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Fish Farms (Pollution)

Volume 130: debated on Thursday 31 March 1988

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his Department has commissioned any studies to examine the extent of pollution caused by fish farms; and if he will make a statement.

The Minster of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

The effect of fish farm effluent is kept under review by the Fisheries Departments and recent studies have pointed to a significant decline in the quantity of waste discharged per tonne of fish produced.

Is the Minister aware that several recent reports have claimed that highly polluted water from fish farms is threatening the survival of some of the native species of fish in our rivers, such as the brown trout? Is he satisfied that the procedures for monitoring the discharges from fish farms are working efficiently? If not, will he set up an inquiry into that matter?

I am satisfied that the procedures are working satisfactorily. As I have said, recent studies suggest that there has been a significant decline in the quantities of waste discharged per tonne of fish produced. We are looking carefully at the matter and are examining one or two specific cases. For example, the Wessex water authority and the Department of the Environment have been trying to deal with the problems that appear to have affected wild fish stocks on the Avon. However, we are sure that things are working reasonably well elsewhere.

Will my right hon. Friend take particular care to ensure that the procedures are not administered in a too discriminating and over-robust manner? Is he aware that fish farming — including crayfish and other crustaceous fish production — is a very important and growing industry which should not be damaged by excessive zeal by anyone imposing the procedures to which he referred?

I agree that fish farming is a very important industry. However, we must ensure that the industry does not badly affect the quality of the water in our rivers. We must keep an eye on the industry, but I agree that we must not do that in a way that makes people feel that they are being harried.

Is the Minister confident that the ban on the anti-foulant tributyl tin, which is used in fish farms, is effective and that no outlet for the chemical exists through wholesalers? How should fish farms dispose of any stocks of that chemical? What advice is being offered to those fish farms on disposal methods?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Ministry took the lead in trying to do something about tributyl tin and the problems that we discovered in our research into sex changes among some molluscs and other small animals, which may have been of particular interest to other molluscs and small animals. The hon. Lady will understand that the particular cases to which she is referring are largely within the purview of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I will ensure that he gives an answer to the hon. Lady on the specific cases to which she has referred.

The Opposition welcome the growth and development of fish farming. A commitment was given by the Government at the recent ministerial conference on the North sea to the precautionary principle applied to pollution of the marine environment. What provisions are made to monitor routinely the use of chemicals used by fish farmers? Is there any provision within the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 to restrict or ban the use of Nuvan 500 EC by fish farmers? Is Nuvan not as dangerous to the marine environment as TBT anti-fouling paint?

The hon. Gentleman will accept that I might have looked at his specific example if he had asked me to do so. However, we take great care about fish farms, not only with regard to the chemicals that are used. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we also consider the problems of water abstraction licensing, and that is another area that we have to watch very carefully. We have already undertaken to amend the Control of Pollution Act 1974 in that direction. I will certainly look at the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman has raised.