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Volume 506: debated on Thursday 4 March 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) undertaken on the effects on aquatic reefs and plants from trawling; and if he will make a statement. (319571)

DEFRA does not currently fund any research aimed specifically at examining the damage caused by trawling on aquatic reefs and plants. Earlier research has however helped to establish the extent to which fishing practices such as trawling had on the wider benthic community.

This early work has enabled us to be better informed about how we might help protect sensitive habitats such as reefs. DEFRA is currently funding a research project in Lyme Bay to examine how the seabed recovers within a Marine Protected Area. No scallop dredging or bottom trawling is allowed and the project aims to monitor the effects of the MPA, including the recovery of benthic communities.

Reefs are one of the habitats listed for which Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are required to be designated under the EC habitats directive. Between 2004 and 2009 the Joint Nature Conservation Committee carried out a number of surveys in UK offshore waters to identify reef sites suitable for SAC designation. Details of these surveys can be found at:

To date 37 SACs with reef as a qualifying habitat have been designated, with further sites subject to consultation or further analysis of data. By the end of 2012 it is estimated that around 36 per cent. of the UK reef habitat will be protected by European designations.

You will be interested to note that Charting Progress 2, which is due to be published in July 2010, has examined both the state and impact from pressures such as fishing on different components of the marine ecosystem, within the marine environment, to provide an overall assessment of the UK's seas.

Further details of DEFRA's current research programme can be found by following this link:

and carrying out a word search (for example ‘fisheries').

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the number of non-target species accidentally caught as a result of industrial fishing techniques in (a) 2007, (b) 2008 and (c) 2009. (319572)

Industrial fishing is the term applied to fishing activity where the catch is intended for processing into fish meal and oil rather than for human consumption. Industrial fishing uses smaller meshed nets than human consumption fisheries as they are targeting fish which are small even when fully grown and this will inevitably lead to the capture of small, often immature, individuals of other species.

In European waters, industrial fishing is undertaken for blue whiting, Norway pout, sandeel and sprat. The Norway pout and sandeel fisheries are exclusively industrial and are conducted in the North sea and Skagerrak, while the blue whiting fishery is only partly industrial and considerably more geographically widespread.

Fish stocks in EU waters are assessed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). There are linkages between sandeel fishing and other species through by-catch, although scientific advice indicates that by-catches of prime human consumption species within the sandeel fishery are relatively small compared to the fisheries for human consumption.

ICES annually calculates industrial by-catches; i.e. landings of non-target species, for whiting and haddock in the North sea. Landings of North sea whiting from the industrial fisheries were 1,230 tonnes and 1,020 tonnes in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Landings of North sea haddock from the industrial fisheries were 48 tonnes and 199 tonnes in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

ICES has yet to analyse the data for 2009 and hence results will not be available until later in 2010.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) undertaken on the effect on the level of fish stocks of industrial fishing techniques; and if he will make a statement. (319573)

The information is as follows:

(a) My Department and the Scottish Executive have, in the past, commissioned research into industrial fishing. Although there are currently no specific projects being undertaken, the UK Government continue to support work on sandeels and their predators.

Most recently, a major study by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science which investigated the direct and indirect impacts of the sandeel fishery off the coast of eastern England was completed in March 2007. In addition, the Scottish Executive supported an EU-funded project: ‘Interactions Between the Marine Environment, Predator Implications for Sustainable Sandeel Fisheries’, which concluded before 2007.

(b) On the effect on the level of fish stocks of industrial fishing techniques, the UK, through the Scottish Government continues to support work on sandeels and their predators, through monitoring of the north- east UK area closure. Local studies of cod, haddock and whiting predation on sandeels before and after the closure was introduced in 2000, found no evidence of an effect, although the reduction in fishing mortality did lead to an increase in the abundance of age one and older sandeels. The lack of a fishing effect probably had more to do with the difference in the age of sandeel taken by these predators and the fishery.

The cod, haddock and whiting in this study mostly fed on young sandeels of the year, whereas the fishery targeted age one and older sandeels. The local abundance of cod and haddock in the study-region reflected wider North sea wide trends, suggesting that local conditions were not determining abundance. Had there been significant numbers of large cod and haddock in the region, then competition between the sandeel fishery and these species may have been more important, since the size and age of sandeels taken is limited by predator size.

The UK will continue to monitor industrial fisheries in EU waters.