HL Deb 01 November 1989 vol 512 cc247-8

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will consider a moratorium on the fishing of sandeels.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

My Lords, licensing arrangements were introduced earlier this year to regulate fishing for sandeels in Scottish inshore waters. As part of the detailed arrangements for 1989, fishing for sandeels around Shetland has been prohibited since 1st July, and restrictions have been placed on the level of fishing on the west coast of Scotland. Arrangements for fisheries for 1990, including the need for a ban on fishing, will be considered before the end of the year.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, perhaps I may thank my noble friend the Minister for his courteous, informative and only slightly encouraging reply. Is he aware that the sanded —Ammodytes marinus —is a small fish and that it forms the staple diet of Common and Arctic terns, Great and Arctic skuas and puffins, and that in 1988 there was almost total breeding failure in these varieties in Shetland due to tens of thousands of chicks starving to death because their parents were not able to find sufficient food for them?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Yes, my Lords. My noble friend is quite right to say that the sandeel reaches a maximum size of eight inches. I accept that Arctic terns have been under stress, as the numbers that have died recently show, but there is not sufficient evidence to know the precise reasons for the fall in sandeel recruitment at the present time. However, I can assure my noble friend that increased amounts of research and cash for research are being put into that area.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the statement in a national newspaper earlier this week that the census that has been taken of sandeels this year is about equivalent to the census that was taken 15 years ago? Perhaps I may inquire of my noble friend how the number of sandeels is counted and how many of his officials are engaged in what might be a rather laborious task.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that counting sandeels is extremely difficult to do accurately as they exist in waters up to 30 metres deep in sandbanks round about Shetland, where the problem happens to be. However, I assure my noble friend that current research will give us at least some further clues as to the problem affecting not only the fishery that exists in that area but the birdlife of the area.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the noble Lord enlarge on the question of research? Is it not a fact that there is some difficulty because the responsi- bility falls between DAFS and the Department of the Environment? Will he assure the House that, whoever may be responsible in the end, sufficient finance for that research will be available?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, the current expenditure on research into sandeel stocks by our marine laboratory in Aberdeen is running at £70,000 this year and is expected to increase next year. In addition, a project on the availability of sandeels to birds is being planned with consortium funding of £140,000 from various conservation bodies.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there has been a great deterioration in the numbers of sea trout this year and last year around the Scottish islands and in the rivers and lochs? Does he agree that the salmon is the poor man's sporting fish? Is he further aware that the sea trout in Loch Maree, which has the best sea trout, has distinctly deteriorated this year, and that in my own loch, Loch Ba, which is famous for the size of its sea trout, the numbers have dropped by two-thirds?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for a very interesting dissertation on sea trout and salmon, but as I understand it we are here dealing with the problems which genuinely exist around the coast of Shetland. I can assure the House that we shall take all necessary powers to deal with the situation if it means a further cutback on the amount of fishing effort. However, I am not persuaded at this time that fishing effort is the only problem in relation to the low recruitment of sandeels.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for having raised this matter because it is causing considerable concern in Scotland. Has the Minister or the department given serious thought to the control, or perhaps even the prohibition, of industrial fishing in those waters, which many people believe is part of the problem? I am grateful that the Minister was able to say that there had been implementation of the proposal made by his honourable friend in another place on 4th April about the control of fishing in Scottish inshore waters. He said that the measure had been introduced on 1st July. Can he give us any indication of the progress that has been made on this subject?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. There are two separate problems involved. First of all, the closure of the fishery from 1st July to the end of the year helps the small sandeels to grow and develop, because that is the time when they are most at risk. So far as concerns licensing, which is the other aspect, we have introduced licensing arrangements off the west coast to cover the Minch area. We shall be looking at licensing along with the question of the prohibition time by the end of the year, in time for next year. I can assure the noble Lord that both those points are actively being considered at the moment.