HL Deb 26 November 1991 vol 532 cc1275-6

3.3 p.m.

Lord Gisborough asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, as a result of the North-East coast salmon netting review, they can indicate the timescale for phasing out the use of drift nets.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, as your Lordships will know, it is our firm intention that the salmon drift net fishery should come to an end as those currently holding such licences leave the fishery. We have asked the National Rivers Authority to come forward with proposals to achieve this as soon as possible.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, if that is the Government's intention, why is it that the National Rivers Authority has only recently established a by-law inviting renewals and new tenders for drift net fishing?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, to ensure that the fishery remains tightly regulated, the Northumbrian region of the NRA had no option but to advertise a temporary extension of the existing net limitation order governing the number of commercial salmon licences in that region. Net limitation orders limit the number of commercial fishing licences which the NRA may issue. They also set criteria for eligibility of applicants.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, I am pleased that the Government have recognised that this fishery has been guilty of bad management practice and that it should cease to operate. As the present licence holders cease to use their licences for whatever reason, I hope that the Minister can assure me that no new licences for this offshore drift net fishing will be issued. Further, can the Minister assure me that both the Yorkshire and Northumbrian regions of the National Rivers Authority are co-operating in phasing out this fishery?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the review that was conducted covered both Northumbria and Yorkshire. It is for the NRA to decide how to handle this matter. I have no evidence that drift net fishing has been badly managed. We have no evidence either of an immediate threat to stocks. Existing licensees should not therefore be deprived of their licences as that would cause unnecessary hardship. For management reasons the NRA has been asked, following that review, to consider changes —and I have a copy of that review—to reduce the number of offshore drift net licences as those currently holding the licences leave the fishery, as I said in my original Answer.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I welcome the Government's decision to phase out the drift nets in the North East. That step was advocated by a number of us five years ago in this House when we debated the Salmon Bill. Is the Minister aware that under the net limitation order which has been mentioned the National Rivers Authority may be obliged to issue a small number of new licences? Those licences may be taken up by young fishermen who would thereafter be able to renew them year after year and continue to use drift nets for many years to come. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that her department will examine this problem with the National Rivers Authority to ensure that the intentions of Ministers are not accidentally frustrated?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I have already said, it is for the National Rivers Authority to make its own plans.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although the authorities of Northumbria and Yorkshire are both English authorities, the effect of drift net fishing on Scottish rivers is considerable? The Government have a responsibility to do something about this matter.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am informed that as things stand the net loss to Scottish fisheries is 6 per cent. However, there are a great many reasons why catches in 1990/91 have been disappointing. That pattern has been shown by all fisheries throughout the UK, irrespective of whether rods or nets are used. Many North Atlantic salmon fisheries have experienced declines in their catch levels and that indicates that the problem arises when salmon are at sea. Our salmon drift net fisheries cannot be blamed for that.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, as part of Her Majesty's Government's efforts to find a solution to this problem, will representations of a meaningful kind be made to the Irish Government about the illegal taking of fish off the Irish coast? It would be a tragedy if we did not obtain the full benefit of phasing out drift net fishing off the North East coast because of the illegal fishing that is taking place.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I feel rather like a fish out of water as regards this whole matter. The review only considered salmon net fisheries off the North East coast of England and part of the East coast of Scotland. Clearly the future management of the North-East English fishery will continue to be a matter for the NRA under its statutory duties.