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Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

4. What percentage of the population of (a) cod, (b) sole and (c) plaice are expected to be removed from UK seas per year under new quotas. (117813)

It is not possible to provide a figure for UK seas because fish move around. Quotas are set for stocks in general and UK fishermen fish outside UK waters in the same way as fishermen from other member states fish inside UK waters. However, approximate estimates of the agreements reached on the stocks that the hon. Gentleman refers to would amount to removal of between 10 per cent. and 60 per cent., depending on the state of the stock. Of those stocks, the UK’s share of the total allowable catch ranges from 4 per cent. for North sea sole to 61 per cent. for west of Scotland plaice.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, particularly for his great perception that fish move around. I am also grateful for the advice that I have received from Mr. McDermott, who runs the excellent McDermott fish and chip shops, which have won many awards. Speaking as an urban Member, it is important for me to ask questions about fishing policy, though it is very often Members representing ports who ask such questions. Is not 60 per cent. a devastating take? Would we not do better to follow the example of the Norwegians, who manage their Arctic cod stock in the Barents sea in co-operation with the EU and Russia? By having that sense of possession over our own seas while being co-operative with the EU, we could secure more effective management of our fish stock.

I hate to inform the hon. Gentleman, but his Front Benchers have abandoned the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. I am told today by Dundee’s The Courier that the Conservative Scottish fisheries spokesman, Ted Brocklebank, is so outraged that he is planning his resignation. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a word with his Front Benchers.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the impact of the burning of fossil fuels on the state of the ocean, on commercial fisheries and on quotas, so would he recommend that the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) visit the exhibition on oceans and climate change, which is displayed in the Upper Waiting Room? Other hon. Members should also pay a visit—if they have not already done so—while it is on this week to observe the scale of the problem and, indeed, to see some of the very exciting solutions ventured by the Plymouth marine science partnership, which is conducting the exhibition.

Yes, I certainly would recommend that all hon. Members visit the exhibition that is sponsored by my hon. Friend. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is going there at 11.30 this morning. My hon. Friend and the exhibition make very important points about the connection between the health of the marine environment and climate change. Our seas play a crucial role in absorbing CO2 and there is a danger that increasing acidification of the seas will help tip the balance even more severely towards global warming. Some fantastic technological solutions are being developed in my hon. Friend’s Plymouth constituency, which will not only help to mitigate that, but provide solutions to promote absorption of CO2 in the future.

Does the Minister believe that there is a future for a fishing fleet catching whitefish in the United Kingdom? I ask that because the Minister with responsibility for fishing in Northern Ireland refused to give the tie-up aid for the Northern Ireland whitefish fleet. That will mean the decimation, the destruction and disappearance of our whitefish fleet. Is that policy the same throughout the UK?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has noted the comments of the representative of the Northern Ireland fishing industry after the December Council. He was full of praise for the agreement that was reached, not least because we managed to achieve a 17 per cent. increase in the quota for prawns for Northern Ireland fishermen. Prawns are their most important economic stock.

Of course there is a future for the whitefish fleet throughout the United Kingdom as long as we ensure that we do not overfish and exploit stocks unsustainably. The hon. Gentleman may have read in the Northern Ireland press this week, if the news was reproduced there, that the Government in the Irish Republic are planning a massive decommissioning scheme for their whitefish fleet in recognition of the problem that I outlined: in the past, our fishing fleet has not always been the right size for exploiting the stock.