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Fishing Industry

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) whether he will provide separate details of landings of cod from area VIIa by east coast Scottish, west coast Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish vessels, in length bands, for the months of June 1990 and June 1989, indicating within each category the numbers of vessels and tonnages landed;(2) whether he will provide separate details of landings of other area VII species by Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish vessels, in length bands, for the months of June 1990 and June 1989, indicating within each category the numbers of vessels and tonnages landed;

(3) how many vessels declaring catches in area VII in June were spotted by the Royal Navy or by the fisheries inspection service in area VII; and how many of these vessels were witnessed fishing in areas IV and VI;

(4) whether he will provide a breakdown of the landings in area VII for all species during the month of June by the respective producer organisations and the non-sectors.

I regret that it would be too expensive to give a detailed response to the questions posed by the hon. Member. I will however make a general statement about the alleged misreporting of cod in the Irish sea and off the west coast of Ireland.The non-sector's quota of cod in the Irish sea for 1990 is 1,858 tonnes. Approximately half of this quota was apparently taken by Scottish vessels and landed into Scotland during June and early July. In addition, landings into Scotland of cod reported as taken from the west of Ireland (areas VIIb and VIIc), have shown a marked increase in the second half of June. The Irish sea cod fishery has had to be closed to the non-sector as its quota for the year has already been exhausted.The industry has stated its view that some Scottish vessels have been misreporting fish caught in the North sea or off the west coast of Scotland as coming from the Irish sea or off the west coast of Ireland, and has asked that catches should be reallocated from the latter to the former areas.Fisheries Department accept that the circumstantial evidence points to some misreporting having taken place. The Irish sea cod fishery is traditionally a spring and winter fishery and high catches in summer are unusual. The pattern of landings this year is very different from past experience. Moreover the rate of uptake by the non-sector has not been paralleled by the sector. However, Departments cannot act to penalise a particular group of vessels or to compensate Irish sea fishermen affected on the basis of rumour or circumstantial evidence; they can act only following successful prosecution of offenders. Departments are examining all fishing documents and, if they can secure hard evidence of misreporting, they will prosecute.In the meantime, Departments are looking ugently at ways of limiting misreporting in future, and hope to be able to set up a system later this year. I know that the industry has in the past rejected tougher enforcement measures in view of their cost and inconvenience, but if it is serious about limiting misreporting, I hope that it will now accept the need for firm action.If a system to limit misreporting can be established quickly, Departments will try to obtain more quota from another member state with the aim of reopening the Irish sea cod fishery to the non-sector later this year. However, such a swap would depend on the successful identification of another United Kingdom stock to offer in exchange.