HL Deb 13 May 1975 vol 360 cc679-84

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Fishing) Amendment Order 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th April, be approved. It is the purpose of this Order to include in the specified methods of fishing for salmon and migratory trout in the sea prohibited by the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Fishing) (No. 2) Order 1972 all other forms of gill net in addition to drift-nets which are at present covered by that Order. The 1972 Order continued until 1983 the ban on fishing for salmon and migratory trout off the Scottish coast and the mouth of the Tweed by certain specified methods; namely drift-net, trawl-net, seine-net, troll and long line. Along with its predecessors since 1962 it was intended to stop all fishing for salmon and migratory trout in the sea in Scottish waters other than by the traditional coastal and river methods of fixed engines, beach seining and net and coble. But of recent years new methods using gill nets have been introduced which, while not illegal in terms of the 1972 Order, are contrary to the spirit of that Order.

The modus operandi of gill nets is to enmesh the fish whereas the traditional forms of netting such as bag nets and stake nets catch them by trapping. These gill nets range from short lengths of fixed net set close inshore and fixed at both ends to nets anything up to one mile in length attached to the shore by a length of rope, which in turn can be up to three miles long and swinging free at the seaward end. These latter are, in effect, drift-nets but it has been argued that in terms of the 1972 Order they are legal in that they are attached to the shore. They could in fact be described as "anchored drift-nets" and to date they have been found mainly off the Berwickshire coast. But the indications are that their use will spread if left unchecked. The shorter fixed nets to be found doer inshore, are already being used extensively around the coasts, especially the north and West coasts. They are particularly deadly as they can be moved almost at will and set right into the mouths of the smaller rivers which are not protected by statutory estuary limits and are thus open to being fished by fixed engines right into the river.

Investigations both at home and across the Atlantic show that the catch rates of these nets can be double, treble, and according to Canadian evidence, even six times the catch of our traditional bag and stake nets. Our scientific advice is that it would be most unwise to permit any uncontrolled expansion of the salmon catch such as the development of these new methods could produce. This applies especially at this time when the containment of the Greenland salmon fishery has relieved one of the major threats to our salmon stocks.

Apart from the actual catching potential of the nets themselves, we have strong reason to suspect that they are being used as a cover for illegal drift-netting operations from fishing vessels. This applies both to the "anchored drift-nets" and the inshore nets. Patrols off the Berwick-shire coast last year resulted in a conviction for drift-netting under the guise of "anchored drift-netting" and there are reports of substantial landings of salmon by fishing boats in the North-West which have clearly been caught out at sea. The Order relates of course only to fishing carried out using a boat. Gill netting on the shore between the high and low water marks where the net may be set and worked without the use of a boat is not prohibited by it.

Your Lordships will have noted that a complementary Order—the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Restrictions on Landing) Amendment Order 1975—has also been laid before Parliament. It is subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution by the House. It does no more than suitably amend the 1972 Salmon and Migratory Trout (Restrictions on Landing) Order to bring it in line with the 1972 Prohibition Order as amended by our Prohibition Amendment Order. The aim of the 1972 Restrictions on Landing Order was, of course, to prohibit the landing of salmon caught by any of the prohibited methods in the closed areas.

May I say that quite apart from the considerable quantities of fish that have been caught by this method, there is another serious aspect, in that it is estimated that about 40 per cent. of the fish which may be caught in these nets in the first instance manage to get away, but probably so damaged that it is unlikely they will survive. So that potential damage to our salmon stocks, if this method were allowed to go unchecked, would perhaps be even greater than what has happened in the past off Greenland. When, at long last, we are reaching a satisfactory position in this respect, it would be a disaster if we allowed this depredation of our stock to start on our own shores. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Fishing) Amendment Order 1975, laid before the House on 24th April, he approved.—(Lord Hughes.)

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for having explained this Order to us. We know that it has been very easily possible in the past few decades to kill all our own home-bred salmon and sea trout. This is something that could easily have been done if we had wanted, but, luckily, we have been sensible both in this House and in the other place and have managed to contain our greed. Surely, it is obvious that if one does not leave the breeding stock there is nothing there for the future.

Some 10 years ago the Hunter Report was published, which, of course, did not mention anything about gill netting, because at that period gill netting was in its infancy. But I think I am right in saying that it had been practised a little off the coast of Northumberland. Momentarily we might regret that the ideal of Lord Hunter and his Committee, that every river should have its own controlling management, has never been acted upon. I know that all Governments since the Hunter Report was published have had many other things to do, but I think the Report raises one or two points which Parliament could act upon, when we can get around to it.

My Lords, this Order will be of tremendous help in stopping the practice of catching sea trout by gill nets, especially in coastal waters. Sea trout, in particular, are susceptible to this method of fishing. This Order will help to push out the quick-time operators, and the amateurs out for a "quick buck ". All of us would agree that the conservation of these species of salmon trout and salmon is absolutely essential. The prevention of the use of gill nets will put a stop to a number of acts which are in conflict with that objective, especially since nylon monofil has been used in their manufacture.

I have heard that some people think they will have a claim for compensation if this Order is passed. As nylon monofil gill nets have been in existence for only the past decade or so, I think most of the people using them have been enjoying a bonanza which would have led to the extinction of the species. I, for one, welcome the fact that there must be a return to methods of catchment which are not wasteful, which will yield a return, which will damage less fish and which will not lead to the extinction of the species. The crux of the matter is that there must be a stock for the future. I think the Americans and the Russians have done some work on this aspect. It has been shown that with gill netting, some 40 percent—that is the figure that the Minister spoke of, and I think the Americans and Russians have proved this—of the fish drop out of the net. They either get caught up and drown—I know it is an extraordinary thing to say that the fish drown, but this does happen; one can catch fish which are half decayed—or, if they get away, their scales and flesh are damaged, which means they are probably harmed both for breeding and eating purposes.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mention that we are making great progress in the international sphere. In the past, we have heard about fishing off Greenland, especially with our friends the Danes and the Germans. There have been criticisms in the past that they have not co-operated enough. If we had allowed this form of catching sea trout and salmon to go on, we would not have had a leg to stand on if we had gone back to the international conference table on this matter. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on taking this action to preserve this very important species from extinction both in our rivers and around our coasts. I commend the Order to your Lordships.


My Lords, if I may be allowed a brief word, may I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this Order. I say this not only on behalf of those of us who support its introduction, but also on behalf of the poor salmon. Scotland's record has been a proud and good one for many years past in regard to the conservation of the species of salmon. As man's ingenuity is always developing new ways of catching fish, the authorities in Scotland have kept the balance by checking, and if necessary banning. I think it is much to the credit of those responsible for the fisheries of Scotland that this Order has been introduced. We welcome it in this House, and every salmon which escapes the massacre and the damage of the gilling net will be grateful to this House.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, as one whose wife lost four fish when fishing for salmon, I congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Order. However, I would raise one small point. Will the Government undertake to keep a sharp eye open for further developments such as the gill net which, in future, may need to be banned for similar reasons?

Lord HOY

My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene, but as one who had to take steps a long time ago to deal with the protection of salmon, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hughes on the introduction of this Order. I would not have been provoked to say anything except that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, mentioned the Hunter Report, which has been on the record for a considerable number of years. I remind the noble Lord that no Government did anything about it until the Labour Government took it up. They were the people who made it active, and brought out protections. Gill netting was not thought of when Lord Hunter was reporting; it had not been introduced, but the monofil net had been. We had to have protection against that. If there has been a development in this form of fishing which is causing such harm, obviously we would all want to act. We are grateful to my noble friend for acting so quickly, and preventing the further destruction of salmon.


My Lords, I am grateful for what has been said. It is a most unusual experience for me to be receiving unanimous support for anything I suggest to this House. As I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is patiently waiting for his Unstarred Question, I will not take the risk that he will be provoked into dissenting from this unanimity out of sheer protest. On the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the answer is, Yes, one of the things we have learned from this development is that we must constantly be on the look out for the next dodge to get around this.