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Fishing Industry

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from representatives of the west coast of Scotland fishing industry.

In response to concerns expressed by west coast fishermen, we have issued a consultation document on fisheries management on the west coast.

May I ask the Minister specifically about the proposal to allow the aggregation of licences? Will he take on board the concern expressed by west coast fishermen that that will simply mean that larger operations, usually on the east coast of Scotland, will buy up the smaller boats of the west coast? That will mean a loss of livelihood for west coast fishermen and will harm conservation in the long run.

I wish to get the terminology straight. The proposals that we have just announced are for the aggregation of capacity, not licences. Even if we then proceed to adopt a consultation document on the aggregation of entitlements, it will not concern licences as such. We are a long way from a transferable licence, although, as I have always made clear, it is an option. The aggregation of capacity is a limited measure which aims to get fishermen away from the tight straitjacket of being unable to increase tonnage or horsepower at all. Fishermen can now buy a bigger boat and obtain the catching capacity entitlement that goes with a boat of that size. Fishing entitlement aggregation would be a more radical measure and would push more in the direction of the rationalisation of the fleet. However, we are committed to consulting widely before introducing such a measure.

Does the Minister understand that thousands of fish processing workers in the west of, and throughout, Scotland face a wage freeze in the current year? Does he appreciate that they are among the lowest-paid industrial workers in the country, in most cases earning £100 or less for a full week's work, at a time when inflation is pushing towards double digits? How long will it be before the Minister and his colleagues snap out of their complacency and introduce a crisis package of measures to stabilise the fortunes of the industry, onshore and offshore?

What the hon. Gentleman means by crisis package of measures to stabilise the industry is that we should simply give it more money; that is his familiar theme. The action that we plan to take is, first, to make management more effective, with the series of measures that I outlined to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and, secondly, to tackle seriously the question of conservation. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that workers in the west coast processing industry would be much worse off if we did not manage our fisheries to ensure that there was fish to catch in the future.