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Fish Farms

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions officials of his Department have recently held with local authorities and other interested parties regarding the siting and development of fish farms; and if he will make a statement.

There have been no recent discussions involving my Department about the siting of fish farms. However, my officials recently met representatives of the National Farmers Union to discuss the Government's intention to extend water abstraction licensing to all fish farms and we have regular contact with the industry and other interests about a range of issues concerning fish farming.

I am sure that the Minister and all hon. Members welcome the growth of fish farms. However, there are two areas of concern—the planning and siting of these farms in places of great scenic beauty, and the pollution of our lochs and rivers. What measures are the Government taking to deal with these matters?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we want to encourage the provision of jobs and the wealth that comes from fish farming. We are concerned to ensure that damage is not done to rivers, which will happen unless we are careful about water abstraction. We are taking such measures as are necessary to keep it under control, but we do not want to control it so strongly that we do not have the expansion that we want. The balance is about right, but we shall keep a very close eye on it.

My right hon. Friend's reply to the first question is welcome. Will he ensure that the legislation for fish farmers to have abstraction licences for the use of water in inland waterways is in place before the water authorities are privatised?

Our intention is for the legislation relating to a National Rivers Authority to cover that. I think that that will help my hon. Friend.

Does the Minister agree that the planning and leasing of fish farms around the coast of Scotland should be removed from the Crown Estate Commissioners, who are charging rates of Rachmanite proportions? Does he agree that that operation should be returned to local authorities?

I do not have any evidence whatsoever of that. It is improper for the hon. Lady to use a phrase such as that about the Crown Estate Commissioners. It is not true, and the hon. Lady's statement is wrong. I have no intention of making any such changes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a huge demand for salmon in Europe, and that the best way to meet that demand is by salmon ranching, especially as there is widespread poaching of salmon beyond the 12-mile limit? Will he take steps to increase salmon ranching and to decrease poaching, especially by boats from the Irish Republic?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that recent legislation has had a major effect on poaching. There have been some extremely good examples of poachers who have been caught and heavily fined as a result of their activities. When we bring in the dealer licensing scheme, which is the next stage of the legislation, that will help considerably. As for further intervention in the salmon industry, I warn the hon. Gentleman that already private businesses have spent considerable sums to extend the provision of salmon and as a result the price of salmon has been remarkably stable over the years. This is one of the best ways to ensure that we get the necessary supplies. We do not want to expand the supplies so that they exceed demand.