HL Deb 29 October 1985 vol 467 cc1446-9

2.42 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government in what ways they are protecting stocks of edible sea fish available to British fishermen from increased by-catches in the industrial fishery practised by Denmark.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the by-catch of the main human consumption whitefish stocks in the industrial fisheries is limited by Community regulations to 10 per cent. of the total catch. The Government are resisting a Commission proposa which would have increased the permitted by-catch of whiting in the Norway pout fishery in the North Sea to 18 per cent. between 1st October 1985 and 31st May 1986.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Although I recognise the importance to Denmark's economy of industrial fishing because it produces fishmeal for the Danish livestock industry, will the Government impress firmly on the other members of the EC how shortsighted it would be to permit those operations to wipe out large numbers of juvenile fish of the kinds needed for human consumption?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my right honourable friend strongly resisted the proposal at the last Fisheries Council Meeting. I agree with my noble friend that priority should be given to human consumption fisheries. We do not believe indeed that Danish fishermen need a higher limit. All the evidence seems to show that they are usually within the 10 per cent. by-catch limit.

Lord Parry

My Lords, in making his representations, will the noble Lord the Minister quote the statistics for the decline in the deep sea fishing industry around the whole coast of Britain? Over-fishing has all but wiped out the Welsh deep sea fishing industry over the past 25 years.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I realise the truth of what the noble Lords says, but let us at the same time look on the bright side. The package of total allowable catches and quotas agreed earlier on this year for this year includes significant improvements in the availability of the main human consumption whitefish stocks in the North Sea, which is really the area about which we are talking in my noble friend's Question.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, is not Denmark the only country now seeking to change the regulations laid down in the European Fisheries Agreement with a view to limiting the by-catch of immature fish for industrial purposes? If so, can he promise us the most strenuous opposition, with other European countries, to that change which would go a long way to destroy the inshore fishing industry in the North Sea?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that Denmark would be the main beneficiary from the derogation being proposed by the European Commission because it is only the Danes in Europe who have an industrial fishery. I agree with what I think lies behind the noble Lord's question. It is important that the regulations are maintained to safeguard the juvenile whitefish stock both in terms of the permissible by-catch and the prohibition on fishing for Norway pout in the Norway pout box. I repeat to the House that we have resisted the proposal and shall endeavour to continue to do so.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the size of the problem? Committee D produced a sea fishing report at the beginning of the year. The evidence was that out of a total North Sea catch of 4 million tonnes, the industrial catch was 2 million tonnes. If we take it that the 18 per cent. which is allowed for the period will become 20 per cent., that means that 400,000 tonnes of edible fish is going into fishmeal. The figures should be widely known and our Minister should press this matter very hard indeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, says, it will ruin fishing if such figures persist.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I well remember the important report, which was the first one for this Session of Parliament, produced by your Lordships' Select Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, contributed, and which we debated on 11th March. I venture to suggest to the noble Lord that we have to be just a little careful about figures. My advice is that of the total by-catches notified to the Commission during the period of the derogation last year, 6,500 tonnes was whiting, 2,500 tonnes was haddock, and under 500 tonnes was cod. One has to compare that with 39,000 tonnes of whiting and 72,000 tonnes of haddock discarded in the human consumption fisheries in 1984. I know that those figures cannot be absolutely accurate. Nobody can completely vouch for them, but I think that they cause us to be a little careful when looking at the figures and drawing from them the conclusion that the by-catch situation is on a disastrous course. Nonetheless, I repeat to the noble Lord what I said to other noble Lords during this Question. We believe that the Commission's present proposal is unwelcome and unhelpful, and we shall continue to resist it.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, can my noble friend let us know, only in the rough, how these figures are calculated? Does every fisherman have to report his catch every day or does somebody have a good guess? Otherwise, these figures that have been quoted from different parts of the House do not sound very convincing.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, these are the national returns to the Commission. I, like the noble Lord, was a little hesitant in drawing conclusions from them.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is it correct that the Council of Ministers is due to meet within the next few days to take the decision? If so, will the Government do their very best to make sure that the Commission is properly informed on the results of the experimental period that ended in May?

Lord Belstead

Yes, indeed, my Lords. The next meeting of the Fisheries Council is due on 4th November.