HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc214-6W
Mr. Duncan

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Brussels on Monday 22 April; and if he will make a statement. [26748]

Mr. Baldry

I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Brussels on 22 April, together with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson).

I emphasised the importance of securing a satisfactory solution to the problem of quota hoppers. In many cases, these vessels have very little economic link with the UK and other countries where they are found. I explained that this is a problem which must be solved as a priority.

I explained the United Kingdom's ideas for the creation of regional consultative committees. These would increase the regional input into the common fisheries policy by bringing together fisherman and officials from member states active in particular fisheries. They would provide a forum to discuss any issue of regional relevance—for example, technical conservation measures or the state of the stocks. In response, the Commissioner emphasised her concern to secure greater regional inputs from the fishing industry. She undertook to build on these and to establish a pilot committee to test the idea.

I drew attention to the magnitude of the industrial fisheries in the North sea urging a cautious approach to their management. In particular, I called for the introduction of a precautionary total allowable catch for sand eels and for a greater collaborative research effort on the multi-species interactions connected with industrial fisheries to increase our understanding of their impact on other species.

The Council unanimously agreed new measures to introduce greater flexibility in quota management and more systematic penalties for quota overshoots. The flexibility provisions have been limited to take account of concerns expressed both by fishermen and environmental organisations. They are optional at member state level. The Council and Commission agreed a UK suggestion that data on landings must be collected and presented on a consistent basis throughout the Community before the new penalties for overfishing apply.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Belgium, France and Ireland voting against, a compromise on the opening of certain autonomous tariff quotas for the import of fish and fishery products balancing the interests of processors with those of the catching sector.

The Council unanimously agreed a 1996 total allowable catch of 150,000 tonnes for the expanding Atlanto-Scandian herring stock in waters north of Shetland. This provides a welcome additional fishing opportunity for the UK fleet.

The Commission gave a progress report on its preparatory work for the next series of multi-annual guidance programmes. Scientific advice demonstrated a clear case for further measures to reduce overfishing, but an extensive consultation exercise with fishing interests throughout the Community confirmed the underlying economic difficulties which the sector continued to face. The Council will take up these issues in more detail at its next meeting in June.

I welcomed a report by the Commission on enforcement activity by member states and called for early action to achieve more consistent standards of enforcement.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary reported to the Council on the outcome of bilateral discussions with Norway about the continued weakness in the European farmed salmon market and stressed the need for the Commission to keep the position under close review.

Forward to