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Fish Stocks (Conservation)

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made at the Law of the Sea Conference to conserve fish stocks and protect these stocks from being overfished in the waters round the Scottish coast.

The Law of the Sea Conference has not been concerned with conservation measures as such. International measures to conserve our stocks are considered in the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which is meeting later this month.

As the Law of the Sea Conference has adjourned, and no ratifications of any changes could take place in less than about two years, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an urgent need for the EEC countries to negotiate with Denmark to reduce the amount of industrial fishing? I understand that the Danes catch about 1·3 million tons of fish, of which more than 1 million tons is for industrial, not human, consumption. The matter should be negotiated straight away. It cannot be deferred.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is disappointing, as I think I hinted after my visit to Geneva the last time I answered Questions, that the conference did not come to firm conclusions, not only on fishing but on economic zones and all the other matters. I appreciate the concern about industrial fishing, but it is always difficult to tell a friendly Power that it is pursuing policies which are not in the best interests of everyone. It is partly because of industrialised fishing by Denmark and other countries that we are in our present serious situation. We shall be raising the matter next week.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the fishermen have shown a very responsible attitude to conservation and quotas? We on this side of the House are encouraged by what the hon. Gentleman has said about the hard line he proposes to take at the conference next week. If bilateral discussions with other countries are necessary, will the hon. Gentleman reflect upon the point that if other countries take unilateral action—if Norway takes unilateral action, for example—as a member of the EEC we are in a relatively strong position to deal with them?

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Denmark is the problem."] As the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) knows, this is not a pro-EEC or anti-EEC argument, and he was not trying to suggest that it was. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is on my side. I cannot even hear what he is saying. We accept the policies and approach of the fishing industry as a whole towards conservation. I feel concern because the United Kingdom quota for herring, for example, is coming down from 109,000 tonnes to a maximum of 66,000 tonnes for everybody. Inevitably, serious problems face the industry. Although the industry has been responsible. I share its fears and worries about its future livelihood. That is one of the reasons why we attach great importance to the conference next week.

Order. May I make an appeal to Scottish Members. It is nearly a quarter to three, and we have dealt with only two Questions. Can we go rather quicker?