years' time, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, we shall feel the effect very severely and we shall bitterly regret that something was not done before it was too late.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am not a salmon fisher. Angling, so far as it is an addiction with me, is angling for the wily trout. But no countryman, indeed no thinking man, countryman or not, can be indifferent to the danger which is now threatening the Atlantic salmon and all the economic factors that surround its survival. These apply especially to Scotland. I would emphasise the employment which stems from the salmon's visits to our rivers, not only commercially but in terms of sport. This is a point which has been made in your Lordships' House before, and will doubtless be made again, by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard.

The noble Marquess made reference to Canada's efforts in the direction of controlling this massacre of salmon. I have in my hand a Canadian publication, a 1968 number of Atlantic Salmon Journal, from which, with your Lordships' permission, I would quote a few lines. They apply to Canada, but in my view they apply with equal force, if not more so, to this country and to Scotland. The lines are: A national resource is slipping away quietly and rapidly, and only when it is too late will the cry be raised by the people Why was not something done about it?' I feel certain it is to remedy this situation that my noble friend has put this Motion before your Lordships' House. One point that has not been raised is to inquire whether the public and private interests who have invested in hatcheries producing fish to improve our rivers are to be allowed to suffer their produce to be massacred in the oceans by the exploiters, apparently "on" for a quick kill regardless of the consequences.

To return to the question of the economic problems, I would quote again from this journal, in which a reference is made to the matter of employment and the like. It says: God placed the salmon in our countries long before man came. Surely he did not send us here to destroy His handiwork. What will our netters turn to for a living? What will the gillies, bailiffs and guardians do? What will the hotels and lodges and their help do for a living? Perhaps, too, we may include the Atlantic salmon in the consideration to-morrow of Lord Aldington's Motion on invisible exports. Be that as it may, I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply to my noble friend's Motion will be able to indicate that this country will take early and emphatic steps to continue their efforts to repair the situation, if indeed repair is possible at this late stage.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few brief words on this Motion. I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for bringing up this question. I must also declare a small interest as I have salmon and salmon-trout fishing on the West coast of Scotland, chiefly rod and line, but I have also certain salmon rights in the sea. I do not use them—or I rarely use them—as I prefer my tenants to catch salmon with their rods, which is on the whole more remunerative, because every fish caught by the angler in the fresh water is, I reckon, if one adds in the rent, worth about four or five times the value of the salmon caught in the sea; because if it is caught in the sea you get only its food value.

I understand that the average annual world catch of Atlantic salmon is about 4,000 tons. I do not, of course, know the figures for this year—I know them only up to the end of 1966—but we are told that of that total catch the inshore fishing off Greenland accounts for between 20 and 30 per cent. We are further told that as a result of tagging experiments, which, as I think my noble friend Lord Lansdowne pointed out, have not been done to any great extent yet, it has been found that of the total of the world catch, 30 per cent. of the salmon caught off Greenland by the in-shore fishing method come from England, Wales and Scotland and 2 per cent. from Ireland. I should have mentioned that 60 per cent. come from Canada, and 2 per cent. from Norway and Sweden. The point is that hardly any come from Greenland.

As my noble friend below me pointed out, the British Isles are producing something like 30 per cent. of the salmon caught off Greenland—I am referring now to in-shore salmon caught off Greenland. We have not any reliable figures for drift-net fishing. Of course, this has only just commenced. I heard my noble friend Lord Swansea say that the Faroes boats caught 60 tons in 1966. But the point I want to make is that if they can catch 30 per cent. of the world catch of Atlantic salmon off Greenland by in-shore netting, and if, by this drift-netting when it really gets organised and gets going they are going to catch another 30 to 40 per cent. or even more—it may go up to 50 per cent.—the Atlantic salmon will disappear. I would refer your Lordships to the predicament of the Blue Whale. We have tried by international agreement to preserve the blue whale—it is also called the Greenland whale. It is the largest whale in the ocean. Now the Greenland, or blue, whale is nearly extinct. We do not want the same thing to happen to the Atlantic salmon.

As the noble Marquess mentioned, we in this country are producing a large amount of salmon which is caught by these methods in the Atlantic Ocean. Private fishery owners will become most disheartened, because if the situation becomes too bad, if our return becomes too low and we cannot let our fishings, we are not going to bother to protect the spawning beds. It is not just a matter of chance that we protect the spawning beds. I have good spawning beds in my fisheries. I supply a great deal of fish for other people to catch, for bag nets all round the coast. But these spawning beds have to protected. You have to destroy the birds that eat the salmon parr, and you also try to protect the spawning beds from undue flooding. Spawn is now introduced in quite a number of rivers. If, as I say, drift-netting really gets going all over the Atlantic, there will be no point in private owners in this country or, for that matter, those in any other country, producing spawning beds for the Atlantic salmon and using our resources to create more salmon. If when they leave our rivers and go out into the sea, the salmon are going to be caught by other nations who have not produced them, it will be quite hopeless.

I am quite convinced that drift-netting ought to be prohibited. It is far easier to prohibit it than to say, "You must use a certain mesh" or, "You must only fish in a certain area". If you say, "You may only use a certain type of net or mesh" it is easily evaded, and is a difficult matter to police. But if you say that drift-netting is prohibited it makes it easier to police. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, can give some hope that Her Majesty's Government realise the seriousness of this question, and that they will do everything in their power in international circles to try to cure or control this propensity to catch salmon by drift-netting.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I would say that he made one point in his speech which interested me greatly. He said that the Norwegians were not "playing ball", or were "holding back" in this matter. About fifteen years ago a friend of mine, who is in the Board of Fisheries in Norway, and I had a long discussion about where salmon went to in the sea. He told me that not long previously a Norwegian trawler or drift-netter had been right up North—I think somewhere near Bear Island—and that those aboard suddenly saw a lot of fish splashing about in the sea. So they took a drift-net round them and towed it in. The fish were salmon.

When the crew landed their catch of salmon, I think at Trondheim, they were prosecuted for catching salmon in the sea. The prosecution was brought under some law that existed in Norway to protect, I suppose, the fishing of the rod fishers and also the net fishing which goes on round all the fjords. Most noble Lords have been to Norway and have seen the method they adopt, of fishing from towers. They look down and see the salmon, and shoot out their nets when the salmon come in in shoals. It rather interested me, therefore, why they should be holding hack because, obviously to Norway of all places, protection against salmon being caught in the sea by other people is of great importance. We discussed this question of salmon. I think that possibly the Norwegians themselves are not certain that the salmon we are discussing are going to the Davis Strait: it may be mostly American salmon that go there. The Norwegians may have something up their sleeve that makes them hesitate.

I remember that before the war (I think it was in 1938) I happened to go out for a night's fishing on a trawler; I could not get ashore again, and I ended up fishing with the men at Rockall. We had a great time. I had on my sea boots and jersey, and I was enjoying myself. In one trawl we caught a salmon. The crew said that it was a bad slip for the weather, because when a salmon is caught it was always followed by bad weather—presumably because salmon are surface fish they go down away from the bad weather. I was struck with the appearance of this salmon. I had never seen a salmon so far out at sea. It struck me that it looked like ice on top, with a silvery-blue top in colouring and silvery-white below. I have an idea that the salmon go under the ice.

As your Lordships will realise, the serious part of this matter is if the salmon swim across the Northern Ridge between the two parts of the Atlantic to the Davis Strait and are all caught by these new nets. But the nets may not be quite so deadly as they are believed to be. As the noble Marquess was explaining, they are single-filament nets, made of nylon, like a fishing line. The single-filament nets are joined together and meshed in a peculiar way, whereas the nets used around the coast of Britain were, of course, woven nylon nets that could be seen a mile off. The single-filament nets are pretty well invisible, if not entirely so, to the salmon, but they tangle very badly; and they are expensive. The tangling may make these nets not quite so effective as may be thought, but the noble Lord should remember the Fraser River.

As your Lordships will know, the most commercial fish anywhere is the Pacific king salmon, which has the red flesh and is particularly valuable in America. The whole run of king salmon was stopped by the big dam that is being put up on the Fraser river, and (as the noble Viscount. Lord Massereene and Ferrard was telling us of the blue whale) the stocks there were pretty well extinguished overnight. Personally, I think the situation with these salmon is rather like that with the blue whale. That the largest mammal that has ever lived in the history of our world should be exterminated is a pity, and that the best eating fish we have ever had in the history of the world should not be left alive to provide some labour and some enjoyment by fishermen, and should be suddenly extinguished by a couple of years' fishing, would be a pity. Perhaps before I sit down I should declare an interest. I have caught salmon. I like fishing for salmon, but with a dry fly and a very light rod. I am also interested in seals.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, that I was absent for a few minutes while he was speaking. I had previously told the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, why I was to be absent because I rather thought he would still be speaking at 7 o'clock; but he made a very short speech, as he said he would be doing. May I explain that I am host at a gathering that is taking place in the Cholmondeley Room at this moment, and if I had not gone out at 7 o'clock they could not have started. I did not wish to miss any more than a few minutes of the debate, because this is a subject in which I share the interest which has been shown by all those noble Lords who have spoken. For that reason I, like all the others who have followed the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, wish to express to him my appreciation of his raising this matter once again.

I wish I could dispel the gloom with which all of us have looked to the future if the present situation is allowed to continue. My Lords, I cannot. I must agree with each of the noble Lords who have spoken that a continuation of this situation will have very serious consequences for all those who are interested in the continuation of salmon fishing, or in the existence of salmon. I hope, therefore, that I do not have to persuade noble Lords of the serious concern with which Her Majesty's Government view the recent developments. I hope that I shall be able to show that we are aware of the dangers, and that I can convince your Lordships of our intention to try to obtain a sensible solution to the problem before irreparable damage is done.

At one stage in his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said that, those who are in charge of our affairs some time in the future will ask, "Why was this not stopped before?" If this were a matter entirely within the control of Her Majesty's Government, or entirely within the control of the Canadian Government, the trouble would have been stopped now. Unfortunately, it is not a matter within the control of any one Government. Unfortunately, it is not a matter which rests on the agreement even of a number of Governments whose interest is a common one. If all of those concerned were producing countries it might be easier, although not necessarily easy, to reach agreement.

It would be tedious if I were to recapitulate all that was said in the last debate, which was in April, 1967, when we were discussing, also on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the Green land and drift-net fisheries. I shall endeavour not to do so, but as the principles I outlined then remain true to-day I may have to refer back to them from time to time. On this occasion, however, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has been concerned principally with the offshore drift-netting at sea, the development of which over the past three years has perhaps been even more spectacular, and potentially even more disastrous, than the earlier developments of the fixed-net fishery in West Greenland and coastal waters.

The noble Lord has referred to the fishing which is mainly in the Davis Strait, and he has given figures for 1965 and 1967, from which I do not dissent. He made a guess at the 1968 figure, and this is all that he could do. In fact, the Government themselves are not in a very much better position, because we do not yet have detailed information about the boats operating in 1968. It is thought that the number has been about 17. I hope this is right and that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who estimated that it might have reached 30, will prove to be wrong; and I am quite certain he will join me in that hope, because the fewer involved the less damage will have been done during this year.

We do not have details of the catch either, but we think that it may be in excess of 500 tons. That compares with 300 tons last year. This is a very large increase, but we understand that the overall position is no worse because the inshore catch is likely to be reduced this year, so that the total toll on the salmon which go to feed in that area may not be any higher than last year's figure of about 1,600 tons. For that we must be grateful, because that was a very high and alarming figure indeed. So it is at least a negative satisfaction that the two of them together are not likely to he worse.

I think that the noble Lords who have spoken—and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—recognise that this is an international problem. I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who pointed out that it is increasingly so. More nations are taking part. Vessels from Denmark, the Faroes and Norway are participating in the offshore fishery, and there is evidence that salmon from the United States of America, Canada, Sweden, Ireland and the United Kingdom have been caught off Greenland. As an international problem it calls for international action. This requires international agreement, particularly on the part of the countries whose nationals are profiting from these new fisheries.

My Lords, this is not a problem which this country, or any like-minded group of countries, can solve unless agreement from the others can be obtained. We are now talking about fishing on the high seas, which are open to everyone and which it is to our interest to keep so. Those who cry, "Something should be done about it", or who appear to think that plaintive representations alone will somehow be enough to cause other Governments to forbid their nationals from reaping benefit from the high seas, are simply blind to the realities. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, is not among those. He does not just say that something should be done. He suggested before, and has suggested to-day, as have other noble Lords, what he thinks might be done to help the situation. But some people outside think that all we have to do is to make either threatening or bleating noises and something will happen. That is why we place such importance on proceeding through the established machinery at Government level for dealing with the problem of conservation of the sea's resources.

The organisation responsible for considering such problems in the North-West Atlantic and for recommending measures needed for conservation is the International Commission for Nora-West Atlantic Fisheries, or to use the initials only I.C.N.A.F. It is true that the Commission invariably require scientific evidence of damage to stocks before they will recommend additional conservation matters. This is one point on which I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. He said that the scientists or the boffins must not rule policy—that they must be our servants, not our masters. There is no question in this matter of the scientists not being our masters. It is the fact that other Governments say, "Unless you can produce scientific evidence of harm being done, we will not act".

We, the Canadians and, I believe, the Russians are satisfied that this position has been established, but it may be that those who wish to continue need an even higher degree of satisfaction than those who in the first instance are willing to be persuaded. But the requirement that there should be scientific evidence before fishing is restricted is important to us. We have been very resolute in adhering to this principle because, if we are not resolute, we ourselves might be unable to resist unfounded claims to impose restrictions which would then be damaging to our own fishing industry. Unfortunately, in spite of the most strenuous efforts on the part of our scientists, we have not been able to produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there is either danger or damage to our stocks.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there are enormous practical problems involved in this scientific work, especially as regards the offshore fishery. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and others have said, we are concerned about the serious damage which could be done to stocks by escalation of this fishery while the evidence is being accumulated. It will be no satisfaction to anybody if, at the end of the day, the scientific evidence is proved to convince even the most doubting and by that time there is nothing left to take action about. We accepted, therefore, that it would be wise to call a halt to the expansion of the drift-net fishery before it went too far, and we have been doing our utmost to persuade all the countries concerned to agree to take action now. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has shortened my reply to a certain extent since he has listed what is taking place in the international conferences. He correctly set it out and I need not repeat it.

What happened afterwards? We followed up the 1965 Conference through diplomatic channels in Copenhagen, but the Danes made it clear that they considered there was only a slight possibility that the Greenland fishery, even though substantially increased, would have any appreciable impact on European or American stocks of salmon, and that they were therefore unable to accede to the request for limitation in the fishery. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, referred to what took place in 1968, and even though the United States and the Soviet Union joined with us in supporting Canada, the Danes still reiterated the arguments about the absence of scientific evidence and said that Denmark could not accept the proposal; and a number of other countries made it plain that they would not vote for a standstill. Therefore, in the circumstances it was impossible to get the requisite two-thirds majority which was necessary and the Canadians abandoned their proposal.

They then nut forward the compromise resolution which ultimately was unanimously accepted by the member countries. Lord Balfour called this a weak resolution, and I do not dissent from that in comparison with what was wanted. The resolution read as follows: The Commission calls the attention of member Governments to the serious concern expressed by several delegations who considered that the high seas fishing for salmon should either be prohibited or stabilised at its present level in view of the potential danger which it represents to the Atlantic salmon resources, and recommends to member Governments that they consider urgently the desirability of preventing increase in high seas fishing for salmon by their nationals in the I.C.N.A.F. area for the time being, and that high priority be given to studies of the effects of such high seas fishing on the resources. Even though I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord that it is a weak resolution, it is at least a small step forward because it invites all the Governments concerned to consider this proposition. It did not get that far on any previous occasion. It therefore provides a firmer basis than there has been hitherto for bringing pressure to bear upon the countries taking part in this fishery.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, suggested that the next conference might be helped if there were ad hoc meetings of interested countries or special conferences outside the governmental framework or in some way or other to prepare for the next conference, but I should not like to lay too much stress on what can be accomplished in that way. After all, the 1968 Conference was preceded by a year during which it was common knowledge among the countries concerned that the matter was to be pursued by Canada again in 1968. It was therefore difficult to accept that it was really a matter of surprise to them that it was coming up again. As the decisions have to be taken by Governments, it is difficult to believe that any ad hoc discussions, or a conference of individuals, is likely to be any more fruitful than intergovernmental talks through the usual channels.

I wish to emphasise that we do not just take a beating at one conference and then wait until the next one before something else is done. Between the two Conferences, the 1968 and the 1969 Conferences, the Government will continue, through diplomatic channels, to take up these matters, as we have been doing. The latest information I have as a result of our inquiries abroad shows how difficult it is to make progress in this matter. After all, we are now, in December, almost half-way between Conferences. The information which we have is that the Danish Government are still considering the resolution passed at the I.C.N.A.F. meeting and they are not yet able to say when they will be likely to reach a conclusion upon it. It has not yet been possible to obtain a reaction from Norway.

I was interested to learn in this debate how many of your Lordships shared my reading matter, because I also read the article in Field on November 7. One would have thought from that article that if there was anybody who was as interested as ourselves in getting a quick decision, it was Norway, and yet we have been unable to get a reaction from them. Therefore, while I have readily admitted the seriousness of the situation and the fact that it could get very much worse if we were unable to get some form of international action, I hope I have at the same time persuaded your Lordships that if nothing has happened up to the present it is not because of any lack of knowledge or any lack of willingness on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and that we are progressing, although much too slowly.

There are one or two points other than the general principle to which I think I should refer. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, referred to the use of monofilament nets. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is now satisfied with the two explanations—the explanation of general principle from the noble Marquess, and then of the details of actual manufacture from the noble Lord, Lord Strange. The unfortunate point about it is that the use of these nets is, of course, perfectly legal. But it has been part of the United Kingdom's case for control that the improved and more efficient methods of catching which are now available are an added reason for taking one or other of the steps which have been suggested, because, as the noble Marquess has said, they intensify the danger by their very efficiency.

The noble Marquess also said that tagging should be increased. The tagging of adult fish caught in Greenland waters is very difficult indeed. The fish caught in the nets are often not in any condition to survive after being tagged and set free. Various methods have been tried, using gill nets and Northumberland T-nets, and so far 1,337 salmon have been caught of which nine have been recovered in home waters. I must agree with noble Lords who say that every time the Danes or the Faroese, or whoever else is doing it, catch salmon with a tag on it, they are not going to send it to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or to the Department of Fisheries in Scotland. They will throw it—


My Lords, what about the tagging of smolts? I do not think we want to limit ourselves to the tagging of adult salmon.


My Lords, I will come to that. Before leaving this question, I just want to say that I agree that obviously there may well be a considerable number of adult fish which are tagged and which then subsequently land in somebody's catch. The fish remains with them, but the tag goes back into the sea or is otherwise disposed of. But this is not the only factor. There is a very extensive programme of tagging smolts in the United Kingdom, and this continues. I am sorry that I do not have by me the actual numbers that have been tagged, but I will write to the noble Marquess and will let him know what the figures have been over, say, the last year or two.

The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, referred to the large catches up to 1967, and raised the rather interesting theory that perhaps that was nature's way of compensating for the salmon disease which, as the noble Lords will know, is again prevalent over a fairly wide number of rivers. I am told that, although the disease is more widespread, it is not necessarily worse. I hope the noble Lord is right, but at the moment my information is that the catch in 1968 is going to be very much less than it was in 1967. That is not surprising, because 1967 was an exceptionally high figure. What is disappointing is that the 1968 catch is likely to be less than the average of recent years, so that we do not have the apparent satisfaction that there are big numbers as a compensation for the disease. This is another reason why we have such an intense interest in being able to control the high seas fisheries.

I think in my general remarks I have taken account of the points put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and with all those other noble Lords who urged Her Majesty's Government to press as strongly as possible for international action, that the consequences not only for ourselves but for the producing countries concerned could be extremely serious. We hope that by the time the next conference comes round we shall have been able, through the usual channels and by any other means which may appear to be helpful, to impress sufficient of the countries with the need for this action. I hope, therefore, that after the 1969 Conference noble Lords will become aware, probably as quickly as I shall, if a more satisfactory solution is arrived at. That is the best I can offer your Lordships because, as I said some little time ago, the matter is not one which is within our sole control.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this question? He has implied that this is an international matter. I wonder whether he agrees that there is something which the Government can do. Can they not, as they are doing at the moment, continue to prevent drift-net caught salmon being landed in this country? Also, can the noble Lord assure us that drift-netting around our coast will continue to be prevented?


My Lords, I am afraid that that would be only a very partial solution, as the noble Marquess said when he talked about the poor condition of some of the fish which are being caught. They are not being landed here; they are going to their own home market. By the way, I hope I did more than imply that it was a matter for international agreement. I thought I made it a bit more definite than that.


My Lords, the noble Lord seemed surprised that Denmark was not co-operative. But surely he realises that in Denmark there is only one very small river. They are not interested in the preservation of salmon; they are interested in catching them on the high seas. Surely the noble Lord is aware of that. So far as Norway is concerned, the noble Lord surely knows as well as I do that there are two different and conflicting interests there. One is fishing on the high seas and the other is inland fishing, and it is just possible that those who conduct the fishing on the high seas command more votes than those who conduct inland fishing.


My Lords, I also read that in Field. If the article is correct, the Norwegian Minister of Agriculture is apparently responsible for inshore fishing, and the Minister of Fisheries is responsible for that on the high seas. But I was not expressing surprise that the Danes had not co-operated. I was expressing sorrow.


My Lords, that is only two countries out of the 14 members of ICNAF. What about the others'?


My Lords, the position was as I have stated, that apart from the four I have named—Canada, the United States, the U.S.S.R. and ourselves—Denmark was against and the others said that they would not vote. It needs ten votes for it to be carried. So what has to be done for the next conference is to ensure that sufficient of those who refrained from voting on this occasion will vote the next time.


My Lords, the question I keep asking the noble Lord is what in fact they are doing to ensure this, and the noble Lord has not given us an answer.


I think the noble Marquess cannot have been listening. We can only seek to persuade people in negotiations. That is what we have been doing. We have beeen bringing pressure on the Danes, saying that it is in their long-term interests, as well as everybody else's, that they should co-operate, even though they are catchers of fish and not producers of fish. But it would be quite against any prospects of success if I were to detail publicly here what we have done and what we propose to do with individual countries. The noble Marquess must know from his past experience in Government that there are some things which can be helped by public statements and some things which can be very much hindered by them. I can assure the noble Marquess that in this case the second is very much what would happen.

If we attempt to set out that we are going to say this to Denmark, or are going to do this to Norway, or are going to say or do this to Spain, it will be self-defeating. We must carry on with what we are doing and as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has suggested. He has suggested, however, that there may be other methods of preparing for the next conference, other than just the inter-governmental contacts which have been made. I have said, and my advice is, that obviously intergovernmental persuasion is the method which is most likely to bring about results, but we do not discard the possibility that if other things can be done which will be helpful we shall follow them up. But if one Government cannot persuade another, it is very unlikely that any group of individuals will persuade that Government.


My Lords, may I point out one thing? As we are such great importers of Danish bacon and butter and produce generally, I should have thought we rather "had it over" the Danes regarding this Greenland netting. I should have thought we could be extremely persuasive.


It is a very interesting thought that we should be able to say to the Danes, "Right; for every salmon you take, ten tons off your bacon quota and five tons off your butter quota!". But, after all, we are members of EFTA, arid it is not quite as easy as all that.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, in detaining your Lordships for only a moment before asking leave to withdraw my Motion, I should like to thank the Minister for his speech, which showed that all our fears are shared by Her Majesty's Government. The debate to-day can give little comfort to the poor salmon in the seas. It is very rare that we have a debate in which the Minister's speech could well be that of the mover and the speech of the mover of the Motion could well be that of the Minister. I am grateful, too, to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I have but one request. It is that this debate, recorded in Hansard—and it has been a wide and valuable debate—should be conveyed through the usual channels to the various Embassies and other media of distribution and publicity throughout all the countries which are members of the International Convention and to any other interested country. I believe that very considerable use could be made not of my speech but of the Minister's speech in the education of those whom we yet have to persuade.

My Lords, there is a big difference between salmon and the Government. We must remember that a Government can defend themselves against attack, against snares and against traps, but the poor salmon is vulnerable to all those. Therefore, irrespective of Party, irrespective of where we sit in this House, we send out our sympathy to the salmon and hope that their survival will be helped by our debate to-day. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.