HC Deb 29 January 2002 vol 379 cc243-4W
Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what assessment she has made of the effects of industrial fishing on whitefish species; and if she will make a statement; [30356]

(2) what action she is taking to ensure that industrial fishing vessels in the North sea do not net whitefish species while fishing for sandeels; and if she will press for an EU-wide ban on industrial fishing. [30355]

Mr. Morley

The annual weight of bycatch reported to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in relation to industrial fishing in the North sea averaged 6,000 tonnes of haddock, 9,000 tonnes of whiting and 1,000 tonnes of cod for the years 1995 to 1999.

The following table compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (CEFAS) from statistics reported to ICES, shows how these industrial bycatch tonnages compare with landings and estimated discards for the same species, again averaged over the period 1995–99:

Haddock Whiting Cod
Landings 74,000 36,000 126,000
Discards 54,000 22,000 18000
Bycatch 6,000 9,000 1,000
1 1999 only

Although these figures leave no doubt that whitefish are caught in the small-meshed industrial fisheries, they do not in themselves, especially when viewed alongside the tonnages discarded by the whitefish fleets, make out a case for banning industrial fishing.

However, on-going work by CEFAS, in part carried out in co-operation with Danish fishery managers, is aimed at refining our understanding of the bycatch, in particular in relation to the extent to which young fish of each of the whitefish species figure in it.

Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the effect of industrial fishing for sandeels on the sea-life food chain. [30357]

Mr. Morley

Using data from international scientific studies, CEFAS has related estimates of the abundance of the fish and seabirds in and around the North sea to information on the amount of sandeel found in their stomachs. The information results from comparing the average populations for the period 1974 to 1995 with a large amount of stomach data collected during intensive sampling of North sea stocks throughout two reference years, 1981 and 1991.

This work suggests that, on average, natural predators have eaten about 2.7 million tonnes of sandeels each year, compared with around 700,000 tonnes currently taken by the sandeel fishery.

On average 46 per cent. (1.2 million tonnes) was taken by mackerel, 22 per cent. (600,000 tonnes) by whiting, 6 per cent. by haddock, 5 per cent. by birds and 2 per cent. by cod.

As a percentage averaged over the year, sandeels represented 20 per cent. of the diet for mackerel and whiting, 10 per cent. for haddock and 5 per cent. for saithe and cod. For sea birds the percentage was higher, averaging 40 per cent. for sea birds, rising to 90 per cent. during the chick rearing period. This is why sandeel fishing is currently not allowed on the Wee Bankie and why there is a seasonal closure at Shetland.

Further national and international work is in hand to extend our detailed knowledge so that further measures can be considered if necessary.

Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she last discussed the issue of industrial fishing with her Danish counterpart; what recent representations she has made; and if she will make a statement. [30358]

Mr. Morley

Senior officials from the Department held lengthy and productive discussions with their Danish counterparts on 16 November 2001. Scientific collaboration between Denmark and the United Kingdom on industrial fisheries is on-going, in particular in relation to by-catch and to the ground-breaking sandeel closure at Wee Bankie.