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Fishing Industry

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present state of the fishing industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. David Curry)

Landings of all species by United Kingdom vessels in the United Kingdom for 1989 were worth some £389 million compared with £396 million in 1988. While fishing opportunities and earnings from North sea cod and haddock in 1990 have been reduced, the estimated value of landings in the early part of the year was at least similar to that at the same time last year.

Does the Minister accept that notwithstanding the figures that he has given for earnings, the industry is still facing depression and is apprehensive? He mentioned the decline in earnings from cod and haddock. Is he aware that many producers are experiencing a squeeze on their catches of whiting? Will he explain to the House why, when the total allowable catches of whiting went up this year, the amount for industrial fishing went up even more, thereby affecting our fleet, which catches fish for human consumption? What steps are the Government taking in current reviews to alter that and to allow more fish to be caught for human consumption? That would help our fleet, which needs every little bit of help that it can get.

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the consultation paper called "Entitlement Aggregation". That is the next phase of our management improvement and will be in the Library today. It will tackle some of the problems of the fleet. The hon. Gentleman asked about whiting. It is true that scientists recommended an increase in the industrial catch, which is why the total allowable catches went up. We keep those figures under review, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that we are seeking an increase in cod availability because of an agreement with Norway. That increase will be distributed according to the normal rules. We are presently negotiating that with the Community.

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to read the thoroughly misleading leaflet being circulated by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)? Does he agree that there must be agreement between all hon. Members with constituencies adjacent to the North sea if the North sea fishing industry is to be preserved? Does he further agree that the present problem is mainly about the number of fish there? It cannot be solved unilaterally. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will do everything possible to preserve the long-term interests of the British fishing industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) produced a sort of samizdat. It was written in small print, no doubt to deter people from reading it so that they would not be too bemused. It was an exercise in historical nostalgia and was very selective in its facts. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is only by common effort in conservation and by achieving better management, which the Government have already embarked upon, that we can conserve stocks for the future of the fishing industry.

Does the Minister accept that even if the print on the document, which many Conservative Members support, was small, the message is still loud and clear? In its present crisis the industry needs a decommissioning scheme as a conservation measure. It needs proper conservation by way of an increase in mesh sizes, a ban on industrial fishing and the use of square mesh panels. Why does not the Minister take the lead in introducing those measures instead of leaving all the running to a Commissioner who seems to do more for his native Spanish industry than for the industry of this country?

First, it is nice of the hon. Gentleman to come here. Secondly, we have introduced a series of management measures. I commend the latest paper to the hon. Gentleman and I am sure that his fleet in Grimsby will find it of great interest. We are pursuing the conservation options with a great deal of enthusiasm, together with our Scottish colleagues and the remainder of the United Kingdom.

By a combination of more intelligent and better management measures and effective conservation measures, we shall achieve real benefits for our fleet—rather than taking the hon. Gentleman's purely theoretical and rhetorical stance, which no doubt is in keeping with the media personality that he wishes to pursue.

Has my hon. Friend received my letter about the renewed and growing fears of fishermen, especially in Cornwall, about the apparent reappearance of the so-called flags of convenience vessels on the register? He will know that some 136 vessels were removed from our fishing fleet as a result of legislation passed by the House, but now there are fears that 29 such vessels have come back on to our register. Can my hon. Friend enlighten us on that?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend some information. The vessels that are now back on the register are under British ownership, with a single exception that is Spanish owned. They all fulfil the requirement for management of their fisheries from a United Kingdom economic base. They also fulfil the domiciliary and residence requirements. To all intents and purposes, those vessels are no longer quota hoppers; they are legal under British registration and licensing procedures.

Is the Minister aware of the grave concern of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation about the proposal to change the navigational system for fishing in the Irish sea from the well-tried Decca method to an obsolete air system that has been abandoned by the United States? Will he undertake to consult the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation and respond reasonably to its concerns about its members' livelihoods? In the aftermath of a very bad winter, it wants to ensure that the capability to fish will be safeguarded.

The substance of the matter is more for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, my Department has taken an interest in it and we hope to obtain a significant cut in the light dues paid by fishermen. We have managed to achieve a long transition period, which I believe will be very useful to the industry. I am conscious of the position of the Northern Ireland fishing industry and, in consultation with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is on the Bench with me, we do our utmost to safeguard the industry's livelihood.

What sort of support can the industry on the west coast, especially in my port of Fleetwood, expect from the Government to meet the European Community's hygiene regulations in 1992?

As my hon. Friend knows, a series of measures will enable us to support the development of modern hygiene facilities. Of course, a considerable part of that must fall upon the industry because it is important that it can meet the single market and claim that fish is a product that is handled cleanly as well as being exceptionally healthy. We shall do our utmost to ensure that the British fishing industry, which is the largest in the northern part of the European Community, can compete effectively.