HC Deb 14 June 1994 vol 244 cc441-2W
Mr. Gill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 10 June; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Jack

I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 10 June in Luxembourg, together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The Council unanimously adopted a framework regulation enabling it to decide, on a case-by-case basis, when licences for fishing should be supplemented by a special permit to fish in certain waters, so as to enable the nature and extent of the fishing effort deployed to be tightly prescribed, monitored and enforced. I recognised the need for this new management tool, notably following the completion of negotiations on the integration of Spain and Portugal and then Norway into the CFP. However, I told the Council that I shared the concerns of the United Kingdom fishing industry about the practical implications of this additional layer of administration. Moreover, I pointed out that the burdensome weight of fisheries regulation was an issue that went wider than the permit scheme. A number of other member states expressed similar preoccupations.

In response, the Commission made a formal statement that its proposals for any specific application of permits will take account of the practical and economic implications for fishermen. While it must be effective in securing the controls required, any scheme imposing permits must involve the minimum administrative burden and efficient arrangements for the initial issue and subsequent modification of permits. The management of any permit scheme will be a matter for the member states.

The Council concluded that permits should not be required for fishing vessels under 10 m in length operating exclusively within their territorial waters and the Council deferred a decision on whether the permit system should apply to EU vessels operating in third country waters. I welcomed the outcome of this negotiation, which demonstrated the willingness of the Council and the Commission to take proper account of the realities of the fishing industry.

In a wider recognition of the burdens of regulation on the fishing industry, the Commission responded positively to my suggestion that it examine systematically how the current body of regulation can be simplified. It made it clear that it would welcome proposals from the fishing industry—an offer which I hope our own fishermen will take up.

In the absence of a European parliamentary opinion, no decisions were taken on the Commission's proposal on drift nets and the Council held only a general discussion. Officials will continue to examine the proposals, and particularly the scope for enhanced enforcement of the north-east Atlantic tuna industry. The Council will revert to the issue when the European Parliament's opinion is available. Meanwhile, EU fishing vessels are prohibited from using drift nets longer than 2.5 km in any fishery.

The Council unanimously adopted a mandate for the Commission to open negotiations with Greenland, under the EU/Greenland agreement, on the fishing opportunities and other arrangements to apply for the five-year period beginning 1 January 1995. The United Kingdom benefits from opportunities to fish at Greenland.

The Council discussed Canadian legislation enabling Canada to act against flag of convenience and unflagged vessels in the area administered by the North West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation. The Council agreed that the EU should inform Canada of its concern about the extent of the powers taken and urge Canada to co-ordinate her enforcement activities with NAFO partners, including the EU. I agreed that such an approach should be made but was unhappy about the terms in which it was expressed and as a consequence abstained on the matter in order to allow a community view to go forward.

The Council had a limited discussion on the state of the market for fisheries' products. I pressed the Commission to provide the complete analysis of this complex problem which had been previously promised. This was agreed, and the Commission was asked to undertake the work and report back to the September Fisheries Council, if appropriate with proposals.

The Council unanimously approved a proposal, which will be adopted as soon as the European Parliament's opinion is available, on the methodology for measuring the tonnage of fishing vessels, which is important for managing a number of aspects of the CFP. To take account of the difficulties the EU fishing industry faces, it was agreed that an estimating formula could be adopted for vessels below 15 m and that, for medium-sized vessels—15 to 24 m—an extended deadline of 1 January 2004 would be allowed for completion of the measuring exercise. This outcome will be very helpful to the United Kingdom.

The Council unanimously adopted a regulation covering the EU's Mediterranean waters which introduces technical conservation rules, notably about the use of various kinds of fishing nets and other gear.

A Commission proposal establishing compensation for the additional costs incurred in the marketing of certain fisheries products from the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and the French Department of Guiana as a result of their very remote location was adopted by qualified majority vote. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom were unable to support the measure because the funding procedures adopted were not satisfactory.

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