HC Deb 20 June 1996 vol 279 cc618-20W
Mr. David Porter

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current tonnage of the United Kingdom fishing fleet; how far this is from its targets under the multi-annual guidance programme; and if he will make a statement. [34076]

Mr. Baldry

Latest available figures from the UK register show the current nominal tonnage of the UK fishing fleet as 207,000 tonnes. This figures, which represents some vessels measured in gross registered tonnes and others measured in gross tonnes, compares with an overall target for the end of 1996 in our existing multi-annual guidance programme of 176,981 GRT. Figures published recently by the European Commission, ostensibly using GT units, show us at 247,198 tonnes as against a target of 209,370 tonnes.

For a number of reasons, none of these figures give a correct picture of the actual position.

The first reservation relates to the end 1996 target itself. This was set using provisional data for the size of the UK fleet as at the end of 1991. We now know that this failed to include a significant number of vessels, the effect of which is to overstate the degree of reduction which we need to achieve.

The second reservation relates to the units of measurement used. Vessel tonnage is a volumetric measure which depends critically on the exact methodology. A valid comparison of fleet tonnage requires a consistent standard for the period in question. Consistency is, however, not readily achievable because the European Community is progressively altering the methodology used for the fishing fleet from the various national and international standards, previously collectively called GRT, to a common standard based on the international tonnage convention 1969 and known as GT. A phased programme of conversion was introduced by Council regulation (EEC) 2930/86, amended in particular by Council regulation (EEC) 3259/94, using technical provisions laid down in Commission decision 95/84/EC. Copies of these instruments are available in the House library. This process is not due to be completed until 2003.

There is no simple mathematical relationship between GRT and GT for any given vessel establishment of a GT figure can be done only by physical measurement or, in the case of smaller vessels, by the application of formulae designed to give an approximation. Moreover, although GT figures are often higher than GRT figures for the same vessel, the range of outcomes can be as low as 50 per cent. or as high as 300 per cent. of the original tonnage according to the individual vessel characteristics. It is therefore impossible to use general assumptions to convert either the end 1996 target, or the current nominal tonnage of our fleet, to a GT basis, since the true result will depend on the actual relationship between GRT and GT for each of the particular vessels included on each occasion. Thus conversion requires consideration of each individual vessel.

The Commission's attempted conversion in their recent published figures noted above, does not allow for this and does not use procedures agreed by member states or laid down in EU law. Their figures cannot therefore be properly described as GT, nor can the relationship between them be assumed to be proportional to actual progress in reducing our fleet.

Detailed work is being carried out to arrive at an accurate assessment of the UK position—similar uncertainties arise in relation to the figures for other member states. But, because records relating to vessels already removed from the fleet are not always sufficient to enable GT equivalents to be determined, there will necessarily be a degree of imprecision. Similarly, some newer vessels will be measured only in GT and would need to be remeasured to arrive at a GRT figure. As things stand, it is not therefore possible to give a valid comparison of performance against target on either basis.

These and other technical issues such as discrepancies between UK and Commission records of the number of vessels in our fleet, are being discussed bilaterally with the Commission. We are also passing full details of our calculations to it so that agreement can be reached on appropriate adjustments. The total impact of this technical review is quite substantial. Once completed and agreed, I anticipate we shall be within a handful of percentage points of our tonnage target.

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