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Salmon Management

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 1 May 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

6.9 p.m.

rose to call attention to the National Rivers Authority's recently published National Strategy for the Management of Salmon in England and Wales; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I must immediately declare an interest and a responsibility. I was an employee of the National Rivers Authority and project manager of the group which produced this strategy for the management of salmon in England and Wales. I am now employed by the Environment Agency which from 1st April this year took over the work of the NRA, including its responsibilities for fisheries and the implementation of this strategy. However, the opinions that I shall express this evening are entirely my own.

I put forward the Motion for the debate because I am aware that your Lordships' views on salmon matters are both well respected and widely listened to. Also, I believe that it is an opportune time for those views to be made known. Thanks mainly to one man, Orri Vigfusson, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, the exploitation of our salmon in distant water fisheries has practically ceased. Surely now we must concentrate our attention on the effective management of home water salmon stocks. How we might achieve that in England and Wales is the subject of tonight's debate.

It was the need to provide a framework for more effective management and the best use of our resources that led to the idea of a salmon strategy just over three years ago. It was decided at the outset to base it upon the existing legal and administrative framework in order to make immediate progress towards better management of our salmon stocks. However, its development was slow and, at times, tortuous. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about salmon, it is that everyone has different ideas about how best to manage them! Consultation was extensive both within and outside of the National Rivers Authority, and many valuable contributions were made. The strategy was scrutinised and endorsed by 10 regional fisheries advisory committees, three executive committees, including the main board of the NRA of which my noble friend Lord Crickhowell was chairman, and five successive heads or acting heads of fisheries.

In its final form, four simple objectives are proposed: to ensure that there are sufficient salmon to provide fisheries and to spawn; to maintain individual, genetically distinct salmon stocks as well as particular components of those stocks, such as spring run fish; to optimise the total economic value of surplus stocks; and to meet the necessary costs of managing the resource. Throughout the extensive consultation period I cannot recall anyone seriously disagreeing with those objectives or indeed presenting alternatives, but perhaps your Lordships may wish to do so tonight. However, there has been no shortage of comments upon how those objectives should be achieved and the issues surrounding them.

Not unexpectedly, it is the allocation of catch between nets and rods, who pays for what, as well as issues such as the north-east and Irish drift-net fisheries which have generated the maximum interest. I shall return to them in more detail later. It is rather more difficult to evoke a passionate response about spawning targets, and maintaining genetic diversity and yet, ultimately, all else depends on these.

We certainly cannot afford to be complacent about such matters. Preliminary estimates indicate that spawning targets are not being met in 14 out of the 19 Welsh salmon rivers examined so far. In many of our salmon rivers the spring running component of stocks continues to decline and in some rivers the introduction of stocked fish has already altered the genetic make-up of the native stock. Perhaps most alarming of all is the dramatic decline of salmon stock in our southern chalk streams and in particular the Hampshire Avon. I hope that my noble friend Lord Radnor will say more about that.

However, it is by no means all doom and gloom. There have been a number of successes in recent years; for example, on the River Usk in Wales effective anti-poaching measures have resulted in both increased stocks and catches. Salmon have been restored to a number of rivers, including the Taff, the Thames and the Tyne. As water quality improves, there is a real debate about whether or not it is desirable to encourage the restoration of other river systems, such as the Trent and the Humber, so that they, too, could support runs of salmon for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

Whether declining or improving, however, we must be able to make objective decisions as to how to manage our salmon stocks. The approach proposed by this strategy is to develop local action plans which will set targets, and in particular spawning targets, for all the principal salmon rivers in England and Wales by the year 2000. The performance of both stocks and fisheries will be monitored and assessed in relation to those targets and appropriate management action taken if the targets are not being met.

Such an approach to managing salmon is not new. Spawning targets have been used in North America, particularly in Canada, for a number of years and have played a major role in the management of both their home water and distant water fisheries. If spawning targets are not met, it will be necessary to try to identify the factor or factors which are limiting salmon survival and production and to apply the appropriate management actions to overcome those limiting factors. Of these actions, the proper control of legal and illegal exploitation is of obvious importance. I wish to highlight just two of a number of recommendations made in the strategy concerning such controls.

First, does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that we need to develop cost-effective ways of preventing poaching? If so, I wonder whether my noble friend will be kind enough to say whether the Government would be prepared to look again at carcass tagging and dealer licensing?

The second recommendation concerns the need for new legislation to introduce rapid fishery control measures, for example, to safeguard stocks during prolonged drought conditions or perhaps from a sudden outbreak of disease. I believe that that is very topical. At present we have little, if any, flexibility to react to changing circumstances where a rapid response may be required, and this shortfall needs to be addressed.

In the time that I have left I should like to talk about the issues of the Irish and north-east drift-net fisheries, resource allocation and funding, all of which I referred to earlier. First, let me try to address the issue of the north-east drift-net fishery. It is clearly stated in the strategy that the NRA's policy is to phase out, over an appropriate time-scale, all fisheries which can be shown to exploit predominantly mixed stocks.

That policy is already being applied to the north-east drift-net fishery. The time-scale for the phase out is 30 to 40 years and this was guided by the Government's 1991 report titled Salmon Net Fisheries. That allows all existing net fishermen to continue in the fishery until retirement.

That is the current position. I am fully aware that the time-scale for phasing out this fishery is unacceptable to very many of your Lordships. Further, the issue has dominated discussions about salmon management both within and outside Parliament during recent years. Is there an alternative way forward? I believe that there could and should be.

In 1986, during the passage of the Salmon Bill through this House, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, put forward the idea of a phase out of the north-east drift-net fishery linked to government compensation of the fishermen involved. In 1992, he raised the matter again during the debate on his Unstarred Question. My noble friend Lord Howe, responding on behalf of the Government, confirmed that it would be perfectly feasible to introduce a private "buy out scheme" but rejected the notion of any government involvement.

More recently, the North East Coast Working Party consisting of representatives from MAFF, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Salmon and Trout Association and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund investigated netsmen's interest in possible decommissioning of this fishery. Similar initiatives have already been implemented successfully in both home and distant water fisheries. If a compensation deal can be brokered to bring forward the closure of the north-east drift-net fishery on a voluntary basis which satisfies both nets and other interested parties, then surely that presents a better way forward and is where we should be concentrating our energies.

In the context of what I have just outlined, might I ask the Minister whether she can comment on the relative cost to the public purse of maintaining the present fishery as compared to a decommissioned fishery? If it is more costly to maintain the present fishery than decommissioning it, might not the Government consider diverting the balance of the funding into a compensation scheme?

The successful resolution of the issue would, I believe, not only help at home but also abroad. In the strategy it is recommended that the Government press for the phasing out of the Irish drift-net fishery. I understand that they have, and I hope that they will continue to do so. However, if the north-east drift-net fishery was already phased out I believe that our case would be further strengthened.

That brings me to resource allocation. The question as to who should harvest the salmon resource is a long-standing issue. In the past, fierce debates have revolved around the relative economic value of rod and net fisheries. I believe that line of approach is broadly correct. In the strategy it is a stated objective to optimise the total economic value of the resource while allowing for social equity considerations. That objective is consistent with a national resource whose management is largely publicly funded. Salmon have a range of economic values which include their carcass value, the rental and capital value of salmon fisheries, the revenue from tourism generated by these fisheries and the conservation and heritage values of salmon and their fisheries.

To optimise the total economic value depends on achieving the correct balance of exploitation by nets, rods or even traps. As discussed at some length in the strategy document, predicting the results of changes in the exploitation of salmon is complex and depends on a wide range of factors, many specific to the river in question. However, in order to optimise the total economic value of the resource it might be necessary compulsorily to change resource allocation on certain rivers. Government alone could do this, as this would require legislative change.

The legislation we have today has its origins in a bygone age when netting of salmon as a source of food was paramount. The value of net-caught salmon is falling in real terms. It is now only one-third to one-half of that in the late 1970s. This is largely due to the production of farmed salmon which is 85 times greater than the total catch of wild fish. In contrast, the capital value of rod fisheries in England and Wales, now estimated at £100 million, has increased significantly over the past few decades. The legislation needs to reflect these changes, and until we have new legislation our ability to obtain the greatest economic return to the country as a whole will necessarily be limited.

Finally, I turn to the subject of funding. Government grant-in-aid paid for the majority of the NRA's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries last year—over 80 per cent. However, the total amount of this funding has declined from £13.4 million in 1991–92 to £7.5 million for the Environment Agency this year—a 44 per cent. cut. I hardly need to tell your Lordships that this is having a major impact on the services which can be provided. The Government have made it clear that they expect the direct beneficiaries of the resource to pay more. However, in raising this extra sum (indeed, all fisheries income), Government require the NRA and now the Environment Agency to seek to establish fair charging policies which will maximise income. This has provided these bodies with a conundrum. Set rod licences high enough to generate significant extra income and, in order to be fair, net licence charges need to be raised to a level which puts netsmen out of business. Set net licence fees at a level which is viable for netsmen, and rod fishermen claim that in comparison to their own fees it is neither fair nor will it maximise income. To this conundrum should be added the Section 142 charging scheme for riparian owners which has proved, as yet, to be quite impossible to implement with the result that not one single penny has passed from riparian owners to the NRA via this route.

We must have a workable funding system and a willingness to pay for this resource from all concerned, if we are to manage our salmon fisheries properly. As a first step, we need to establish from Government what aspects of management will be publicly as opposed to privately funded. We then need to ensure that the total funding, grant-in-aid, rod and net licence income, charges from riparian owners and others, is adequate to safeguard this valuable resource and to implement the necessary management measures that this strategy proposes. Let us not end up, as has happened elsewhere, finding adequate funds only when the resource has disappeared.

There is much that can be achieved if this strategy is implemented. We have established clear objectives and policies and provided a framework for management. I believe the setting and assessing of spawning and other targets is crucial if we are to protect stocks and identify where best to put our resources. It will be a major step forward to have local action plans for all our principal salmon rivers and it is particularly important that these are developed and carried out in partnership with local interests. Likewise, we must work closely with other salmon producing countries and it is hoped that this strategy will help to improve further the contribution that the United Kingdom can make to international salmon management.

To achieve all of this it is essential to have a workable funding system and adequate funds. I have highlighted some of the problems relating to our current system. I hope that both the Environment Agency and the Government will give these matters their full and speedy attention. However, to implement parts of this strategy fully will require changes to legislation, especially with regard to resource allocation and funding. There is growing pressure for new legislation. I hope that this strategy will act as a further catalyst for change. In the time available I have only been able to cover a fraction of the issues relating to salmon that the strategy covers. However, no doubt your Lordships will comment comprehensively on both the strategy and the issues. I look forward very much to hearing what noble Lords have to say. I beg to move for Papers.

6.25 p.m.

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, on his principal role in the preparation of this plan. I believe it is a job well done and it has been well researched. I wish to place on record also our appreciation of those who helped him in this exercise.

Such a strategy was much needed and the Salmon and Trout Association welcomes it. I speak as a member of the council of the association. If we are to succeed in restoring the salmon to its historic level in our rivers, or even to start encouraging that process, we have to recognise the steps that need to be taken at all stages of a complex life cycle and the resources which need to be allocated to achieve that.

Habitat enhancement in fresh water and the need to set targets for spawning escapement are covered in some detail in the strategy, and the detail therein would be difficult to improve on. However, our concerns are whether the new Environment Agency will have the resources to implement this part of the plan. As the noble Viscount has already told us—it is in the document—government grant-in-aid to fisheries has reduced from £13.4 million in 1991–92 to a proposed £7.5 million in 1996–97. That is a huge reduction and I know that the National Rivers Authority has entered the Environment Agency with, I gather, 1,200 fewer staff than it projected when the agency was conceived two years ago.

The association was also pleased to see that some of the critical comments it made during the consultation phase of this plan—with particular regard to exploitation of the salmon resource by nets—have been incorporated into the final document. The section of the plan which deals with this aspect illustrates quite graphically the constraints facing the agency imposed by fisheries legislation which is rooted in the past and which frustrates its fisheries staff from taking much needed management decisions. The sooner time can be found in this or another place for revised legislation, the better. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, on that point.

The association was also pleased to note during earlier debates a growing recognition that a national salmon strategy should be just that—salmon do not respect the boundary between England and Scotland—and we applaud the increased dialogue between salmon interests north and south of the Border, both between government departments and angling organisations such as the Scottish Anglers' National Association.

However, despite statements in the plan highlighting the need for increased protection for spring salmon, and strong statements condemning interceptory drift-netting of mixed stocks, particularly the Irish drift-net fishery, we remain concerned that in its last months the NRA failed to implement some important changes which would have afforded additional protection to salmon stocks. Ministers had urged the NRA to consider postponing the opening of the drift-net season to 1st May, a move in line both with the recommendations of the scientists of the North Atlantic Salmon Organisation and also European Union Council Directive 92/43 concerning the protection and conservation of salmon stocks. That suggestion was also made by Ministers in 1991, and for a second time. I am sorry to say that the NRA declined to implement the measure.

The Salmon and Trout Association very much hopes that the new Environment Agency has the courage of its convictions and moves swiftly to implement this proposal. This would indicate both that it means business and that the salmon management strategy is not just another good intention destined to gather dust on the shelf.

We shall also look to the new agency to make progress on a number of issues that it has inherited from the National Rivers Authority. The first, as the noble Viscount said, is the matter of the north-east drift-nets, as I have pointed out in past debates in another place and in this House over the past 15 years. There is indiscriminate damage caused to salmon stocks by the nets, and the stocks that the nets exploit are destined for the Yorkshire Esk and the east Scotland salmon rivers. My Scottish colleagues are equally concerned that this pernicious fishery should be phased out as quickly as possible. It is bad management practice; it is indiscriminatory; it is embarrassing to us within the North Atlantic Conservation Organisation. It is a practice totally contrary to the conservation of salmon. A buy-out agreed with these part-time netters should be sought. It should be possible. It has been done in major industries and can certainly be done in this one.

As an ordinary angler I remain concerned at the growth in the cormorant populations on our inland lakes and rivers and the damage that they are wreaking on our stocks of coarse and game fish. Is the Minister aware that, while we support the joint Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Department of the Environment three-year research programme on fish-eating birds, we expect the agency to take a proactive role in supporting anglers in their attempt to collect evidence of damage to fish stocks and support applications for licences to cull the cormorants where such damage can be proven.

Again as a regular angler, I am dismayed at the Minister's recent decision to increase rod licence charges for migratory fish while reducing the proposed increases for net licence charges. The Salmon and Trout Association feels so strongly about this issue that it has applied for leave to challenge the Minister's decision by judicial review.

Brian Clarke, a noted angler and correspondent, wrote recently:
"The study of netting licences, which are permissions to fish, was completed last year. It had the effect of highlighting what had long been known, that 700 commercial licence holders take more salmon in England and Wales than all the anglers put together; 56% of the total catch by one measure and around 70% by another. Yet the netsmen were contributing just 20% of licence income—the anglers 8%".
I ask the Minister: why is that so? Cannot this imbalance be rectified—especially when all the evidence shows that the economic, social and employment benefits from rod and line angling are much greater than those provided by commercial netters. I hope that the agency will recognise that the future of salmon management lies in recognising the overwhelming value of the recreational rod fishery and riparian owners and the angling community as their principal customers.

Finally, I turn to the problem of salmon poaching. I really do welcome the proposals for tougher penalties on these criminals. Pages 17 and 18 of the report list many measures that ought to be taken. Indeed, it necessitates legislation, and I hope a Bill will be forthcoming. Teams of poachers operate in organised gangs earning up to £1,000 a week netting, harpooning and gassing whole stretches of water, selling specimen salmon at £1 per pound on the black market. That alone increases the argument for tagging all caught salmon. We must also bear in mind that the theft of a typical 101b henfish can mean the loss of up to 8,000 eggs in a river's gravel spawning beds, upsetting the ecology of the river. Therefore I agree that bailiffs should be given increased rights to search and arrest in order to stamp out this crime on our rivers. I know it is a costly exercise—£4 million last year. Fighting crime usually is. But I hope that the agency, and the ministry, will seriously consider the legislation that is called for in this strategy.

6.35 p.m.

My Lords, we all agree, and are most grateful to my noble friend for his part in the production of this quite excellent strategy by the outgoing National Rivers Authority for the incoming Environment Agency.

I shall deal with just three aspects: first, the "hungry gap" for smolts when they leave our rivers and before they reach the plankton in the Arctic; secondly—a point which I believe should be developed—the preservation and procreation of the multi-sea winter salmon and the early running springers of which every river in the United Kingdom is now so desperately short; and thirdly, I shall develop further the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mason, made about the missing section in the strategy on predation on the spawning grounds and on the salmon parr.

One of the most worrying features today is that the excellent, prolific spring migration downriver of smolts going to the sea which still takes place in so many rivers fails to come back as grilse or salmon in anything like the proportions that it used to in the 1960s. We cannot just go on blaming, as we did in the early 1970s, the Icelandic fisheries, the illegal driftnetting around our coast or the other interceptory fisheries, which have been curtailed. The problem is far worse than that. It is that the right quantity of fish is no longer there to be intercepted.

We have had a series of warm winters and, as a result, the plankton is further away. It has nothing to do with global warming; it is simply the result of a change in climate, which is always happening in this country. The very first thing that the smolts leaving our rivers rely on when they reach the sea is an abundance of sand eels as their main food supply. Today, we are allowing the Danes to fish our sand eels to power their electricity. That is detrimental, as we all know, to the food supply of some of our sea birds. But worse still, it is lethal for the smolts, and it creates the "hungry gap" for the fish that have spawned, passed through the stages of parr, smolted, gone to sea and never reach their main food supply in the Arctic.

We all know, or think or hope we know, that "like breeds like". This problem of the shortage of early spring fish stems from three things. The extraordinary thing is that it may have to do with the temperature of the water. We all know that a good, early running spring fish is a free taker. So a higher proportion of these fish get taken by the rod fishermen than does any other group of the population. There is also the problem of over-redding on the redds. The early spring fish mature earlier. Their redds get dug up by the later running fish—particularly when there is a shortage of spawning grounds—which go to spawn in exactly the same place and dig up the redds of the earlier fish. So we have a problem with the limited spawning grounds of the later running fish digging up the redds of the fish we want to procreate.

The other problem is stripping the fish in the rivers. It is an awful business. One sees on an early winter's day in mid-November a gang of men going out with nets and buckets. They charge about on the precious redds, catch as many fish as they can which they hope are fertile and fertilise them in the bucket. All they have to do is obtain sufficient spawn to take back and fill the hatchery. The problem is more serious and scientific than is realised. Such people do not know what spawn they are taking and what spawn they are fertilising.

For 21 years I was chairman of the fisheries board. During that time, with the help of Liverpool University, we carried out what would have developed successfully had we been able to spend the money on it. We carried out a successful experiment on trapping the fish that ran the river in February and March and holding them till they were ripe and ready to spawn in special tanks. We stripped and put back into the river only the fry from the early running fish. Within a seven-year period, there was a marked improvement in the spring run, but it is difficult and expensive to do, one needs a lot of construction and the fish need nurturing until they are ready to strip. I am sorry that the strategy document, which puts so much emphasis on the need to restock rivers with their own naturally run stock of fish, does not make the point that we should only strip the early running fish and return that spawn to the river.

In addition, there is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason: the missing strategy on predation. We cannot duck the issue in the first instance of mammalian predation around our coasts by the grey seal. When the salmon fishing was really good in the 1960s, the total grey seal population around the whole of the United Kingdom was 24,000. Today it is 108,000 and increasing at 9 per cent. a year. It is said because of what I can only regard as a slightly bogus scientific survey that salmon is not the principal food of the seals. The survey was based on droppings taken from seals when they haul out before they pup. Most people realise that the seal is the one mammal which goes into decline before it pups. The droppings—which were not picked up at sea, that would not be possible—were picked up on the land where the seals were hauling out to pup. The droppings showed a high preponderance of sand eel. When the Aberdeen research unit succeeded in catching seals at sea, those seals had a high percentage of salmon in their stomachs. If one examines the stomach of a seal that has been caught in a net and killed, the first thing a seal does when it is caught is to empty its stomach and as a result there is no incriminating evidence.

So much for what I believe is important: the damage done by mammalian predators. The avian predation on the spawning grounds is even worse and it is particularly dangerous when we put the fed fry back into the river. The fry have no idea that the shadow of the cormorant is not the shadow of the hands that fed them in tanks. Therefore, they do not take cover from cormorants, mergansers and goosanders. With respect to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, it is fair to say that the National Rivers Authority has ducked the issue of giving people licences under the necessary wildlife registration order to cull the cormorants. The authority will only issue a licence if one can prove serious financial damage.

Until a few years ago, the cormorant was a shore nesting bird. We used to control cormorants, we went to sea in March and shot them all around the mouth of a river so that the population was maintained at a level equal to the food supply at sea. That discouraged the cormorants from coming inland and fishing up the river; they are not inland birds.

I would not wish to stray into a major argument on avian predation in this country. It is too late this spring, but as a compromise we should be allowed next spring to have a policy of egg pricking for the birds which are nesting inland. I do not suggest that we should start a campaign of shooting them because that is not allowed, but there is no reason why we should not prick the eggs of all inland nesting cormorants. Then we may hope that the population will begin to decline.

It is urgent that we look at the problem of the hungry gap. The Government bear a responsibility for allowing the Danes to fish out our sand eel population. The sand eel population is important to much else, but it is vital to our salmon stocks. The strategy set out in the document on restocking needs refining, and we must know what fish are being stripped. Finally, we can no longer go on ducking the issue of predation, both mammalian and avian. Both must be managed.

6.46 p.m.

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Viscount for giving us this opportunity to debate salmon policies and for the clear, constructive and stimulating way in which he introduced the subject. I must declare an interest in that my family owns a small salmon fishery on the upper Wye and I am a vice-president of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association.

The first time I spoke on salmon in your Lordships' House was on 19th February 1985, when I said (at col. 526 of Hansard):
"I think that there is an urgent need for an effective national salmon management policy which does not exist at the moment, when we have four Ministers concerned with fisheries problems in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, as a result, we have an unco-ordinated policy; for example, drift netting banned in Scotland but permitted in England where I believe the great majority of fish taken are headed for Scottish rivers".
That was 11 years ago. Nothing much has changed except that the Government set up the Salmon Advisory Committee under the late Professor Dunnet, but they have now wound that up. I also pointed out in that 1985 debate that, despite the unanimity and deep knowledge displayed by Peers in salmon debates in 1980 and 1981, after those debates nothing happened. I hope that that will not be the case after this debate.

Now, much later, we are still no nearer a genuine national salmon policy, embracing, as it should, the whole of the United Kingdom. But at least the noble Viscount and his colleagues—a number of whom I know and very much respect—are to be warmly congratulated on having produced a salmon management strategy for England and Wales. That is at least a good beginning. As such, it is very welcome, as is the setting of objectives and the defining of the steps needed to attain those objectives.

The new strategy will need to be co-ordinated with the policies which come out of the review of Scottish salmon fisheries currently being conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, and with policies for Northern Ireland rivers. If that is done, we shall really move forward.

So far as the strategy itself is concerned, I strongly support what is said about habitat enhancement and all the recommendations listed on page 18; that is, carcass tagging, dealer licensing, prohibition of the sale of rod-caught salmon and encouragement of more effective action by the courts against poachers. In fact, I argued for all those during the passage of the Salmon Bill in 1986. The Government then rejected tagging in favour of dealer licensing, only to abandon that in 1987, after planning to introduce it. They told me also that prohibition of the sale of rod-caught salmon was too draconian a measure, which seemed and seems to me to be nonsense. Some of the recommendations have been put forward repeatedly in the past. For example, as I told the House in January 1988, dealer licensing has been put forward repeatedly by committee after committee for 60 years.

I very much welcome what is said in the strategy about legislative proposals and the streamlining of procedures, on page 15. Far too much fisheries legislation is now out of date. I also welcome the reaffirmation of the NRA's policy against fishing of mixed stocks, on page 16. It took some time for the NRA to come round to that view, but I am glad that it has. I welcome the call for an end to the Irish drift-net fishery, a matter which I have brought up several times in your Lordships' House. The call for research on salmon in the marine phase (on page 24) is extremely important and should be pursued both nationally and internationally.

I should say a few words about spawning escapement targets, which are discussed on pages 8 to 11 of the strategy and given great emphasis in the report. I believe that it is very much for the long term. At the moment, we do not have accurate data. It would be very difficult to measure the parameters. On my own river, the River Wye, only now do we have an experimental acoustic counter, which is being evaluated. We do not yet know the size of the run, let alone how many fish successfully spawn and what could be the ideal number. What is said about spawning targets is very sensible but it is very much for the long term. We should be careful not to be too hasty in taking management decisions on fairly speculative information. It also needs to be borne in mind that there is always a need for an exploitable surplus in any river, not just for the survival of the stock.

An important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, about whether the Environment Agency will have adequate resources. I know that on the River Wye the excellent fisheries officer has just had his post abolished, which shows the pressure that resources are under. The noble Lord, Lord Mason, made very strongly the point about the north-east drift-net fisheries. I remember during the passage of the Salmon Act, with the support of the late Lord Home, urging that that fishery should be phased out in five years. What is said in the strategy about the north-east fisheries repeats the previous NRA unwillingness to act effectively to implement its own stated principle of ending the exploitation of predominantly mixed stocks. It used to be said that natural wastage would bring the fishery to an end in 30 years. That now seems to have become 40 years, but in any case that is far too long.

We should strictly control industrial fishing, especially for sandeels, as I urged in our debate on fish stocks on 16th April. We should aim to eliminate entirely interceptory fisheries for mixed stocks and salmon should be harvested in their rivers of origin, as the Hunter Report recommended some 30 years ago.

The noble Viscount talked about distant water fisheries and referred to the admirable work of Orri Vigfusson in arranging for compensation schemes to pay Greenland and Faroes fishermen for not fishing their NASCO quotas. I do not believe that the problem has just gone away. There are good prospects for a renewal of the Greenland ban. Nonetheless, the need for finance is still very important. Given the cost effectiveness of the compensation scheme—a cost of about £5 for each extra fish in UK waters compared with between £80 and £180 for hatchery-reared fish—I wonder whether the Environment Agency would be prepared to consider making a direct contribution to the UK share of that scheme. It would be greatly appreciated if it were to do so.

The strategy makes strongly the point about the current shortage of multi-sea-winter fish, the "springers", about which noble Lords have already spoken. I was a member of a deputation that went to see Mr. Waldegrave when he was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We asked him, in the light of the compensation schemes in Greenland and the Faroes, to consider asking the NRA to bring down the date of opening the north-east fisheries to 1st May. He thought about that and agreed to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Mason, pointed out, Ministers twice encouraged the NRA to take that step to protect the spring fish and it is cause for great regret that it declined to do so.

Quite a lot is said in the strategy about sustainable exploitation. It is explained that the NRA had no remit to consider the allocation of resources. I wonder whether the Environment Agency, which, unlike the NRA, has a requirement to operate under the principle of sustainable development, will be able to take a different view. It would be helpful if it were able to do so.

One of the primary deficiencies in the present management is described at the bottom of page 4 as:
"The lack of clear … economic, social and political objectives".
The aim is stated, on page 5, as:
"management … [resulting] in a net economic gain to the country as a whole as well as providing social and conservation benefits".
Together that would seem to justify a management policy that takes into account the impact of different types of fishery on regional economies.

Your Lordships will know that the greater contribution of rod fisheries to local revenue, through all the related expenditure on accommodation, services and tackle, has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently in the 1991 study commissioned by MAFF.

NRA scientists have done very valuable work. The strategy is an important legacy for the Environment Agency. I am only sad that in its last months the NRA has taken some steps which seem to be inconsistent with its duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries; namely, refusing to move the north-east fishery opening date to 1st May, continuing to subsidise commercial netting and applying, 11 days before it went out of existence, for a navigation order on the Wye, which, even though less bad than it was originally, is still one to which many fishery interests on the river will be bound to object.

The noble Viscount spoke interestingly about funding. I have always thought that enforcement against poaching, which is enforcing the law of the land as laid down by Parliament, should be paid for from public funds. There is a limit to what can be expected from fishery owners. The scarcity of salmon means that it is often difficult to let salmon fishing in England and Wales. So, too much should not be expected from them.

It does not seem fair that the Scottish fish element of the north-east fisheries should be ignored in setting licence charges for that fishery. If netting is allowed to continue, net licence levels must reflect catches far more closely than they do at present.

In general, this is a valuable strategy. We must thank the noble Viscount and his colleagues for the work that they put into it, which I hope will be carried forward by the Environment Agency.

7 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Mills, not only for bringing this subject before us, but also for producing, together with others, a remarkable document. I disagree with very little in it, though I shall comment on it from a different angle as I proceed.

My first comment—or mild complaint—is that I was sorry that Scotland was not included. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, from the far North is sitting in the Chamber and will no doubt tell us something about Scotland. But it seems a pity that we missed some cross-pollination of information that might have taken place between England, Wales and Scotland.

My other sorrow is that this wonderful document came 10 years too late. The writing has been on the wall for a long time, with the situation with regard to salmon stocks becoming serious. That leads me on to another important point. The document is full, quite rightly, of ways of assessing what stocks there are—presumably the numbers of redds and so forth. It gives the idea that we are at the beginning of a situation and are going to go through an assessment process.

The fish stocks committee recognised that the assessment of fish stocks in the oceans was an imprecise science. I still believe that it is imprecise in the case of rivers too. I hope that we have got past the point of deciding what to do with regard to some of the rivers—the noble Viscount said a large proportion in Wales. We have got to work to a certain extent on hunch, knowledge and local knowledge and do something now. In the seas it is called a precautionary attitude: be careful; do something now; do not let the situation deteriorate any further.

The noble Viscount suggested that I might talk about the Avon. I have got 14 minutes and have never spoken for more than about 10. However, I point out that we used to catch around 65 salmon fairly high up the river, just below Salisbury, every year. Our best year was when we caught 99. That was when the water meadows—a feature of Wiltshire farming—went out of business, the sluices were drawn and fresh fish could get through instead of just the red spawners. Last week I asked what the situation was this year. We have lost one fish on our water, not surprisingly, because we discouraged people from fishing. The poor man who was fishing was fishing with a rather small cork with the barb cut off. The rest of the treble was cut off and the salmon eluded him—he was going to return it to the water anyway.

Roughly speaking, the catch used to be 400 to the nets and 400 to the rods. This year, with a restricted season, four fish have been landed so far on the whole river. That underlines that something must be done on the Hampshire Avon, and that may be so on many other rivers. We have heard a lot about the counting of redds, electric fishing power and that kind of thing. But the moment for that is over. It can run on in parallel, but something must be done now. As I said, that is probably so with other rivers also.

I looked at this question again when I read the document, which I enjoyed, and I agree with it. I thought of the three places where salmon come to grief: on the high seas, in the estuaries and in the river. Having come from the fish stocks committee, I began thinking about the high seas and all the problems that we came across with other fish. There is a lot of talk about drift-nets being successfully "off" off the coast of Ireland. There is what sounds rather a fragile agreement relating to waters off the Faroes because that agreement has to be renewed. Without being too unpleasant, I wonder who monitors that. The trouble with all the rules in relation to the rest of the fish species is that nobody sticks to them but they all pretend that they do.

Likewise, salmon do not just go "off". We found that they concentrated off the Faroes. But the salmon have to get to the Arctic. I take a fishing magazine called Fishing International. I picked up a snippet from a copy that was on my desk this morning. Apparently an Icelandic ship has just been equipped with a new purse-seine net, the circumference of the mouth of which is 3,600 metres. That can gobble up cod, hake and every other sort of fish including, presumably, salmon as they wander on their way. We cannot ignore that a lot of damage may be being done in large parts of the ocean, but we are pretty sure that there is nothing that we can do about it, apart from the agreements involving the drift-netting.

Then we come back to the estuaries. I do not know much about it, but it is said that the fish are trapped by the seine net in the Avon, but I believe people use stake nets in other places. I agree with previous speakers that that is an archaic way of gathering fish. It may have been suitable when fish were plentiful. It is time that the regulations were speeded up or laws altered and nets bought out at a fair price, rather as an ocean-going vessel can be decommissioned at a fair price. I have made that suggestion on a number of occasions in regard to the Avon and have been told every time that it is not possible. I take courage from the report that it is possible and I shall go into battle once more.

I believe that that will make a considerable difference. If we cannot control what is happening in the oceans perhaps we should over-control what is happening in the estuaries to counter-balance the situation. The same applies in the rivers. If nets are restricted then, where needed, severe restrictions should be placed on rods in all the various ways that the NRA document mentions—for example, shortened seasons, certain types of bait and so forth. I believe that many people are doing that already, certainly on the River Avon.

In regard to the message about co-operation and arrangements between the agency and riparian owners, I should like the co-operation to start with somebody from the agency discussing the problems and the history of the river with the people who really know; that is, the people who live on it. So often it has been my experience that somebody gets in touch, having given reasonable notice though sometimes it is quite unreasonable, and asks whether they can electric-fish parr, clean gravel banks or something of that sort. It seems that they never think to come and ask whether they are going to clean a gravel bank where salmon have never been known to spawn or whether they are going to the right one. That may perhaps be an exaggeration, but not entirely so.

Finally, I must support strongly my noble friend Lord Kimball in respect of the plan of the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, and the business of predation. There is something idiotic about spending a lot of time, thought and money preserving a wonderful species of God's animal and at the same time not being allowed to protect it from a rather grizzly bird which is hugely on the increase and should be dealt with in one way or another.

We shall never get rid of all the cormorants or the herons, so I do not know why the RSPB is so worried. Those are the two birds, with the black backed gulls, that are crippling some of our chalk streams. It is not just a matter of the ones which nest inland. As soon as they finish nesting they will be coming up in droves, and they fish and they fish. I can put up with grebes, of both kinds, with kingfishers of course, and with all the lovely things, but the cormorant to me is not a lovely thing. Some people may think that there are only a few herons in the world. I am a fish farmer and I netted over my fish farm at enormous expense after I counted, standing in three columns around the fish farm waiting to go in, 327 herons. My sales went up to £160,000 the following year. Predation is a vital point.

That is all I have to say except once more to congratulate the noble Viscount on an excellent job done.

7.11 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Mills for initiating this debate. We are considering a document, which I understand was written by the noble Viscount himself, which deals very comprehensively with our concerns about a resource which is nationally and internationally important. My noble friend kindly urged me to take part in this English/Welsh debate though I am a Scot because, as he put it, it has a strong international dimension. I would agree with that approach, although I am not entirely satisfied that it is followed in the document.

My noble friend indicated that there was a reason for that. However, I would have hoped that the problems affecting salmon in fresh water had been given the same attention in the document as the need to protect them on their dangerous sea journeys. The problems of whose nets and whose hooks are to be used at home are fully explored, but the problems of shortage of feeding in the sea are hardly touched on. The paper rightly stresses the need to find out more about what happens to post smolts, but it should urge greater use of modern equipment to pinpoint all the journeys of salmon at sea, as is now possible in rivers. I mention, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned, the good work of the North Atlantic Salmon Trust in preventing over-exploitation near the feeding grounds.

A serious decline would affect many local communities, particularly in Scotland, where visitors come to catch salmon or just enjoy their presence. They are a species of fish whose beauty of form and movement is a joy to behold. I should like to pay a particular compliment to the drawings in the document which cheer it up considerably so far as I am concerned. The document sets out a strategy for their management in England and Wales. Coming from Scotland as a Tweed riparian owner I speak with an interest to declare. The strategy which is set out in the document corresponds to the strategy which may be adopted in Scotland. So it is perhaps a timely moment for me to say something about Scotland.

A salmon strategy task force has been set up by the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view to recommending a strategy,
"for the management, conservation and suitable exploitation of the stocks into the next century".
The task force is expected to report by the end of the year. The Tweed is represented on this body by our clerk, Mrs. Judith Nicol. Scotland along with the rest of the United Kingdom and the whole of Northern Europe and the North Atlantic must unite in a joint strategy. It is only if all of us work together that our aims will succeed. Our strategies must be based on the principles proposed in this document though, as it concedes, the tactical battles will always be affected by local conditions and by the seasons.

The report is, I repeat, on the whole disappointingly non-international. It is almost isolationist in its tone. It appears to drop a curtain between the river and the sea. Even the references to Scotland are sparse. It also concentrates very much on "cost benefit" and the sustainable development of the salmon resource without emphasising the needs of conservation and research. That is not to say that the NRA is not trying to avoid further dwindling stocks and it makes many useful proposals in many important directions. It makes a good case for an element of public money to be spent on salmon fishery improvements. I hope that the Government will examine the idea of giving public money in Scotland.

At present, the riparian owners pay all the costs of running the Tweed Commission. I would hope that the main responsibilities and powers will be left in its hands and in the hands of the Tweed Foundation. Good management strategy requires teamwork and a sense of urgency to overcome obstacles and to reach objectives. The Tweed has an excellent team at commission headquarters and among the staff and down as far as the bailiffs on the ground.

There is a saying about waiting for officialdom which equals waiting till kingdom come. This can happen. Plans take time to materialise from theory into practice. For example, on the Tweed the design of cauld reconstructions, whose systems may form barriers and may be unhelpful to the river as a whole, have been slow to accomplish. Nevertheless, new fish passes have been built on the Till in Northumberland with the help of the NRA and Northumberland County Council. That is an example of good cross-border co-operation. The cost of cauld reconstructions on fishing beats is the responsibility of riparian owners but fish p asses on the Till and other spawning areas are not and cost money. There is a need for public money support for those kinds of improvements. There is a particular argument for spending some public money in Scotland, because it is there where most of our salmon rivers exist, with their surrounding dependent communities.

I should like to support the NRA's wish to strengthen legislation to improve fishery control measures. I am less happy with its intention to stick to a policy of only phasing out the north-east drift-net fishery. The document states that under this policy only the reallocation of surrendered drift-net licences will be prohibited, and that without there being clear evidence that stocks need to be conserved, any speedier phasing out or closure of the fishery would require action by the Government. Could the NRA not have gone as far as to say that it would welcome such a move on the part of the Government? I was happy to hear from my noble friend Lord Mills that he would welcome that move. Although the NRA is unwilling to close down the fishery, it is quite ready to offer its services as a go-between to allow river interests to buy out and close a fishery.

The Government should be reminded of their pledge when the Salmon Bill was debated some 10 years ago. Under pressure from your Lordships, the then Minister, my noble friend Lord Belstead, undertook to reconsider the problem if after a five-year period the drift-net catches were to reveal serious damage to fish stocks. In 1991 the Government took the view that there was no evidence of an immediate threat to stocks and recommended a phasing out policy. Today the records are available and show an annual catch of 40,000 fish, of which a quarter are destined for the Tweed. The harvest of 10,000 Tweed fish equals one-third of the Tweed catches, one-third being caught by rods and one-third by river nets. These are our salmon runs which enter the river in spring and summer when the nets are in action, runs which are in decline and which are badly needed for our economy.

In my view, the drift-nets are a great threat to the stocks of the Tweed. According to the NRA, the north-east drift-nets will not be phased out for 40 years, although they will have been half-closed in 10 years' time. Given improved techniques, the net catches will go on rising, so the same number of fish will be caught with half the number of nets. Although they take a large share of our fish, they do not contribute to our river management: instead, the value of their catch is included in the Northumbrian assessment.

I find the NRA's acceptance of a slow phasing out process in the north-east fishery to be in sad contrast to its policy of recommending a quota system for Greenland and the Faroes and to its welcome for a possible Irish Government move to ban completely all drift-net netting round the Irish coast. I wish it had gone as far as recommending an equal welcome to a British Government move to ban all drift-netting round the British coast.

By failing to establish on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom a common drift-net policy target, the NRA is guilty of adopting double standards. It is failing to give a strong message which will tell the international community that the United Kingdom is determined to win the battle to preserve the salmon.

In 1995 there was a decline in the number of rod-fish caught on the Tweed. We caught 9,600 fish, which is 4 per cent. down on 1994 and 6 per cent. down on the previous five-year average. These disappointments are reminding us of the need for constant awareness and readiness to act. The last sentence,
"Any decision to terminate or reduce exploitation would have to be taken after the spawning escapement had fallen significantly below the target level",
indicates a dangerous policy. To wait until the resource has declined to low levels is too late. It is also a reminder of the danger to our local communities if we fail to restore a resource which is so important for the future. This resource is particularly valuable in the Borders. I am worried by the research quoted in Objective 3, under the names of Radford, Hatcher and Witmarsh, who reject the economic value to the community as a measure of the value of rod-caught salmon by substituting the value of catches less the value of anglers' expenditure. They reject the people and the families who work in and benefit from the restaurants, shops and hotels in river valleys. This is a serious and anti-social reassessment of salmon-related value to the community.

My noble friend Lord Kimball and the noble Lord, Lord Mason, made a plea about the need to restrict predators. One bird which was not mentioned by them which affects us very badly on the Tweed is the goosander.

Yes. I went to Moss near my home in September, I believe it was. I counted 600 goosanders in an area of about an acre. They were congregating there for some reason which I did not know. It is an indication of the enormous number of birds in the Tweed valley which do an enormous amount of damage to our young fry and smolt in the river. They have a very bad effect.

I offer these comments together with my genuine support for the strategic proposals in the report which seek to deal with many complicated problems. I hope that the Government will pay some heed to the report. I congratulate the NRA on producing it and I wish the Environment Agency in England and Wales a successful outcome as a result.

7.24 p.m.

My Lords, I hurried back from Cardiff this afternoon to take part in this debate for two good reasons. The first is to express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Mills, not just for initiating this debate, but, even more important, for being the principal progenitor of this strategy for salmon management. The second is to emphasise the significance of this new strategy, which was one of the final achievements of the NRA before it handed over its responsibilities to the new Environment Agency.

The NRA spent a great deal of time discussing fishing issues at its board meetings. I very much doubt whether the new agency will be able to do the same. The pressure on its agenda will be immense and for a time at least I suspect that both the board and the senior managers of the agency will have other priorities.

From the time that has been devoted to salmon in this House—we have returned again to the subject tonight—one might have thought that the only thing of real interest in the whole issue of protecting salmon in British waters was to end very speedily the north-east coast fishery. The NRA document at least has one benefit: it brings out very clearly that there is much more to it than that.

The issue of the net fishery has been discussed so often that I do not intend to say very much about it tonight except to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that from the start, and not belatedly, it was the NRA's clear view that mixed stock exploitation should be phased out. But equally, we took the view—we believe that it was firmly based on law and not simply on opinion—that it was for government to decide how best to deal with the social consequences.

Without an immediate threat to stocks it was not for the NRA, and will not be for the Environment Agency, to take the more immediate and violent action that has sometimes been advocated, and has indeed just been eloquently advocated by my noble friend Lord Haig.

In the wider context, the NRA did think it right to set as an objective for the strategy the aim that surplus stocks should be exploited in a way that optimises their total economic value so long as that does not jeopardise achieving optimal spawning escapement or ignore considerations of social equity. I believe that my noble friend Lord Haig was a bit tough in his remarks about the economic policy in suggesting that it ignored the prime importance of conservation when in fact conservation was put right up as Objective 1 and that this very objective spelt out very clearly that it was dealing only with surplus stocks in terms of economic exploitation.

Section 3.1 of the strategy document makes it very clear that the issues are complex although they are frequently over-simplified by those who have a case to make. It involves achieving the correct balance of exploitation by nets and rods. At present the Environment Agency, like the NRA before it, has no powers to change resource allocation. It can advise on the scientific aspects and act, as my noble friend Lord Mills, pointed out, as an honest broker if fishery owners or anglers want to buy back the net fisherman's right to fish. But any compulsory change in resource allocation will require action by government and legislative change.

Perhaps I may make one reference to my noble friend Lord Mills and his powerful argument in favour of a buy-out. If we are to do it we had better get on with it. Simply to talk about it encourages existing fishermen to continue to fish in the hope that the buy-out will come. There is some quite strong evidence that the numbers are being held up at the present time for that reason. So if there is to be a buy-out action needs to be taken quite fast. I think too that it should be understood that the costs of policing the fishery will probably rise because the licensed netsmen play a crucial part in ensuring that indiscriminate poaching does not take place in the area.

Earlier this year the NRA was asked to consider whether there were sound grounds for postponing the start of netting off the north-east coast until 1st May, a fact referred to in strong terms by the noble Lord, Lord Mason. It seemed quite clear to us that there were no adequate scientific grounds for doing that at present. The impact on stock numbers in the rivers would have been negligible. I found that evidence pretty compelling. We read it most carefully and discussed it at great length. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord that it was not a lack of will that prevented us taking action, but the scientific facts and the numbers as we interpreted them.

However, apparently the Minister was not entirely convinced. I therefore proposed an ongoing discussion involving MAFF, the Scottish Office and all other interested parties so that the matter could be kept under review and those involved could return to it. Against the background of the views expressed by the Minister, we were surprised when our scheme to increase the net licence charges was amended to reduce them in that part of the country. That seemed a slightly inconsistent approach. The noble Lord also referred to that point. The charging scheme that is now in place is clearly the Minister's, rather than that of the NRA.

That brings me to the whole question of government support. The very sharp cut in grant in aid funding has been referred to by others. I have to say firmly that enough is enough. The NRA learned the hard way how difficult it is to devise an acceptable and workable scheme so that riparian owners contribute to expenditure which certainly benefits many of them. A great effort has undoubtedly still to be made by a variety of means to maximise resources, possibly by partnerships in which fishing associations, clubs and owners would work with the Environment Agency, not necessarily contributing in cash, but in a variety of other ways. There could be direct contributions from the beneficiaries of agency work, including those who fish and those who own fisheries. There could be sponsorship of the kind that has been so successful on the Thames. There could also be cost recovery from those who damage fisheries.

Having said that, and having freely conceded that all those must contribute, I have to say firmly to the Government that in my view and in the view of my former colleagues in the NRA there are overwhelming arguments for the maintenance of substantial government funding for fisheries. Last year we presented a powerful and detailed case to Mr. Hogg, and to Mr. Hague at the Welsh Office. That case is set out again very clearly on page 34 of the strategy paper. The Government have a clear duty to continue to fund the law enforcement activities of the agency in the face of increasingly professional and often violent poaching activities; to help to put right the historic damage caused by industrial and economic activities in the past; and to take some proper account of the wider public benefits that arise from the presence of fish in our rivers, not just for those who catch, or seek to catch, them.

The strategy is very much based on consultation. There has been widespread consultation during its preparation. Its future success will depend on an effective process of ongoing consultation, co-operation and ownership, harnessing local knowledge (of the kind referred to by my noble friend Lord Radnor) with the best available scientific information.

Catchment management planning has been the key instrument of the NRA in effectively achieving an integrated approach to water management, because healthy fisheries depend on adequate flows, good water quality and a suitable physical habitat. Within the catchment management arrangements, we are now to have salmon action plans. Do we need a strategy? Yes, I am sure that we do. I am sure that the use of spawning targets gives us a basic measure against which that strategy can be measured.

I should like to touch on one or two other points that have been raised in the debate. I agree with those who believe that at present the law is extremely cumbersome and that we need a faster way of changing the by-laws, particularly in an emergency. We really do need to have much more flexible arrangements than exist at present, but we must, of course, protect individual rights and interests in any process that is introduced.

The strategy lays a good deal of emphasis on genetic diversity and on the importance of maintaining a rigorous approach to stocking practice. I think that that is wise, particularly as much of the evidence suggests that stocking is frequently not a cost-effective option. There needs to be an active exchange between the scientists, the agency and fisheries' owners on such issues, because I do not think that that fact is widely understood.

The subject of avian predators has been raised. My noble friend Lord Kimball accused the NRA of ducking its responsibilities. I think that my noble friend got it wrong. It is not our responsibility. It is clearly the responsibility of Ministers in MAFF and the Welsh Office. It is not a subject which the NRA or the Environment Agency control.

I am glad that there has been a reference to herons. I think that it is the herons who are taking both the trout and the salmon from my little trout stream. The fish are not there in the quantities of a few years ago.

On rereading the strategy, like many others I was struck by the need to place greater emphasis on what is happening out in the Atlantic. There is an urgent need to understand much more about the consequences of changing weather patterns, currents and temperatures. I believe that they are of crucial importance. My noble friend Lord Kimball referred to the fact that the plankton may be further away. There is much historic evidence that previous cycles have affected the distribution of fish. If we do not understand what is happening out there with those vast forces, our puny little efforts at home may well be misdirected and the results of our analysis may not be properly understood.

I have one final point. There is a need for discipline and self-restraint, particularly if we want to see the return of spring-run salmon stocks. There is a great deal of evidence that there has been over-fishing by rods on certain rivers, certainly on the Wye. I welcome the support that has generally been given on that by all but a few.

We owe a considerable debt to my noble friend Lord Mills and to all his professional colleagues for their work. It is a particularly happy circumstance that the author of this important document should be able to present it in your Lordships' House. It is rather a good justification also for the inherited principle.

7.39 p.m.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as chairman of the company which manages the river whose name I bear. I am also a member of the Caithness Fisheries Board. Like all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, for the opportunity to debate this excellent strategy document. Indeed, I congratulate the noble Viscount on being the author of a document which is not only lucid and clear but which also sets out the problems and some of the solutions for salmon management in England and Wales in a way that is both comprehensive and structured.

It is difficult for me to take part in a debate in your Lordships' House without making reference to my father. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the noble Viscount is that all of the things my father taught me about salmon management, and a great deal more, are contained in his report. A number of overall themes come through repeatedly and strongly. I should like to touch on one or two of them.

I refer to the need for co-operation and consensus among all those involved in the management and exploitation of this valuable resource; the identification in the document of the current lack of co-ordination and co-operation between many of those involved in fisheries as a primary deficiency in present management; the insistence on a scientifically-based approach to the problem, which comes through again and again in the document, and the clear need for more data and study; and the great importance of understanding and nurturing the river environment, particularly the riverine habitat. I include the sea as part of habitat management. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, in regard to what he termed the hungry gap.

I turn first to the environment. I have long been of the opinion that many of the problems encountered in salmon management and the reduction of stocks in many of our rivers have been caused, not by one drastic event or easily identifiable source, but by a combination of factors that have insidiously over a period of time come together to create the difficulties we now face. Although I know of many rivers whose entire population of salmon has been wiped out by pollution or other environmental factors, I am not aware of any river whose population of salmon has been entirely wiped out by human fishing activity. Therefore, I believe that one of the most significant points in the document is the importance that it attaches to habitat management. It is said on page 20 that increasingly it is recognised that often habitat restoration and improvement can be a more efficient, self-sustaining and cost-effective means of increasing fish production and stocking.

As to my own river, I am extremely fortunate that not only do I own it from source to sea, as well as the estuary fishings, but I own or control most of the land adjacent to the river. For as long as I can remember my father worked to maintain and, where possible, improve the habitat. Our methods were built up over many years, very often by trial and error and the application of common sense. In addition to monitoring and maintaining where possible the condition of redds, in particular by being able to prevent excessive access to the riverbank by stock, which avoids degradation of the riverbank and consequent silting, we have also sought to increase the territories available for young salmon, thereby increasing the size of the smolt run. I recognise that I am very fortunate as a sole owner to be able to act—I hope—as a beneficial dictator. Clearly, on larger rivers with multi-ownership and many differing interests, it is far more difficult to gain the necessary consensus to achieve the actions necessary for habitat conservation and improvement. I emphasise that this is an area where much more work of extreme benefit to fisheries can be done.

As the beneficiary of the hereditary principle, not only in your Lordships' House but also in fisheries management, it would be impossible for me to take part in a debate on this subject without referring to netting. I was particularly pleased to read in the report that the proposed strategy took into account the legitimate interests of all who benefited from the salmon resource, including netsmen. I have a clear interest here as the owner of a number of netting stations. However, the estuary netting on the Thurso is a vital element in the total management of our resource. Quite apart from employment and other benefits which accrue from the activity, I average a bottom line profit which is used entirely to pay for the majority of work undertaken each year in maintaining the river and employing watching staff. The simple truth is that on this river without that income it would not be possible to undertake the environmental management or river-watching activities by water bailiffs which contribute so much to maintaining the overall prosperity of the enterprise. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that any significant increase in a rod catch can take place as a result of closing the net operation. Consequently, it would be impossible to replace the lost revenue which is so vital to us.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Earl, Lord Haig, touched on the economics. I am also in the very fortunate position of owning a hotel where fishermen stay. I have a kind of monopoly. Therefore, I have a total interest in getting the maximum economic benefit, because wherever it comes from I will get it. It seems to me that the economics depend upon the assumption that for every extra fish that goes into the river there will be another angler to catch it. I believe that the lucky anglers on the Thurso will just end up catching a lot more fish. I would not have a penny more but would merely have lost quite a lot of money.

However, the following two general observations about netting are perhaps more important than the economic value to the river. First, I echo a sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He referred to the increase in illegal netting as a result of netting stations stopping. The bailiff of the Caithness District Fisheries Board, who is also the river superintendent on the Thurso, is of the opinion that where traditional netting stations on the north coast have closed they have been replaced by illegal sea fishing operations. His estimate is that there are now far more fish being caught illegally off the north coast of Scotland than were ever taken by legal means. Where a legal netting station exists the owner or tenant of that station has a strong interest in protecting his property and rights, and consequently keeps a watchful eye on it. Once the netting station has been bought out he has no further interest and consequently it becomes much easier for the poacher to operate. Obviously, the poacher wishes to maximise his gain by using the most efficient nets available and fishing at the best time for his operation, whereas the legal fisherman by and large operates within the law. This is perhaps an unforeseen result of the buying out of netting stations, and it is one I should like to see studied further. I submit that it is better to have a legal netting station subject to proper rules and control, correctly exploiting the resource, than to have a large scale illegal sea poaching operation.

The second, and perhaps more contentious, observation is that most netsmen, particularly in the north of Scotland, are locals, whereas most anglers are perceived by those locals to be rich and from the South. There is a degree of resentment in local communities where long-established traditional net fishing is being stamped out for the benefit of the few. This creates a wholly unnecessary social divide; we must be very careful to guard against it. I believe that all those who have a legitimate interest should have a seat at the table. I urge the more hysterical elements of the angling community—if I may use that expression—to think long and hard before they vilify all netsmen.

I turn to stocking. I was fascinated by this section of the report. I was particularly interested to note the dangers of introducing to a river genetically unsound stock. It was something of which I had been unaware. On the Thurso we have our own hatchery. After the fishing season is over in October we take sufficient ova to produce approximately 150,000 fry which we put in the river the following season. We have reduced the number of ova that we have taken over the years. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s we sold fry to other rivers, we now take only what we require to stock the Thurso. That is an example of our management technique changing by trial and error and subsequently discovering that it is sound in scientific terms.

I was interested to hear of the concept of trapping; it is something I should like to examine on my river. One interesting change we have implemented recently concerns the location at which we net the brood stock. For many years it was traditional to fish in one or two fords on the river. Our river superintendent noticed that there was almost no natural spawning at those points thereafter. About four or five years ago he introduced a policy of leaving various fords fallow and fishing the whole of the river in rotation. The result of that is that we appear to have stopped doing the damage that was taking place and natural spawning has now returned to fords which were previously barren.

I was interested to read of the dangers of introducing genetically different stock. For a number of years in the mid-1970s my father donated annually 10,000 fry from the Thurso which were placed in the Thames at Teddington. I should like to hope that in a small way that contributed to the return of salmon to the Thames, although I now wonder what the consequences of that action might be. I wonder whether it would be an interesting subject to study. Presumably one could do that by examining the DNA of salmon in the Thurso and salmon in the Thames. Again I echo the views of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. We need to know much more about stocking. It is clear that owners, too, need to know more.

One of the most important areas touched upon in the document is the pressing need for national co-operation in our own country and international management. Whereas there is a strong case for a properly regulated and maintained traditional coastal, and, particularly, estuary netting, I believe that deep-sea exploitation of multi-source salmon is a more recent development and extremely dangerous. However well I or any other fishery manager tends his habitat and manages his fishery, if large sea catches are being made all that good work can be for nothing. I support wholeheartedly the noble Viscount's call not merely for a national but an international strategy.

I had the pleasure recently of entertaining Mr. Orri Vigfusson to tea in your Lordships' House and of hearing from him the excellent work he has done in buying off the deep sea fisheries. That is clearly an area where a contribution by the Government would be beneficial.

One of the benefits of the district fishery board system in Scotland is that we can raise rates and use those funds to pay for the activities we wish to undertake. In Caithness, we are using William Shearer, who is referred to in the report—he is one of the sources—to undertake a study of our different river habitats, going around each of the rivers in the district over a period of about five years. I do not know whether there is anything to be learned in England in Wales from the way in which we raise our finance in Scotland, but we seem to have the benefit of a slightly more sensible system.

This has been a truly fascinating debate. I shall be reading it again in Hansard to ensure that I have taken it all in. I thank the noble Viscount for giving us the opportunity to discuss his excellent document. It is in the clear interests of all of those involved in the exploitation of the salmon resource, be they owners, operators, anglers, netsmen or the general public, to ensure that the resource is sustained and improved. We must all work together to achieve that common objective. The strategy document is an excellent blueprint for realising that goal.

7.54 p.m.

My Lords, this is a unique occasion in my experience. The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, whom I congratulate both on the NRA strategy document, of which he is the author, and on the manner in which he introduced it, was successful in the Ballot for Motions for Debate, and chose his own document for that purpose. That has enabled your Lordships to return to a favourite topic, even though limited to England and Wales, with allusions to other important countries and distant waters fisheries.

The occasion is even more historic, having regard to the origins of the NRA. Some would describe the NRA as a quango, but it was, by custom and use, more than just that. Indeed, it nearly became an estate of the realm. Noble Lords will recall that the NRA was the product of second thoughts at a time when there was much justifiable criticism of proposals for privatising the regional water authorities. The public rightly criticised the idea of water plcs being judge and jury in their own cause. Subsequent criticism of various aspects of the operation of those plcs shows that the Minister then concerned was wise to think again and to legislate for the establishment of the NRA.

We have now entered a new phase in the NRA's role with the creation of the Environment Agency in England and Wales from 1st April 1996. The strategy document acknowledges that at page 1, when it says that the Environment Act 1995 will undoubtedly influence future salmon management. In the light of tonight's discussion, we need some indication of the resources which the Environment Agency will make available to the NRA for the work it is doing. My impression about the likelihood of adequate resources is slightly unfavourable in the light of what has been said about that aspect.

The position of Scotland is also of interest to us. At page 3, the document commits the NRA, MAFF and the Welsh Office to liaise with the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture about matters affecting salmon fisheries in the UK. The noble Earl, Lord Haig, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, have given us an update on the current position in Scotland, but for those who see it from a distance we should still like to be aware of what changes in the provision and supply of water in Scotland, comparable to those which gave birth to the NRA in England and Wales, are now under way. Can one ask whether there are to be any changes to present arrangements for Scottish salmon rivers of which the House should take note in our deliberations this evening? It has been urged, quite rightly, by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that we need a four-nation policy covering salmon in order to deal adequately with the whole question.

The NRA strategy sets out four objectives for the future management of salmon fisheries, and subsequently examines them in some detail. It claims that that is a new approach involving target setting, stock monitoring and performance of fisheries. No claim is made for completeness in such regards, and variation in salmon numbers, year on year, is acknowledged for both fresh and sea water. Such caution should at least allow your Lordships' House to continue its annual discussion on the effectiveness of salmon management.

Funding and the provision of resources are naturally at the heart of the strategy. Her Majesty's Government are asked to continue paying for law enforcement and repair of historic and unattributable damage to fisheries as well as direct and indirect benefits that the public receive from salmon. The EU funding for management activities under the habitats directive is discussed as a possible resource. Her Majesty's Government's response to those financial probings will be of interest to your Lordships, even if there is no definitive answer tonight.

Objective 4 at page 7 points out that grant-in-aid effectively funds 80 per cent. of expenditure on salmon and sea trout fisheries. It then considers the relative contribution by direct participants in those fisheries—that is, rods, nets and owners—as compared to that made by government. That section, while looking to contributions by developers of barrages or reservoirs, which may have a detrimental effect on salmon, and towards pre-and post-impact studies, including the NRA's costs, seem to expect such work to be at least part publicly funded. The justification for that is that much damage to salmon fisheries, not exclusively historic, is unattributable. In today's climate for public finance, it may be that expectations should not be pitched too high, even if strongly pressed.

The section dealing with fishery-based management actions will undoubtedly attract much attention—as it has already done this afternoon—and especially the section on net fisheries.

The NRA finds current administrative procedures to promote orders or change by-laws cumbersome—a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—and promises discussions with MAFF about the possibility of simplification or streamlining. The strategy of rapid response to introduce or relax fishery control measures is canvassed, including the feasibility of promoting legislation to acquire such powers. One is always wary of proposals for legislation, at least until one has seen a Bill. Old hands will recognise the importance of pre-consultation in such areas, as well as a sympathetic ministerial ear and a gap in the legislative timetable.

The question of drift-net fishing is ever present—it has made its appearance yet again tonight—and one hopes that the NRA policy declaration on exploitation at page 16, which believes that the exploitation of single river stocks and the phasing out of mixed river stocks over an appropriate timescale will meet with acceptance at least in principle.

Most noble Lords will welcome the firm tone of the strategy's reference to the drift-net fishery operating around the southern, western and north-western coasts of Ireland. As paragraph 1.2.2 at page 24 clearly shows, this is an unwelcome growth area from a United Kingdom standpoint. The NRA recommendation to the Government for the phasing out of this mixed stock fishery deserves a sympathetic ministerial reply.

The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, expressed a belief that a north-eastern buy-out of those drift-net fisheries would strengthen our hand in dealing with Ireland. Of course, I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the more we talk about such a buy-out the higher the ultimate cost will be.

Perhaps I may raise a matter of some concern which reached me only this afternoon; namely, problems arising from the spread of the oil slick from the "Sea Empress" in Milford Haven which created a sea trout problem. This slick spread from Carmarthen Bay to Aberystwyth. Rivers affected include the Towy, the Teifi, the Ystwyth and its tributary the Rheidol. Those are important for sea trout and are now closed for fishing with no date to re-open. For Wales, such rivers provide game fishers with more exciting fishing than for salmon. Their closure causes losses of tourist trade. For instance, I am told that one US syndicate has fishing rights on the lower reaches of the Towy to fish for sea trout from now until October and may cancel its rights if the river is out for the season. I am also told that Towy sea trout are in many instances severely damaged and show signs of swimming through heavily polluted sea to spawn. Damaged fish have signs of burning on their skin, which is the result of swimming in polluted sea. The policy for salmon may be all right but what about sea trout? Can the Minister say or write to me as regards what the NRA and/or the Environment Agency are doing about the resultant damage to Welsh coastal and inland waters caused by the "Sea Empress" incident?

The Motion before us tonight is to call attention to the NRA's strategy document and to move for Papers. On the assumption that, as is customary, it is subsequently and with the leave of the House withdrawn, one wonders what will happen now. I hope that we may have a reply to that question. The noble Viscount has produced at the right time a document which, if not for bedside reading, will be a resource for some years to come.

8.3 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mills for providing this opportunity to debate the National Rivers Authority's salmon management strategy. It is an important and ambitious exercise which, taken with the strategy currently being prepared for Scotland, will do much to safeguard salmon in Great Britain and to ensure their sustainable development. I know that my noble friend played a major role in preparing the strategy and I congratulate him warmly on it. It certainly taught me a thing or two.

I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for elaborating on the strategy and for his comments on some of the points which noble Lords have made.

The idea of a Great Britain salmon management strategy, which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised, has its attractions but we do not believe that a single strategy would be the best way to proceed, given the differences in the nature of fisheries north and south of the Border and in the way that they are administered and regulated. However, the separate strategies for England, Wales and Scotland, will need to be co-ordinated.

As your Lordships know, the strategy serves two distinct purposes. It sets out clearly the way in which the NRA believed that its own salmon management responsibilities should be carried out and it gives the NRA's views on how policy on salmon management should develop. It will be for the new agency to decide how best to carry this work forward. Nevertheless, the Government consider that the NRA's proposals are sensible and believe that they provide the Environment Agency with a sound basis from which to carry out its own management responsibilities.

We particularly endorse the concept of the setting of spawning targets for individual rivers. These, together with enhanced monitoring of stock levels, will ensure that the future regulation and management of salmon fisheries is on a more consistent and scientific basis than hitherto. The maintenance and improvement of water quality and the improvement of habitat will also benefit significantly salmon stocks and salmon fisheries.

The Government share the NRA's view on the importance of maintaining the diversity of salmon stocks. We are also pleased that the strategy recognises the need to protect and enhance stocks of spring run salmon. The importance of this was highlighted in the Salmon Advisory Committee's report on the run timing of salmon.

There will of course continue to be a need to regulate fishing for salmon in both the net and rod fisheries. Each case will have to be considered on its merits. We nevertheless support fully the NRA's policy of phasing out predominantly mixed stock fisheries; that is, fisheries which exploit stocks from a number of different river systems. This policy is consistent with the measures adopted in the north-east coast drift-net fishery following the Government's 1991 report on salmon net fisheries.

I know that there are those who consider that mixed stock fisheries should be phased out more quickly. We do not believe that such action can be justified where there is no immediate threat to stocks. The reasons for our position were set out clearly by my noble friend Lord Lucas in the debate on this issue in December last year and I will not repeat them now. However, I must stress that if stocks are threatened further action will clearly need to be taken. Similarly, if the level of exploitation in a rod fishery were to pose a threat to stocks additional restrictions would have to be considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, raised the issue of the north-east coast drift-net fishery. Our policy on that was set in previous debates and most recently by my noble friend Lord Lucas in the debate on salmon drift netting on 5th December. I am sure that your Lordships know the whole policy off by heart, so do not expect me to repeat it again. Suffice it to say that the policy remains unchanged. Nevertheless, we and the NRA are continuing to monitor the fisheries, and action will be taken if catches in the fishery threaten stocks. In the meantime, if others see a benefit in a faster phase-out, there is nothing to stop them from negotiating a compensation arrangement with the netsmen.

My noble friend Lord Mills asked about the relative cost to the public purse of maintaining the north-east coast drift-net fishery as compared with ending it and also whether the Government might consider diverting any savings that might arise as a result of ending the fishery into a compensation scheme for the netsmen. The NRA has said that the ending of the drift-net fishery would result in only modest savings in its expenditure. It is estimated that the cost of checking boats in the licensed fishery to be around £15,000 a year. It has made the point that that amount would not necessarily be saved if the fishery were to come to an end. There would still be a need to protect salmon stocks, including those returning to rivers in Scotland, from illegal fishing off the coast, and that would reduce the scope for actual savings. In view of that, we do not believe that diverting savings into a compensation fund is a particularly promising option. However, the phase-out of the fishery has been carried out in a way which would enable those who see benefit in a fast phase-out to negotiate private agreements with the netsmen concerned under which they would surrender their licences in return for compensation. I understand that certain interests are looking at the feasibility of such an agreement.

The strategy also considers the management of salmon stocks outside of the NRA's area of jurisdiction and looks in particular at the Faroes and Greenland fisheries and the drift-net fishery operating off the coast of Ireland. The regulation of the Faroes and Greenland fisheries is a matter for the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation. One of its principal purposes is the establishment of the quotas for these fisheries. The setting of spawning targets for principal English and Welsh salmon rivers will aid this process.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, called on the Government to contribute to the cost of the buyout of the Greenland and Faroes fisheries. Those fisheries are subject to quotas set by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation. The buyout of those quotas is largely a private matter between the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and the fishermen concerned. The Government take the view that it is up to those who see a benefit in going beyond management measures agreed in NASCO to organise and fund that themselves. It is not something on which we could justify spending taxpayers' money, especially at a time when we are committed to reducing public expenditure.

As to the future of the Irish drift-net fishery, this is a matter for the Irish authorities. As my noble friend Lord Lucas explained in the debate on salmon drift-netting, the Irish Government have established a task force to consider practical long term strategies for salmon management with a view to developing a system for the sustainable management of stocks. In this context, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food drew the attention of the Irish Government to our policy on mixed stock fisheries and the means by which we are phasing them out, and suggested that they might wish to consider a similar approach. I understand that the Irish Government are currently considering the report of their task force with a view to taking a decision on future policy.

My noble friend Lord Haig suggested that the NRA's views on the Irish drift-net fishery are not entirely consistent with its policy towards the net fisheries operating in the coastal waters around England and Wales. However, it is clear from the strategy that there is no conflict. The NRA's policy was to phase out those fisheries which exploit predominantly mixed stocks, and that is the policy that it would like to see adopted in the Irish fishery.

The Government have also noted the NRA's views on the future development of salmon policy. A number of the measures it suggests would require changes to the law, and we will certainly consider these in any future review of the legislation governing the regulation and management of salmon and freshwater fisheries. However, any changes must be consistent with the Government's wider policies. This is particularly relevant in relation to the NRA's recommendations on carcass tagging and salmon dealer licensing which were mentioned specifically by my noble friend Lord Mills and the noble Lord, Lord Moran. The possibility of introducing such measures was considered in some depth by the Government in the late 1980s. They concluded, however, that there were practical difficulties with both schemes and that they would place undue burdens on business. This latter consideration is even more relevant today, given the Government's current policy of avoiding additional regulation wherever possible and keeping burdens on business to a minimum. We are therefore unlikely to change our views on these ideas unless we are presented with convincing new arguments.

The strategy goes on to address two other areas of policy which are particularly contentious: resource allocation and the financing of the NRA's and agency's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries. There are, I know, some who consider that recreational rod fisheries should have preferential, or even sole, access to the salmon resource. The strategy looks at this issue in some detail. It also notes that the NRA does not have the power to seek a reduction in netting effort simply in order to increase the share of the catch taken by anglers. Its powers to regulate exploitation, which have been inherited by the agency, may only be used where there is a need to conserve or improve the management of stocks.

This is clearly an issue which will have to be considered in any future review of legislation. But, as the strategy document makes clear, this is a complex area, and the arguments for change will have to be considered very carefully, particularly as any change could involve the further restriction or even complete removal of a public right dating back to the Magna Carta, in favour of private rights. This is not something that should be undertaken lightly.

The question of funding is also a complex one, as I believe my noble friend Lord Mills acknowledged. This year, something like 80 per cent. of the agency's expenditure on migratory salmonid fisheries will be financed by the Government from grant-in-aid. The Government remain committed to paying grant-in-aid in support of the agency's fisheries function. But the public purse is not bottomless, and there are many competing demands for resources which need to be balanced. This inevitably means that those who benefit from the agency's work will need to make a greater contribution to its cost.

The NRA has already made some steps in this direction. It has increased the level of licence duties for fishing for migratory salmonids with rod and line. And it has embarked on a rationalisation of net licence duties which will involve significant increases for many licence holders. These changes were the subject of consultation and were subsequently approved—with modifications in the case of the net licence duties—by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Wales. Their decisions are the subject of an application for judicial review which has been lodged by the Salmon and Trout Association. Therefore, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that I cannot go further on that subject.

I note the comments of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell on the need for grant-in-aid. The Government accept that much of the work done by the Environment Agency's fishery function, and by the NRA before it, cannot be attributed to any specific groups or individuals. They accept also that the agency spends considerable sums of money on enforcing the law. The grant-in-aid paid to that fishery function reflects that. But the division between those activities which should be publicly funded and those which should be paid for by the beneficiaries of the agency's fishery function is not clear cut.

For example, in Scotland the enforcement activities of the District Salmon Fisheries Board is funded by fishery owners. Nor should the Government necessarily pay for the repair of what is sometimes referred to as historic damage to fisheries. Those who owned the fishing rights at the time may well have been responsible for and benefited from the activities which gave rise to the damage in the first place.

The amount of money which can be raised from duties on rod and net licences is clearly limited. The agency will therefore have to consider alternative sources of income. Levying contributions from owners of salmon fishing rights is one option which is being considered by the agency. But it may be necessary to carry out a more fundamental review of the way in which salmon fisheries are managed and funded. This is something which the agency will have to reflect on.

My noble friend Lord Kimball raised concerns about the stripping of salmon. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Mills will take account of those views and take them back with him to the Environment Agency.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, and my noble friends Lord Kimball, Lord Radnor and Lord Haig all mentioned cormorants. We are well aware of concerns about the effect of predation by cormorants and sawbills on salmon and freshwater fish and I shall write to my noble friend Lord Radnor about herons. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, cormorants and sawbills are both protected by EC legislation and in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Act makes provision for birds to be shot under licence in cases where they are causing serious damage to fisheries, but only as an aid to scaring where other methods of non-lethal scaring have been shown to be ineffective or impractical.

I know that there are those who would like to see a cull. However, equally, there are those who believe that shooting is unjustified. However, the Government must work within the constraints of the law. If the law is to be changed, then it needs to be demonstrated that the existing arguments are not sufficient to protect fisheries from serious damage. That is why the Government have commissioned a major R&D programme over three years to look at all aspects of the problem. I shall tell my noble friend Lord Kimball that the Government continue to support a wide programme of research, which includes research into the diets and behaviour of seals.

I note the concern of my noble friend Lord Radnor about the plight of the southern chalk streams. They are suffering particular difficulties. Both we and the agency are aware of that and are investigating ways to address the issue. However, I agree that it is important that the agency should consult with local riparian owners and anglers, and take account of the views expressed.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Haig for reminding us of the need to pay attention to the fate of salmon at sea. Monitoring salmon at sea presents particular problems and is expensive. Nevertheless, the research and development programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food includes projects which consider factors affecting salmon at sea.

I have not dealt with many of the questions that were raised, but I am faced with the usual problem of time. Moreover, I might just bore your Lordships. Therefore, I shall write to all those noble Lords whose questions I have not answered, and I apologise to them for not doing so tonight. However, I believe that the NRA has provided a firm foundation upon which the Environment Agency can build. It really is to be congratulated.

8.22 p.m.

My Lords, I first thank all noble Lords who have taken part in tonight's debate. I believe that your Lordships have made a stimulating and quite fascinating contribution to the ongoing salmon debate. I am most grateful for the wide support given to the strategy and for the kind comments which have been made to me. However, I should like to take the opportunity to acknowledge my NRA colleagues without whom the document would not have been produced and with whom the much greater responsibility of implementing it lies.

I shall not attempt to try even to address the perceptive points raised by many noble Lords. However, I am sure that they will be widely discussed outside the House. I hope that they will be fully considered both by the Government and by the Environment Agency. I should like just to pick up on one point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Radnor regarding the fact that the strategy may be 10 years too late. I hope that my noble friend is wrong in that respect; but I feel that we should heed his advice and act quickly.

I also thank my noble friend the Minister. I am glad to hear of the Government's general endorsement of the strategy. However, I was disappointed to hear from my noble friend that she was not optimistic about the opportunities for diverting funds into decommissioning the north-east drift-net fishery. I was also disappointed by my noble friend's comments on dealer licensing and carcass tagging. I say that because there is clearly widespread support for those very sensible and cost-effective measures. I wonder why the Government are not at least prepared to reconsider those two measures. I must also say that I was disappointed by other aspects in my noble friend's response, especially on the matter of funding. However, for now I shall just have to remain disappointed.

Within the strategy, the NRA calls for a vigorous debate about the management issues surrounding our salmon. I am glad that part of that debate has taken place within this House and that I have had the privilege to participate in it. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.