HL Deb 13 January 1994 vol 551 cc33-5WA
The Earl of Swinton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Brussels on 20 and 21 December 1993.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My honourable friend the Minister of State represented the United Kingdom together with my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland.

The December Fisheries Council is the one at which total allowable catches (TACs) for the EC, and member states' quota shares of those TACs, are settled for the forthcoming year. Stocks are generally under pressure and effort against them needs to be reduced. However, within that overall strategy, on which decisions were reached by the Council without a vote, we obtained the best possible outcome compatible with the scientific advice. For some stocks, fishermen will have better prospects in 1994. In particular, they should be pleased with:

the large share of the North Sea nephrops TAC allocated to the UK;

a significant increase in the availability of haddock in the North Sea and of flatfish in the Irish Sea;

agreement to "mackerel flexibility" so that our fishermen can catch this species in the North Sea between October and December at the same level as last year.

the 40 per cent. increase in the UK's quota for cod at North Norway.

In the light of the scientific advice it would have been damaging to the stocks, and therefore not in the long term interest of the fishermen themselves, to maintain the previous quotas for all stocks but my honourable friend negotiated the best obtainable outcome.

The Council also considered adjustments to the rules under which the Spanish and Portuguese vessels fish in Community waters. As a result of the strong line which we and others have been taking in the negotiation, the presidency produced a compromise document in an endeavour to find a way forward to an agreement. This document replaced the Commission's "blank cheque" approach under which we would have released the Iberians from all constraints without knowing what would go in their place. It represented a workmanlike first step in reflecting our key interest in ensuring satisfactory safeguards for all the areas around our shores, and provides a useful basis for considering the detailed arrangements which will apply after 1995. My honourable friend pressed for a decision to be reached quickly on the basis of the presidency's document so that the uncertainty facing our fishermen could be removed. However, agreement was not possible at this meeting. The Council agreed to continue work, on the basis of the Belgian presidency's proposal, under the forthcoming Greek presidency.

At my honourable friend's request the Council considered, and adopted unanimously, an EC/Canada Fisheries Agreement which establishes satisfactory arrangements for managing complicated and sensitive fisheries.

There were two issues before the Council which have been concerning fishermen and environmentalists. The first was industrial fishing. In response to pressure which my honourable friend has been applying for several months, the Commission will establish a working group. This will bring together marine ecologists and fisheries biologists to study the implications for the marine ecosystem of fishing in general and industrial fishing in particular. The group will also set priorities for future research work on the effect these have on the marine ecosystem, sea birds and small cetaceans. There will be a report to the Council before the end of April 1994. The second issue concerned drift nets. There was no proposal before the Council for an extension of the derogation allowing limited use of long drift nets and no decision on this was taken. However, the Council asked the Commission to prepare a report on drift netting in the light of the best scientific advice available. A proposal could only be made it if were possible to demonstrate scientifically the absence of any ecological risk.

On the market situation the Council noted that minimum import prices could not form a permanent instrument of market management. They could apply only in exceptional circumstances and the general range of minimum import prices would expire at the end of December. However, for salmon the Commission agreed to review the situation during January to see whether the minimum import prices for salmon should continue beyond 31 January 1994.

The Council agreed a regulation to implement the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance, which amalgamates, with some amendments, the regulations dealing with fisheries structures and with marketing and processing. My honourable friend voted against this new measure because some of its provisions did not provide value for money. The Government will carefully consider which provisions to implement in the UK bearing in mind the need to maintain an efficient industry whilst balancing fishing capacity and resources.

A Council decision concerning the objectives and detailed rules for restructuring the Community fisheries sector was adopted. This formalises the Council's endorsement in 1992 of the horizontal targets for reducing fishing effort contained in the 1993–96 multi-annual guidance programmes. My honourable friend abstained, since the introduction of more binding targets goes beyond the requirement in the basic regulation for the Council to set objectives. The Netherlands also abstained; Greece voted against.