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British Fishing Federation

Volume 982: debated on Thursday 17 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet the president of the British Fishing Federation.

My right hon. Friend has no specific plans at present, but we do have regular contacts with the federation.

When my hon. Friend next meets the president of the British Fishing Federation will he pay due regard to the problems of prawn and nephrops fishermen that are sometimes rather disregarded?

We have announced an aid scheme for the fishing industry and it is open to producer organisations, in the light of conditions in their areas, to use some of that aid to help the categories of fishermen that my hon. Friend just mentioned. The Government are well aware of all the problems in this sector.

When the Minister meets representatives of the BFF, does he ever discuss the hopes that he has for third-party agreements in Arctic waters—the waters of the Soviet Union, Norway and Canada? Is there any hope at all of our people fishing again in these waters? If there is no future for our distant-water fishing fleets there is no hope for the future of Hull.

We have had considerable discussions, not only with the British Fishing Federation but with the EEC on these matters. We have considerable opportunities for fishing within Norwegian waters, and we have limited arrangements in Canadian waters. We do not have any arrangements in Soviet waters, but on the other hand they do not have any facilities in ours. We are concerned about this, and as far as it is possible to do so, we shall look after the interests of the deep sea fleet.

When my hon. Friend next meets the president of the BFF will he discuss with him the serious problems affecting the fishing industry because of cheap fish imports?

Yes, we have discussed that and I am sure that we shall discuss it again many times in the future.

Is the Minister aware that a number of fishermen in my constituency have expressed the view that the conservation measures for herring operated by successive Gov- ernments have been so successful that a large number of herring are dying of old age in the North Sea? How soon does he expect the Government to license some inshore fishing vessels to enable them to fish for herring in the North Sea again?

I thought that the hon. Member was gullible, but I did not think that he was that gullible. I am aware that many fishermen believe that there has already been a very satisfactory regeneration of North Sea herring stocks. To some extent that is right. But the scientific advice we have had has been absolutely unequivocal—we must see several generations of herring before those stocks are capable of sustaining a proper state of reproducing themselves. When that happens we shall be very happy to see these valuable fisheries re-opened.

What is the latest move that my hon. Friend has given to the BFF about renegotiation of the common fisheries policy? Is he still hopeful that substantial conclusions will be reached by the summer?

We have not had recent discussions with the BFF on this point, but obviously before the next Council meeting, as before every Council meeting, we shall discuss these things with the BFF and other organisations representative of the fishing industry. Certainly we hope that there will be a fishing Council during May and we shall have to wait and see what progress can be made there.

Does the Minister realise that, particularly in relation to the deep sea fleet, we have been waiting from year to year and from Government to Government to see some progress, but instead we have seen the industry gradually running down? Is it not time that the Government took some unilateral action in these matters if agreement cannot be reached with our avaricious European comrades?

I hope that the hon. Member recognises that this Government have made far more progress with our comrades, as he calls them, towards a resolution of a common fisheries policy than the Labour Government made. We understand the problems of the deep sea fleet and I hope that the hon. Member recognises that our recent scheme of aid, which covers the producer organisations in his constituency, and the scheme connected with exploratory voyages have been particularly welcomed by sections of the deep sea fleet.