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Fishery Protection

Volume 928: debated on Wednesday 23 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many fishing protection vessels and aircraft are currently available for Scottish waters; and what types they are.

For fishery protection duties in waters off Scotland, my Department operates six vessels, three of them inshore, and the Royal Navy deploys, on average, three ships, which may be of the Ton Class, the Island Class, or frigates. Aerial surveillance is provided by RAF Nimrods, which fly two or three patrols each week off Scotland. Additional support can be provided by the Royal Navy and by the Royal Air Force, as the occasion demands and as availability permits.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider stepping up surveillance, especially by aircraft? Is he aware that there appears to be widespread poaching off Shetland and that large quantities of white fish are being slaughtered as pout? Has he any comment to make on the criticism that I have seen that the new generation of fishery protection vessels may not be satisfactory?

If the right hon. Gentleman has any evidence of widespread poaching, I should like to have it. However, that is not my information. There is continuing examination of the effectiveness of the existing fishery protection fleet. The possibility of having to introduce new ideas within the framework of the CFP, the 200-mile limit, and all the other duties of enforcement that fall on the Fisheries Protection Service has been well advertised by the Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the generally held belief that more fishery protection vessels of a new design will be required? As I understand that a new design has been commissioned in the shipyard of Hall Russell and Company, in Aberdeen, I urge whoever is responsible to make a decision for the building of these craft as soon as possible.

I agree that my hon. Friend looks after the interests of Hall Russell and Company. I shall not go so far as to commit myself to any particular design. There will be more fishermen watching each other in the new set-up than ever before. That will be the most effective way of preserving law and order in respect of limits and quotas.

Does the Minister agree that the only way in which he can enlist the help of Scottish fishermen is by creating a 50-mile conservation zone in which only British boats are allowed?

I think that the hon. Gentleman should rephrase that question. As far as I know, the SNP is talking of a 50-mile exclusive limit for Scottish boats. That typical gross oversimplification is regularly made by the SNP. The situation is far too complex for that. Exclusive coastal belts are only one part of our strategy on fishing.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that better use could be made of surface vessels if there were an aerial flight every day of the week rather than two or three times?

Again, there is no evidence that existing arrangements are other than satisfactory. Indeed, the Select Committee and all other interested parties who have visited the area have been most impressed by the effectiveness of the present surveillance arrangements. If there should be any need for further flights, the matter can be reconsidered.

Despite what the Minister said to the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), may we take it that it is still the Government's intention, in spite of all the difficulties, to negotiate and aim for a substantial exclusive zone for British fishermen?

Yes, it is. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in fishing matters, because I think that, like me, he will soon be convinced of their complexity. It is unwise to sloganise about 50-mile exclusive limits.