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Fishermen (Assistance with Aid Applications)

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

5. What assistance is available for fishermen applying for European fisheries fund aid for new nets and modifications to existing gear necessary to meet the new conservation measures agreed at the European Fisheries Council. (247632)

In response to my right hon. Friend’s question, I am pleased to confirm that funding is indeed available, under both axis 1 and axis 3 of the European fisheries fund, for vessel owners to change to more selective gear. Applicants should first make contact with the fisheries department in their operational area for direct advice on application procedures.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I would also like to put on record my recognition of the robust leadership that he gave at the recent Fisheries Council, when some of the Commission’s more outrageous proposals, including the closure of the west coast fishing grounds, were challenged and changed. I only regret that his Scottish fisheries counterpart did not more generously recognise the role that he played. He has identified funding and he will be aware that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is looking to unlock funding for intelligent gear and nets. I hope he will co-operate with the Scottish Government to maximise such funding, because any trials piloted in Scotland will have a benefit across the whole of the UK fishing fleet.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words about what was a tough but good outcome from the fisheries negotiations. I am pleased that last year we launched the EFF, with £100 million for UK fisheries right across the UK to improve their sustainability. I will be working alongside others, including Scottish fisheries colleagues and the Scottish Executive, to ensure that there is good use of those funds to support the sustainable use of fisheries. To echo her comments, I am particularly pleased that as part of the negotiations we managed to save the livelihoods of people on the west coast of Scotland.

If ever there were an issue where good, effective working relations between the Minister and Richard Lochhead in Edinburgh were so important, this is surely it. May I urge the Minister to remain engaged with the fishing industry itself as the new technical measures are rolled out? He will be aware that serious concerns were expressed by those parts of the fleet that operated on the west of Scotland about the suitability of some of the early measures. Those concerns must not be forgotten now that the deal is done.

The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely the right points. I intend to continue close engagement, both with the Scottish Executive and with fishermen on the ground, because there is a level of local expertise and knowledge that has really helped us in the negotiations and which will have to help us, in what will be a challenging year, to deliver sustainable fisheries. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I will remain engaged at all levels, and I will, I hope, be visiting the west coast of Scotland in the near future.