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EU: Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2011

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to achieve reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

My Lords, I welcome this Question from my noble friend; it is particularly timely given that the Commission published its proposals for the reform of the common fisheries policy earlier today. My honourable friend the UK fisheries Minister continues to encourage his European counterparts to support radical reform, and will be pressing our case for reform as negotiations develop, with further talks at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council next Tuesday.

The common fisheries policy has one of the most dismal reputations of any European Union policy and is responsible for the fact that yields in our fisheries have diminished. Does the Minister agree that its reform must include the total elimination of discards, and maximum sustainable yields delivered by long-term management plans agreed at regional fisheries level?

My Lords, I could be very brief in responding to my noble friend by saying that I agree with her entirely. Obviously we want to deal with the problem of discards. We have done a great deal within the United Kingdom about that matter. She is also right to talk about the need for regionalisation of the common fisheries policy and about rights-based management. However, we will discuss all that and continue to negotiate in Europe on these matters—and I think that we need support from all sides of the House, and throughout the entire country and Europe, to get a proper reform of the CFP.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that any reform of the common fisheries policy will fail if it just amounts to piling regulation upon regulation? That has been the trouble with the common fisheries policy from the very beginning. Surely the important thing is that we accept that fishermen themselves have to accept responsibility for the health of the industry. As the noble Baroness said, the best way to do that is to build on the regional management organisations that already exist.

My Lords, this is becoming rather easy, because I think I can agree with the noble Lord as well in terms of the direction that we are travelling in. I think that we ought to continue to travel in that direction. We will continue to fight for a ban on discards and deal with that very serious problem. We will also continue to negotiate with other colleagues in Europe on the other matters that my noble friend and the noble Lord mentioned.

Can my noble friend say, on the subject of discards in particular, whether the fisheries of any other countries within the European Union take a different line from that which our own fisheries have taken?

My Lords, discards are a particular problem, not so much in Mediterranean waters but more in North Sea and Atlantic waters. That is why I stressed in my earlier responses the need for regionalisation on these matters. As my noble friend and as others have put it, discards are something that we all find abhorrent. The whole idea that such things should still be happening is wrong, and we will fight to end discards. We are already doing a considerable amount to reduce the amount of discards within the UK fleet.

Is the Minister aware that the European Commission is now trying to take back the management of the common fisheries policy, which was to have been moved to the European Parliament?

My Lords, I think the noble Lady has got that slightly wrong. As I understand it, following this report from the Commission, this will be a matter for the Council of Ministers and for the European Parliament. It will be a matter for co-decision, so it will take some time. As a result, it is very important that we build up the appropriate alliances in Europe and within the European Parliament to make sure that we can negotiate the best deal possible for a proper, radical reform of the common fisheries policy.

My Lords, could the Minister answer my noble friend’s question, which is of crucial consequence and requires an answer?

My Lords, I thought that I had dealt with that point in answering my noble friend on discards. We think that the wasteful practice of discarding fish should be brought to an end. We are doing a great deal already within the United Kingdom to make sure that it is being reduced by various practical measures relating to net sizes and other matters. We will also continue, in the negotiations for reform of the common fisheries policy, to make sure that we do all we can to bring it completely and utterly to an end.

My Lords, it is not quite as simple as saying that discards shall be abandoned. What happens to the undersize fish caught by fishermen at sea? Will they count against national quotas or regional quotas? Are we going to rely solely on changing net sizes? That is very important, but you cannot avoid discards if you fish in the sea.

My Lords, we can never completely and utterly get rid of discards. We want to get rid of them as much as is possible. That is why we are seeking a reform of the CFP, and that is what we are negotiating to do. However, there are also practical measures relating to net sizes, to which the noble Lord referred, and practical measures relating to CCTV on the boats themselves that can help deal with the problem. It is going to take time and a lot of negotiation with other member states and with Members of the European Parliament, but we are committed to working towards that.

My Lords, we very much welcome the Commission’s proposals today to end discards. In doing so, we pay tribute to the campaign, led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall among others, to gather a petition of over half a million signatories to press for this change. Clearly it is in the long-term interests of the industry for fish stocks to be rebuilt and taken sustainably. With 75 per cent overfishing, a cut in the fleet looks inevitable if this new policy is to work. Can I ask the Minister how this will be managed, particularly in the coastal towns hardest hit? Will the decommissioning payments continue, and will there be extra investment in regenerating those communities?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for paying tribute to the campaign run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall—to which I pay tribute—but I would hope that the noble Lord would also pay tribute to my honourable friend Mr Richard Benyon, who I think has done equal amounts in terms of his negotiations on these matters. I cannot give the noble Lord specific answers to these questions at this stage, as he well knows, because we are still negotiating on these matters. We have had the proposals from the Commission only today, so I have not read them in detail, nor has my honourable friend Mr Benyon. We will look at those proposals, he will be negotiating on them next Wednesday, and we will come forward with proposals that will be good for the United Kingdom’s fisheries industry, for fish in general and for the sustainability of our fish stocks.

My Lords, given the success of the fisheries policies of Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and given the fact that 70 per cent of the fish in European waters swam in British waters before we joined the Community, why do we not take back our own fish management to the benefit of our industry? Why do we need a common fisheries policy at all?

Oh dear. As I think I have said to the noble Lord before, we are where we are. We have a common fisheries policy and we are committed to renegotiating that along with the Commission, which has accepted that that policy does not work, and we are going to get that right. With the Commission and a vast number of other member states being on side, and with this country being totally and utterly committed to doing so, we can get that right. We will start that process next Tuesday and continue it as long as is necessary.