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Fishing Industry

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what meetings he has recently had with representatives of the fishing industry; and what subjects were discussed.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I, since the beginning of September, have had several meetings with representatives of the fishing industry, including earlier this week at the Council of Fisheries Ministers in Brussels, the outcome of which I reported to the House yesterday in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell).

Has the Minister ever heard of a company called The Barclay Sound Shipping Company, which was awarded a licence to fish in Falklands waters, following the announcement in Parliament in November last year? Is he aware that that company, at the time of that announcement, had never fished anywhere in the world and had no ships at all when it obtained that particularly remunerative licence? Will the Minister find out how it was able to secure that licence to fish in the Falklands exclusion zone?

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the management of the Falklands fisheries is the responsibility of the Falkland Islands Government and is not a subject that I discuss with our fishing industry.

At the meeting in Brussels, did my right hon. Friend raise with his Spanish counterpart the disgraceful situation in which Spanish boats which are on our register, have used up a large part of our quota for certain species, so preventing, or casting doubt on the ability of Cornish fishermen, to catch those species?

I recall that my hon. Friend raised this issue in our debate on fisheries. I raised the matter with the Spanish Government and with the whole Council at the recent meeting, and protested at the way in which the control and reporting of some of these fish landings take place. I agree that it is intolerable for the management of our fisheries. I am glad to say that I was supported by a number of other member states and the Commission, and I hope that there will soon be progress on the matter.

When my right hon. Friend meets representatives from the fishing industry, will he reassure them that, next year, quotas for fishing, particularly to the west of Scotland, will be smoothed out, and that there will not be a repeat of this year's situation, when quotas were drastically cut in the latter part of the year, causing distress to many fishermen, especially at ports such as Fleetwood?

The United Kingdom had a very satisfactory outcome from the Fisheries Council, which helped us in a number of respects. With regard to the management of quotas throughout the year, we try to operate a system which enables fishing to be carried out fairly throughout the year. It depends to a considerable degree on the extent to which fishermen do not overfish at various times of the year.

Can the Minister expand on his comments in today's Official Report concerning the 4 deg west line for mackeral quota and the lack of flexibility around it? Why is the Minister so encouraged by the results of the Council of Ministers meeting, when the report contains only a postponement until the end of May?

I was encouraged because we are making progress. We have made it clear that we think it is important to have that flexibility, which was agreed in the Norwegian agreement. We do not think that undermines the common fisheries policy in any way, but ensures that it is implemented as it was intended. After prolonged negotiations we managed to persuade the Council that this should be the subject of a report by the Commission, and we are committed to taking decisions by the end of May. The hon. Gentleman will know that the problem arises only in the last three months of the year. That gives us time to sort it out.

In his meeting with the industry, did my right hon. Friend discuss the possibility that, in future allocations of North Sea cod quota, special provisions should be made for ports that are primarily dependent on that one species, such as my constituency of Bridlington?

That did not arise in the Council discussions. It was not part of the new package, but I did manage to obtain an assurance from the Commission that if the scientific assessment changed during the year in relation to cod it would be prepared to look at that and come to the Council with proposals.

Does the Minister agree that there are some rough edges to the deal? Given that cod is fetching between £900 and £1,000 per tonne, the cut in the cod quota will harm some of our east coast fishermen. Therefore, will the Minister seek to change that decision, and the Clyde herring decision, in 1988? Are we not to have a regional withdrawal price scheme for herring? On the flexibility agreement for mackeral, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that British fishermen do not lose out to the Danes and others?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that we must take account of the scientific advice on cod. The agreed quota has gone up from the proposal of 148,000 tonnes to 160,000 tonnes, and it is important that we have that in mind for the future conservation of the fishery. However, as I said earlier, we have reached an agreement that the Commission will come forward with further proposals if the scientific assessment in May proves favourable so that that particular TAC can be raised. In view of the time, perhaps I may correspond with the hon. Gentleman on the other matters.