HC Deb 03 November 1997 vol 300 cc36-7W
Mr. Fabian Hamilton

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of the European Fisheries Council held on 30 October in Luxembourg.[14426]

Mr. Morley

I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 30 October, together with my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Under each agenda item decisions were taken which will enhance fisheries conservation.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Denmark voting against, a wide ranging package of technical measures designed to conserve fish stocks by reducing catches of juvenile fish and discarding.

Key features of the present arrangements, such as the areas closed to protect juvenile fish, will be maintained. The minimum mesh size for cod, haddock and other large-bodied species was confirmed at 100mm in the North Sea and North West of Scotland, and will increase, with special transitional arrangements, from 80mm to 100mm in other waters to the west and south of the United Kingdom. Other measures to increase the selectivity of fishing nets include a new requirement to use square mesh panels in nephrops nets and limits on twine thickness. In order to assist enforcement, there will also be limits on the number of nets of different mesh sizes that fishermen may use on a single trip, with the detailed rules on this aspect to be decided next year.

The rules on discarding will change in order to reduce the quantity of fish discarded. The minimum landing sizes of fish will be made more consistent with the mesh sizes used, again in order to reduce discarding. Minimum sizes have also been improved for shellfish stocks to give this sector added protection.

The new conservation rules will come into effect on 1 January 2000 so as to give fishermen time to adapt their fishing gear and practices. The Government has worked closely with the fishing industry in discussing technical conservation measures and the new rules respond to many of their concerns. As well as securing conservation gains, we successfully resisted proposals which would have undermined effective enforcement at sea.

The Council unanimously agreed conclusions on future policy towards fisheries agreements with third countries. As a result the European Commission will undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of these agreements. In the meantime the Council has called upon the Commission to explore ways of ensuring that the agreements are coherent with general development policy and involve fishing opportunities set at sustainable levels. The Council has also called upon the Commission to examine the funding arrangements and to provide full evaluations before expiring agreements are renewed or new agreements sought. I fully support these conclusions which lay the foundation for a more soundly based future policy.

The Council unanimously adopted new rules on catch reporting in Western Waters to come into effect on 1 July 1998. These new rules make up the last enforcement element of the December 1994 Western Waters agreement on Spanish and Portuguese integration into the Common Fisheries Policy. They will strengthen enforcement but should not create significant additional burdens on fishermen because catch reports will be submitted along with the position reports which vessels have had to submit since 1996 when operating in Western Waters.

I used the opportunity of the Council to draw attention to the need to make progress on the Commission's long-standing proposal to phase out the use of drift nets on the high seas. I made it clear that the United Kingdom would seek to reach an agreement during its Presidency of the European Union next year, taking account of both environmental concerns and the needs of the fishermen who have hitherto participated in the fishery.