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Inshore Fishing Fleet (Discard Ban)

Volume 594: debated on Thursday 12 March 2015

We recently launched a consultation on the implementation of the discard ban, which will help us to make that assessment. The consultation is being used to identify how to phase in the ban, how to allocate increases in quotas, where to introduce exemptions and how to manage the under-10 metre quota pool. The discard ban can provide significant benefits for all sectors of the fleet.

Trawlermen in Folkestone, Hythe and Dungeness have raised with me their concerns about the lack of quota for the inshore fishing fleet and the potentially devastating impact of the discard ban. Will the Minister urgently consider making more quota available for the inshore fishing fleet and granting an exemption from the discard ban?

While the common fisheries policy does not allow the exemption of a whole fleet, there are other exemptions—for instance, exemptions for species that survive after being discarded, and if handling discards is disproportionately costly. On quota, we are in the process of permanently realigning some of it from producer organisations to the inshore fleet. In addition, as part of this consultation, we are considering giving the inshore fleet a greater share of the quota uplift that forms part of the CFP.

Given the collapse of our bass stocks, and the fact that the latest figures show a worrying 30% increase in the number of commercial landings of bass, will the Minister please finally take meaningful action to save our bass? Will he, for instance, provide for an immediate increase in the minimum landing size, which is something that I signed off 10 years ago when I was the fisheries Minister?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been pursuing this issue. As he will know, at the December Council we argued strongly for measures to be taken on bass. We pressed the European Commission to take emergency measures to ban pair trawling, which was done in the new year. We are currently discussing with other member states and the Commission the possibility of a bag limit for anglers, and also catch limits for the remainder of the commercial fleet. I can also tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are considering raising the minimum landing size nationally.

May I urge my hon. Friend to review the application of the rules relating to the ban on the return of fish that might survive, particularly hand-lined mackerel? I have some experience of this, and I know that the vast majority survive. It is absurd for fishermen to be told that they cannot return those fish.

Mackerel were included in the pelagic discard ban that was considered last year, but we are giving serious consideration to the survivability rates of white fish, particularly flatfish such as sole and plaice. I shall be happy to look into the specific issue of mackerel hand-lining in Cornwall, and to keep it under constant review. We did manage to secure an exemption for the Cornish sardine industry, which was a big success.

There is still a huge amount of uncertainty about how the ban can be made workable in the context of mixed fisheries in the North sea. What are Ministers doing to ensure that so-called choke species do not end up choking off the livelihoods of not just the fishermen in the white fish fleet, but the onshore processors?

I know that people are concerned about the challenges involved in the implementation of a discard ban. That is why we have had to start thinking about it at an early stage, and why we have issued the consultation in the way that we have. As for choke species such as hake, which is often cited in Scotland, we will be phasing in the ban over five years, and we will start with the species that define the fishery, so the ban on some of those species would not apply until a date closer to 2020.

I believe that the discard ban is absolutely right, although it will obviously take some time to get its implementation right. What will be done about fish that are landed and may or may not be fit for human consumption, but could be used as fish food, or even for farming purposes?

We are discussing that with processors and port authorities, but we believe that we have enough processing capacity to create fishmeal, although there may be problems with transport from the ports to the locations where the fishmeal is processed. We want to change fishing behaviour, and to reduce the amount of unwanted fish that is landed by means of more selective gears and changes in fishing patterns.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the regional discrepancy in net configurations. The Northern Ireland requirement is 300 mm, while the requirement in the Republic of Ireland is 80 mm, and there are different requirements in Scotland, Wales and England. Has the Minister discussed with regional authorities and the Government of the Republic the introduction of more uniformity in net configuration, in the context of the discard ban?

I shall be happy to look into that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the nephrops industry is particularly important in Northern Ireland, and we managed, against the odds, to secure an increase in the total allowable catch at the December Council. That will be good for the Northern Ireland fleet. Different countries take different approaches when it comes to technical measures; that is an important aspect of the devolved entity that we want the common fisheries policy to become.