HL Deb 11 December 1974 vol 355 cc735-68

8.4 p.m.

Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of dangers to survival of the Atlantic salmon through steadily decreasing stocks in salt and freshwaters of Britain they accept the need for urgent action nationally and internationally to conserve the species. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the hour is late but the subject is important. Your Lordships are always tolerant to new speakers and therefore I thought tonight the best thing I could do would be to ask your Lordships to allow a salmon to address your Lordships' House from the Bar and tell us a little of her experiences in relation to the issues raised in my Question. After asking for the indulgence of your Lordships' House, the salmon would go on to say this: I am a member of a hard-pressed species whose survival is threatened, a species of great importance nationally. From time of hatching to time of departure to the world of fish beyond, I have to contend with enemies of nature and man. Nature I must accept, but man has it in his power to destroy or preserve and it is to man I appeal tonight for action to ensure my survival. You protect wildlife, such as birds, by law; forbid gin traps,el cetera. Why not protect me to the extent that you give the others protection?

This salmon would tell a harsh history of hard struggle. I can mention only some of the issues with which she would have to struggle, but no doubt other speakers may touch upon different ones. The salmon would go on to say: In my fourth year I swam to the feeding grounds of Greenland, and there I and my fellow fish were ravaged by Danish netting depredations.

May I interrupt my salmon for a moment and say that the Danes, who produce no salmon from Danish rivers except one, must be held accountable for much of the Atlantic salmon stock reductions from which we are suffering at the present time. The Danish Government signed a North East Atlantic Agreement giving maximum quotas. In 1972 the Danes exceeded by 20 per cent. the quota they had agreed. In 1973 they exceeded by 43 per cent. the quota they had agreed, and now they are asking for more. It seems to me clear that the Danes have no intention of keeping to the agreements that they have previously signed. Canada and the United States have taken firm steps, but I feel that Her Majesty's Government are reluctant to be firm and tough with the Danes by taking unilateral action, but are wishing to confine their activities to backing up Canada and the United States, whereas I think we should take action ourselves.

Coming back to my fish, she will now continue her history: Next, I swam down the East coast of Britain within United Kingdom territorial fish limits. Thanks to the action of your Lordships' House some years ago, I met with no drift netting off Scotland; but when I came to the Northumberland coast I and my fellow shoal of salmon met extensive netting by whole-time netsmen and part-time hobby nets-men in an area where the intensity of netting is virtually unrestricted as to catch or instruments used. Here we had to contend with what should have been, and must for the future's sake be, prohibited—the use of monofilament nets, invisible to the fishes' eyes and terrible in their toll of catch, and in damage to the fish which escape those nets.

My Lords, here is a real and urgent need which can be met by the use of powers already existing. May I remind your Lordships that in Northern Ireland, by the Foyle Area Order of 1966, and in the Republic of Ireland, by an Order of March 1971, mono-filament nets are prohibited. In England, river water authorities already have powers to prohibit under Section 5(2)(f) of the Salmon and Freshwater Act 1972, while in Scotland special powers are needed. Yet when the Salmon and Trout Association sent a delegation this summer to the Ministry, all that the Minister—who was then Mr. Buchan—would say was that his officials were carrying out further researches into the effect of mono-filament nets on salmon and sea trout stocks.

My Lords, that really is not good enough. Our salmon would say, "Please, oh please, let your Lordships have a clear answer today that action shall be taken on this vital safeguard to our future." The salmon would then go on to say, "When I reached the estuary of my river I met too many nets, far too many nets, too long on the water, and these must be reduced if I and my species are to be allowed to survive." She would then say, "Please, please, give the river water authorities more power and freedom to control estuary nets, particularly when either by drought or water extraction the river level falls below a predetermined measure. Barely did I enter the river of my birth when I met pollution, and many of my brothers and sisters turned away from rivers, such as the River Don and other rivers I could mention, where the water is so foul that the fish cannot enter except in a flood." She would say," Please do something.

"My Lords, here I know that there is often a conflict between industrial process needs and purity, but are the Government active, and ruthlessly determined that purity shall have priority when there is that conflict between industry and purity? I admit that much has been done by the Act against pollution, but more is needed and I hope that tonight the Minister will tell us that the river water authorities will receive full support for all measures, irrespective of their immediate industrial effect, to get our rivers cleaner.

Our fish struggles up the river and has to face lure and fly operated by rod fishermen. "I think", says the fish "that this is an acceptable risk, when I remind your Lordships that in England 12 fish are taken by net for every one by rod ". She reminds us that in Scotland seven fish are taken by net for every one on a rod. Finally, our fish will plead for a river properly maintained and policed. Of course, I know that more money is needed for that, but our fish would draw attention to ways in which greater revenue could be obtained. In England and Wales, licence fees average 15p per fish for netsmen. They average £6.31 for rod fishermen. Of course, I admit at once that netting is commercially necessary and is part of rightful culling, but—and I wish no conflict between nets and rods—I ask for greater justice between the two in the interests of the fish.

So at last our salmon reaches her spawning ground to fulfil her natural function of reproduction. Our salmon thanks your Lordships for their attention to her tale. She asks Her Majesty's Government to take note of her difficulties of survival, and of the steps she has just outlined to aid her in her preservation. The salmon leaves the Chamber with a last flick of her tail and quiver of her gills, and with howls of anguish at the danger she has had to face to get here tonight, and pathetically asks for a greater measure of protection in the future.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I am very glad this evening to rise to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. He has been assiduous in raising this important matter of the threat to the survival of the salmon over many years. Indeed, in preparation for this debate this evening I read the report of a similar debate on an Unstarred Question raised by my noble friend in 1971. With the passage of time, the matter has become even more urgent.

I must confess that I rise with very considerable diffidence to speak this evening as the only lay person among a large number of experts, but I do so as one who is concerned about the environment and, in particular, about the conservation of any threatened species of wild life. I believe it to be very important that those people who, like myself, have never in their lives attempted to catch a salmon—and, indeed, are most unlikely to do so in the future—should express their concern at what is happening to the salmon species. For this is a matter not simply for the sportsman and his interest, nor indeed for the wider interest of tourism and recreation, nor indeed for the fisherman and his important livelihood; nor indeed is it important simply because it it a vital source of protein in a world that is short of food—for I believe that the survival of any species is a matter of importance to us all.

At this moment, very many members of the public would be most concerned were they to be fully aware of the facts and of the real danger which salmon are in today. For if there is one issue which is very much in the forefront of public attention at present, particularly of the youth of the country, it is that unless care is taken certain species of wild life may become extinct, just as many historic buildings and beloved landscapes can disappear almost before anyone knows what has happened.

Therefore, I should very much like to support the whole thesis of my noble friend's remarks, but perhaps I might go on to one aspect of this matter which has been drawn to my attention. I believe it supplements the information of my noble friend Lord Balfour about the Danish fishing off Greenland, and the netting of salmon around the coasts and in the river estuaries. As I understand it, Irish fishing vessels have been engaged in drift netting for salmon off the North-West coast of Ireland. The fishing is taking place some 30 to 40 miles offshore, thus well beyond the 12-mile limit. Such fishing is contrary to the agreement of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, to which Ireland is a party, which established a "box" around the British Isles; that is, a line on a map giving a 200-mile radius around Great Britain and Ireland in which fishing for salmon should not be allowed. Such fishing is, of course, permitted within the 12-mile limit, but not in this area between the outer boundary of the 12 miles and the outer edge of the "box".

My Lords, the great fear of those who are aware of all the facts is that it may well be that the Irish fishing vessels have found the feeding grounds of grilse in the Atlantic and are thus killing off the one sea winter fish in their feeding grounds.

If this is so, then the future of this species is at stake, for of course there will be fewer each year to go up the rivers to spawn. Again, the situation is made worse because, as I understand it, two and three sea winter fish are caught in very large numbers off the coast of Greenland, and in consequence there are ever-diminishing numbers of salmon in the rivers of Scotland. What cannot fail to escape the attention of someone like myself is that if a species is being overfished it will disappear and then we shall all be the losers—not just the sportsmen or the fishermen or even the consumers of salmon, but all humanity is the poorer because one species has disappeared. Nor do I think this to be simply alarmist talk. Having listened to my noble friend, I am sure that he has given enough statistical information to substantiate these facts.

My Lords, I will not take up more time of the House explaining a case which others far more expert than I am can do more effectively. I would conclude my remarks by asking three questions. If it is a fact that drift netting is taking place off the Irish coast to the extent to which it is said to be. and to the extent to which it is said to be endangering the species of salmon, first, will the Government press the Government of Ireland to stop the drift netting of salmon off the Irish coast; that is, to stop this fishing within the box as defined by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, a body to which the Government of Ireland is a party? Secondly, will they at the same time also ask the Government of Ireland to allow their fishing vessels to be searched, if need be, by the fishery protection vessels, which I believe is not allowed at present? Thirdly, will they recognise the urgency of this problem and make their representations soon, before the next season starts in April? There is an urgency about this, as of course the salmon are most at risk in the summer season. I hope very much, my Lords—and I speak for many others who are interested in the wider aspect of conservation—that Her Majesty's Government will undertake to act quickly on the matters raised by this important Question this evening.

8.23 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords. I, too. am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has raised this Question.

I must begin by declaring an obvious interest which I always declare upon these occasions—that I am interested in the management and, indeed, in the ownership of the Thurso River from source to sea, from the sea nets to the spawning beds. Having said that, I may slightly disappoint some of the angling fraternity by saying that I do not share their despair and do not accept that there is a steadily decreasing stock of salmon in the salt and fresh waters of Britain; and I do not think that this is a situation which applies to the Thurso River—and I can prove that part.

It is over ten years since Lord Hunter was asked to set his Committee in motion to report upon suggestions for change in the law affecting salmon in Scotland. It is over ten years since ulcerated dermal necrosis, or UDN, salmon disease, call it what you will, was first noticed in Eire. It is about seven years since UDN reached its peak, and it is over ten years since the Danish fishery began to bite upon the salmon stocks around the coast of Greenland and in the open sea. If I look back over the last twenty-five years' river catches on the Thurso River, figures for which I have here with me, month by month, I see that the average annual catch during the whole of the 1950s was 739 fish to the rods; the average catch during the 1960s was 1,337 fish to the rods. This dropped slightly in the 1970s, of which, of course, we have had only five years if we include 1970, to 1,102 fish to the rods.

If we look back to 1968 and add into the rod catches on the Thurso the estuary catches, this is the situation—I am not going to tell your Lordships my own personal and professional secrets; I am going to turn the estuary catches into what I am pleased to call fish equivalents, and your Lordships will have to accept that my fish equivalents are reasonable. I can give the assurance that I have applied the same fish equivalent in each year, so statistically they will not make any difference to the figures. If we go back to 1968, when UDN was rife, when the Danish fishery was rife, when sea fishing for salmon off the West Coast of Norway was running at the rate of 300 tons a year, and when all sorts of fearful things were supposed to be happening to the salmon—in that year we caught a fish equivalent on the Thurso River of 1,358. In the following years the figures went up to 3,532 and then 4,248; dropped slightly in 1971 to 2,434; rose again in the following year to 4,305; dropped again in 1973 to 2,831; and rose in the past season, 1974, to 3,884.

I submit that our catches, if looked at as a combined return of the stocks of the salmon species to our river, have not diminished and that they are not, in fact, affected by the operations which are taking place off Denmark. They are not affected, I am glad, lucky and most grateful to be able to say, by salmon disease, which is a great boon and great: blessing to our river, but for which we can take no credit; it is a blessing that comes from Nature to our river. I would conclude from my experience with the catches on the Thurso that by far and away the most important factors are the state of the water, the state of the management within the nursery ground, the fact that one is able to look after the nursery stocks, and that one is able to keep the river clear of pollution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned that if a species is over-fished it will disappear. I would say that it is not so much whether a species is over-fished as at what point it is over-fished. We have to be as careful about where we fish, and how we go about it, as we have to be about the the total amount of fishing effort we put in. The greatest danger to the species, as I see it, is the danger of pollution. We have seen this, I much regret to say, upon the River Don in Scotland where gross and disgusting pollution was allowed to take place, virtually unchecked, and where enormous damage was done to the salmon stocks at the dangerous point—the point of actual return to the river to spawn. On the other hand, so far as the stocks of salmon in Britain as a whole are concerned, I think we must congratulate our river boards, and our river board scientists particularly, on the first-class efforts they have made to clean up the rivers of Britain all the way around our coasts.

I am particularly glad to see a stray salmon nosing her way into the estuary of Old Father Thames, and so pleased am I to see this that I have written this week to the Thames Water Authority offering them a small free supply of salmon alevins which I should be delighted personally to put in the Thames from the Thurso, in the hope that they may return as a stock of fish to this mighty river. I hope that this offer will be taken up. It will at least help to prove some of the good work which the scientists and the Board are doing on the Thames.

However, my Lords, having said all this, I accept that this particular resource for salmon must be guarded most carefully. It is a resource that helps us in many ways, a resource which gives sport and pleasure to anglers—one of the biggest participant sports, we are told, in the whole of the sporting calendar of this country, if not the biggest.

Lord HOY

My Lords, the noble Lord has made this point, and I am not disputing it. But perhaps he might tell us the cost to the angler.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it is a great deal cheaper to fish many rivers than it is to go for a ski-ing holiday. I can offer the noble Lord some fishing if he would like to have it, complete with hotel accommodation and everything else (I have declared my interest) and he can keep the fish he catches, which he can estimate to be anything from 40p to 100p a pound in value, for, shall I say, at a good time of the year, around £40 for a week's stay, which is not excessive by any standards. That would include his hotel, but it would not include his drinks bill. However, I must thank the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity to put in such a good commercial "plug".

There are certain areas where salmon fishing is expensive, but it is not an expensive sport in terms of the enjoyment that one gets out of it. It is within the reach of most people who wish to follow it. It is no more expensive, for instance, than taking up ski-ing. Apart from that it provides a source of food, a source of livelihood, to a great many people, and a source of tourism business which brings in foreign currency and so forth, so it has a certain value to us which is worth preserving. Therefore, it is important for us to look after it properly. This means looking at those things which require to be attended to, not getting over-excited, or over-depressed, about what is happening, but looking at it with a long view and trying to improve the assets we have.

Here I would agree that the mono-filament net is a danger which could cause considerable damage. There is evidence that in areas where the mono-filament net is used it does considerable damage, and I would accept that. Luckily, it is confined to certain areas of the coast and I think we should ask Her Majesty's Government to look at this point. I am sure that their advisers will state that the mono-filament net is a danger, and if it is possible to devise a means of banning its use and making it illegal this should be done.

We also have to recognise that a great deal has changed in the decade since the Hunter Committee looked at the problem of the Atlantic salmon. For one thing, salmon are now being reared from birth to commercial stage in cages under control, hand fed, and this will have an even bigger repercussion on the trade in salmon, and, indeed, through the repercussion on the trade, also upon the salmon rivers themselves, than is the Danish fishery. It would be possible for the people who are at the moment undertaking the rearing of salmon on the West coast of Scotland to upset the apple-cart, if they invested the kind of capital in this which they might wish to do. As they rear these salmon and bring more salmon on the market they have to look over their shoulders to find new markets, in case they upset the normal balance of trade in salmon caught off our coasts.

I would emphasise to your Lordships that the salmon which are caught around the coasts and in the estuaries of the rivers are an important part of the whole business of running our salmon rivers. For instance, the netsmen pay towards the district fishery boards which at the moment control what is done upon salmon rivers in Scotland, and many of the people who work in the tourist industry as ghillies and so forth, and indeed on other jobs up and down rivers, find part of their remuneration and employment by working on the sea nets. Therefore it is a hand-in-hand business. The people who derive their interest, their livelihood, their hobby or whatever it is from the river are also interested in the sea netsmen, and the sea netsmen must be interested in the river because that is the goose which for them lays the golden egg.

Therefore, although I do not take quite so gloomy a view as others about the future of the salmon species, I feel that we are at a point where we would do well to look into progress since Hunter reported. If one looks at the Hunter Report today in the light of what we know ten years later, we find that much of what was reported there has been outdated by the passage of time and by the accumulation of new knowledge on the subject. Whatever else Her Majesty's Government may intend to do, before they suggest bringing legislation to this House or any other place they would be well advised to have the Hunter Committee Report updated by a fairly searching inquiry, taking into account both scientific progress and practical progress in knowledge about the rearing of salmon off the West coast of Scotland, and before deciding to change the law in a way that already may be outdated when the change takes place. I feel it is time that we brought a few points up to date with regard to salmon law, but I do not take a gloomy view. Indeed, I take an optimistic view about the salmon species and I hope that I shall be proved to be more right than others.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on initiating this debate. Second wicket down is always a nice place to be in the batting order because we have heard two widely diverging views on the same problem. Both noble Lords are experts in their own field. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, maintains that salmon stocks have not been diminished, while the mover of the Question has made it perfectly clear that they have been diminished. I am siding with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on this matter because I think that the noble Viscount on my right has confused salmon and grilse. It is perfectly apparent to anybody who studies this matter that it is the salmon which are being killed off the South coast of Greenland and that the grilse are probably spawning in some other part of the sea; and so far their habitat has not been discovered. The Danes are obviously taking a hammering in the way of criticism—and deservedly so.

My Lords, I will not blind you with figures tonight; I am not so up-to-date as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inch rye, on this matter. The last figure I obtained was the perfectly horrifying one, that in the 1968 season there were 1,593 metric tons of salmon caught off Denmark, which amounts to 1,350,000 fish. Canada maintains that that is 50 per cent. of the total availability of salmon that formerly ran up the rivers of the New World, in which I include the Maritime Provinces of Canada and certain rivers of the United States. However, I want to confine my remarks to the home front tonight; I think that too often they are getting away with some of the crimes which are committed unseen in the British Isles. For what it is worth, my message is simply this: if you want to catch more, you have to fish less. This is an old axiom and saw, and I think that I might follow it by saying that if we want to have dinner we shall have to speak a bit faster.

On the home front there is a real danger of not appreciating the fact, which is now fully accepted in the world, that every river and, indeed, every country, should be responsible for its own fish stocks. The oceans should not be regarded as limitless seas, but simply as currents of wide rivers running between countries as opposed to rivers running between towns and villages. If one accepts that conception of fish life in the seas, I think that we can do a more realistic job than we are doing at present.

My Lords, I have recently returned from Canada and know something about the big Canadian rivers. They consider that we are doing a wholly inadequate job in backing them up by overruling this small nation which, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has rightly said, has no rivers of its own and has defied the majority opinion on numerous occasions. We have always won a two-thirds majority in the conferences which have been convened to protect the Atlantic salmon; but Denmark has held out, and for 1975 the quota has been reduced by assurance, with the threat of reprisals from the United States. I hope that we as a nation will support the United States of America and Canada, who are looking not so much for a lead as for firm support. That is my first question of the Government. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, what the Government propose to do in 1975 when there would appear to be the possibility of a showdown on this matter. The word "sanction" is possibly too strong, but I can think of a great many farmers in the United Kingdom who would be delighted to see fewer Danish eggs and sides of bacon coming into the country. However, I am not pressing for that; I am only saying that in passing.

My Lords, the laws of Scotland are different from those of England, but common sense on fish protection is of immense importance and could be applicable to both countries. The speech which the noble Viscount made about his own river can possibly be capped by my own experience, but I do not think I will go too deeply into that. One can only judge by trends in salmon rivers, and one cannot fly off the handle over short periods of time because there are enormously different trends in different rivers. Very briefly, I can tell your Lordships some of the experiences on the Beauly where we have kept records since my grandfather's day; they go back to 1925 and every fish has been recorded. In one of the Jungle Stories Kipling wrote a line of doggerel which I think applies to fishing although the story was about a crocodile. It ran something like htis: In August was the Jackal born, The rains came in September, Now such a fearful flood as this, Said he, I cant remember". This applies very much to fishing in the abstract sense. When my grandfather succeeded to the river which is in the hands of the one family, the Beauly was literally paved with salmon. You could net them, as indeed was done, night and day. My grandfather caught 156 fish in five days' fishing, with, on the best morning, 33 fish being caught before breakfast. Those figures are not realised any longer. My grandfather did not even use waders; he fished with his kilt flowing round him in the cold water.

In those days there was no railway station in Inverness. There were no coastal nets along the Moray Firth and the fish spawned and multiplied without interference. When my father succeeded, the river had already been netted almost to the extent of killing out the fish stocks. When he came back from the South African War he immediately built two hatcheries, one of which has always since been kept in production. The sec ond thing he did was to buy up the estuary nets between Inverness and Beauly and the Inner Moray Firth, which is known as the Beauly Firth, and between those two things the river was entirely restored. I am glad to say that that was the position when I succeeded in 1933. However, it has been considerably damaged by hydro-electric schemes. I am not criticising the Hydro-Electricity Board at all. They have done everything they can to help in getting the fish to the upper water to spawn, but large stretches of spawning beds have been flooded by head ponds and the fish have difficulty in making it up river. However, the river still remains fairly prosperous in the fish sense.

The point that I want to make is an important one, and I come back to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. The spring salmon have gone and the spring salmon have been caught in Norway. We do not get spring salmon in the Beauly any more, although we possibly catch more fish than on the River Thurso. Another interesting point about hatcheries—I am speaking against myself here, because I am a great believer in hatcheries—is that you cannot catch spring salmon which breed spring fish. An interesting fact is that if you cannot catch spring salmon you have to catch autumn salmon, and if you catch autumn salmon they produce autumn fish. Therefore you are setting the cycle back the wrong way round. After the Beauly closes, which is in mid-October, you catch them up for spawning in November, and you find November fish are coming into the river two months after the fishing season is over. This is something which all the fishing experts hope will gradually mean, if one lives long enough (and none of us will see the day), that the fish coming back now in December may well be springers in two or three hundred years' time; they may be catchable in rivers by the 1st February or thereabouts. However, this is a wild conjecture. The fact remains, my Lords, that the salmon has disappeared in the North-East of Scotland and this is what the debate is all about. They are being caught somewhere, not only in the South of Greenland but in the Faroes and also off the North coast of Norway. For a long time Norway thought that she had "got away with it ", but now they are being caught there just as badly as anywhere else.

My Lords, if I may be critical, the speakers who have spoken so far have possibly not made sufficiently constructive suggestions, and I should like to make one or two which could be noted down for consideration by the Government. The first question I have already asked; namely, whether, as regards restricting the quota, we are going to support the United States of America in the showdown with Denmark which is to take place in 1975.

In Scotland I suggest that the Government should curb and control pollution. After all, if you are looking after your fish it is no good spending money on them if they are not going to get back up the river or the smoult and parr are destroyed in the first and second years of their existence. Here again, Canada are positive that not sufficient intelligence is shown in looking after one's own interests. There are four forms of pollution: first, there is air pollution. Four billion tons of combusion-contaminated air descend on the water in the United Kingdom every year. Then there is riverborne pollution. Several speakers have mentioned that the Don, which was once a splendid salmon river, has been destroyed in recent times. Thirdly, there is dumping at sea, which is the most unattractive thing of all; and finally there is new development of natural resources. I speak particularly of oil in the North-East of Scotland. At Invergordon there is the possibility of an oil refinery, which is naturally very welcome, but just think of the spillage which could happen in the Cromarty Firth when a cargo is being discharged. The whole of the Moray Firth basin would have a film of oil on it, destroying all fish life, and there is probably no true form of protection in a matter of this kind. I am well aware of this because I am a county councillor and the council have continually asked for guidance.

I should like to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the Government might think along the lines of security for salmon affected by inshore poaching. Both the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, have referred to the dangers of the monofilament net. This is a very important point, indeed the most important after pollution in the rivers themselves. Salmon used to swim out of nets—they saw them coming—but they cannot do that any more and with fish making £3.50 a pound at Easter there will be a lot of smart fellows going out in motorboats on enclosed waters and picking the fish out of the Moray Firth area and all the enclosed waters of the North-East coast. In fact we know this is going on but no fishery board has the finances to go out and deal with the matter.

Here I will stop pestering the Government and make six points, which are important ones, for proprietors and river boards. None of these points will go down awfully well because they all mean certain sacrifices, but again I think they are full of common sense. Some I have learned from experience myself and some I have learned from Canada. It might astonish your Lordships to know that great rivers like the Oristicute and the Kaskapedi and places whose names have a ring which makes any fisherman's hair stand on end with the immense possibilities of going to fish there, have reduced their rod-caught limits to two fish a day in the Province of Quebec and only four salmon in New Brunswick. This is an extraordinary thing to hear in this country, where we catch as many as we can on all occasions.

On the thinking of Canada, who are now restoring their fish stocks by drastic methods, I would suggest six points for home river boards to consider in regard to our own rivers in this country. I suggest that river proprietors and river boards should do the following to conserve fish stocks and perhaps get back spring salmon into their rivers: first, buy up estuary netting stations; second, if the opening dates were put back on a river there would be a better chance of spring salmon getting back into it; third, to prevent fishing with baits in pools and water where a fly could swim. I am getting a little verbose, but too many rivers have been spoilt by bait slinging. For example, a river like the Spey, which was never fished except by fly is now commonly treated in this way. The best pools are raked with minnows, prawns, sand eels, and so on, and of course the answer is an obvious one. They say, "Oh, we have to pay the rent to you, the avaricious Highland proprietor". That may be true, and it may be that the rent should come down, but there is no justification for slinging a bait into a fast flowing salmon stream. As all your Lordships know, it is very much easier to catch salmon with a bunch of triangles attached to a minnow than it is to cast a fly, particularly when the water is cold. So that is my suggestion, for what it is worth: the date of the opening of the season to be put back.

The fourth point is that hen salmon should be returned to the river after the middle of September. This is something which anyone can do. It is a sad thing to see a fine female fish full of eggs being knocked on the head after the middle of September, but it does happen and it is unsporting and inconsiderate. I am sorry to say that on one of the last days on the Beauly on the home beat this year, I walked down the bank and found the tenants with 17 fish, eight of them being hens. All had been knocked on the head, I suppose to be sold to help pay the rent. In Canada they have a sixth suggestion, and curiously enough it is the one that they reckon serves fish stocks better than any other. Your Lordships will never guess what it is, unless I tell you. It is simply to prevent any rod fish by law being sold across the counter in a fishmonger's shop. That stops the competitive spirit and it probably saves a lot of hen fish in the late autumn.

I see my noble and gallant kinsman Lord Fraser of Lonsdale is due to speak at the end of the debate. He is a man who can catch more fish without the use of his eyes than most of us can with both of them. The other day I read a rather charming poem in a Canadian paper and I should like to read it out to your Lordships because it sums up everything that Lord Fraser stands for, who remembers the great salmon rivers when he was a younger man. Cast a fly upon that surface, see the great majestic rise Shatter air and sky and water as the mighty fish replies, As the salmon leaps and plunges, every glinting scale ashine; Then the river plays its music on the taut and humming line. Still we hear that ringing music, know each day lived with that stream That enwrapped us in its magic was it real—or did we dream?

8.58 p.m.


My Lords, I also back the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and my noble friend Lord Lovat for saying that the whole question of salmon is extremely serious. I was very surprised to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, say—if I understood him correctly—that his catches on the Thurso have improved in the past few years. May I ask him whether it is owing to the fact that he has increased his hatchery?

Viscount THURSO

No, my Lords. I can set your Lordships' minds at rest on that point. It has nothing to do with the stock put in the river. In my view, there are only two things which cause fish to be caught. One is a sufficient supply of water falling out of the sky in the form of rain, and the other is a sufficient number of salmon lies over which to cast your lures.


My Lords, that certainly has not been my experience. On the West coast of Scotland, on my waters, we do not get very big salmon though we get big sea trout. But recently the fishing has been deplorable and, in fact, I am going to lose most of my fishing tenants. I remember an old stalker telling me that when he was a boy he could remember that the salmon were so numerous that you could look down from the hill on to the sea lochs and the sea would appear like molten silver, and that the salmon were there in hundreds of thousands. In those days, between high and low water, they used to build low circular wall enclosures. You can still see the remains of them. They were all along the shore, and when the tide came in the salmon would come in their thousands. When the tide fell, the circular enclosures held back so many hundreds of salmon that men went down with horses and carts, and shovelled up the salmon. But this season I caught only about 24 salmon, which is a pathetic number. I am not talking about sea trout, but about salmon. I have netting rights along the coast, but I do not use them because there is no point in doing so.

My Lords, what are we going to do about this? We have heard about pollution, but of course the pollution aspect does not affect the North-West Coast of Scotland. We have also heard about the Greenland inshore fisheries, which in the past few years have been very detrimental. I understand that from 1976 the catch will be limited to a certain tonnage, but how this will be done I do not know. Nor do I know whether one can effectively limit the tonnage. I am very concerned about the netting on the Northumbrian coast. This matter has been raised in this House before. We have heard this afternoon about the new nets made of monofilament. I understand that these nets can sometimes be up to five miles or more in length. If these nets are used, no salmon can possibly survive in the area. I wish the Government could bring in a regulation to ban the use of these fine material nets, certainly around our coasts. I do not know whether that is possible.

My Lords, to be fair, I have always thought that one ought to be allowed to catch salmon only in the area of their origin; in other words, in the estuaries and on the rivers where the salmon were spawned. I am very concerned about the tendency today for countries to extend their territorial fishing limits. As noble Lords know, we have had trouble of that kind with Iceland. But it may be that some countries will extend their fishing limits up to even 200 or 300 miles. If that happens, they will presumably net salmon within those territorial limits, and if that comes to pass, the salmon will be doomed. I know we have the North-East Atlantic Fishery Commission, and the NWAFC. I understand that from 1976 any fishing for salmon in the Commission's areas is to be banned, but whether those areas will be capable of being policed is another matter.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned the Hunter Committee which reported in I think the 1960s. It is a pity that the Government of the time did not take up their recommendation that all salmon netting should be restricted to the estuaries. I should like to see the same law made in England as we have in Scotland, where salmon netting is restricted to the estuaries, or to one mile off shore. I think that that would be a great help. No doubt the drift netters might suffer a little to begin with, but I am sure the stocks of salmon would improve. The netters would do just as well as they had been doing, further out to sea.

My Lords, I should like to say a word or two for the rod and line fishermen, who have been mentioned earlier. We are inclined to forget what a great money-earner this type of fishing is, especially in dollars and other hard currencies. Of course, commercially speaking, one salmon caught by a fisherman is worth a great deal more in money than a salmon caught in the net, because the man who catches it has to pay for the pleasure of catching it. The rod fisherman in this country have been having rather a bad time in the last few years, on account of the disease, the drift netting off Greenland and the high seas generally. But I should like the Government to be very firm on this. It has always amazed me, when we take such a lot of bacon and eggs from Denmark, a lot of it quite unnecessarily, in my opinion, that the Government have always appeared rather weak about telling the Danes to behave themselves off Greenland.

As I have already said, I agree that from 1976 the tonnage caught is to be limited, but I understand it will be a very big tonnage—yet it may help, I suppose. It would really be a tragedy, after having cured pollution in so many of our rivers, and especially the Thames, if owing to greed—and it is owing only to greed; to a certain extent our own greed, but I think more so in other nations—by ruthless exploitation on the high seas, the salmon was relegated to a near extinct species, so that we would have achieved what pollution has failed to achieve. I can only draw a parallel—I do not know whether it is really a correct parallel—by taking the passenger pigeon of America. I remember my grandfather telling me that when they were on migration there were so many tens of millions of them that they darkened the sun. That was only at the end of the 19th century. Quite soon after the turn of the century they were completely extinct. We do not want the same thing to happen to the salmon.

In spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, it is true you can breed salmon and grow them on in cages, but it requires the most enormous capital and I do not think it can ever replace the wild salmon—not from the point of view of fishing. You may be able to replace the salmon by this method to a certain extent from the point of view of food, but certainly not from the fishing angle. Therefore, I would really press the Government to take this matter very seriously, and to do everything they can to stop drift netting around our coasts above a mile from shore.

9.10 p.m.

Lord HOY

My Lords, although I did not put my name down for this debate, I am sure your Lordships will not object to the first sound from this side of the House about the problem of salmon fishing. For a long time it was my job to be more than interested in it. I was told that the subject of tonight's debate was that we had to face up to a problem of fishing off the coast of Donegal. But apparently the occasion has been taken to wage one more attack on the Danes and what they are doing off Greenland. From what I understand the present threat is coming off the Irish coast. I hope that when my noble friend replies he will have something to say about this problem.

I think the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, did a fairly good job tonight. I was interested to hear that you can have a week's holiday in his part of the world with full hotel accommodation and salmon fishing thrown in for £40. I must say it is most unusual, and I have no doubt he will be inundated with inquiries from all over Europe for terms of that kind. I am bound to say to him in reply that I go up to the North of Scotland, if Grantown on Spey is North, and spend a few weeks there each year. I am bound to tell the noble Lord that on one river, not the Spey itself, not in a part controlled by the local authority, but on a private holding not so very far away, you could not get a day's fishing for £40. So there is a very wide spectrum about this. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, speaking about how salmon had disappeared from the Beauly.


They have not disappeared.

Lord HOY

Well, not disappeared altogether, but the noble Lord argued that they were getting fewer and fewer. He was good enough to say that the Hydro Electricity Board had done a reasonably good job. I do not want to be personal, but it is true that the Hydro Electricity Board paid a fair amount of compensation to the noble Lord's family for what it was doing; so that nobody was losing in that process. That is all that I will say about it.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? This is a non-political debate. I think the noble Lord is adopting a rather unattractive line. If you want to get cheap fishing, why not fish on the Grantown water, which is ten shillings a day.

Lord HOY

My Lords, I think I was being fair to the noble Lord. I thought he understood, and that is all I propose to say about it, I am trying to tell the complete story and not leave out half. That is all I say about it. There are certain areas where fishing is extremely expensive, and I was delighted to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, say that salmon fishing could be had at his price. I would have no objection to that at all, if that is what the noble Lord wants me to say, and I am delighted to hear it.

What we have to do is to protect the salmon. I thought that we had dealt with this a long time ago. We were involved for a long time with UDN in salmon. I once said to the noble Lord that we had to face up to this problem, and when he recounted about it arising in an area in Southern Ireland, this was completely wrong. We thought so too, so that we are in very good company. We had two very highly specialised people from Great Britain who presented a report, and the report has all arisen from the Rainbow Trout Farm at Waterville in Southern Ireland. Of course, as it turned out it was completely wrong. Obviously everybody had got off on the wrong track. The debate has widened considerably, and I should like to know how far the disease has been eradicated, and what remnant there is left inside the salmon industry, and what contribution it might still be making to the lack of salmon in the rivers. We should all be grateful if the Minister could say a word in that direction.

We had to deal with the Danes off the coast of Greenland, and not only the Danes because the people of Greenland were interested in this problem themselves. While the Danes were the protecting power, Greenland had a big economic interest in the salmon fisheries. I thought that steps had been taken at that time to effect some term of protection so far as the fishing was concerned. I thought that the North East Atlantic Conference had taken action along this line. It may well be that the action has not been sufficient. It may be that, despite the decisions and agreements, there was a deficiency in the agreement that was reached. If that is so, I am certain that my noble friend will be willing to tell us what further action the Government propose to take to put that right, because whatever line we might take, either in a personal or corporate interest, whatever interest we have, obviously we all want the salmon to go on living, and providing not only business but sport in our own country.


My Lords, perhaps I could interrupt once more. I do not know whether the noble Lord has been to Greenland, but when he said what interest did Greenland have, there are no salmon rivers in Greenland whatsoever, like Denmark, so their interest is to catch as many fish belonging to other people as possible. The Danish Government provide £1,000 a head per capita annually for the Eskimos and all the other inhabitants living in that vast land-mass of Greenland, which is barren tundra and rock.

Lord HOY

My Lords, I did know this. All I was saying is that the people there had an interest in it. Indeed, somebody once said, and I think wisely, that if someone had never discovered where the breeding grounds existed off that part of the coast, the trouble would never have arisen. That is the point I wish to make in this debate tonight.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, it is the feeding not breeding ground.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, is it really in order to have this cross-questioning across the Floor of the House? It makes for a rather curious debate, and I am not sure whether it is the custom of the House.

Lord HOY

My Lords, I have no objection to it, and if noble Lords opposite want to interrupt, I have no objection. All I say, if the noble Viscount will forgive me, is that I am replying to a question, and when the noble Viscount says this he is being a little pedantic, because nothing can breed where there is no feed. This is, in fact, where they were feeding. Of course, without it, they could not have existed. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, would agree with me; when this was found this was when the trouble arose and action had to be taken to protect the salmon. The noble Lord does not disagree with me on this point. All I say to the noble Viscount is whether you describe it as feeding or breeding, it has exactly the same effect so far as salmon are concerned. I spent many months of my time in seeking to protect the salmon fisheries of this country. They were not altogether rewarding months, but I thought the job well worth doing, and if I had to do it again, I would do the same.

I never met these talking salmon which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, introduced tonight. They are a very interesting species, and I would love to have them. So far as I am concerned I personally would want to do it. But there are one or two things which we might be able to do for ourselves. One of the great dangers that was raised a number of years ago was the introduction of the monofilament net. I thought action was being taken to deal with this problem. I am certain that instead of going into all the vagaries of it we would be grateful if, in his reply, my noble friend could explain what is happening with regard to this net. It was always said that if people fished with this net there was no chance of the salmon escaping. There was no sport any longer involved. Indeed, it just meant mass murder. If this is true obviously it must apply to every country in the world using this type of net. If that is so, one would normally expect that international action would follow to deal with the problem. So I am sure we would all be grateful if in his reply my noble friend would say two things: on the UDN what stage has been reached for its complete eradication? Secondly, will he say not only what international action is required to deal with this problem, but what action is being taken about mono-filament nets?

9.22 p.m.


My Lords, I was asked by a member of the Front Bench of the Conservative Party whether I intended to speak. I said that I did not think that I would, then I changed my mind and entered my name as a jumper. But I will jump very briefly. All I want to say is that I am very glad to see that the "salmon club" of the House of Lords still exists in much the same form as it always has. I am glad to see the noble Lords making their interesting observations as fishermen in their very entertaining speeches. I am a little worried that the debate has developed into a kind of auction mart for salmon fishing. I do not know how it got around to that, but I have never heard of it before. It reminds me of Tattersalls in the old days—"run her up again, five hundred guineas I bid", and this kind of thing. But it is all rather charming.

I wanted to say something which has not been said. If I had known that I would speak I would have considered my points more actively. I will not be long, because I hate speaking very long, but the interesting fact is that somebody has come to the conclusion that there is some-ing about eels which we do not know. I thought that we knew everything. We certainly know that American eels come here and meet some kind of drift on the way. This is quite important when I get to the point about salmon. The eels come here and eat a great deal in our rivers, they spoil a lot of spawn and get a lot of parr. The point has been raised that they cannot return from whence they came. It is an entirely new idea which I had never realised before. Therefore there is no point in protecting eels, if we do eat eels. They are killing off a great deal of our salmon stock in all the rivers. There is all the young fish and the eggs they get. If they cannot go back from whence they came, because they were on the wrong route, what is the use of keeping eels which are doing so much harm to salmon?

9.24 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject which is, of course, the present state of our native salmon stocks. On several occasions the noble Lord has drawn attention to this question. Both he and other noble Lords who have spoken on the subject have left us in no doubt about the concern they have for the continued survival of the Atlantic salmon as a fishable resource. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. I fully agreed with her that this is a concern of importance to all of us, not only to fishermen.

The Government fully support the views expressed so cogently in this debate on the need to protect the Atlane salmon species. They are fully aware of economic and sporting importance of salmon to the United Kingdom and especially, of course, to Scotland. Where measures of conservation are required both nationally and internationally the Government are fully seized of the need to implement such measures.

However, my Lords, perhaps we would part company with some of the views expressed concerning the suggestion, first, that the salmon stocks in British waters are steadily decreasing to the extent alleged, and, secondly, that there is any imminent danger of the species becoming extinct. Here, I am bound to agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has said to us about the stocks, and I shall develop that in more detail, if I may, a little later on. But I should like to stress at this point that we are not being complacent. Indeed, there is no room for complacency; and I can assure the House that the Government are watching the position carefully. However, despite the depressing results experienced in some of our rivers in the not too distant past, the outlook may not be quite so grim as is sometimes suggested.

My Lords, what we are primarily concerned with in this debate, of course, is our whole stock of salmon. Over the country as a whole there is no means of accurately measuring salmon stocks, because we do not know how many salmon are returning each year to their native rivers to spawn there. I was very interested in the great divergence of views expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, as to the River Thurso, and those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lovatt, as to the River Beauly, where, in contrast to the noble Viscount's river, the stocks have diminished since the noble Lord's grandfather's time, as he told us most interestingly. Nevertheless, there is a fairly reliable indication of the position which can be deduced from statistics of catches. Scottish statistics of catches are collected annually by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland from proprietors of salmon fishings, and the totals are published each year. These records are, of course, not 100 per cent. accurate, but it is probably reasonable to assume that such error as exists is fairly constant, and that, therefore, these statistics will give a truer picture than some other reports.

The figures, indeed, my Lords, are most interesting. The West Greenland Fishery first bit hard in 1964, and salmon disease took its toll in 1967. I shall have a little more to say about both these later on. But despite the undoubted effects of both these factors during the second half of the 1960s, the catches of salmon alone—that is, excluding grilse—in the period from 1964 up to and including 1969 were well within the range recorded since 1952, as I think was borne out by what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has said. Additionally, exceptionally high grilse catches were recorded during the same period. It is true that the 1970 and 1971 catches of salmon alone were exceptionally poor, but short-term fluctuations can occur for many reasons, and it is, perhaps, safer to judge by averages over a period. If we take the average annual catch of salmon alone for the periods from 1966 to 1971, which was 208,167, this proved to be only 7,608 less than that for the period from 1956 to 1961, which was 215,775, when there was, of course, neither high seas fishing nor salmon disease. During the same period, from 1966 to 1971, the average catch of grilse was almost 110.000 higher than the average for 1956 to 1961, and the average annual catch of the whole species of salmo salar in Scottish rivers and coastal waters in the later period was considerably higher than in the former. Perhaps also significantly, the figures for salmon (excluding grilse) for 1972–73 have recovered markedly at 210,570 and 229,417 respectively—higher than any since 1968. During the same period high grilse catches have been maintained.


My Lords, I hope I am not being rude in interrupting again. One can easily be fooled about figures. I have the Scottish figures here. The noble Lord is right in giving them, but I should like to remind him that the Danish catch in 1968 was 1,350.000 fish as opposed, in the comparable year in Scotland, to 50,000 rod caught and 507,000 fish caught in all nets in Scotland. Of those 507,000, the vast majority were grilse. We were talking about the disappearance of salmon rather than of grilse which we accept are not being caught in Denmark.


My Lords, all I can do is to give the figures. In 1968 in Scotland there were 427,872 salmon and grilse——


They were grilse.


—and in 1973 there were 520,000. If we go to salmon alone, for Scotland we have in 1968 for both rod and net, 213,993. In 1970 that dropped to 174,000. It went up again in 1972 to 210,000, and in 1973 went up again to 229,000. I do not think the differences are so great as the noble Lord implies. If one goes right back to 1953, 20 years ago, one finds that the total Scottish salmon catch was nearly 212,000. Though less in 1970 it is now 229,000. There is, I submit, not really a great deal of difference, but I will develop this a little later.

My Lords, for England and Wales the general picture of catches is one of steadily rising trends in the commercial catches from 1952 onwards. These reached a peak in 1970 and declined subsequently to a level near that of former years. The rod catches show the same upward trend although on a lesser scale. I recognise that the figures conceal considerable differences from river to river, as we have found in this debate. Moreover, being for the whole year they do not reveal the marked decline in catches that has occurred in spring fish. For reasons unknown to us, there appears to have been a diminution in spring runs of salmon for some years going back to the 1950s before the high seas fishery had started. Some commentators appear to find in this decline of the spring runs a possible danger to the continued survival of the species.

On the other hand, history appears to deny this inasmuch as similar trends in catches can be observed in years past. Thus, for example, as long ago as the final ten years of the 19th century throughout the British Isles, when the noble Lord's grandfather was fishing, runs of grilse were extremely large, as during the past few years. They were followed by large numbers of heavy autumn fish and spring fish were very scarce. About 1907, for no observable reason, the number of grilse fell off sharply and spring fish became noticeable again. This trend continued until by the late 1920s spring fish throughout the British Isles became very abundant once again, while grilse had become a very reduced stock. Autumn fish had almost disappeared.

This situation appears to have continued until the early 1960s when, quite suddenly and for no observable reason, the run of grilse became as large as in the 1890s and has continued to be sizeable ever since. Similarly, the late autumn salmon has also increased steadily in recent years while the numbers of spring fish have steadily declined. It would therefore appear that what we are observing now is part of a large cycle in the salmon runs which appears to take several decades to complete. If the experience of the early 1900s is anything to go by, it may be that the whole situation with regard to spring fish and grilse will be reversed sometime in the future, for natural reasons unknown to us.

My Lords, that is the general situation as the Government see it. Noble Lords have raised a number of very important questions about such matters as Greenland, netting and so on, and I should now like to answer those in some detail. First, I think we must deal with the question of the Atlantic. As your Lordships know, this area is divided into the North-West and North-East Atlantic. Dealing first with the North-West Atlantic, in 1972 all members of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Commission agreed to the phasing out by the end of 1975 of all fishing for salmon in the Commission's area of West Greenland, other than that carried out by local fishermen whose catch would be limited to 1,100 tons per annum, and these were to be taken solely within Greenland's fishery limits. In addition, catches by non-Greenland vessels were made subject to a decreasing quota in the period between 1972 and 1975. Notwithstanding the agreement, the Greenlanders in 1972–73 exceeded their quota of 1,100 tons by as much as 43 per cent. That the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has pointed out. The matter was raised at the meeting of the Commission in June, when the Danish Government asked that the Greenlanders' quota be increased. As noble Lords will remember, this proposal was rejected, being voted against by Her Majesty's Government among other nations. All I can say is that we feel strongly about this, that the United Kingdom will continue to work for the full enforcement of conservation methods based on international scientific advice, and that we shall certainly take very careful note of what noble Lords have said this afternoon.

To turn to the North-East Atlantic, in 1973 the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission's recommendation extending the ban on high seas fishing for salmon, which was already in operation in the boxes off Norway and around the British Isles and Iceland, was extended to all the Commission's area outside national fishery limits as from 1st January 1976. This was accepted by all but two member Governments. One was West Germany, which said that it was not affected and was not interested. The other was Denmark, which is of course one of the main participants in the Norwegian sea fishery. But—and this is something I should like to stress—the fish caught there come mainly from Norwegian rivers. Very few, if any, originate in British waters. We shall of course continue to press for the unanimous acceptance of this recommendation, and we are hopeful that discussions on the subject at next year's session of the Law of the Sea Conference will assist in this direction.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hoy, raised the question of the Republic of Ireland. I gave some answer in a reply recently to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. Perhaps I might say this in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Young: the position as regards the Republic of Ireland is that they are members of the Commission but have not yet joined the enforcement scheme. Only members of the scheme may board each other's vessels outside territorial waters. The Irish authorities can board their own vessels, but we cannot board Irish vessels until they have joined the scheme, and to do that requires legislation. The Irish Government, in reply to representations from Her Majesty's Government, have promised to bring in this legislation as soon as possible. It is hoped that this will be next year. In the meantime they are, of course, continuing to police their own vessels outside their own territorial waters. I think they are as aware as we are of the importance of this matter, not only with regard to our salmon stocks but also to their own. I know from my own experience what wonderful salmon fishing they have, because as a boy I used to go to Connemara a great deal with my father; so it is as much in their own interests as in ours. That is the position with regard to Ireland and the Atlantic. May I say in general with regard to the Atlantic, that in 1976 it is the intention that both in the North-West and the North-East there will be no fishing at all outside territorial waters.

I should like to deal now with the question of netting, which was raised by several noble Lords. First, there is the question of the drift netting off the Northumbrian coast which was, I believe, mentioned by all noble Lords. I would remind them that the position regarding drift netting of Northumberland is somewhat different from that in Scotland, where drift netting, as your Lordships will be aware, is prohibited; indeed this has been mentioned already. Drift netting for salmon off Northumberland is a traditional fishery, which may be carried on within six miles of the shore under licence from the Northumbrian Water Authority. Net limitation orders restrict the number of nets in the authority's area to 75 in the Northern part and 40 in the Southern part. Because of the statutory requirement that existing licence holders who are full-time fishermen must be given the opportunity to acquire a licence, the number of licences actually issued in the Southern part in 1972 was 91. Through natural wastage this number will drop away gradually until the limit of about 40 is reached. As a result of these measures, the number of fish caught in Northumberland drift net fishery appears to have stabilised at well below the 1970 peak. I may say that a report has been written for the Northumbrian Water Authority on the first year's research into the question of monofilament drift netting, but this report is not yet available. It is hoped that it will be published in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, expressed some concern about the effect of the Northumbrian drift netting on Scottish salmon. Considerable anxiety was expressed by various Scottish interests when the drift net catch rose substantially while at the same time the Scottish catch fell. It is important, I suggest, to maintain a correct perspective in this matter. The total salmon and grilse caught off Northumberland and that area was about 90,000 fish, compared with the total Scottish catch of 360,000. In 1972, the corresponding figures were 48,000 and 404,000. Several noble Lords—in fact I think all noble Lords—mentioned monofilament. We shall certainly pay close attention to what has been said in the debate today. This is a development which we are watching with care. Our concern must of course be mainly with any possible danger arising to stocks because of over-fishing in view of the threatened expansion of methods of fishing using monofilament, and closely akin to drift netting. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is considering whether he should take further steps to restrict new methods of coastal netting, and he is arranging to consult the different interests concerned.


My Lords, am I right in saying the river water authorities already have powers under the 1972 Act to prohibit monofilament nets?


My Lords, I think they do to a certain extent in and beyond the estuaries; but further out would not come under their jurisdiction. Other noble Lords asked about the Hunter Report. The Government accept the desirability of setting up, as recommended by the Hunter Committee, a system of area boards covering all Scotland's rivers properly representative and with sufficient powers and financial backing to achieve their aims. However, it may be some time before we can find a place in our extensive legislative programme for the long and complicated Bill which this would require. In the meantime, the Government consider that the greater scope for development in Scottish fisheries lies in trout and freshwater fishing. The Government propose to encourage anglers to help themselves by providing funds in the early years of any national organisation of anglers which is set up with the object of acquiring fishings when they come on the market and managing other fishings by agreement. I took note of the points the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, raised and the very valuable advice to salmon proprietors, and I am sure we can commend most of these recommendations of the noble Lord to proprietors for the better management of their salmon fishings. After all, it is in their best interests to do so.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked about pollution. In Scotland the action of the river purification boards has been significant and beneficial, especially in the case of the Forth. Of course there are still black spots—in particular, the Don, as the noble Viscount mentioned, and the Clyde. Although the position may not be improving as fast as we should like, it is improving in some places and being held in others. There is still much to be done, and it requires vigilance and the concentrated efforts of fishermen and the purification authorities. I was glad that the noble Viscount also offered a salmon for the Thames—

Viscount THURSO

Several thousand!


We shall certainly bring that to the attention of the authorities. The noble Viscount also suggested that possibly the Hunter Report could be updated in certain respects. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said about the whole conception of fish life in the seas. This is bound up with the whole matter of the law of the sea. The United Nations Law of the Sea Conference was held in Caracas earlier this year. The concept of the 200 mile economic zone was discussed and found a good measure of support. Within this zone, coastal States would have control over fishing activities and would take advantage economically of any conservation or other measures carried out by them. This arrangement adequately covers sea fish within the zone but not migratory species. Salmon-producing countries spend a lot of time and effort in maintaining salmon stocks, only to see the fish caught by other States intercepting them on their migratory routes. The United Kingdom and other salmon-producing countries consider that those countries having measures to preserve salmon stocks should derive the benefit of fishing them. I might tell the House that we are seeking at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference next year to make fishing for migratory species within a country's economic zone subject to agreement of the State from which the fish originate.

I was very interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, had to say. He always speaks from great practical knowledge. I am sorry that his salmon stocks are diminishing. He is not as fortunate as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. He also referred, of course, to the Northumbria netting and the Hunter Report, with which I have dealt. I was very interested in what my noble friend Lord Hoy said about the Irish coast and his experience when he was a Minister. He asked me about salmon disease, and, indeed, I think the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso also asked about this. The scientists of the Fisheries Department and elsewhere have continued their work on the disease UDN, but all efforts to determine its precise nature and cause have so far failed, although current scientific evidence suggests a virus aetiology with secondary fungal or bacterial infection as the commonest cause of death, but the disease agent has not yet been isolated. To cure the disease in open waters is not possible, but my impression is that there is more general acceptance now than when the disease first appeared that it will run its course, and indeed there is evidence to suggest that it is at present doing so. There appears to be an increased survival of kelts among Scottish salmon.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked the date of the first outbreak of UDN in Scotland. That was 1966. The year of the highest incidence was, of course, the following year, 1967. It has, as I said, fluctuated from year to year, depending on weather and water conditions. I hope, my Lords, that those are all the answers to the points that the noble Lords have raised. In conclusion I can assure the noble Lords that the Government are certainly alive to the problems and potential dangers besetting our salmon stocks. Although I have suggested that the picture is not as black as has sometimes been alleged, and we agree very fully, as I say again, with what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has said, we do not view the problem with complacency. We shall, of course, continue our efforts in every way open to us to safeguard what we regard as a most important and valuable resource.