§ Mr. Onslow
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has completed his examination of the implications of establishing a salmon tagging scheme and his review of the arrangements for controlling the north-east drift net salmon fishery; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Gummer
The Government share the widely expressed concern about the illegal taking of salmon in our rivers and coastal waters. We therefore, as my predecessor announced on 29 February 1984 in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), instructed officials of the Fisheries Departments to examine methods of combating this illegal taking and in particular to discuss with the various interests concerned the proposals for a salmon tagging scheme set out in the report "Salmon Conservation—A New Approach" prepared by the salmon sales group of the former National Water Council.
Unfortunately, the tagging scheme, despite its attractions, presented major difficulties. The main problem areas were, as my predecessor said in reply to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 6 March 1985, the control of imports, the handling of our own farmed salmon and control over the issue of tags. The great majority of our trade in salmon consists of imports and farm production and no tagging scheme could be effective which excluded these fish. To ensure that all imported and farmed salmon were tagged would present substantial practical difficulties which, even if they could be overcome, would result in onerous burdens on fish farmers and traders. The control over the issue and use of perhaps 2–3 million tags a year also presents considerable difficulties. If control was not clearly established and a black market in unused tags developed, this would undermine the whole purpose of the scheme.
After an extensive examination of the possibilities we consider that, on the evidence before us, a tagging scheme would not be viable in Great Britain. We have therefore examined other possible methods of controlling salmon sales. We have concluded, first, that it is not acceptable for trade in illegally taken salmon to continue as a legal activity, which it is at present. We therefore propose to bring forward measures to make it illegal. In so doing we expect to remove the main outlets for illegally taken salmon and so make a major contribution to deterring illegal fishing.
Secondly, we have examined the possibility of licensing dealers in salmon as a measure to assist in controlling sales. We have concluded that in England and Wales the additional administrative structure required would not be justified in terms of the additional deterrent to illegal fishing, taking account of the complex trading conditions, including the large volume of trade in places remote from the salmon fishing areas. In Scotland, where the administrative structure and pattern of trade are different, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to bring forward a measure to permit the introduction of dealer licensing. This, together with the measures to counter trade in illegal salmon, will be contained in the draft Bill, the main elements of which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at 6W the Scottish Office has described in his reply today to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst).
The Government have also completed the review of future arrangements for the English north east coast salmon drift net fishery which my predecessor announced on 29 February 1984. We have concluded that there is no case for terminating the fishery, but that the rules under which it operates should be further tightened in a number of respects. The Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities, who are responsible for regulating the fishery, have agreed with us that the following changes should be made, subject where appropriate to parliamentary approval.
The present system under which licensed fishermen may enter on their licences the names of duly authorised servants or agents (popularly known as endorsees), who may then use the licensed net to fish, will be modified to provide that the licensed fisherman must be present whenever his net is being fished, except when the licensee is suffering from genuine illness or injury. To restrict the fishing effort further, the fishery should be closed for a period of eight hours at night. The weekend closed periods, which at present vary between the areas of the fishery, will be standardised on the longest period now in force—that is 6 pm Friday to 6 am Monday. These measures will have a significant effect on the amount of effort devoted to the fishery and will assist the water authorities in their enforcement duties.
In addition, it is proposed to take measures to change the balance of fishing effort between drift nets and the fixed nets which are known as T or J nets. The Northumbrian water authority has sought an order permitting the use by licensees of T nets in its southern area, where they are currently banned, and its request has been accepted. The authority is to study the structure of its licence duties with a view to offering a financial inducement to fishermen who may be prepared to use only these fixed nets. The Yorkshire water authority, which operates a different licensing system, proposes to reduce the number of drift nets operated in its area from 29 to 22 and correspondingly increase the number of fixed nets from 32 to 39. This adjustment will not deprive existing licence holders of their rights to a drift net; the change will occur as existing licensees give up their licences.
It is our intention to take the necessary steps to introduce these measures as soon as possible. We consider that they will permit even tighter control over what is already a generally well-regulated fishery and we believe they will provide a sound basis for its future, while recognising that some of the measures will reduce incomes in an area which has already seen its fishing activity cut back. We shall review the effects of the new arrangements after they have been in operation for three years.