Skip to main content

Mackerel Industry(Cornwall)

Volume 960: debated on Friday 15 December 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Graham.]

We are starting on the Adjournment 35 minutes later than expected. Each of the first four debates must therefore be 10 minutes shorter than it would otherwise have been, in order that we may be fair to those who follow.

11.36 a.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the mackerel industry in Cornwall. I must make a slight apology, because the title of my subject is the mackerel industry in Cornwall, but the essence of my complaint is that the mackerel industry is everywhere but in Cornwall and that the industry that has suddenly grown around us is having very little effect on some of the substantial economic difficulties of my county.

It is worth spending a few moments to spell out how the present situation has arisen. I am more than aware that mackerel have always been available off the Cornish coast. As a Cornishman, I was brought up on mackerel, among other things, and can clearly recollect the fish being sold door-to-door, at less than one penny each, by local fishermen who had often caught them in their leisure time. It was often said locally that the essence of the trouble with the mackerel industry was that, for good or bad reasons, the English would not eat the fish, though it had been a useful part of the Cornish diet for a long time.

A decade or so ago, a considerable amount of initiative by local business people gradually built up contacts in Europe and the mackerel industry began to take off. In the village of Flushing, in my constituency, there was a substantial growth in the number of boats using the harbour. I well recollect the arguments and vested interests of local residents and fishermen as the industry started to grow in the village.

Suddenly, things started to happen much more quickly. The British fishing industry went through an experience of considerable trauma. Within a few months, certainly less than two years, it found itself excluded, virtually totally, from the Icelandic waters and Norway, and logic was at long last brought to the fore in herring fishing when sensible conservation plans were implemented, which meant, for a period, a total ban on fishing for herring. The net result was that the great British fishing fleet faced a massive reduction in the number of fish available for catching.

Much to the surprise of myself and a number of other people locally, the one bit of good news at that time was that it appeared that the Soviet bloc had agreed to stop fishing off Cornwall. Some of us thought, for a whole week, that that was the end of the Soviet bloc. Much to our amazement, a large number of Soviet bloc fishing factories suddenly started using Falmouth harbour, and on the last occasion that I did a count I saw 24 in the vicinity.

That is the background to my argument. I should like to raise three points in particular—the question of conservation, the question how the mackerel industry is or, indeed, is not affecting the economy of Cornwall and the general question of environmental control of the sudden growth of this industry.

According to some of the documents I have read, a total allowable catch of mackerel approaching 400,000 tons would appear to be quite possible. I realise that not all of this is to be caught off Cornwall, but I can discover no one locally who believes that catching on that scale can possibly be maintained. I have had a substantial amount of correspendence with the Minister which has outlined how the research is done. I must admit that some of the documents are impressive. But the simple truth is that no one locally believes the conclusions.

It is true that there has been a poor summer for mackerel and that the fishermen have been catching smaller fish. I should like to know how much fish has been caught off Cornwall this year. What is the total allowable catch immediately off Cornwall, and what will the Minister do when and if that limit should be reached?

I can think of no greater insanity than catching fish before they mature. Catching small mackerel must be the first and prime nonsense of all. I seriously put to the Minister the proposition that there should be a close season in Cornwall, at least within the 12-mile limit, although I recognise the difficulties outside that distance, by banning the catching of mackerel with nets. The suggested dates have been 1st March to 1st November. But those fishermen to whom I have spoken are reasonably flexible and would accept a close season plus or minus a few weeks on either side of those dates. There is no doubt that there is a clear desire locally to stop the catching of what are believed to be immature fish, and I would have thought that the logic of that was absolutely overwhelming.

We are told that there are a lot of fish off the south-west of the Isles of Scilly. Clearly, the netting regulations would be somewhat difficult to apply to that area, since it is a considerable distance outside the 12-mile limit. The fish stocks off the Isles of Scilly are extremely important, and I believe that they should probably be used more than they are at present. I am told that they are already extensively fished by the Dutch. People locally certainly take the view that in the next few months there will be a great build-up in the number of boats fishing this area.

Can the Minister say how much fish has been caught in that area? What confidence does he have in his figures? After all, much of that fish is landed at Continental ports and never comes through the United Kingdom at all. If the total allowable catch is to have any meaning whatever, it seems important that the statistics for this area are as accurate as, if not more accurate than, those for the smaller fishing grounds immediately in the vicinity of the coast of Cornwall.

It would be unfair to criticise the Government for having done nothing with regard to the conservation of the mackerel stocks. Essentially, the scheme that they have proposed and implemented is that there should be restrictions on the basis of tons per day per man. The limit has varied between 5 tons and 3½ tons. Certainly a limit of 5 tons is regarded locally as no limit in reality. There is a secondary point that worries people a great deal. There is a feeling that people go out with their purse-seiners and once they catch the fish they think that perhaps they are not very good, that there might be better fish elsewhere, so they go off and catch those as well. Those of the lowest quality out of the two lots are then thrown back into the sea. It is believed that some of the purse-seiners catch vastly in excess of their allowable catch, but in order to keep within the regulations the excess fish are thrown over the side.

My fishermen who know the coast and the rocks of the sea intimately, because they have been involved there all their lives, tell me that there is either sudden volcanic action off the coast of Cornwall or that large heaps of dead and decaying mackerel are being seen on their radar. There is no doubt that this should be stopped. Clearly, the throwing back of dead fish is even greater nonsense than the catching of immature fish. I should like to know what the Minister intends to do about that.

It is my view that the technique of purse-seining should be banned. I have long taken the view that this is a super sophisticated way of catching fish, which, it must be remembered, is a finite resource. I just do not believe that those two things marry in a sensible way. I have long been an opponent of purse-seining, and I shall be interested to learn what the Minister has to say. More important, I should like to know his views about the slippage of fish. What happens to the excess which is caught on any particular day.

There is a feeling locally that Cornwall has been asked to solve the entire problems of the United Kingdom fishing fleet. Clearly, the local people have recognised the problems. The feeling is that the one stock of fish left—the mackerel off Cornwall—is being regarded as potentially solving the entire problems of the United Kingdom fishing fleet. No one believes that this situation can possibly be maintained, and it is widely believed that the Government only allow this to be maintained in order to build up large historic quotas in order to argue the case with the EEC in the difficult negotiations which are clearly taking place.

How does this affect the economy of Cornwall? The Minister may think that this is not his direct responsibility, but he is certainly involved in relation to Cornwall. Cornwall has 12 per cent. male unemployment. It is a statistical fact that the lowest average wages are earned in Cornwall. The county is so far from the centre of commerce that I believe we can overcome our difficulties only by building up industries which are natural to the county. We have some industrial background. We have agriculture and mining—a substantial industry—not just china clay. That industry is mostly within my constituency. We also have tourism. These industries are natural to the county of Cornwall. Now we have fishing.

As an indication of what contribution fishing could make to the county, if 300,000 tons of mackerel are caught off the Cornish coast this year, and the average price for mackerel is £80 a ton, that means that we are talking about a £24-million-a-year industry. That represents 3,000 tons of tin or one-quarter of the total exports of china clay from my county. The fishing industry could quite clearly solve Cornwall's economic problems if we had the entire mackerel industry to ourselves—I recognise that that is an impossible request—but the economic problems of Cornwall would be largely solved.

It is said that, in the fishing industry generally, for each man fishing eight are employed on the shore. But Cornwall must have the only fishing industry in Britain which employs more fishermen than those employed on the shore. There is very little land-based fish-related industry in Cornwall. Fishing is not unique in this respect, because we do not have a land-based industry as a result of the mining of tin or china clay. Indeed, many feel that we are just an area of raw materials to supply the economy of the rest of the country.

There is an overwhelming case that the fishing industry, which is obviously natural to the county of Cornwall, should be allowed to solve some of the economic difficulties which have been besetting the county for about the last 10 years. Worse than that in some way, we must consider how this situation affects the local fishermen. The traditional men are in danger of being squeezed out. I do not think anyone would deny that. The permitted tons-per-day catch, the exemption from licensing and the three-mile limit have all made a useful contribution towards preserving the local industry. But the long-liners and hand-liners represent a labour-intensive method of fishing of the first order.

It is worth explaining what hand-lining is. It virtually consists of a piece of nylon, containing perhaps 20 or 30 hooks, which is thrown over the back of the boat. Fortunately, mackerel are such stupid fish that they will snap at anything that glistens in the light of the sun. Long-lining is labour-intensive and is the absolute ultimate conservation method of fishing. When the fish come on board, the line is pulled over the side so that each fish can be individually inspected. A decision is than made whether to toss it back in the ocean or put it in the box. It is labour-intensive and a good inspection system.

Even if every Cornishman went out fishing for mackerel, I do not think one would ruin the stocks as effectively as two or three dozen purse-seiners could. The market, which has been searched for and built up over a number of years, is in danger of being squashed. Because of landings in a French harbour, for example, the market provided by my local co-operative was overwhelmed.

I believe that there is an overwhelming case for a six-mile limit for local fishermen. I do not suggest that we should exclude fishermen from Hull or Grimsby. There are plenty of fish off the Isles of Scilly. The boats used by fishermen from Hull and Grimsby were designed for deep-sea trawling. They are now virtually fishing in my county's back garden, three miles or so off the coast. However, there would be no problem if they caught their mackerel off the Isles of Scilly. However, my constituents, with their small boats and tiny engines, would be foolish to go that distance to catch mackerel.

The Dutch are in the area, and I am told that they are subsidised by their Government. I am always doubtful about advocating subsidies for fishing. The industry has got into its present state because of the effect of subsidies, but I believe that pressure must be applied so that our large boats can go out into the ocean to catch the mackerel in those areas which are the natural and sensible places to catch them.

At present, at a distance of between two and four miles off the coast, there is a mixture of every kind of fishing boat. The fish are harassed and chased from one side of that area to the other. This week, in the Cornishman—I will send the Minister a copy—there is a photograph of a large freezer vessel surrounded by small local boats. There is a great worry locally that one of these days there will be a tragic accident. Some of these large vessels have been seen to sail right through the middle of the local small vessels, which respect the laws of the sea and obviously, having regard to their own size, can do nothing but get out of the way. The trawler, however, turns round, puts down its fishing tackle, goes back through the shoal and scoops up a large proportion of the fish. That regularly happens at distances between two and four miles off the Cornish coast. There have been and will be incidents, and there are fears that there will be accidents. In all justice, the Cornish proportion of local jobs should not just be maintained it should be seen gradually to increase. We are not claiming exclusive rights to the mackerel off Cornwall, but we claim considerable moral justification. Certainly our economic difficulties suggest that we should take a larger proportion of those fish than is now the case. If the necessary investment is to take place in Cornwall, it is essential that confidence should be brought back to the industry. Clearly that confidence has been shattered in the last couple of years.

I wish to deal with planning and general environmental difficulties. It is staggering in terms of United Kingdom law that if the people of St. Mawes wanted to build a factory outside the town they would have to apply to the local authority for planning permission. This would mean the intervention of environmental and health officials and the whole mish-mash of legislation that we have dreamt up in this place over, the last two or three hundred years. It would take a long time to obtain approval, even if it were sought. Controls dealing with sewage, noise and many other matters connected with present legislation would apply.

That is what would have to happen if the factory were built on land. But if a factory of exactly the same size happens to float on water and is the same distance from St. Mawes, but is on the seaward side as opposed to the landward side, it appears that no regulations exist. Any number of boats can come into the area, anchor in Falmouth bay and start working as factories.

We have had as many as 24 of these vessels in this harbour. Last year I decided to invite myself on board one of them. I made inquiries in the harbour, found a captain who could speak English, and went aboard a Bulgarian fishing factory ship. I must admit that at that moment I wondered whether I was wise. However, I spoke to the captain, who showed me round that vessel. I did not realise that such vessels existed. There were 80 people on board working the factory.

Let me tell the House what those workers were doing. The mackerel had been bought by the ton, largely from the British fishing fleets which have arrived in our area. When the fish arrive on board, they are filleted—which means that the flesh is taken from each side of the mackerel. The filleted mackerel are then put in a great refrigerated cabinet and frozen. At intervals a large conveyor vessel arrives from one of the Soviet countries, fills up from these boats and takes the fish back to the home port.

That earlier process probably does not cause much trouble, but it is what happens from then on that causes all the difficulty. The rest of the fish is then ground, boiled, squeezed and dried. These boats were designed for work in the middle of the Atlantic, miles from anywhere. The Soviet Union and its satellites do not have a great record for considering people's welfare. These Soviet vessels are noisy, and they stink. That is the only word I can use to describe them. The amount of smell that affects residents very much depends on weather conditions.

The situation has improved marginally. We were told that there was no power to get the boats out of the harbour. But then, suddenly, largely because of protests by oyster fishermen, a whole host of boats disappeared out of Falmouth harbour to anchor just off the main coast. In my view, that is where they should stay if we are to have them at all.

I wish to express my concern about the exact situation affecting those boats. When will they come back in the harbour, and under what conditions?

Neither I nor anybody else would wish to insist that in certain weather conditions those boats should stay out in the ocean. However, I suggest that within the harbour vessels working as factories within half a mile of communities in my constituency should not be allowed. I find it difficult to accept the argument that Britain does not have legislation to control such activities within a harbour within hundreds of yards or a mile of residential areas.

That is the case that I wish to present. We wish to have a close season during which netting is banned. We wish to have a six-mile local exclusive limit in respect of small boats. I do not envisage pushing other boats outside the area altogether. They can still go to the Scilly Isles and fish there, because that is where they should be.

We believe that our economic difficulties should bring us some of the wealth that is being produced from the fishing around our coasts. Turnovers of about £20 million a year are suddenly happening as a result of fishing off the coast of Cornwall.

Cornwall deserves part of the action. It requires part of the action. If we are ever going to put the economy of Cornwall on a strong footing, it has just got to have part of the action. Much as I commend and praise various efforts of the Government at industrial development in Cornwall, the simple fact is that the distance from the House of Commons to my home, via the roads which have been built, is 301 miles, and it is extremely difficult to overcome that problem while running some industries. It is one of the things for which one cannot blame the present Government or any other, but that is the distance involved. Therefore, the county of Cornwall must be given the opportunity and encouragement to develop what is natural.

That is the case from Cornwall for the mackerel industry—concern over conservation and concern over planning regulations—and Cornwall wants some of the action that has been created.

Before I call the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), may I tell the House that this debate must conclude at 12.25 p.m., the second debate must conclude at 1.15 p.m., and the third debate at 1.50 p.m. Then we shall be back to normal.

12.1 p.m.

I say straight away that I understand the problems advanced by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and sympathise very much with his point of view. Indeed, anyone who has read Fishing News of 17th November this year—" Looking South-West "—will understand not only the depth of the problem but the very strong feeling that exists in the South-West.

I particularly agreed with the hon. Member when he talked about the question of immature fish being caught and then thrown back into the sea, where they foul the fishing grounds and are a nuisance. I agree with him that that must be stopped. He also raised the question of vessels evading the quota. That is wholly wrong and must also be stopped.

However, I think that it is only right—I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—that from the point of view of the industry and of the House we must agree that there are two sides to every story. Very briefly, I ought to put the other side of the story just to get it on the record.

The hon. Member for Truro has already referred to the problems of the distant water industry. Perhaps I may mention some figures from Hull. The operational fleet from Hull in January 1975 totalled 91 vessels. The following year there were 71; in 1977 there were 63; in 1978 there were 53; and in August of this year there were 42, which is more than a 50 per cent. reduction in those years. Given those figures, there are today 13 freshers and 10 freezers laid up in the port.

The reason, of course, is the extension to 200 miles of the exclusive economic zone of other countries and the failure to reach an agreement on the common fisheries policy, which means that the EEC has not been able to arrange a swap deal with Norway, Iceland, the USSR and other countries. Therefore, our distant water vessels have not been able to fish in their traditional waters, so they have—one says this very openly—gone to fish off the South-West coast of this country.

The hon. Member for Truro mentioned unemployment. I merely say to him that unemployment may be bad in the South-West but I can assure him that it is equally bad in the port of Hull. I have little doubt that the same applies to Grimsby, and certainly to Fleetwood, and possibly also to Aberdeen. In Hull there is also very little alternative employment.

I turn specifically to the mackerel problem. Seventeen out of the existing 36 freezer trawlers from Hull are now fishing for mackerel. They are not all off the hon. Gentleman's constituency waters, but are mostly off that part of the country. The catch of the Hull vessels since 1975 has fallen by 30·6 per cent. Based on last year's catch, 1977–78. 37,000 tons, valued at £7 million, or 35 per cent. of the total catch of all Hull vessels, comes from mackerel fishing. I say that to put it on record, to show that this is the other side of a very difficult question and to emphasise the importance of the South-West fisheries to the distant water ports.

There have been proposals—the hon. Member for Truro mentioned one of them —that the three-mile limit for vessels over 60 ft should be extended to six miles. There have also been proposals from the South-West that there should be no transhipment in coastal waters. All I can say is that if this was ever seriously considered by the Government it would be disastrous, and perhaps the last blow to the distant water industry.

I know that the Minister of State, who will be replying to this debate, has this matter very much in mind, because he said, in a debate that we had on 22nd November in a Statutory Instruments Committee:
" We are very conscious of the pleas which have been made for a six-mile belt off the south-west coast. Here we have a fishery for which several conflicting United Kingdom interests are competing "
—and this is the point:
" We can well understand the point of view of the local fishermen. On the other hand, these are United Kingdom waters and there are other sections of our fleet which, for a variety of reasons, have lost fishing opportunities elsewhere."
The Minister went on to say:
" Most of the United Kingdom catch is in practice taken within three to six miles of the coast. Although mackerel can be caught further out, catch rates are rather uncertain. United Kingdom vessels excluded from fishing within six miles of the coast might find it difficult to maintain an economic fishery for mackerel."—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., 22nd November 1978 ; c. 24.]
That is the point that I am trying to make.

The British Fishing Federation makes the same point even more strongly. It says that if either of the two measures that I have mentioned were introduced, it would radically lower catches, reduce the quantity of fish frozen at sea and considerably disrupt, as well as diminish, the exporting arrangements by the virtual destruction of the distant water industry. It also says
" It is difficult to overstate either the crucial nature of the fishery or the devastating effect on the Hull fishing industry should any moves be implemented to restrict the profitability of the one and only viable fishery of any significance now remaining open to the displaced distant water fleet."
That is the other side of the story and it presents a dilemma, as the Minister said in the debate which I mentioned. There are competing interests and they are both British interests. One has to reach some kind of compromise. There is already a three-mile limit. There are already certain quotas, as the hon. Member for Truro mentioned. The point that he made was that we must not over-fish mackerel. That is the key, the most important matter of all. We have over-fished the North Sea, and many of the fishing grounds have been over-fished. This must not happen off the South-West coast.

I would just mention that in Fishing News of 24th November there was a report from the Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory, which said:
" Mackerel stocks are not in danger provided fishermen do not exceed the current total allowable catch. This is the conclusion of a report just published by the Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory."

The same report also said that most of the mackerel were in fact about 60 miles off the Isles of Scilly. Why do not the hon. Gentleman's deep water friends go out there and fish for them?

I am quite certain that they do and they will, but if they were excluded from the three-to-six-mile limit, as the Minister of State has made quite clear, it would adversely affect the whole of the remaining economy of the distant water industry. As the hon. Member will know, in a constituency adjacent to his own, the harbour master for Falmouth, when talking about these matters and the transference of mackerel from distant water vessels to Russian and other foreign factory ships, said:

" This port will, of its own volition, do everything to encourage trade and the full utilisation of its waters—whether by commercial vessels or pleasure craft."
So the area is certainly receiving some benefits from this trade.

I conclude by saying that I really do sympathise with and understand the hon. Gentleman's problems, but I am sure that he, in turn, understands the problems of the distant water vessels. There are still, thank heavens, many of them. It is a very important section of the industry. Therefore, I would say that a compromise is necessary.

I believe that it can be achieved. There have already been talks between representatives of the fishing industries in the South-West and the British Fishing Federation representing the distant water section. I believe that some form of compromise, possibly some form of close season based on conservation, might be an answer. I urge the Minister that he really must not go so far as to increase the limits, but I emphasise that we should do everything possible to reach an amicable agreement between two very important sides of the industry which, unfortunately, due to reasons absolutely beyond their control—international reasons —are now competing in certain restricted waters.

12.9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I commend the contributions made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall).

I am aware, of course, of the significant representations that have been made to the Government by the hon. Member for Truro in relation to the local problem. I listened with great interest to his eloquent speech. I am sorry that I shall have only a short time in which to respond, but I shall do my best to cover all the points that he raised. I know that his concern is genuinely felt. I assure him that that concern is shared by the Government.

We have devoted a great deal of time and thought to the problems of the mackerel fishery. I have also visited the Cornwall area and other parts of the coast, and I am aware of the problem. We are faced with a very difficult problem, with a number of competing and conflicting United Kingdom interests, as was made apparent by the hon. Member for Haltemprice. This is for a variety of reasons, well known to the House.

The fishing fleet has been facing major changes in its fishing opportunities, including reductions in its opportunities in waters outside the United Kingdom limits. The western mackerel fishery has played a crucial part in the redeployment of our fleet. We now catch more mackerel than any other fish, and the south-western mackerel fishery is of major importance to fishermen from Humberside and elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom.

At the same time, the Government fully recognise the interests and needs of the local south-western fishermen. In seeking to regulate the mackerel fishery, we have had very much in mind not only the general needs of conservation but also the particular interests of the different groups of fishermen involved.

We first introduced licensing controls on United Kingdom fishing for mackerel in September 1977. We did so because there seemed to be a risk of over-fishing by our fleet. From November 1977 until the beginning of November this year, landings and transhipments by licensed United Kingdom fishing vessels have been subject to a daily quota control.

From 5th November this year we introduced revised licensing arrangements. Again, before introducing these arrangements, we had full consultations with representatives of both catching and processing interests. The new arrangements restrict quantities of mackerel which licensed United Kingdom vessels may land or tranship on a weekly rather than a daily basis. The weekly quotas are equivalent to up to 15 tonnes per man per week in the case of vessels with relatively large crews, rising to 20 tonnes per man per week in the case of the smallest licensed trawlers. In the case of the vessels with relatively large crews, these quotas represent a considerable reduction compared to the daily quotas previously permitted.

Under the new licensing arrangements vessels of under 40 ft. and all hand-liners are exempted altogether from the need for a licence and from the licensing controls. In addition, the new licensing arrangements reinforce the local byelaws of the south-western sea fisheries committees and prohibit vessels of over 60 ft. fishing for mackerel within three miles of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The inclusion of this provision in the licensing arrangements means that vessels of over 60 ft. which break this rule are now liable on summary conviction to fines of up to £50,000 and the suspension of their licences.

That is an indication of the way in which we are trying to enforce the quotas and also to protect the stock generally. Our fishery protection forces are making a special effort to police the new arrangements. We have increased the resources from our own inspectorate involved in monitoring the fishing in the South-West. We also have at least one and often two fishery protection vessels patrolling the area and paying particular attention to ensuring that the three-mile limit is respected. Air cover, including helicopters, is also being employed.

Fortunately, in considering conservation requirements, we have the benefit of advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Under the council's auspices, a lot of important work has been done to improve the scientific assessment of the western mackerel stock. United Kingdom scientists have played an active and important part in this work. As a result of this work, the council has significantly revised its recommended total allowable catch for this stock.

I can understand the concern that not too much of the resources should be taken. Whereas last year the recommended 1978 total allowable catch was 250,000 tonnes, the final recommendation was 450,000 tonnes and for next year the recommended total allowable catch is 435,000 tonnes.

These increases in the recommended total allowable catch have led to some understandable concern. I recommend anyone interested in the reasons for these increases to read a booklet recently published by our Lowestoft laboratory. I am arranging for a copy of the booklet to be placed in the Library, and I will see that the hon. Member for Truro has a copy. It was written by Dr. Stephen Lockwood, of the laboratory, and is entitled "Mackerel: A Problem In Fish Stock Assessment ". It described in some detail the thorough and thoughtful work which lay behind the council's revisions of the total allowable catches. The booklet also makes clear the scientists' cautious approach and the fact that, when in doubt, they have inclined to be more prudent in the interpretation of the data.

The United Kingdom mackerel catch has certainly increased in recent years. In 1975 and 1976, the total international catch reported to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea was some 500,000 tonnes. However, in 1977 the total international catch was 315,000 tonnes—nearly 40 per cent. less than in either 1975 or 1976. Although the United Kingdom catch last year increased, that increase was much less than the reduction in Eastern bloc catches, following the exclusion of Eastern bloc vessels during that year from fishing within the fishery limits of EEC member States. These facts help to put into better perspective some of the anxieties that have been expressed.

I turn briefly to another important point. It is often thought that if foreign and other vessels are found in an area they must be fishing, but that is not necessarily the case. No foreign fishing for mackerel is permitted within 12 miles of the South-West. Our fishery protection forces keep this fishing under surveillance, and, apart from those from Norway and the Faroes, no non-EEC vessels are permitted to fish for mackerel within our 200-mile fishing limits.

The local pressure for a six-mile belt off the South-West from which vessels of over 80 ft. would be barred is understandable. However, this is a point that brings us straight up against the problem of reconciling the legitimate interests of the various competing fishing interests involved. As I said, this fishing is important to a number of sections of the United Kingdom fleet. Most of our mackerel catch off the South-West has in practice been taken within six miles of the coast. Mackerel can be caught further out, but catch rates are uncertain.

United Kingdom vessels excluded from fishing within six miles might find it difficult to maintain an economic fishery. If we excluded all United Kingdom vesssels of over 80 ft., our exploitation of the stock could be significantly reduced. It still seems that we are striking as fair a balance as we can with the present licensing arrangements, including vigorous enforcement of the three-mile limit.

The hon. Gentleman referred to dumping at sea, to the slipping of the catch. I learnt when I visited the South-West, and Cornwall in particular, how strongly fishermen feel about this. It was a point raised by the Expenditure Committee recently, and the Government have given a reply. I am very sorry to see the recent reports of dumped mackerel being found dead on the sea bed. But the Department's Fisheries Inspectorate has been following up these reports and making contact with the fishermen concerned.

Unfortunately, it would be virtually impossible to enforce effectively a ban on dumping at sea. This is one of the technical difficulties which we have considered in great depth. However, I believe that we can look for co-operation by the fishermen to try to avoid further incidents of the sort complained of. Fishermen generally will realise the problems of trying to enforce a ban, but dumping is a practice to be deprecated, and I hope that local fishermen will cooperate in making reports where concern exists.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the problems of noise, smell and pollution caused by vessels in Falmouth harbour. He has been in touch with me on the matter, and we have been in touch with other Departments concerned. There have been complaints about noise, smell and other problems caused by the transhipment and processing operations at Falmouth.

Most of these matters are primarily for the local authorities, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment recently met a local authority deputation, and officials of my Department and of the Department of the Environment are to visit the area next week to see the problem at first hand and hold further discussion with local authorities and other local interests.

A number of the processing vessels have been moved out of Carrick Roads into Falmouth bay, and my Department's scientists are keeping a close watch on the situation with a view to assessing possible effects on the oyster beds and other fishing. I know the importance of the oyster beds in that area.

While not in any way condoning pollution of any sort, I must make the point that transhipment to these processing vessels represents a valuable export outlet for the mackerel caught by the United Kingdom fishermen. Almost all the fish goes for human consumption, and if this export outlet was not available the fish concerned probably would be manufactured into fish meal. This would give those catching the fish a significantly lower return.

I stress that the amount transhipped counts against the quota and there is very strict enforcement with the notification of the agents who get in touch with the vessels wanting to tranship. Therefore, we have a pretty accurate record of what goes on. The transhipment must take place in sheltered waters to ensure the safety of the vessels involved, and to enable the Department's fisheries inspectorate to maintain proper control and to monitor the operation.

Progress has been made in looking at some of the resources of the South-West. The hon. Member for Truro referred to other economic factors outside the fishing industry. He will be aware that in 1977 at my Department's suggestion the South-West Economic Planning Council established a working party to report on the fishing industry in the South-West. Its provisional conclusion was that Falmouth appeared to be the most suitable location in the region for establishing a major fish complex.

However, the national and international uncertainties surrounding the development of the industry have made it impossible to take the matter further. The most significant uncertainty is the outcome of the negotiations on the common fisheries policy. I am afraid that I have been giving this kind of reply for some time, but until we get that problem resolved—and I hope that we can make progress soon—some of these factors will remain uncertain. On the local question, I am asking the planning council to look again at the matter, making some assumptions about the outcome of the negotiations.

Those are the main points. The hon. Member referred to the trawling and pursing for mackerel off the South-West. He suggested that it should be permitted for a limited period with a closed season. There have been further discussions about this idea between the various interests concerned and it is a possibility which we shall consider further with the industry in the light of the development of the United Kingdom mackerel catches this winter. There does not appear to be a conservation case for a general closed season off the South-West applying to all fishing for mackerel, but in certain circumstances there might be a case for some sort of limited closure. This matter can be kept under review.

I have found this debate very useful. There are a number of factors which have been dealt with in correspondence and contact with the hon. Member and between our officials in the South-West and the local industry. I am sure that we will be in contact again on some of the matters that the hon. Member has raised today.

I am afraid there are no easy solutions to the problems. I can, however, assure the House that we keep the situation in this fishery under constant review. If we feel that further control measures are called for or that changes are needed in the measures that we have already introduced, we stand ready to take the necessary action. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Turo and the hon. Member for Haltemprice who have taken part in these matters. Fishing is of great concern to a lot of people around our coasts, and in view of the fact that we contribute so much to the resources of the Community it is in our interests to ensure that the outcome of the common fisheries policy reflects for the future good of the industry.