HL Deb 30 June 1971 vol 321 cc401-39

6.45 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they are aware of the serious risk that the Atlantic salmon could become an extinct species of fish unless urgent measures are taken in both home and international waters for conservation of stocks; and what steps they propose to take to this end. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I trust your Lordships will allow me some minutes—not too many—to deploy some of the important issues that are raised in this Question.

I think the asking of this Question is amply justified when one reads the Report of the proceedings in another place on June 23, when the Minister was asked a Question as to the dangers of Scottish salmon becoming extinct in the comparatively near future. The replies of the Minister, I regret to say, showed no sense of urgency, and, I also regret to say, seemed to me to savour of complacency. I do not expect my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, to agree with me, but let me repeat to your Lordships what the Minister said. When asked as to the dangers for the future he replied: I do not share my honourable and gallant friend's fears for the future. And on the question of international negotiation for limitation of fishing he said: I am hopeful that over the years we shall get even more co-operation than we have had in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons. 23/6/71; col. 1411.] My Lords, while the years of hope, resting in the breast of the Minister, pass by, the Atlantic salmon are getting fewer and fewer.

To-day at Question Time in your Lordships' House I asked the Government whether they intend to introduce legislation based on the Report of the Bledisloe Committee issued in 1961—and of course we still await legislation on the Hunter Report. I hope that in regard to this question of fishing Her Majesty's Government are not working under what we used to know as the "ten-year rule"; that is to say, no decisions to be made within ten years, because those decisions are surely thoroughly overdue. Let me say at once that the question of salmon conservation does not mean preservation for a privileged few, but preservation in the interests of an industry which employs something like 10,000 people directly in Scotland, some 3,000 directly in England, in addition to indirect benefits with transport, catering, retail trades and tourism generally which are immense, both in terms of money and in terms of employment. There is also the very germane question of the rateable values in Scotland which salmon yield to the Exchequer.

The future extinction of salmon presents a very real danger. I hope some noble Lords, including, I trust, the Minister, may have read in the Field—a very authoritative paper—a few weeks ago an article headed, "Will salmon become extinct in 20 years?" All those interested in the Atlantic salmon can confirm the deplorably low catches in the spring of 1970 and 1971. One cannot net heavily in home waters and on the high seas take something like 2,000 metric tons of salmon every year off Greenland and the Davis Strait, and at the same time have them in the Northern European rivers. It is as simple as that.

There is, I believe, much to be done by Government action, both at home and internationally. In my remarks I am going to put forward to the Minister one or two suggestions with great humility—one always puts suggestions to any Government with great humility. At home I think the first thing we must do is put our own house in order if we are going to exert the greatest possible influence internationally. And certainly there is much to be done to put our own house in order.

As to the practical steps, drift-netting off Scotland is prohibited by a biennial order passed in 1970, in force for two years and still running. But drift-netting is allowed off the English coast, subject to licences from the river authorities. As your Lordships know, Scotland has no river authorities but England has. Drift-netting of the North-East coast has increased dangerously and is taking a terrible toll of salmon. Let me give your Lordships the figures: off the North-East Northumberland coast in 1966, 16,000 salmon were taken by drift-nets; in 1969, 53,000 salmon were taken by drift-nets off the North-East coast; in 1970, the provisional figure is 99,000 fish taken by drift-nets off the North-East coast. I stress the rise from 16,000 in 1966 to 99,000 in 1970.

Therefore, my first request to the Government is to represent most strongly to the river authorities the serious effects of their use of the licensing system and a plea to the river authorities that they should revert to strict control. There are in Northumberland two river authorities. The North Northumberland authority have always used a good deal of restriction and 75 licences are issued. The South Northumberland area river authority issued about 30 licences, but it shot up to 350 licences last year. Men from Scotland are coming down to South Northumberland and taking out licences to drift-net. If the salmon could speak they would say, "It's a scandal"; and I sincerely hope that we are going to hear something encouraging from the noble Baroness to-day.

My second request concerns a most recent modern development called a monofilament net. It is a net, light, cheap and invisible to the fish; it takes immature fish as well as adult fish; it is made from man-made fibres. Undoubtedly, the use of monofilament nets is one of the causes of that great increase of salmon taken on the North-East coast that I have just cited to your Lordships, as well as the increase of salmon taken in other forms of netting. It is interesting to know that by international action, which I hope to say a word about in a moment, a recommendation has been made to prohibit the use of monofilament nets on the high seas. But there is no such prohibition in Scotland, and in England the river authorities could attach to their licences a condition of no use of monofilament nets, but they have not done so, and I do not blame them for not doing so when there is no prohibition in Scotland.

In Scotland there is use of fixed nets to a distressingly increasing degree. I would ask the Government whether they would introduce a Bill in the immediate future, as an emergency measure, quite apart from any major legislation for which we are waiting so patiently, to prohibit in the interests of conservation the use of man-made fibre nets, or, if the Government feel unable to do it, to say they would facilitate a Private Member's Bill to this end. If the noble Baroness argues to-night, as she may, that prohibition is out of the question, it is impracticable and that all we can do is to use control, let me remind her of what I just said: that internationally there has been a recommendation for prohibition. I am glad to say that Her Majesty's Government were one of those who supported the proposal; so it would be a little illogical if she came here to-day and tried to make out the case that control was the correct method, and not prohibition.

My third request is in much more general terms; it is really almost a form of question. Can we afford, while we are waiting for comprehensive legislation based on Bledisloe and on Hunter, to allow the present heavy depredation of salmon? Should we consider, a what I would call a crash programme, for two or three years altering the timing of nets? At the present time, the nets are lifted at the weekends for 42 hours a week. Ought we to extend that period? Ought we to shorten the netting period of the year? Ought we as regards rods to have river by river, according to the particular characteristics of the river, later opening or earlier closing? These are questions I cannot pontificate about to-day, but I believe they are questions that we ought to consider as a crash programme to meet the needs and the dangers of the present situation.

For a very few moments I turn to the question of the high seas, where fishing has been indiscriminate as to size, condition, time of year, and certainly country of origin of the fish. Countries that originate no salmon, that have practically no rivers of their own, in many cases absolutely no rivers of their own, fish on the high seas, taking the view that it is fair game for all. Countries that originate salmon, like the United Kingdom and many other European countries, contest this view, quite rightly, and ask for consideration of their problem of the preservation of the fish that have been breeding in their rivers, and feel that they have some priority right to fish coming from and returning to their rivers. But, alas!, in the International Commission on North Atlantic Fisheries it is a case of all countries having one vote. Whether they have any salmon rivers or not they can fish the high seas and they have a vote equal to countries that have many rivers and originate much of the salmon catch: it is a case of "no salmon, one vote". This is not a very healthy position. Again, if the poor salmon could speak, he would say it was not really very fair.

I agree, of course, that only by international agreement can we go forward on the high seas. But the Danes, with Greenland in the van of this open-to-all school, have been very stiff. They have now made some slight concession from their original position, a matter in which we rejoice, and the reason we rejoice is that we hope they will concede some more. The International Commission on North Atlantic Fisheries require a two-thirds majority for any resolutions to be effective, and after that each resolution has to be ratified by the respective Governments. The Danes have agreed in the International Commission that the catches should be restricted to the 1969 level, which was a very high one. They have also agreed, as I said earlier, to prohibit nylon nets, and they have agreed to a close season. But these matters have to be ratified by the various countries—and the various dissenting countries—and we do not know what the position is here. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us to-night.

In June this year the I.C.N.A.F.—the International Commission for North Atlantic Fisheries—met at Halifax. In the cause of conservation of salmon. Canada proposed that high sea tonnages should be reduced to 80 per cent. of the 1969 levels. The United States of America supported that proposal. That proposal needed a two-thirds majority. It did not get that two-thirds majority because it was defeated mainly by countries having no originating rivers of their own. But my regret is that Her Majesty's Government abstained from voting on that resolution. Now the Danes propose to continue this high 1969 level for 1971, 1972 and 1973. I must tell the noble Baroness that I know that the abstention by Great Britain has caused a good deal of ill feeling in Canada and the United States.

What I seek is for Her Majesty's Government to be the leader in the field of international co-operation. I would ask for an assurance from the Minister tonight of support for the conservation of Atlantic salmon, and for these international negotiations not to be a pawn on the board of international diplomacy, international trade patterns, and bargains and concessions for reciprocal advantages here and reciprocal advantages there. Salmon conservation should be treated as a matter on its own, and of vital importance. I have suggested certain ways of putting our house in order. I hope I have suggested certain ways of leading in international measures. In an Unstarred Question I have no right of reply, but I can, before I sit down, thank noble Lords in advance who have kindly consented to take part in this debate. I look forward to a reply on the general position and on the proposals I make—particularly for our own waters—from the Minister, who I know has salmon fishing very much at heart.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for putting down this Question. I certainly would not dissent from most of what he has said, although I am bound to say it came as a little surprising to me to hear that licensed netting had increased to such an extent on the North East coast. I had some experience in this particular side of the industry, and many a time I was assailed in another place for not increasing the number of licences. We operated through the river board authority a very tight system of licensing, and indeed the argument at that time, when we were imposing the ban on drift-netting in Scotland, was that drift-netting off the North East coast of England was so infinitesimal and so well controlled that it provided no hazard. If, in fact, the noble Lord—and I do not doubt his word—is right in saying that licences have multiplied ten times over the last year or two, then perhaps the noble Baroness will have something to say to us about it, about the reason for it and indeed what the catch represents. It seems to me that if all this is going on on the North East coast of England, we are going to have a demand a little further North. Only earlier in this year we in Scotland renewed our ban on drift-netting and I think it lasts for another two years yet—certainly two year from February or 'March of this year.

I should like to say a word or two about the work of the Fisheries Commissions, both the International Commission for the North West Atlantic and the Commission for the North East, because they have a particularly important part to play. Indeed, I think this is where the key lies. It may be interesting to recall that in 1969 both these Commissions decided, on a motion submitted by this country—and whatever we do, do not let us deprecate the part that Britain has played in giving a lead to the rest of the world in this particular matter—and by very substantial majorities, to call for a ban on the fishing of Atlantic salmon outside national fisheries limits. Indeed, it was this, your Lordships will recall, that caused some perturbation in Denmark. They then submitted, with one other country, their objections to carrying out the decisions of both of those Commissions. I know that no matter which Government are in office in this country, we have not the power—let us face it—to dictate to the others what they should do. We can seek to advise; we can put pressure on them; and I should be sorry if the noble Baroness confirmed the information from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, that an abstention on a vote in Halifax has caused this trouble. It is no secret that Canada was very helpful to us, as was the United States, when we were getting those motions through both those Commissions. If in fact that is what has happened, I regret it.

I understand that there has been a more recent agreement with Denmark, and I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would spell it out. I understand that they have agreed to a quota, but what the quota is based on I am not quite certain. The noble Lord takes the figure for 1969, and I should like to know whether that is the basis on which it is done. It is all right to talk about a quota, but we have to understand what the quota means. What does it mean in metric tons of salmon, and how does it compare with the total catch in that area? Simply to say that they have taken a quota is not giving us the information that we really require. What we want to know is the quantity. Secondly, is it an agreement that has been reached inside the North East Atlantic Convention, or is it some bilateral agreement? I know that there was considerable trouble at that time. Indeed, we had an amusing episode, because Greenland was perfectly willing to support us and not Denmark on a settlement of this issue, and we were then pressing for control of the fishing of salmon not only outside but even inside Greenland's waters. That is where a tremendous amount of fishing takes place.

I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us what decision has been arrived at regarding inside the limit, because this was causing some considerable concern. We also want to know whether it is an agreement taken under the Commission, or whether it is some bilateral agreement that has been reached. Obviously, with all these changes going on, we are also faced with what might happen in the near future if we enter the E.E.C. What in fact will the influence be on the fishing grounds? I am even talking about salmon in this respect. It is true that if one is a member of the E.E.C. and also a member of either the North-East or the North-West Atlantic Fisheries Commission, then one is bound by the rules. But as rules are being changed in these areas, it is essential that your Lordships should know what the new position will be.

I want to take up the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. There is always a little anger, not only in this country but in every other country that has rivers with salmon in them and makes a contribution to the salmon stocks of the world, when other people come and take them—and the Lord knows, it was a bad day when somebody discovered the salmon feeding grounds off Greenland. There is resentment if countries which have made no contribution go to Greenland and begin hauling the salmon out of the waters. A year or two ago, it was my job to visit certain countries which are making their contribution in production, in hatcheries and in everything else which means giving attention to salmon. In a visit to Iceland, I was very much impressed with the Icelandic contribution to the salmon fishing stocks. I was more than impressed with what was happening in Eire. At that time we were all blaming Eire for having produced U.D.N.—ulcerative dermal necrosis—and we were putting the blame on to some poor little rainbow trout farm in Waterford. This proved to be complete nonsense. But, while there, I had the opportunity of visiting that very handsome and distinguished place that has been provided by the Guinness family. That is one Guiness that is "good for you". I thought they were making a remarkable contribution. I also had the privilege of visiting Russia, from Murmansk to Yalta, and they, too, were making their contribution to the fishing stocks of the world.

So that when we make this complaint to-night, we complain not only for ourselves but for many other nations in the world. It was said to me by a colleague that even off the coast of the Falklands efforts have been made to cultivate salmon. Apparently, they were a failure at first, but then a scheme of brown trout was embarked upon which I am told has proved tremendously successful. I do not know what locus standi the Government have in this matter, but it may well be that there is another ground which could produce fish. But, having said that, there is one other form of action that we might well take. First of all, we have to know where we stand internationally, and we shall expect the noble Baroness to tell us this. We also want to know what the Government are doing about the further development of salmon fisheries. I am certain that before this question has been asked and answered the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will again be offering that river that he offered to the Government two or three years ago for the development of salmon.

I should also like to deal with one other side of this business. We want the Government to tell us what is happening, and about the quotas. But there is something else which is within our own grasp in this country. It is not much use getting international agreements and producing even more salmon if, at the end of the day, they finish up in rivers and die from pollution. This is something to which we could give personal attention. I should not care to single out any river, although I have no doubt that that may well be done and it may be a little embarrassing for my native city. But this is something within our control, something that we could attend to; and we should not overlook the fact that in the northern parts of our country there are local authorities who are very grateful for the rateable values that are involved in this business. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchyre, for once more giving me an opportunity of saying a few words on this highly important subject, and I sit down knowing that this will not he the last occasion on which we shall discuss salmon.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have indeed a well-known interest in salmon, to which I have referred in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion; but the real interest which I have in the species is the interest which anybody who has the fascinating job of managing a salmon river can feel. I am therefore extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for putting this most important Question, and for giving an opportunity for the discussion of what can be done for this species by people who are interested in its preservation, and, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoy said, in the improvement and increase of the species.

I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, about the attacks and threats to the Atlantic salmon, but I do not entirely share the gloomy prognosis for the species. He is quite right to stress the financial value of the fish. He is quite right in saying that we must put our own house in order before we go abroad and join with other countries in the Commissions in trying to put the international house in order. He is quite right, too, to stress the danger of the drift-nets off the North-East coast of England, because that danger is already felt by the responsible fishery officers in the area. The noble Lord is also quite right to stress the danger of the monofilament net, because it is a dangerous engine and one which I think we could well do without. But the fact is that all of us who are interested in salmon are predators upon the species. Whether we be rod fishermen, whether we be catching the salmon for smoking, whether we be catching it by drift-net, whether we be catching it by stake-net, fly-net, sweep-net or any other means, we are preying on the species. We must therefore know more about the species, so that we may know the limits to which we can safely prey and recognise the danger signs, when we see them.

We know that the species can be destroyed. It is a very simple thing to destroy salmon, and the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, put his linger on the point at which they can all too easily be destroyed; that is, by pollution in the river of origin. If we turned our backs upon the problem of keeping our rivers clean, we could indeed destroy the salmon species. We are not likely to destroy the salmon species by fishing with rod and line, because that is an inefficient means of catching fish. We are not likely to destroy the species by the use of the traditional forms of fixed engines, which have been used around the coast of Scotland for over a hundred years because they have not affected the runs of salmon over that period to any measurable extent.

We could conceivably destroy the species by allowing indiscriminate drift-netting, especially by mono-filament net. My Cords, I am possibly the only noble Lord in this Chamber who has personally apprehended a drift-netter, and when did so he had a quarter of a mile of mono-filament net right across the mouth of the Thurso River. In the time that it took us to get aboard—which was roughly an hour, by the time we had gone round and got in a boat, come alongside and boarded him—he had caught no fewer than 36 salmon. So your Lordships can see that there is indeed a grave danger in this particular method of fishing.

We could also destroy the species, not utterly but to the point at which it was more or less unusable in the rivers of origin, by over-predation on the feeding grounds. This danger we have tried to deal with, and I think that the Commissions to which the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, referred, have done a good job in starting international agreement. Action such as this, I agree with him, we must build upon in the future. We must see that this international agreement is continued along sound lines and is well advised by a good corps of scientists, and that the countries who prey upon the salmon species in their feeding grounds contribute to the cost of doing the scientific research that will be necessary in order to see that this activity is properly controlled. But, my Lords, I have hope for the salmon species, and I think it would be wrong to stress too much the danger, because (and I think that, again, it was the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, who stressed this point) I feel there is so much to be done in understanding the species and in improving the runs of salmon into our rivers and to our coasts.

We are sensitive at the moment because there are many new methods, new fishing grounds have been found and we have disease. But the strength of the species lies in its reproductive capacity. As many noble Lords here will know, a salmon lays about 500 eggs per lb., and therefore a 10 lb. hen fish will lay about 5,000 eggs. So she is reproducing at 5,000 times her own number, or 2,500 per pair, and it is in the natural loss of fish that we can do much to make up and improve our salmon stocks. Experiments were done on the Cottage River in Ireland which showed conclusively that if trout are fished out of the rearing areas of a salmon river the run of smolts out of those rearing areas can be increased by two and a half times.

Here we come to a point at which certain Government Departments can help, because there is a lack of information on this sort of thing. This kind of information is passed around from river to river by word of mouth from friend to friend, and there is not enough correlation of information among the different interested parties—or, indeed, between England and Scotland—about the conservation of salmon. This was a matter which was referred to at a recent joint meeting between the Association of Scottish District Fishery Boards and the River Boards of England, and plans were laid to exchange information at that level so that more information is available to the people who are doing the job of trying to conserve the stocks of fish.

In my view, my Lords, the strongest forces which we contend with are the forces of Nature, and the problem is to get to know what we are dealing with in order to be able to deal with these properly. I have some very interesting statistics with me, but I am not going to read them all because I know only too well how extremely boring too many statistics can be. But I should like to refer to one or two to illustrate my contention that there is great hope for the species, and that it is our job to take this opportunity to try to make improvements. On the River Coquet, in Northumberland, all the fish that go into the river are actually counted, by eye, by the river bailiffs. They cannot get into the river unless they are allowed in through a lift which is operated by men who count the fish. The rod catches are then returned. It is interesting to note that in the years from 1959 to 1964 the average stock in the River Coquet was 2,069 fish, and the average annual catch was 455 fish, or 22 per cent. of the stock. In the following period of six years, from 1965 to 1970, the stock in the Coquet went up nearly 1,200 to 1,300 fish to an average stock of 3,297. The average catch fell to 353, or a percentage catch of only 10 per cent.

Now to people who say that the salmon species is being killed out I would draw attention to our figures on the River Thurso. During the decade from 1961 to 1970 inclusive, there was one glorious lustrum of successive years in which the catch on the river was on average 75 per cent. higher than the average going back to the last century. Included in it were the three highest grilse catches at the estuary of the river. This period included our record ever rod catch, which was indeed in the same year as our record ever grilse catch on the estuary net. So I think I would prefer to have a feeling of optimism about this problem. I am glad to see the Commissions in action; I am glad to see international agreement taking place. I do not feel the species is going to be destroyed, because I think the will is there not only to look after the species but to improve its situation.

So I would say to Her Majesty's Government that they should take advantage of this will being there to help all those who are working with the salmon species to improve the stocks of fish, and that to do this we need this revision of the law both in Scotland and in England. As was said in the debate on an earlier Starred Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the Law of England and that of Scotland should be the same in its aim. It may have to be altered in different ways because the law of the two countries is different, but it should be the same in its aim, which aim should be the conservation and improvement of the stocks of the salmon species.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is generally agreed that global population growth and industrialisation are very rapidly approaching the limits of the earth's capacity to support them. This is really what we are talking about to-night, because it is quite apparent that the Atlantic salmon has been overtaken by events. It cannot adapt its habits to changing times and increasing pressures, and I feel that it is our duty to persuade Her Majesty's Government to do something more about this. We have heard three excellent speeches already to-night and I hope that I am not going to spoil the batting average. I think that I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House 40 years ago on this very question, but the situation has not altered except for the worse since then. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who lives not so far from me in the North of Scotland may be optimistic, I feel, in some of his remarks. I hope that I am wrong; I hope that I may stand corrected by the end of the debate.

I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has done an excellent job in asking this Question, and although I am not going to talk about international laws or international negotiations (which he has covered so adequately) I think that perhaps I could help the noble Baroness when she sums up to-night by making certain very local suggestions as they affect the salmon rivers of the North-East of Scotland, and particularly in the Moray Firth area where I confess to have interests and, with all respect to your Lordships, the advantage of owning a river which has been in the family for a long time and which fortunately has kept game books and very long records of every salmon and sea trout which has been caught as far back as the year 1809. I do not think that that performance can be easily matched. Without boasting in any way and with great humility I can say that if a salmon river is well preserved you can work it up, just as the noble Viscount said. At the turn of the century the Beauly was supplying netted salmon in numbers between 15,000 and 16,000 a year; and yet when my father came back from the South African War, stocks had been virtually wiped out by over-netting. He was one of the first men to put hatcheries into the River Beauly in spite of public criticism and the suggestion that fish could spawn quite well under natural conditions. Of course they can. But there are such things as floods, frosts and too many fish competing for the same spawning bed. The proof of the pudding was in the eating: the fish came back and multiplied, until they had a very severe setback through the electrification of the river by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board about which I propose to talk shortly a little later.

At this point I should like to say that the situation is very serious. I think that whoever answered in the other place to the effect that he was not unduly perturbed by the situation either off Denmark or in the North Sea or in our rivers and coastal nets, can only be accused of making an irresponsible statement. If Lord Balfour's horrifying story is correct, that in Nova Scotia at a recent high-level conference Britain abstained from voting on the very subject of preserving our salmon stocks, that is quite unforgivable. I hope that the national Press will fully ventilate this fact. Except for the Field newspaper (to which I should like to pay the highest tribute) we have simply forgotten over the years just how serious the situation is. Were it not for the Hunter Report or the Bledisloe Committee, or something else which was put into operation about a year ago called the Atlantic Salmon Reserve Trust, we simply would not know what is going on and how many fish are being destroyed.

I realise that I am going over the ground covered by some previous speakers but I am paving the way to say what can be done at home. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, dealt with the international situation. May I concentrade on the home front? As a desperate situation requires drastic remedies, I put forward the following proposals in order to maintain and thereafter increase salmon stocks as opposed to grilse. May I ask your Lordships to bear with me for a moment to differentiate between salmon and grilse? They are the same fish; one is the maiden fish entering the river for the first time to spawn and reproduce herself. But the grilse have different habits from the salmon. The grilse are not at risk. One gets large grilse runs in all the North-East rivers. They may well continue, as the Under-Secretary may have said in another place, referring to salmon as a species; but the spring salmon are rapidly reaching the point of no return. One has only to check on the records among any of the rivers on the North-East coast of Scotland to discover that fact.

I am going to try to keep off facts and figures—they become extraordinarily dull—but I can assure your Lordships that there are beats now on some of the most famous rivers that cannot be let for lack of fish, and this has been getting worse for the last four or five years. Whether you put it down to the Denmark Straits and the netting off the coast of Iceland is a question. I think it must stem from there; but spring salmon are simply not running our rivers any more. It is as simple as that. Grilse can come in later, but they have not the significance. If the Under-Secretary was an authority on fish he would know that unless grilse themselves produce grilse there are not any salmon left to breed spring salmon. It is an accepted fact that spring salmon breed spring salmon. In the noble Viscount's river on the Thurso the fishing has been immensely improved by getting them over from the Naver, one of the earliest salmon rivers in the Highlands or the Tay and the Garry. In the old days my father did not get away from Fort Augustus for Christmas; and they had a Christmas Day salmon—fresh salmon. These are things that everybody knows about who knows anything about salmon fishing and the history of this species. I suggest that one should bear in mind that grilse are not what we are talking about; that we are talking about salmon.

All the East Coast netting stations are back dated for seasonal opening from February 12 (the present date) until April 1. This is quite a useful proposal if we are serious about preserving the salmon stock as opposed to grilse. Before this debate I was in touch with the principal salmon factors in Aberdeen (Messrs. Scotsell who provide most of the fish for the London market) who confirmed what I have already been told: that for the last two seasons from the Aberdeen harbour authorities right round to Burg-head and as far up as Inverness the netting stations in that 140 miles of coastline caught less fish between February 12 and April 1 than did the rods in the rivers in the same area. This will be an astonishing fact to any of your Lordships who know that coast and know of the stake nets, jump nets, and others stretched along it, that the stations did not catch as many fish between February 12 and April 1 as did the rods fishing the few rivers in the same area. So there would not be an outcry by the fishermen: I think that most of them would welcome it. It is a particularly bad time of year to work sea nets on that exposed coast; there is floating weed and adverse weather conditions which break tackle and pull up the stakes and gear. I should like the noble Baroness to consider that suggestion very seriously.

My next point, which has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, concerns the flapping period at the week-end—the open week-end which, until 1952 was 36 hours and which has now become 42 hours. That could be extended to 48 hours. It would give all forms of fish a better chance of passing through the various machines devised for their destruction to go on up to the rivers for spawning purposes. At the other end of the scale (and we turn now not to the beginning but to the end of the season, when rod fishing is the order of the day: I think this a worthwhile contribution to the debate) I suggest that from 1972 the rod fishing season in all Scottish rivers should end on October 1. As a corollary to that I suggest that after, say, September 20, all gravid hen fish, which, as your Lordships know, are much the most voracious fish at that time of the year, should be returned to the river as soon as they are caught. I do not think there is any real pleasure in putting a gaff into a hen fish which is almost on the point of spawning. As one noble Lord has already pointed out, we could have expected 500 to 800 ova from every pound of fish so destroyed.

I suggest that river boards, tenants and proprietors should combine to put an end to the malpractice of bait slinging and body fishing which has become acceptable in so many Scottish salmon rivers since the war. Here I am treading on rather dangerous ground, because, although no minnow, prawn or plug bait is allowed on the Beauly, I have often heard tenants say, "We have got to do something to pay the rent to these voracious Highland landlords, and the only way we can catch salmon is by using a sand eel's tail"—or some other rather unworthy device which Is quite contrary to the best traditions of the river. I do not think that anyone, if directed to do so, would feel he had been greatly inconvenienced if he had to give up these practices and go back to the old ways. It is easier to catch salmon on a bait than with a fly, but there is nothing worse, I think, than seeing a fellow chucking a spoon across a fast pool which has been fished for centuries by a Spey cast, and the skill required to go with it to catch fish in cold water.

I suggest, further, that the Secretary of State should re-examine the whole question of pollution and purification boards. In Invernessshire, the county to which I belong—and the same applies to Ross and Cromarty—purification boards have never been set up because they never got further round the coast than Aberdeenshire or, maybe, Nairn and Moray; and as a result the pollution is gradually seeping along the Moray Firth. It is very difficult to persuade the burghs in that area to put up the rates to install purification systems in keeping with the needs of the day. I am afraid that provosts are very touchy people who resent their civil dignity being in any way questioned, either by landowners or by someone from the landward areas of the county. But it is an inescapable fact that pollution in a mild form exists all over the Moray Firth. It is unsafe to eat mussels caught between Burghead and Beauly because they are contamniated. Yet in the old days the strongest men in the parish grew up on a diet of mussels. This has come to an end, and sooner or later we shall have the same state of affairs as has prevailed on the Firth of Forth, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, when touching delicately on his Edinburgh background. The salmon can no longer run in the Forth into what was the river Tay, from the top of the Forth to the Trossachs, where I have caught many fish. A sailing man was heard to remark, when going on a jaunt up the Firth one day and past the Bridge, "I have sailed on the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the White Sea, but never on the W.C." And that is just about the form.

One cannot laugh at the risk to our fish population when one pauses to think of what has happened in the Great Lakes in Canada which are often referred to. These are vast inland waters where one cannot see land from one side to the other. Lake Eyrie is 75 miles to 80 miles wide, and no fish there are edible any more. They are all suffering from some sort of poisoning, which is picked up by a not very large population along the banks of that inland water. Even in the Baltic, in the Skagerrak, you are told not to eat fish in the restaurants; and the salmon and sea trout which literally paved some of the rivers cannot be fished for because they are not edible. They are contaminated by, I think it is, some form of mercuric poisoning. It is proposed to establish a petro-chemical consortium at Invergordon, but no safety provision has been made by the Ross and Cromarty County Council (I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Cromartie, will confirm this fact) because they want to get "money spinners" there. They are not interested in fishing or the future of the salmon. It is understandable, because the rates there are prohibitive, and I am sure the noble Baroness will take note—


My Lords, I must correct my noble kinsman. There is at the moment no sign of any petro-chemical complex arriving there. As we know, it has been talked about for many years. I can assure my noble friend Lord Lovat that we have this very much in mind. I can assure him of that as a member of the county council.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for his remarks, but let me tell your Lordships a little story, which is against myself, referring to Inverness County Council of which I am a member. A firm applied to build a certain sort of factory in Perthshire on the banks of the Tay. Permission was refused because of the pollution risk to the river, and immediately they came North and set up in Inverness. I am quite sure that when the time comes for a petro-chemical complex at Invergordon the noble Viscount will be the first to support it.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to address me properly? I am not a noble Viscount.


My Lords, I apologise. I make one last reservation: a criticism of the Hydro-Electric Board. Let me say straightaway that in the days of our greatest Secretary of State, Mr. Tom Johnston, and of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde who was Chairman of the Board, and who is present in the Chamber, no effort was spared to look after the salmon interests wherever possible. But one has to face the fact that these things are expensive and a hatchery at Invergarry which turned out 6 million ova, or had a potential for turning out 6 million ova, has reduced its throughput and has more or less handed over to the Ness Fishery Board. This seems a pity, but maybe it is not possible to catch fish to stock a hatchery.

But there are so many problems and so many kinds of rivers that one has to accept the fact that salmon are at a disadvantage in certain rivers where they cannot get up, and in others where they cannot get down. Certainly on the Beauly the smolt screen has been most unsatisfactory, and there is a marked reluctance to put these things right. Again I hope that the Secretary of State, even if he has to supply the finance to help the Hydro-Electric Board on this matter, will at least try—with the salmon being at such risk at the present time—to obviate some of the mistakes that have occurred. I am thinking of such things as letting oil down the river, where it destroys fry, or turning off the water so that the fry are sun-dried in the shallows or get caught out of their depth and then are dried out altogether. These are things that happen all the time, and they create enormous damage, often inadvertently. What is needed is very strict supervision.

Lastly, there is the question of damage by seals, which is much worse than people might realise. In the Moray Firth, we reckon that one seal eats two fish a day and there are never fewer than several hundreds of seals in the area. I am aware that some noble Lords have approved the idea of preserving this very remarkable animal, but there are limits, even in Conservation years.


My Lords, may I intervene for a second to correct an impression given by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, that the River Thurso takes stock from other rivers. To my knowledge, it has never taken stock from other rivers—certainly not in my lifetime, nor, I think in the lifetime of my father. The noble Lord said that it took stock from various other rivers, but of that I am not positively aware.


My Lords, I think it did from the Naver, about 45 years ago.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few minutes, because we have had some expert speeches from noble Lords with knowledge of this industry. I used to live, as Member of another place for East Aberdeenshire, within hail of five of the greatest salmon fishing rivers in the world and I had a free run of them all. I also had a certain amount of personal experience of the river with which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is associated, because I used to go to Dalnawillan every year before the war. I must tell your Lordships that in all those years I caught only one salmon. That was because I had not the necessary patience, and the rod was so heavy; but I am interested in salmon on that account.

We all ought to be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for raising this question. I think that it is not as the noble Lord, Lord Lovat tried to point out, a local problem. It is not a problem of the Hydro-Electric Board or what we should do about hatcheries or this or that. It is an international problem. I want to dwell on this point for a few moments, because I think it is important. We have already had it in our herring fishing industry. The Danes are to blame for this difficulty and I think we must face that fact. They have cleared the North Sea of herring by their absolutely ruthless fishing of immature herring for industrial processes. There is some herring off Shetland but none left on the Buchan Coast now and off Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The herring which we do get are grabbed by the Continent at very good prices. The herring are all now in the Minches, and they 'have been driven there by this ruthless industrial fishing on the part of the Danes. They are responsible for this situation and I think that we ought to blame them. Now they are doing the same thing to the salmon.

The salmon is a curious fish. I am not talking about grilse but about sea salmon, the Atlantic salmon. They swim across the Atlantic Ocean every year—I suppose just for the hell of it; I do not know why they want to do this but they do—and reach the coast of Greenland. There the Danes have been fishing them ruthlessly for the last three years with deep trawl nets. The salmon, if they were still alive (but they are not any more and therefore have no complaint to make), would swim across the Atlantic and go back to the rivers which they know and remember, to spawn. Our Scottish salmon fishing rivers are in very bad shape at the present time. It has been a terrible season up to date. The main reason for this, I am convinced, is that the Danes, who have no salmon rivers, have scooped up these salmon with these deep trawlers off Greenland, fished them so relentlessly that they simply do not get back to Scotland. It is important that we should bear this in mind. And if it goes on, within another 10 years what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said will be probably true: the Atlantic salmon will become extinct as a species.

I think we have to talk strongly to the Danes and to everybody else on the subject of fisheries. The forthcoming negotiations in Luxembourg will be of great importance. If we allow these foreign trawlers, with their destructive methods of fishing, to come in and base themselves in our ports and to fish, all protection is gone. We have to be as tough as hell about fishery policies. We have great advantages as against the Danes, because they are very dependent on us. We can hardly say to the Danes that we are sick of Danish bacon, because it is the best bacon—we all know it and buy it; but if we were to say that we were getting fed up with Danish butter and Danish bacon, that would make them sit up on this fishery business. They have already ruined the herring fishery industry in the North Sea and they are in process of steadily, remorselessly, relentlessly ruining the salmon fishing industry of this country. This is the real basis of the trouble. I have had some communication with the Danish Ambassador on this question. I do not say that we should impose sanctions. I do say that we should be tough.

The word on which I would like to conclude my remarks is the one used several times by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye; namely, conservation. That is the most important word so far as fisheries in this country are concerned. We have got it at the moment We must not give it up. We have got it in our inshore waters, and to a large extent but not completely to the right extent so far as our salmon fisheries are concerned. I go some of the way with the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, about the netting of fish, especially in North-East England, and I think that we should check that. But the main thing to bear in mind is conservation. If we do not conserve our fish supplies and breeding grounds, which in the case of salmon are far away beyond our control, though we can exercise some influence on the Danes, then we shall be in for a lot of trouble in the next 10 or 15 years.

We depend very much on the fishing supplies of this country, because we export a tremendous amount of fish to the Continent of Europe. The Community of the six is completely different from the Community of Ten, of which we may be one if we get in. The Ten will become exporters instead of importers of fish. The present Six are importers. There is no inland fishing in Denmark, Belgium. Holland or France that is worth speaking about. They are being rough about it because they have no great interest in it. The great coastline of this country is prolific in fish. Since we have established the present fishery limit, the inshore fishing industry has become extremely prosperous, and we must not give that up. This is all part and parcel of the same problem. I would say to the noble Baroness. Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, (and I am sure that she will sympathise with me) that on this fishery policy she has to be tough with the Danes, the Europeans and everyone, and say that we are going to preserve our breeding grounds, our fish and everything: we are not going to give them up.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like him perhaps to agree with me, so that the noble Baroness can hear, about the destruction of immature fish in our estuaries, because the Kessock herring, immature fish, are being killed out in the Inverness area, and, I am sure that this is wrong. I only make this point and ask the noble Lord to give his support, because I am 100 per cent. behind the inshore fishing. There is no question, of salmonidai also being destroyed when the bottoms of our river entries are rigged up.


The noble Lord has my full support.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is with some diffidence, as the only Englishman to venture to raise his voice here to-day, but with a certain amount of feeling of responsibility for what the Englishman in the South may be doing to the Englishman and the Scotsman in the North, that I speak in this debate. I come from a county where there are no rivers fit for salmon—not that they are polluted, but they are otherwise unfit—and my major connection with salmon is that in that county there is one of the largest smoking establishments, which I find conveniently adjacent and cheaper than getting it by post. But we always have caught a certain amount of salmon, formerly in trammels and not yet, I think, in drift-nets, and such of those as have been marked and recovered have been recovered from North-East England and East of Scotland rivers. It is quite clear that those who occasionally come up our rivers in Suffolk and that we catch off our coasts are that cohort of the salmon population which are travelling northward to their breeding grounds: and it is as important that they should be protected there as it is that they should be protected on their breeding grounds, because it is when that group in the life cycle of any species is at risk that the species is most at risk. I think those noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon so much about the fisheries in Greenland and the Danish Strait may well be harking up the wrong tree, and that the most important thing is to control the fisheries in our own country.

May I give an example? If your Lordships go into your gardens at the moment you will see a large number of small birds which, with perhaps 10 per cent. left, will have died before next year. If you go out and shoot half of those little birds to-day, it will not make one ha'p'orth of difference next year, because the sort of damage which you do to a population at that stage is not cumulative. You do not add to the total number killed already by cats, foxes or disease by those that you shoot. By and large, in any species the number taken between the time when it comes out of the egg or its mother's womb and the time it breeds is more or less the same. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, reminded us that the salmon lays between 5,000 and 20,000 eggs. If that salmon breeds only once, only two of those eggs have to be successful and come back to the river where they were laid; and if it breeds twice, only one. That is an enormous mortality rate. I do not believe that the addition of reasonably intensive fishing on the feeding grounds is going to make an enormous difference: it is not going to add to that mortality which they will already suffer between the time that the egg is laid and the time that the hen fish comes back to spawn with the cock. I do not believe that the mortality caused by reasonably intensive fishing adds to that which takes place to the egg which is washed away, the par which is eaten by a gooseander, the feeding fish which is eaten by a seal, a shark or a larger fish, or netted by a Dane.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? If he does not believe that too intensive fishing of immature fish has any effect, how does he account for the fact that during the last four or five years the North Sea has been denuded of herring altogether?


My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lord is as fond of herring as I am. I like those with roe in them. The great trouble is that the difference between your herring fishery in the North Sea and the salmon fishery off the Greenland coast is that at one stage you are killing the breeding stock, the herrings with roe in them, and at the other stage you are killing the immature salmon down to 11b., 21b. and 31b. in weight on their way to growing up to becoming adult. I do not want to stress this point too much, but I think it is important in our negotiations over fisheries that we do not make statements which can fairly easily be refuted by reference to what the ordinary ecologist knows about almost every species.

Fundamentally, if you are going to preserve an animal you have to preserve it at its breeding station and not at its feeding station. I know nothing about the laws which control salmon fishing in Scotland, and I know very little about what happens with river boards in England, but I do know that the river boards here have much more control over what goes on in the English rivers than there is over the Scottish rivers. I believe the important thing is to keep the salmon at the sort of level which it has been for many years past. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, referred to pollution. We are already beginning to see some of our rivers become fit for fish which have not lived there for perhaps fifty years. One hopes that more will become fit for salmon to run up again—rivers which have not been run up for the better part of a hundred years. We can do that only by controlling the salmon at the stage when they are coming up to spawn. That means not only in the rivers themselves, but round my part of the coast, 200 or 300 miles away from where they are ultimately going to spawn, certainly off the North-East coast of England and in the seas off the coast of Scotland. That is the stage where I think we should be controlling them, and that is the stage which I hope the noble Baroness who is going to reply will say that the Government are going to start controlling now. If we control that, I believe that the Atlantic fishing is something that we have to investigate and perhaps control, too, by international agreement. However, one despairs of international agreement when you see what has been done to the whales. But I think we could do most of it ourselves, and I hope that we shall not go attacking the Atlantic fishing when I believe that the remedy lies in our own hands.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, having heard this evening of the seriousness of the situation, and indeed of the very real threat to the continued existence of Atlantic salmon, of which noble Lords have spoken, surely no Member of your Lordships' House can doubt the urgent need for Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps, by international negotiations or otherwise, to remedy the existing situation. The Atlantic salmon is a great Scottish asset, and particularly so in that part of Scotland for which the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is responsible, not only for providing light and power but for doing everything possible to improve the social and economic conditions within its area of operations which, may I remind your Lordships, stretches North and West of a line roughly drawn between Dundee and Dumbarton. That is in fact about two-thirds of the land area of Scotland. The Board's first chairman was the right honourable Tom Johnston, the man to whom the people of Northern Scotland owe so much, for due to his vision, foresight and drive to-day they enjoy the amenities provided by having at their disposal practically unlimited supplies of electricity.

Mr. Johnston saw his task as more than providing electricity. He wanted the people of the North to enjoy the fullest possible life, and to that end saw that every asset the North possesses must be fully developed. One of these assets which could draw tourists to the North, provide employment and a greater flow of money, was fishing by rod in its many rivers; and so Mr. Johnston took steps to maintain and increase the salmon population. Among these steps was the setting up of hatcheries in suitable places, the largest of which, as mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Lovat, was at Invergarry. From these hatcheries fry were planted in the head waters of all the rivers in the area. In the year 1968–69 the number of fry planted amounted to 9,915,000; in the following year. 1969–70, the number fell to 3,143,000, and in 1970–71 it was 3,434,000.

In the Board's Annual Report for 1968–69 it is stated that there was a general decrease of about one-third from the number of fry planted in 1967, that being due to fewer fish entering the rivers from the sea and to the appearance of disease. But in 1969–70 and 1970–71 the number of fry planted fell by one-third of the number planted in 1968 which, as I have already said, was one-third less than in 1967. Here again, the Annual Report speaks of fewer fish entering the rivers and of the effect of disease. But in none of the reports is there any mention whatsoever of the closing down of any of the Board's hatcheries or of their being used below capacity. I have therefore assumed that the decline in the number of fry planted is due solely to fewer fish being available for stripping. If, on the other hand, it is not due to the fewer number of fish available but to the closing down of any hatchery, as stated by my noble friend Lord Lovat, at a time when every resource should be used to offset the effects of disease and excessive netting of salmon in West Greenland waters or elsewhere, that is deeply to be regretted.

One can only hope that in the existing circumstances the Board may see their way to ensuring that every obtainable ova is collected and that their hatcheries are used to capacity, thus offsetting to the greatest possible extent the threat to Atlantic salmon arising from over-fishing wherever that may be taking place, and so leading to the greater prosperity of the North of Scotland.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for giving us a chance to discuss what is a very important subject indeed. He has given us powerful views from his great knowledge, which I know well because we have spent happy days fishing together. I am afraid, however, that I must at the start of my remarks take issue with him when he suggests that my honourable friend, the Under-Secretary of State in another place, did not appear to realise the seriousness of the position so far as the Atlantic salmon is concerned. The noble Lord quoted from a recent Question and Answer, and I should like to quote exactly what the Question was. The Under-Secretary was asked whether he would not agree that by 1973 the Scottish salmon is very likely to be extinct. Therefore it is not surprising that my honourable friend replied: I do not share my honourable and gallant Friend's fears for the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 23/6/71: col. 6410–11] But he did say afterwards, when he was asked about Greenland: This gives us great cause for concern. I should like to say at the very start that when we look at the Question on the Order Paper it asks us in the first part whether Her Majesty's Government are aware of the serious risk that the Atlantic salmon could become an extinct species of fish unless urgent measures are taken in both home and international waters for conservation of stocks, and what action we propose to take. I would reply that certainly we are aware of serious risks to the Atlantic salmon, but we cannot say from the figures, which I shall quote to this House, that we believe that at this moment in time there is a likelihood of its becoming extinct. This is the point. But we certainly agree that we should take measures, both at home and overseas, to do the best we can for the conservation of stocks.

The salmon, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just told us, is a very great Scottish asset, not only for sporting purposes but also from an economic point of view. We are trying both within this country and overseas to secure measures which are effective to prevent the salmon from becoming too few in number for the safety of the species, which I think is the way I would put it to the House. As your Lordships will know, over the country as a whole there is no means of accurately measuring salmon stocks, because we do not know how many salmon return each year to their native rivers to spawn. The statistics of catches give us sonic idea of the position, and of course the Scottish statistics are collected annually by my Department from proprietors of salmon fishings and are published each year. Perhaps the noble Lords who have been good enough to take part in this debate will find the statistics interesting, because they are as up to date as I can get them. These figures show that, in spite of the effects of high seas fishing and salmon disease, the Scottish catches of salmon alone, excluding grilse, in the period from 1966 up to and including 1969 were well within the range recorded since 1952, and that exceptionally high grilse catches were recorded during the same period. I would say to my noble friend Lord Lovat that the grilse becomes the salmon: it is the same species.

The 1970 catch of salmon was without doubt very poor; but noble Lords with long experience in these matters will know very well that fluctuations can occur for many reasons, some of which are unknown to us, and it is perhaps safer to judge by periodical average figures. The average annual catch of salmon alone in the period 1966 to 1970 was 8,704 fewer than in the period from 1956 to 1960, when there was no high seas fishing and no salmon disease. The average annual catch of grilse from 1966 to 1970 was about 105,000 higher than the average for 1956 to 1960. If the catch of grilse and salmon is combined, the average annual catch of the species in Scottish rivers and coastal waters in the period from 1966 to 1970 was about 100,000 higher than between 1956 or 1960. I do not think the Scottish figures suggest that the salmon is near extinction, but that does not mean that I do not share the view, expressed by all who have spoken, that we have to do our very best for conservation both at home and overseas.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said that he thought that we should first set our own house in order. Indeed, the points made by my noble friend, who as an Englishman, was brave enough to speak in this debate, were, I thought, very interesting. He took the view that what we have to protect (if I quote him correctly) is the breeding station and not the feeding station. He spoke with enormous knowledge of the great mortality and hazards there are for salmon eggs. I will take in order first what we can do at home and then what we can do overseas. I take the point made by my noble friends Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Lovat, that some consideration should be given to limiting netting and shortening the period of fishing. We have been going quite closely into this question of period of fishing. The periods date from old Acts, and in many cases to alter them legislation would be required. This is the kind of thing we are considering in connection with the Hunter Report. Therefore perhaps this is the moment to say to this House, as I said when we debated the Order, that we will make an announcement without doubt within the period of the Order, and very much sooner than later. Noble Lords opposite, after all, had five years in which to consider this matter, but we know that we shall be very much quicker than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, and my noble friend Lord Lovat raised the question of pollution of rivers. I agree that this is an extremely important matter because I learned some rather dreadful facts when for five years I was Chairman of the Water Pollution Control Committee, under the British National Export Council. I think it true to say that the Prevention of Pollution Acts of 1951 and 1965 have done a great deal. They gave certain powers to river purification boards to control discharges into rivers and certain tidal waters. I think that some progress has been made, but it is perfectly true that the longer the pollution problem is left the greater is the cost involved. I think it also true that probably only over the last five years have people become personally concerned about pollution and contamination in all its forms. I think there is now a very much greater demand from the general public that industry, wherever it is established, should have to observe certain standards of discharge of effluents, as is necessary under legislation.

So we have, first, the kind of legislation necessary under the Hunter Report proposals. Then we must consider the question of drift-net fishing. The Order to which several noble Lords have referred, approved by this House in February of this year, extended the ban for two years for Scottish waters, but of course there is no similar ban off the coast of Northumberland and North-East England. It is true that drift-net fishing for salmon off Northumberland is a traditional fishery. It has been carried on for many years within three miles of the shore under licence from the Northumbrian River Authority and from three to twelve miles under licence from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but almost all the catch comes from within the three miles.

In the northern part of the area a net limitation order restricts the number of nets of all kinds to 70. Without an order in the southern part, licences are granted on request. I understand that last year 148 such licences were issued, and the total this year exceeds 240. The catches taken in this fishery within the three-mile area have greatly increased in recent years, from over 14,000 salmon and grilse in 1966 to 47,000 in 1969 and 86,000 in 1970. Last year, an additional 5,000 were taken beyond the three miles. It is therefore only too clear that these catches are not being taken from stocks belonging to rivers in the area, for there are no local rivers capable of supporting runs of this magnitude. That is why this increase is causing a very great deal of concern, not only among all those noble Lords who have spoken to-day, but particularly throughout Scotland, because it appears probable that the salmon are homing to Scottish rivers. I must say that I share very much the anxieties on this count which noble Lords have expressed to-day because this situation bears a strong resemblance to the one which developed off the Scottish coast until drift-netting was banned in 1962. But there are differences, and I think it only fair that I should make them clear. Fishing for salmon off England is a public right, and, as I said earlier, it is traditional. In a way it is the counterpart of the traditional fishing which we have, such as stake-net fishing, or what is called fish engine fisheries, in Scotland.

Up to last year there was no sign that this development was at the expense of the Scottish commercial catch because although the Northumbrian catches in 1968–69 were the highest recorded, the total Scottish and Tweed catches were also very good. The percentage relation which the average annual catch in England and Wales bore to that in Scotland did not differ very much over the years. However, in 1970 there was a very different position because, as I have said, there was a very large increase in the Northumbrian catches of salmon and grilse, and these were correspondingly accompanied by drastic reductions in Scottish catches. Whether or not any conclusions can be drawn from the performance of one year is, of course, debatable.

What is going to happen about it? I understand that the river authority has decided to make an order for the southern part of this area providing that not more than 40 licences shall be issued for all kinds of net fishing for salmon and migratory trout. This, of course, requires to be advertised and submitted for ministerial approval, and if there are objections a public inquiry has to be held. I cannot therefore say any more at this stage except that by-laws which are awaiting consideration following a public inquiry will also restrict the length of net to 600 yards. I particularly wanted to make this clear because several noble Lords have said how important it is that the aims of conservation should be the same both North and South of the Border, even if they are not exactly in the same terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked me about monofilament, and so did my noble friend Lord Lovat. The problem, when we are seeking to reduce costs and increase efficiency, is whether it would be right to ban monofilament. It is true that its use on the high seas has been banned or severely restricted internationally by agreement. This was part of a package deal in the particular circumstances of the high seas fisheries, and it may be that if we want additional controls in home waters the right way to deal with the problem will be to limit the catch. It is certainly true that there is a danger in the great growth of the use of monofilament, whether in drift-nets off England and Wales or in hang-nets in Scotland. It might lead to an expansion in the scale of netting or the catch taken by this method. Although there are powers in England and Wales to deal with the use of monofilament, no such powers are available to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. But we are considering, with very great care, how and whether we should take them.

My Lords, I should now like to turn to the international scene, on which the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, in particular, asked me several questions, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, also referred. There is a very real fear that the development of sea fisheries for salmon off Greenland and elsewhere will increase the exploitation of salmon to a dangerous level. That is why we are all here tonight. We have tried to secure effective restrictions, particularly off Greenland. The essence of the problem is that fishing takes place not only on the high seas and off Greenland but also inside their national fishery limits. Therefore we can only work within the international fisheries Commissions.

At the 1970 meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the International Commission for the North West Atlantic Fisheries, measures were agreed to restrict the sea fisheries off Norway and Greenland. The agreement reached for the North East Atlantic area lasts for 1971 and 1972. However, I am also glad to say that at this year's meeting we have been successful in securing the addition of a large closed area surrounding the United Kingdom and the Republic of Eire. This is roughly 160 miles East of Berwick, 200 miles West of Scotland and 100 miles North of Shetland. Within it fishing for salmon outside national fishery limits will be completely banned. I suggest that this should prevent the establishment of a fishery to exploit United Kingdom salmon—especially grilse—on their return routes to this country. This ban will be reviewed at the same time as the agreement reached in 1970.

As for the Greenland fishery, it became clear in 1969 that because of the growth in the catch taken within the 12-mile national fishery limit, a complete ban on high seas fishing applying outside that limit would be ineffective in curbing the growth of the fishery. Denmark, of course, continues to resist such a ban, but she agreed in 1970 to restrictions applying both outside and inside the 12-mile line, including a limit at the 1969 level on the tonnage of ships engaged in the fishery or in the amount of catch. This agreement was to operate this year and it has not yet, therefore, been tried out in practice, as the fishing there would start about August. This year's meeting of the North West Atlantic Commission took place early in June. The United Kingdom delegation went with an open brief to support the most effective arrangements for restriction on which agreement could be reached. We should have liked a tightening of the restrictions agreed in 1970, but it became plain that if we were to insist on this it would result either in no agreement at all or one which would be frustrated and ineffective from the start, because it was unacceptable to Denmark, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, seemed to know. The result of the meeting, therefore, was a proposal by the Commission that the measures agreed upon for 1971 should continue in operation for two more years, subject to review in the event of substantial changes in various factors.

The noble Lord who started this debate asked me whether it was a fact that the United Kingdom had abstained on any vote. It is a fact, but I should like to explain the circumstances, and perhaps the noble Lord and the House will support us in what we did. At the 1971 meeting of the North West Atlantic Commission Canada proposed that the arrangements approved in 1970 for operation in 1971, which included limitations on tonnages of vessels or catch, a close season and a ban on the use of monofilaments, should be continued, but with two changes: first, a cut back in the number of vessels employed, or in the catch, to 80 per cent. of the level of 1969; secondly, a limit of eight nautical miles on length of nets fished at any one time from any one vessel. The Danish delegation could not accept this proposal. It felt unable to consider new restrictions until the effect of those agreed last year for this year had been studied. The United Kingdom delegation made it clear that it was in favour of greater restrictions on the Greenland fisheries, but saw no point in supporting the proposals which were unacceptable to Denmark and the other countries engaging in the fisheries, because this would result in no obligation to apply any restrictions at all. It was in these circumstances that the United Kingdom delegation abstained from voting on the Canadian proposal.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness one question? Why did not we turn the heat on the Danes?


My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, the whole point of these international commissions is to try to get these restrictions, or these conservation measures, by agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, said in his opening speech. He said that we can influence but we cannot impose. Therefore, there was a certain degree of justice in the Danish remark that the agreements to which they had promised to adhere for 1971 had not yet been put into practice because of the fishing season, and they would rather see how this had worked out in practice. Therefore the answer to the second question which the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked me is that these arrangements were ratified.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that we did not get everything we wanted, the arrangements for the North West Atlantic seem to me to be important on two counts: first, the Danish Government accepted the principle of restrictions applied inside as well as outside national fishery limits, and to confine any measures to the sea outside these limits would not necessarily limit the growth of the fisheries. Secondly, there are signs that the growth may have been checked even before the arrangements take effect. I say, "may have been checked" because I was asked the total of the catch. In 1969, the total catch at West Greenland by all methods and nationalities amounted to 2,210 metric tons. In 1970, the figure is thought to have declined slightly to 2,146 metric tons. This is before these new restrictions, or conservation measures, had been brought into effect.

As part of the international scientific investigations into the fisheries the Joint Working Party of Scientists, the chairman of which is my Department's Director of Fisheries Research, concluded in 1970 that a catch of about 2,200 metric tons at West Greenland would result in losses ranging somewhere between 1,100 and 2,700 metric tons in all home water stocks, and between 650 and 1,600 metric tons in all home water catches, the largest proportion of losses being experienced in Canada and the United Kingdom. Without doubt these figures are formidable. But I think that from the latest figures we have we can perhaps consider them as upper limits. What we have to do now, through the measures I have put before your Lordships, is to increase our efforts to reduce them. But I would also suggest that these figures, when taken together with the levels of the catch in home waters, do not show that the species is heading for extinction. This is very important, because this of course was the burden of the Question as framed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye.

On research, I should like to say, briefly, how much I think this House and everyone appreciates what is being done upon the River Thurso. I myself found it quite fascinating and should like to know the reason why, when the total number of fish was 2,069 the catch was 22 per cent., and when it was 3,297 the catch was 10 per cent. It is only an indication how little we know about this most remarkable and fascinating species. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, gave us some very interesting comments on the research side. And I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that I am glad that he was able to tell this House how much the Hydro-Electric Boards have done to try to improve the stocks in the rivers on which they have a claim.

My Lords, I think I should end this debate by referring to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, concerning the negotiations that are to take place on July 12 concerning fisheries policy. I think I have never heard the noble Lord make a speech without referring to herring, so I would bring him back to the fact that this is a debate on the salmon. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that in Scotland the right of salmon fishing is a private right, and that it extends three miles out from the shore. This in itself is a safeguard—I am speaking only of salmon. Beyond this, of course, the United Kingdom proposal to the Commission would reserve to British boats our exclusive fishery limits, extending out to six miles from the base line. I think there has been a little confusion between the exclusive rights up to six miles and the fishery rights of the possible Ten members between six and twelve miles. Off Scotland, the prohibition we have imposed on fishing for salmon within our present national fishery limits extending out to twelve miles from base lines applies to all British boats, and as a non-discriminatory measure could be continued and would apply to all Community vessels fishing in that area if it were done under regulations for conservation purposes. This is very important.

I would end this debate, my Lords, by thanking all those who have taken part, and in particular the noble Lord who has given us the opportunity to debate this subject, and to assure him that, as a member of the Government, I can say that we in the Scottish Office are determined to do everything we can, both at home and overseas, to conserve this very great national asset.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her to answer three rather important questions she has left out? One is the slapping period at the weekend. The second is the suggestion about cutting the netting season to April 1, and the third is about ending the rod fishing season on October 1.


My Lords, I did in a general way, reply to all those points. In fact, I referred particularly to altering the netting times, and perhaps limiting the netting off the coast, in the very first of my remarks. I said that it would need legislalion because I found that the dates for each district in Scotland were originally fixed by Commissioners acting under the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Acts 1862 and 1868. The Acts empower district boards to petition the Secretary of State for changes in the dates of the annual close season; but no change is possible, of course, in districts where boards do not exist. But I should also say that where they do exist no petition has been received and therefore legislation is needed. I also referred to the fact that we were considering this matter in relation to the Hunter Report.