HL Deb 20 May 1970 vol 310 cc1043-6

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the present position of negotiations with the Danish Government for international agreement on the prohibition or limitation of netting salmon on the high seas.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government, in recent discussions with the Danish Minister of Fisheries, have tried to find an acceptable alternative to the ban on salmon fishing outside national fishery limits recommended last year by the International Fisheries Commissions on both sides of the Atlantic, but rendered ineffective by the objections of Denmark and certain other countries. The discussions were inconclusive and Her Majesty's Government are considering what further steps they should take before the meeting in June of the Commission for the Northwest Atlantic, with special reference to the fishery off the West coast of Greenland.

As regards the North-East Atlantic, where high seas fishing has so far developed only off Norway, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission at its recent meeting in London decided by a majority to recommend a series of measures including two closed areas off the coast of Norway, a close season from July 1 to May 5 outside national fishery limits throughout its area excepting the far South, prohibition or control of certain types of gear, and a minimum size for salmon. These measures will, failing objections, come into force on January 1, 1971, and are for two years, subject to earlier review in the event of substantial change in the salmon catches and stocks.

Although Her Majesty's Government would have preferred a closure of more extensive areas, especially around the British Isles, they welcome the progress that has been made in the North-East Atlantic, particularly the reduction of the fishing season to seven weeks and the prohibition of monofilament nets and pelagic trawls, both of which are potentially damaging methods of catching salmon. The United Kingdom will continue their efforts to secure adequate protection for the fisheries of the salmon-producing countries on both sides of the North Atlantic.

My Lords, I regret the length of that Answer, but I am quite certain that it will be only noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite who are disappointed at its length. I am sure that the noble Lord who asked the Question will be satisfied that I am giving the fullest possible information.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that fishing interests of all sorts will be gratified at the report of the progress which has been made on this difficult international question? May I also ask the noble Lord whether the Government are aware that while negotiations are going on the menace to the salmon stocks, present and future, is increasing all the time, in that since 1965 the number of salmon taken on the Atlantic high seas has roughly doubled every year; that last year about half a million fish were taken, and that therefore time is very precious?


My Lords, the noble Lord is probably correct; but the difficulty the Government have is that unfortunately there is no direct evidence that salmon from United Kingdom rivers have so far been involved in fishery in the area covered by the Agreement.


My Lords, is it not a fact that Great Britain is the country which mainly breeds and nurtures salmon, and that the Danes get their profits for nothing? Would it not be a good idea if we were to put a heavy tax on Danish salmon sold here, which would inhibit the trade, to some extent, reduce their profits and make a contribution to our expenses?


My Lords, sometimes the apparently most simple solutions are not the ones which produce the best results.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as one who eats herrings, I am not too much concerned about the salmon fishing; but could he make his Answers not so long-winded?


My Lords, not on this occasion.


My Lords, I should like to ask two supplementary questions. First, is the noble Lord aware that in the great Scottish salmon river, the Dee, stocks of salmon this year are enormously less than they were a few years ago? Secondly, can the noble Lord say whether or not it is the case that grilse are not affected in the same way as salmon? And if that is so, what is the explanation?


My Lords, I do not think I can usefully add to what I have already said. The Government are well aware of the problem, and if the solution lay in our own hands we should have no difficulty.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether or not it is a fact that fish which have been tagged in Scottish rivers have actually been caught off the coast of Greenland?


Yes, my Lord, a small number have been.


My Lords, with reference to the question asked by my noble friend who has just spoken, is the noble Lord aware that it has been estimated, from tagging, that about 37 per cent. of the salmon caught off Greenland come from the United Kingdom? Is the noble Lord further aware that the reason why no grilse are caught is because in their first year at sea the grilse do not go so far as Greenland?


My Lords, the purpose of tagging was to try to establish the fact that we were so much concerned with what was taking place. Unfortunately the Danish authorities have not yet been persuaded in the same way as we have been.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government represent to the Danish Government that it would be very much in their own interest to come to some arrangement with us and the other countries concerned; otherwise, as is obvious both from the Question that has been put to-day and from what has happened in the past, it is only too likely that our hitherto excellent relations with our good friends the Danes will be impaired.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that no point which can usefully be made to the Danes to advance our point of view has been omitted.

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