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Fish Conservation

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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8.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans she has to consult further the fishing industry over its current concerns about the requirement to reduce fishing effort.

I announced last night a postponement of the introduction of days-at-sea restrictions which will give us the opportunity to consult the industry about the need to reduce fishing effort. I already have plans to visit fishermen in Humberside next week, and further visits and meetings are being arranged. I look forward to an early and positive response from the industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the fishermen of Poole will welcome the opportunity to make their contribution to devising sensible—I underline the word "sensible"—conservation measures? Will he assure the House that he will not introduce conservation measures in this country until he has a firm and binding agreement that our EC partners will introduce them at the same time? It is ridiculous that our fishermen should have to watch fishermen from other EC countries blatantly flouting regulations that they are expected to obey.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's kind comments on our announcements last night. Everyone in the industry shares the desire to conserve fish stocks. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance on the policy announced, especially with reference to days at sea., that we should not dream of going beyond the proposals I outlined last night without clear signs that our Community partners are making an effective attempt to reduce their fishing effort.

Is the Minister aware that, having read carefully his remarks last night, I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is right to point out that the hon. Gentleman is today putting a different gloss on his announcement? Surely he understands that the fishermen are considering bringing forward additional technical conservation measures as an alternative to compulsory tie-up. Will he accept that, during the postponement, the Government should look at all the options? Can he give us an assurance that one of the options is the complete abandonment of the days-at-sea restrictions?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance on the complete abandonment of days-a t-sea restrictions. I remind him of the words in his own document "Marine Harvest", in which he couples with his support for a decommissioning scheme the need for effort reduction. Days-at-sea restrictions have an important contribution to make.

However, I said last night that we should look at all the ideas put to us for modifications of the details of the days-at-sea restrictions. I gave the undertaking, which I am happy to repeat this afternoon, that we should continue to work with, for example, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which is undertaking a conservation review. We shall also look at any ideas that others put forward on the subject of technical measures which might be tradeable against effort reduction. However, I make it clear that we cannot say whether those ideas will be accepted in terms of our multi-annual guidance programme target. The only people who can do that are the Commissioners. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that we shall discuss sensible ideas with the Commission.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, this morning, the wives of the fishermen in Hastings and Rye marched through the town and presented a petition warning of what they think will be the hardship that they will face because of the introduction of days-at-sea restrictions? Does he agree that that is a welcome sign of a vibrant democracy? Will he please give me some idea of what reassurance he would give the wives, who are very disturbed at the thought of the impact of the restrictions?

I had some flavour of the feelings of fishermen's wives when I met them today after my right hon. Friend the Minister and I had given evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture. They were forceful in the views that they put to me and I was left in no doubt of their feelings. However, I was able to reassure them, as I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend's constituents, about the minimum 80 days, which worried them. I pointed out to them that those who, for example, did not have complete logs or who had been fishing for non-precious stocks, such as crabs, would have an opportunity to have their allocations reviewed. I also said to them that we were interested in a sustainable and viable fishing industry. I said that if there were good ideas, in terms both of fishing policy in general and of modifications to days-at-sea restrictions in particular, we should look at them. I urge the wives in my hon. Friend's constituency to sit down with their papers and to let us have their ideas without delay.