HC Deb 16 December 1987 vol 124 c585W
Mr. Boswell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Fisheries Ministers' meeting on 14 and 15 December in Brussels; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

Together with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office, I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers in Brussels on 14, 15 and 16 December.

The Council reached agreement by qualified majority on a compromise package of proposals on total allowable catches and quotas for 1988. This represents a very satisfactory outcome for the United Kingdom fishing industry and will provide a strong basis on which our fishermen can plan their fishing in the coming year. The package agreed contained welcome improvements in the opportunities originally proposed for the United Kingdom fishermen in respect of no less than 26 stocks. In almost all cases these were fully in line with the available scientific advice.

One of our main concerns was to make the maximum progress toward securing flexibility for member states to take part of their quotas for western mackerel to the east of 4 deg. west. There were objections from a number of the member states who argued that it raised fundamental issues affecting the basis of the common fisheries policy, a point which we strenuously refuted. Despite this opposition, we were able to secure a Council declaration inviting the Commission to examine possible solutions to problems caused by changes in the migratory pattern of fish stocks, including the western mackerel stock, and to report to the Council on ways of implementing solutions by 31 March 1988. The Council undertook to consider any solution that might be proposed by the Commission by 31 May 1988. This is an encouraging development and I shall continue to press for a sensible solution to this problem.

A number of useful conservation measures were agreed, including the continuation of this year's special measure for the protection of juvenile North sea cod in the German bight, and an extended period for the large mesh size to protect the juvenile North sea herring in the Skagerrak and Kattegat.

The Council also adopted by qualified majority a compromise package of proposals on fish guide prices for 1988. This, together with the green currency changes already agreed, will mean a 4.7 per cent. increase in support of prices for our white fish producers. The guide price for herring will be reduced by 9 per cent. in line with the needs of the market.

I emphasised our grave concern at the shortcomings we had experienced this year in the system of reporting of landings in other member states, leading to unexpected and premature closures of certain of our fisheries. I asked the Commission to convene a working group of experts to consider ways of improving these procedures. The Commission undertook to consider this suggestion, which was warmly supported by a number of other member states.

In total, this Council represented a further step forward in consolidating and developing the common fisheries policy.