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Bottom Trawling

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 14 December 2006

6. What steps the UK Government are taking to end bottom trawling on the high seas; and if he will make a statement. (109020)

Thanks to UK leadership, we now have in place an agreed international framework for phasing out destructive high-seas bottom fishing over the next two years. I am only sorry that an urgent and far-reaching deal was scuppered by Iceland—which is extraordinary given the damage that it has already done to its international reputation by resuming commercial whaling.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we ought to be worried about not only the depletion of fish stocks, but the considerable damage that bottom trawlers do to habitats at the bottom of the oceans that have taken thousands of years to build up, including cold-water coral beds? Is it not time to consider having sites of special scientific interest at sea, as we have on land?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The tragedy of such destruction is that in many cases valuable and vulnerable ecosystems that have built up over thousands of years are destroyed in a matter of seconds. We face a huge challenge in international waters where governance is often weak, if not non-existent, and where enforcement can also be completely absent. He is also right to say that that we need to take action in our own waters. We have been doing so by protecting areas such as the Darwin Mounds—we are the first European Union country to do such a thing. We are committed to having exactly the network of marine protected areas that my hon. Friend—and, I am sure, all Members—would like there to be.

The Minister will not like my question. Is not the only way for the United Kingdom to preserve its marine habitat and fish stocks within its own territorial waters to restore to the United Kingdom total control of fishing within its own territorial waters?

I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his own Front-Bench colleagues have, rightly, abandoned that policy. Even if the common fisheries policy did not exist, we would have to invent something like it. As someone who visits and takes a great interest in the marine environment, he knows that fish do not respect national borders.

Can my hon. Friend explain how the culturally and environmentally sensitive people of Iceland can continue this barbaric practice of whaling, while at the same time promoting, as part of their tourism, whale watching? Will he tell the President of Iceland—not the ambassador—that such a practice is absolutely despicable and we are not having it?

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, and we have lost no opportunity at the highest level to tell the Icelanders of our displeasure. Their decision was inexcusable and inexplicable. There was an unprecedented condemnation at the European Environment Council, led by Austria and supported by us, and we will continue to make our views known at every opportunity.