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Headless Fish (Landings)

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 28 April 1949

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asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps he intends to take to stop the landing of headless cod and other long fish from the distant fishing grounds in view of the damage to their keeping qualities; the fouling of grounds; the loss of fishing time; and the loss of fishmeal for cattle, pigs and poultry feeding.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to a Question on this subject by the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) on 4th April. There is no conclusive evidence that the heading of fish at sea substantially affects keeping quality or is detrimental to the fishing grounds. It does not necessarily involve a loss of fishing time. More fishmeal could be obtained by preventing heading at sea, but this might lead to less fish being landed for human consumption.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fishing industry is unanimously in favour of returning to the traditional practice of landing fish whole? This new practice has simply come about because of the interference of the Minister of Food in a well-meant endeavour to bring in more fish, and all he is doing is to bring in more bad fish. Should it not be stopped? The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the production of all food.

Yes, Sir, but the hon. Member is aware that while I appreciate the urgent need for more fishmeal as protein feedingstuff and so forth, I am also anxious to see that the human family are not deprived of any of the fish we could obtain while there is such a shortage of meat.

Is the Minister of opinion on examination of this question that the heading of fish does reduce the keeping qualities, and what is the scientific estimate of the effect of the heading of fish on the fouling of the fishing grounds?

Experiments carried out by the Torry Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have shown that as regards the keeping qualities there is no great advantage or disadvantage directly attributable to the heading of fish at sea.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that to retain the head of a fish decreases the effect of the weight of the fish on those in the lower strata in the hold, because the heavy bone in the head of the fish reduces the pressure on the fish underneath?

It is obvious that if all the fish are headed there is more accommodation for the bodies of the fish, of which the human family are in urgent need.

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that all the people in the longshore fishing industry are agreed that this practice has spoiled some of the best fishing grounds not only in the North Sea, but in the White Sea and in the far fishing grounds, and would he do something to get this practice stopped instead of spoiling the fishing?

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no unanimity among the trawler owners. There is no reason why they should not start bringing in whole fish instead of heading them at sea.