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Fisheries

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 15 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) whether (a) UK and (b) other EU member states’ fishing vessels are permitted to engage in pair-trawling in the six to 12 mile band of UK waters; and if he will make a statement; (204824)

(2) what assessment he has made of the effects of pair-trawling in UK waters on (a) bass and (b) dolphins; and what steps he plans to take to reduce adverse effects.

In 2004 we banned pelagic pair trawling for bass by UK vessels within 12 miles of the south west coast of England (within ICES area VIIe) as this fishery was shown to have relatively high levels of cetacean by-catch. Other bass fisheries, such as gillnetting and hand lining, and pair trawl fisheries targeting other species have not been affected.

The UK asked that the ban on pelagic pair trawling for bass be extended to the vessels of other member states, who are currently permitted to fish between six and 12 miles off the south west English coast (under Article 9 of Council Regulation EC No. 2371/2002), but this was turned down by the European Commission. We could therefore only take unilateral action for our own vessels out to 12 miles.

There is ongoing research funded by the Department and carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit to monitor by-catch in all relevant UK fishery sectors, including the bass pair trawl fishery, and to research by-catch mitigation measures in order to identify measures that are effective at deterring cetaceans over the long-term and that are safe and cost-effective for the industry. Further analysis of the effectiveness of the 12 mile ban of sea bass pair trawling will be undertaken as further data becomes available.

The scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in 2004, based on analytical assessments of UK inshore bass stocks, suggest that the bass stock is fished sustainably. Updated assessments have been carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), in 2006 and 2008. These confirm the earlier assessment indicating that current levels of both bass landings and biomass are high.

The 2007 UK report to the European Commission on observed cetacean by-catch levels in certain fisheries, as required by Council Regulation (EC) 812/2004, includes estimates of common dolphin and harbour porpoise by-catch in the south-west for 2005 and 2006 in gillnet, tangle net and bass mid-water pair trawls. The UK is not due to report to the European Commission on 2006-07 observed by-catch levels until June. It is for each member state to monitor by-catch on their own vessels and submit their findings to the European Commission.