§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Kimberley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to cease North-East drift netting for salmon and sea trout in the United Kingdom, so that the United Kingdom is in conformity with all the other north Atlantic countries.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, first, I should like to thank Dr. William Currie, consultant editor of Salmon, Trout & Sea Trout, and many other North Atlantic salmon experts for much of the material in my speech.
§ This morning a petition with tens of thousands of signatures was handed in to No. 10 Downing Street requesting that drift netting should cease forthwith. My Lords, 1993 is the cause for celebration over the historic Copenhagen Agreement, negotiated and signed by Orri Vigfusson, founder and chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, and Anthony Sigstad, chairman of KNAPK, the Association of Hunters and Fishermen of Greenland. This agreement virtually closes the Greenland drift-net fishery. Thus, Ireland, England and 1089 Wales are the only remaining countries of the north Atlantic to allow drift-netting round their coasts. It is anticipated that Ireland will shortly cease drift netting entirely, leaving us in the totally invidious position of being the last drift-netting country in the north Atlantic.
Mr. Vigfusson said after signing the Copenhagen Agreement:
Conservationists around the globe congratulate Greenland for its wise and courageous decision. Greenland has chosen to stand firmly with those nations leading the way towards sensible harvesting of the world's natural resources. And what is more, Greenland's commitment to salmon conservation serves to further isolate those nations which persist in antiquated and irresponsible resource exploitation practices".
§ Why are we the only offender in this indictment? Why are we in this invidious, increasingly embarrassing position? Thousands of British voices sing Orri Vigfusson's praise; namely, anglers, sporting associations, conservationists, ecologists and, last but not least, the vast local employment agencies in the river catchment areas.
§ Her Majesty's Government are silent to this historic and positive decision for the future of the salmon. In fact, the Government reveal by their silence that they are seriously compromised by a shameful ongoing anomaly of their own making. Scottish coastal waters have been clear of drift netting since September 1962–31 years ago—as a result of the far-sighted Hunter report, but Her Majesty's Government continue to condone a major drift-netting fishery off the North-East coast of England.
§ By this retrogressive stance, Britain seems to be fast losing its international credibility as a salmon nation and coming close to bringing the country itself into disrepute. In continuing drift netting, Britain seems to be insisting that wild salmon and sea trout should be harvested at sea, absolutely contrary to the United States, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faeroes and any other neighbours in NASCO. Why are the present Government blind to the key value of the salmon in rural life, particularly in Scotland, where the economic welfare of thousands of people centres on the return of salmon to their rivers, which the North East drift-net fishery directly intercepts?
§ In short, there seems to be no economic, ecological, social or political reason for not closing down the North East drift-net fishery, either immediately or within a very short run-down period. Not to follow this course is to fly in the face of reason and good management and to call into doubt the present Government's interpretation of the British national interest. It makes farcical their role in the international community.
§ Salmon fishing with such nets has been prohibited in almost every country including Scotland. Renegade England remains almost alone in continuing to license this abhorrent method. Up to 1970, using traditional methods, the North-East drift-net industry caught a sustainable 5,000 salmon each year. Following the introduction of the devastating, invisible and non-destructible monofilament nylon nets the figure rose rapidly to an annual average of 50,000 of which 80 per cent. is wild stock bound for Scotland.
§ Continuing drift netting is a serious threat to the economy of Scotland and indeed to North-East England. Compared to the thousands of jobs dependent on 1090 recreational fishing and the associated tourism, with the scores of millions of pounds brought directly into the economy, the value of the drift-net fishery is minute.
§ For years anglers and local businesses involved in salmon welfare have made a strong case for the banning of drift netting off English, Welsh and Northern Irish coasts. Salmon migrating back to their home rivers from their ocean feeding areas in the North Atlantic follow certain routes. Those migrating back are heading for their home rivers in Yorkshire, Northumbria and Scotland. On their final hazardous route up the North-East coast of England these fish are in waters under the control of England and it is here that the north east fishery operates. Virtually the whole salmon resource of the North-East of England and the main easterly rivers of Scotland are exposed, vulnerable and intercepted by the north east drift nets, the last legal, large scale fishery of its kind in the whole of the North Atlantic salmon area.
§ The drift netting of salmon off the coastline and on the high seas is known to be highly efficient, wastefully indiscriminate, outdated, exploitive and out of line with all current ecological and resource management thinking. The North-East drift nets mismanage the resource, seriously deplete the stocks of the endangered and important fish returning to spawn in their home rivers and then threaten the economic viability of many rural communities and put thousands of local jobs at risk.
§ I should add that that is aside from the indiscriminate carnage of the by-catch wreaked on all other forms of native marine and bird life, from the fragile puffin to the larger mammals which become entangled and also the thousands of non-targeted fish species.
North East drift net fishery is no longer a traditional form of regional employment which should be preserved. A recent report showed that there are 181 netting licences issued by the north east water authorities between the Humber and the Tweed. Prior to 1959 there were about 90 netting licences in the Northumberland Water area. In the early 1970s this escalated to an average of 156. Due to the new nylon monofilament nets which made drift netting more deadly, the average declared catch was raised from 120 fish per licence to 336. Thus, in the early 1970s, the specific north east fishery was transformed in nature and extent. A recent report (1989) accurately states that,
Neither the method of fishing nor the number of fish now caught in the Fishery can be referred to in any way as 'traditional"'.
§ So, what is the total North East drift net fishery catch and how many additional fish and other forms of wildlife are damaged by the drift nets? The average annual catch of the Yorkshire and Northumberland net operators over the past 20 years is declared as 58,000 salmon and grilse and 50,000 large sea trout, averaging four pounds or more. To this must be added a percentage of fish unaccounted and unrecorded catches for which there is good circumstantial evidence—add, say, 30 per cent.
§ There are also fish killed in the nets by seals not included in the catch numbers and for them add, say, 20 per cent. In addition, some fish escape but are damaged 1091 by the drift nets. A high proportion of these fish die due to infection, disease and disablement. Salmon show an estimated 35 per cent. escape rate from the nets, but subsequently they have a 75 per cent. mortality rate. The average year's total is 109,330 salmon and grilse plus 81,000 sea trout. Thus a total of 190,330 salmon, grilse and large sea trout are lost through the operation of the North-East interceptory fishery.
§ What are the economics of the North-East drift net fishery compared with the rod fishers? There is an income to the regional water authorities from net fishing licences and from rod licences at current rates. The figures in 1987 for the net catches for salmon, grilse and sea trout total 63,409 while those for the rod total 4,508. The disparity in these figures is obvious. In 1988 the gross drift netting income was about £355,000. The total estimated expenditure on sporting salmon angling in Scotland in 1982 was around £50 million. That is based on the Tourism and Recreation Research Unit Report from the Scottish Office. Applying average retail prices index factors from 1982 to 1993, that would now be about £87 million.
§ If the North-East drift net fishery was closed completely, there might be a net loss of 40 to 50 full time equivalent jobs. Perhaps genuinely displaced netsmen could receive some form of compensation and this could be provided from government sources without loss to the Exchequer since the cost would be more than recovered from additional VAT on the local community's revenues, including hotel bookings and associated local industry.
§ In Scotland alone, direct and tourist-related employment generated and funded by salmon and sea trout angling has been independently assessed as providing 5,000 full-time jobs. Do we want to see a situation where we create another wave of what are now euphemistically called "jobseekers"?
§ Over the years, anglers, sporting associations, research bodies such as the Salmon and Trout Association and the Atlantic Salmon Trust have presented the case against drift netting to DAFS and MAFF. A major presentation of evidence was made on behalf of salmon and sea trout anglers in the North of England and eastern Scotland under the provisions of Section 30 of the Salmon Act 1986. The presentation was compiled in 1989 by AGAINST (Action Group Against Interceptory Netting of Salmon and Sea Trout) and was circulated to your Lordships and to Members in another place.
§ The case against drift nets was presented to the then Minister, my right honourable friend John Selwyn Gummer. As I have already mentioned, this morning a very large petition has been compiled with tens of thousands of signatures protesting against the continuance of the North-East drift net fishery. Questions relating to the fishery have been asked in both Houses of Parliament. Many articles have appeared in the angling and general press; papers have been given at conferences and in general a high level of activity creating widespread concern has been maintained.
§ In late 1992, my right honourable friend John Selwyn Gummer, the then Minister, announced that the 1092 orth-East drift net fishery would be phased out over 30 years by simply allowing the existing licences to lapse. That was greeted with dismay and disbelief by the angling public, by conservationists and by many local industries. It was generally believed that the natural wastage relied on by this net limitation order would only reduce the number of licences by 50 over 10 years and that the urgent goal of immediately protecting the salmon from this last remaining, exploitive, interceptory fishery would not be achieved.
In this hopelessly inadequate order, Her Majesty's Government not only missed an important opportunity to rectify a dreadful anomaly and relieve the nation's ecological disgrace, but showed themselves to be unconcerned that the United Kingdom is now the last major exploiter of the Atlantic salmon resource which all other countries have now accepted must not be harvested at sea. At this point I feel that it is appropriate to pose the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, in his speech at the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) annual lunch in October this year:
Once Orri Vigfusson has sorted out Ireland, and dealt with some international hooligans on the high seas working under flags of convenience, will the Whitehall Department and the NRA be shamed into civilised behaviour or will they be sufficiently unprincipled and parochial to leave it to an Icelander to buy out their drift netting licences?".
§ The Government seem to suggest in their attitude that it is not in the national interest for this country to support salmon conservation as do all the other countries of the north Atlantic salmon community. This is a sad and disgraceful state of affairs if it is true and, if it is not, the Government owe the British angling public and the whole community of salmon nations of the North Atlantic an immediate statement clarifying the United Kingdom's position on conservation generally.
§ Happily, the Minister has changed in MAFF and we understand that a high-level delegation representing angling and salmon conservation interests in the United Kingdom met the new Minister early in November and re-presented a strong case for the review of the North East drift-net fishery, among other major issues. Anglers, conservationists and the local tourist industries, therefore, call on the Government to remove this most serious and embarrassing problem forthwith.
§ That government policy makes no environmental sense is perhaps not so surprising, but it is remarkable that it makes no economic sense, either.
§ No doubt my noble friend when he replies will say that scientific evidence shows an adequate spawning level and also that rod catches have in some instances increased. But, so-called scientific evidence means nothing as it does not tell one anything about the returning adult fish numbers. The evidence is the substantially reduced lettings on prime rivers. The increased rod catch is in the backend of the season, after the removal of the stake nets! Therefore, commercial netting equals high exploitation and low value; rod fishing equals low exploitation and high value.
§ My right honourable friend Mr. Gummer has now gone on to other matters and we welcome my right honourable friend Mrs. Shephard in his stead. Will she be a good shepherd and look after the welfare of the stock in her care? Or will she continue the disastrous 1093 and inexplicable policy of her predecessor? Will she come to the rescue of the salmon, or will she stand aside and watch with indifference the ultimate destruction of this precious, unique, vulnerable and valuable natural resource?
§ 8.12 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Kimberley for introducing this subject this evening. In supporting him, I must declare an interest as a Tweed riparian owner. On the Tweed, we are concerned about the scarcity of fish—a scarcity which is partly caused by the North-East drift netting and which we share with other rivers on the East coast of Scotland. We look back on the better years when the river system was stocked with fish running through the system at all times, and we hope for a recovery.
There are various factors which have contributed to this deterioration: increasing fishing at sea; the Hoovering of the sea bed; and the advent of salmon disease have all added to the decline. So it would be wrong to blame the dearth of salmon in our river entirely on the drift nets.
As my noble friend has pointed out, as a result of the North-East drift netting, some 190,000 salmon and sea trout —a very sizeable quantity of fish—are being lost from migrating shoals of fish heading for the Tweed and other East coast rivers. We, for our part, are doing our best to increase the breeding stock by helping to buy out Faroese and Greenland netting stations; by improving the breeding habitats in our small tributaries; by removing obstacles and by improving fish passes in our upper reaches. We should like to see this work complemented by the offer of protection of our salmon on their way through the shallow waters off our coast. It is within the power of the Government to provide that protection—and I would ask my noble friend the Minister to convey to his department our hopes that steps will be taken to provide it. The urgency is not only because of the damage to fish stocks, but also because of the threat to our economy North of the Border.
Whereas the value of the income to our hotels and shops and to the gillies who look after our visitors to Scottish rivers is in the region of £87.5 million, the value of income to the North East fisheries is less than half a million pounds.
During the course of the debates on the Salmon Bill in 1986, there was a possibility of including a clause to ban drift netting. Because of advice from several Members of another place from constituencies South of the Border that to do so would endanger jobs in the North-East of England at a time of high unemployment, the proposal was jettisoned. It was also felt that to do so would be to favour the privileged landowners in a way which would cause resentment. The privilege of owning fishing on the River Tweed is great; but I would submit to your Lordships that the arguments on which the decision were based are no longer valid.
The number of jobs which would be lost through banning drift netting would be the equivalent of 40 to 50 full-time jobs. This is an equivalent number because of the part-time nature of the job. The number of individuals involved would be larger. The point is that 1094 being part-time, they would not be deprived of a full-time livelihood. In the Border country, there is a risk of damaging the structure of rural employment at a time when the traditional concerns of agriculture and textiles are at a low ebb.
I would ask my noble friend the Minister for a clear statement that the Government will revise their intention to phase out drift netting over a long period and that they will follow Scotland's lead and join forces with the rest of Europe to eliminate drift netting now. In the present situation, the incomes of hotels, shops, tackle shops and of the estates which pay the wages of boatmen are at risk. The income to the Tweed Commission from the revenues from our few remaining river nets where our men are being paid off is at risk. That means less; money available to pay for the cost of river management. It is on behalf of the Tweed Commission, to which I belong, that I urge the Government to listen to my noble friend Lord Kimberley's good plea this evening.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Haig, I too am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has put salmon on our debating menu tonight. It gives us all a chance to review the position and to make the Government aware of what should be being done to maintain and improve this enormously valuable natural resource.
But I do not want to go as far as the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, in holding out wonderful vistas of many more fish on your line and in holding out wonderful vistas of surging employment in the rural areas of Scotland because I fear that it probably will not follow even if we are successful. We have to be realistic about these things.
I think that it is quite wrong to get too excited about drift netting or any other form of poaching or predation upon the salmon species; but it is equally wrong to ignore it. What has gone wrong with the drift nets off the North East coast of England is that an old, traditional method of fishing has been perverted, one can only say, by the people who have exploited it. They have increased the size and the length of their nets and the length of time at which they are fishing. They have double-crewed boats. They have done all sorts of wrong things to over-increase the efficiency of their operation. This is the same sort of thing that happens in the white fish industry and in almost any other predatory industry that brings us food to our table.
I support the plea made by both noble Earls to stop that fishery, but I should hate to think that we would go on from there to attack the coastal netsmen in the hope of having ever increasing returns of salmon to our rivers. The facts show that that would not happen. One has only to look at the Dee to see what happened when the nets were bought off at the mouth of that river. The result was that the spring catches on the Dee fell considerably. I believe that about six small grilse, on average, were caught for 10 years after the nets were taken off. That provides a poor return for the cost of taking off a traditional fishery from the mouth of the river.
1095 What is happening now? Because there is no one at the bottom of the river watching and defending the stock, we are getting seals miles up the river attacking nothing but trout, sea trout and salmon. If we kill off our coastal netsmen, we shall be exposing our rivers to other dangers. Coastal netsmen are controllable by controlling their means of netting, and by the closed times of fishing. They are observable. In Scotland, they contribute to the running of the river. They contribute money to the district fishery boards to look after the river.
If the nets are taken off, a great deal of watching for animal and human predators at the mouth of the river will be lost, as will the contribution the nets used to make to the coffers of the district fishery boards. I should hate to think that in supporting the plea made to the Government by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, to take a firm line about monofilament drift netting in the North Sea, off the coast of Northumberland, we were in some way starting an insidious attack upon the traditional coastal netsmen. It is most important that we do not do that.
One way of dealing with drift netting in the North Sea would be to offer fixed nets to the traditional netsmen to get them to give up this indiscriminate method of fishing on the high sea and to come ashore and harvest the fish near the mouths of the rivers that produce them. This is a resource which we have exploited for thousands of years. Our rivers were formed only 9,000 or 10,000 years ago, when the ice melted off the country. It was not until the rivers were formed that the salmon came here, having presumably originated in Panoceana, as the Pacific was then called. They then rapidly colonised the rivers because there were no predators, no diseases and no competition from other species. Man quickly began to prey upon them. In olden days, one of the ways man preyed upon the salmon was with a fish spear when they were spawning. There were many ways in which man preyed upon salmon which would appear to be destructive, and yet the salmon species overrode those predations. They returned and continued to swim up and down our rivers.
I agree we can go too far with modern inventions such as the monofilament net. I applaud the wisdom of the Tweed Commissioners in employing scientists to advise them and doing improvement work on the upper reaches of the river where their salmon stocks spawn. If we only did more of that, we would obtain a bigger return. We could then offer people some hope of returning glory to the salmon.
I support the questioner. I wish to know whether the Government will introduce the phasing out of drift netting as quickly as possible, possibly by compensation, possibly by allowing the fishermen to come inshore and to have fixed engines along the coast. I support the noble Earl who asked the Question, but I hope that we shall not go too far and start mounting an attack upon the inshore salmon industry, because it is doing a valuable job. If we damage it, we shall be damaging something that helps the rod fisheries.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, when I listen to the noble Viscount, I always feel that his contributions to these debates are made almost with one hand tied behind his back, because of the effective and substantial sweep net fishery that he operates in the mouth of the Thurso River. In introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Kimberley used the words, "unaccounted and unrecorded". As one who has picked up some 900 yards of illegal drift net off the north coast of Scotland, I can assure him that it is the most wasteful and murderous way of fishing. It uses a monofilament gill net. From practical experience, I estimate that 30 per cent. of the fish killed in those nets are never harvested. The nets are, as my noble friend said, wasteful and destructive. What is worse, they are in no way related to the proper management of any run of fish returning to its river of origin.
Noble Lords will remember Lord Hunter's report, in which it was made clear that the harvesting of fish in any river should be related to the fish that are running that river. What happens, especially in a drought year, as noble Lords are aware, is that the salmon run around the north coast of Scotland and down the east coast in concentric circles. They go all the way around the north coast and down the north-east coast. The bulk of the fish try to return to their river of origin. But in periods of drought when the flow of the river is not encouraging the fish carry on down the coast. The urge to reproduce yourself and find a spawning ground is so great that you go on hoping that you can find a more hospitable place, until you reach Northumberland, where, if you are not caught in a drift net, you turn around and proceed up the coast of Scotland again.
So the drift net fishery, operated under licence granted by the Northumberland River Authority and the Yorkshire River Authority, is set at a lethal point of the salmon's journey around our coast. I believe that the noble Viscount will agree that in his nets, and in the nets that I used to run, we caught a great deal of fish from other rivers. One can recognise a Dee fish. I believe that we used also to catch some of the noble Viscount's fish, as they reached us first. There is no question but that fish of other rivers go around the coast and wash in and out on the tide in the other estuaries as they go by.
We want to look carefully at the dramatic fall in the Scottish catch by rod and line, because it is not caused just by the drift net fisheries. Other factors have been mentioned. We must be realistic about predation on salmon stocks. The last time rod and line salmon fishing was any good was in 1964 before the arrival of UDM. At that point the grey seal population around the coast of Scotland was limited to 24,000. That is plenty of them. Today, the Sea Mammal Research Unit at Cambridge has published its latest report. It estimates—of course the number is counted by helicopter and so it is pretty inaccurate—that there are now 86,000 grey seals around the Scottish coast. The population has multiplied four times. Worse still, new breeding colonies are being established. Applications by the district fishery boards for a cull of grey seals are always hindered by the report of the Nature Conservancy 1097 Council on the analysis of seal droppings. That was taken at haul-out time—that is, when the seals haul out to breed. The droppings which were collected on the shore showed a high percentage of sand eel remains.
The only accurate evidence that we have of the damage which grey seals cause to salmon was produced in 1973 by the marine research unit at Aberdeen. Grey seals were shot and collected at sea and it was found that 80 per cent. of their stomach contents was made up of salmon. Seals shot at the nets do not give an accurate account because as they try to escape from the nets they empty their bowels.
Drift nets and grey seals are a major problem for the salmon stocks. When one adds to that the damage done by avian predation, it is clear that something must be done about the cormorants and shags. There is no need to protect cormorants and shags. If they come inland above the high water mark they should be shot. They are exploiting the spawning grounds and causing an enormous amount of harm to our salmon population. Action must be taken on all three fronts. Above all, as my noble friend Lord Kimberley said, we must urge the Government to speed up the phasing out of the drift-net fisheries which are licensed by the two water authorities in England.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ The Duke of Roxburghe
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Kimberley on raising the issue and giving your Lordships the opportunity to debate again the subject of drift netting of the north-east coast. I say "again" because the serious problems of the north-east drift net fisheries were well debated in November 1992. There was then a unanimous view across your Lordships' House that drift netting for salmon was an activity that should no longer be continued in this country and that it should be abolished as soon as possible.
Sadly, my noble friend the Minister was unable to share that view or to offer any tangible hope of a change in the Government's position. As was said by my noble friend Lord Kimberley, since that date the situation internationally has changed considerably with the signing of the Copenhagen agreement, which virtually closes the Greenland net fishery. I wish to quote from an article which appeared in a recent issue of the magazine Salmon, Trout and Sea Trout. It stated:As a result of these changes Ireland and the UK are seen to be the only remaining governments in the Atlantic salmon areas still allowing drift netting around their coasts. Ireland has just announced a new policy to cease drift netting entirely, which leaves Britain in the invidious position of being potentially the last drift netting nation in the Atlantic Salmon World".Is it really the Government's intention to be isolated internationally among all the salmon producing countries?
Before continuing, I must declare an interest as a Tweed riparian owner, a Tweed Commissioner and a trustee of the Tweed Foundation. Much has been made of the number of jobs involved. But, as a member of a Government responsible for employment across the United Kingdom, I find it difficult to understand how the Minister can justify protecting the interests of 160 part-time jobs in north-east England while 5,000 jobs 1098 are at risk in Scotland. Most are in upland areas where the sporting interests are invaluable to the community as a whole.
I wish to take up a matter raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. He believed that there was unlikely to be a large increase in the number returning to our rivers if the drift nets ceased to exist. In last year's debate I quoted figures from the netting stations still in existence on the Tweed. The drift nets cease to operate on 31st August and our nets cease on 14th September. During the past five years the average increase in the net catch in the September fortnight as opposed to the previous fortnight in August was 66 per cent. That is an ample example of the increased number of fish that suddenly arrive in the mouth of the Tweed following the cessation of the drift net fisheries. One must accept the likelihood that there would be an increased number in the river, which would in their turn be caught. As commissioners, we strongly support the netting presence on the Tweed. I understand entirely what the noble Viscount said but it is important that each river should have its own netting presence and be able to harvest the fish at source.
I have one question to ask the Minister and I await his reply with interest. Does he see the wild salmon primarily as a food resource or as a sporting resource? The only justification for the Government's present position on drift netting must be that they see the wild salmon as a food resource. Why else would they continue to sanction the removal from the seas of an average of 58,000 salmon and grilse, not to mention 50,000 large sea trout, simply for the value of their flesh? If on the other hand the Minister sees the salmon primarily as a sporting resource, why does he allow the netsmen to continue almost unabated with a token phase-out of the nets over a 30-year period? In all likelihood they will still be catching 50,000 salmon in 15 years' time.
During the previous debate the Minister regularly fell back on the argument that:in the absence of any evidence that the drift net fisheries pose a threat to stocks … there can be no justification for the Government taking action beyond that which has already been proposed".—[Official Report, 5/11/92; col. 1592.]That stems from the almost dogmatic stance taken by the Government that salmon net fishing can be reviewed only if there is a threat to salmon stocks. That is supported by the terms of the review set out in Section 39 of the Salmon Act 1986.
In this day and age, that is arrant nonsense. It is an example of totally outdated thinking. If the Minister is prepared to admit that the Government see the wild salmon primarily as a sporting resource and not as a food resource, there can be no justification for the continued existence of the north-east drift net fishery because the removal of in excess of 50,000 salmon from the system will undoubtedly affect the angling sporting prospects of most east coast rivers. It will not necessarily affect the number of salmon returning to spawn, but that is not the issue.
Will the Government therefore be prepared to extend the breadth and scope of their thinking on salmon to consider the damaging effect of drift net fisheries on the sporting and angling exploitation of salmon and the 1099 value of such to the community at large in Scotland? Will they not concern themselves only with the limited problem of providing sufficient salmon returning to spawn? A ban on monofilament nets would be the simplest answer and I hope that the Government will give close and immediate consideration to that. I strongly support the points made by my noble friend Lord Kimberley and I await the Government's response.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Viscount Mills
My Lords, when the subject was last debated in your Lordships' House I was present but chose not to speak. However, after careful consideration of that debate I realised there were comments that I should have liked to have made. I am therefore grateful to my noble friend Lord Kimberley for providing me with an opportunity to do so tonight.
I should inform your Lordships that I am an employee of the National Rivers Authority. Although that is the body responsible for managing the North-East drift-net fishery, I have no direct involvement in that fishery and the views that I shall express are entirely my own.
The subject of drift netting is not new to me. Before joining the National Rivers Authority, I spent the first nine years of my career as a fisheries biologist working for the Salmon Research Trust of Ireland. Part of that organisation's work was to gauge the extent of the exploitation by the Irish drift-net fishery and its effect on a specific salmon stock.
Today my duties as a fisheries manager in the NRA's North-West region include the regulation of a small drift-net fishery for salmon in the Ribble Estuary. I hope that I can apply that varied experience to make a positive and balanced contribution to this evening's debate.
As my noble friend the Duke of Roxburghe reminded us, a major feature of the previous debate was the unanimous view of noble Lords who spoke that an immediate, or much more imminent, closure of the fishery was required. Several arguments were put forward to justify that need. A number of noble Lords expressed the view that any form of interceptory drift-net fishery was wrong in principle and an anachronism. Are not all netting methods interceptory? Why should drift netting be singled out among all the other techniques used to catch salmon? Drift netting does not have to over-exploit salmon so long as it is effectively regulated and deployed in a location where single stocks predominate. For example, there are salmon drift-net fisheries operating within estuaries which are strictly controlled in terms of fishing effort, design and location and whose catches can often be less than those made by rods further upstream in the river.
Drift nets become a problem only when they are used to exploit mixed stocks or where they over-exploit all or certain components of the stock. Perhaps it is important to bear in mind that many other forms of netting are quite capable of causing those same problems.
In the case of the North-East drift-net fishery, both the Government and the NRA have accepted that mixed stocks are exploited and that, because of that, the 1100 fisheries should be phased out. That will aid and improve the management of individual stocks of East coast salmon and sea-trout rivers. However, in their reports neither the Government nor the NRA have accepted that the fishery can be shown to be over-exploiting stocks. But that was not a view shared by many noble Lords in the previous debate. Indeed, over-exploitation of stocks was one of the major arguments put forward for bringing the North-East drift-net fishery to a close. However, that argument is simply not supported by the available evidence as presented by the Government in their report Salmon Net Fisheries. The NRA has also assessed that and other data and concurs with the Government's conclusion that there is no immediate threat to stocks.
Rod catches of salmon and sea-trout in those rivers affected by the North-East drift-net fishery have generally been maintained, although it is accepted that increased angling effort and decreased netting in certain catchments will have contributed to that. MAFF, the Scottish Office and NRA scientists agree that there is no evidence of insufficient spawning escapements in Scottish rivers affected by the fishery, although the NRA believes that there is some scope for increased spawning escapements in certain English rivers.
Thus, given the current evidence on the status of stocks, at least on stock conservation grounds there is no clear case for the immediate closure of the fishery. However, I was reassured by the statement made on behalf of the Government by my noble friend Lord Howe during the last debate:If it becomes clear that further action is required in order to conserve stocks, we shall not hesitate to take it". —[Official Report, 5/11/92; col. 1595.]It is not only damage to fish stocks which is commonly cited as a reason to ban drift netting but also the alleged damage it causes to other forms of wildlife. A number of noble Lords have referred to that.
Salmon drift nets have been portrayed, quite inaccurately, as having the same deleterious impact on wildlife as the oceanic drift nets used to catch tuna. There are of course significant differences such as the size of the net used and how they are fished. For example, while I believe that oceanic drift nets of up to 50 kilometres have been deployed, the maximum length of salmon drift net permitted in the North-East coast fishery is 550 metres in Northumbria and 370 metres in Yorkshire.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to Appendix 1 of the NRA's published response to the Government's report, Salmon Net Fisheries. That assesses the impact of the North-East drift-net fishery on birds, cetaceans and seals and concludes that there is no current evidence that it is having a major adverse effect.
Of all the arguments put forward for the speedier closure of this fishery, it is that relating to economics which initially appears to be most convincing. A large number of studies have been carried out to assess the relative economic values of rod and net fisheries. It has been argued that rod-caught salmon are worth many times more than net-caught salmon and that the removal of the net fisheries would bring significant economic benefits to rod fisheries and those employed by them. 1101 The most recent report, published in 1991 and entitled Economic evaluations of salmon fisheries in Great Britain, was produced by Radford and Hatcher of Portsmouth Polytechnic. In their study it was pointed out that many of the earlier assessments were based upon anglers' expenditure and its impacts and that those estimates of gross expenditure are not a recognised measure of economic value.
Radford and Hatcher's study was based upon economic value and concluded that, for Great Britain as a whole, the recreational fishery is more valuable that the commercial fishery but they said:This does not constitute the case for a change in the current balance".They go on to say:In order to make a judgement about the most valuable balance between the two sectors in the exploitation of a particular salmon stock, the effects of a change in the catches of one sector on the catches in the other sector would need to be confidently predicted. Our appreciation of the biological literature suggests that this would be difficult".This is, indeed, a complex matter. The subject was reviewed in the government report Salmon Net Fisheries and their conclusion was that:Reductions in net fishing therefore lead to relatively small direct increases in the rod catch … the 'extra' fish make a larger contribution to the spawning stock assuming they survive".When the North-East drift-net fishery ceases, it cannot be assumed that all the fish presently caught by the net fishery will necessarily become available to the rod fishery. Increased losses from other net fisheries, predators and poachers should be expected. Furthermore, rods will exploit only a small proportion, probably around 10 per cent., of the total stock, and there is increasing evidence that when more fish are present, a smaller proportion are caught.
Nor is it certain that increased stocks of fish will definitely result in more anglers providing greater revenue and increased employment. In their report the Government examined the number of rod licences issued in the Northumbria region during the period 1983–88. Despite a threefold increase in rod catches, the data suggested that there had been little, if any, increase in the number of anglers fishing Northumbrian rivers.
The economic changes brought about by the reduction and eventual closure of the drift net fishery remain to be seen. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I am not convinced that the economic benefits, which some confidently predict, will match up to expectations.
However, economic considerations cannot be divorced from social factors, as a number of noble Lords have stressed this evening with reference to those employed by recreational fisheries north of the Border. However, that applies equally to commercial fishermen in the North East. There is a widely held view, including that of the Northumberland County Council, that salmon netting is an integral part of the local industry and makes a vital contribution to the income of many fishermen on the coast. Furthermore, under the provision of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, the NRA does not have any powers to seek a reduction in netting effort in order to increase the share of the catch taken by anglers. The authority's present 1102 powers to regulate licensed commercial fishing are limited to the conservation of the resource and/or to improve the management of individual stocks.
Within that legal framework, and in the absence of any evidence that stocks are threatened, the NRA appears to have taken the only course of action open to it; namely, to phase out the drift net fishery in the interests of better stock management over a time-scale which allows all existing net fishermen to continue in the fishery until retirement.
§ 8.50 p.m.
The Earl of Haddington
My Lords, I should like to interject at this point in support of the Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Kimberley, and voice the considerable alarm of people on the Scottish borders to what is happening on the River Tweed. We have rapidly falling numbers of salmon migrating up the River Tweed and, indeed, a diminishing size in those fish. Sometimes, we are catching fish of no more than two or three pounds in weight. That seems to be directly attributable to monofilament netting.
This year, the autumn run of salmon came early, before the nets were lifted at the end of the season. That resulted in most of the fish that were due to come up the Tweed falling into the hands of the drift netsmen. Indeed, so few fish have been caught this autumn that the practice of returning hen fish to the river has lately been augmented. That is on a voluntary basis among the more sporting of the angling community.
The Scottish Borders employ directly or indirectly a large number of people to look after the visiting anglers, be they ghillies, boatsmen, hoteliers or shopkeepers. In Scotland as a whole, as my noble friend pointed out, some £87 million is involved in the salmon fishing industry. That is not an inconsiderable amount of money by anyone's standards.
Research by the Tweed Commission into the spawning habits of the salmon and improvements to salmon spawning beds imposes a considerable financial burden which will have little point if the salmon cease to run in the river in viable quantities. The disheartened angler will take his trade elsewhere, no doubt to the Kola Peninsula in Russia, where there is ample untapped fishing and rumours of 80-pound fish being caught this season. Who can blame them?
It is my estimation that within five years or so anglers who are asked to pay large amounts for the privilege of standing on a cold bank of the River Tweed casting into pools devoid of life will jack it in. Government must act now while the time and opportunity to stop drift netting exist. They must stop it now.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, for tabling tonight's Question and for enabling us to take part in a most interesting debate on a topic which is obviously of great importance to the drift-net fishermen in the North East and to others with a considerable riparian interest, especially in Scotland.
Perhaps I may start with the MAFF report of October 1991 to which reference has already been made. It said 1103 that spawning escapement was satisfactory; that catches of salmon and sea-trout in the area were generally satisfactory; that a reduction in net fishing would not lead to an increase in spawning escapement if that is already adequate; and that the primary cause of any problems was not the net fisheries. Then, with no apparent reason for the decision, towards the end of the report the ministry said:This review has not produced evidence of an immediate threat to stocks and thus any justification for depriving existing licencees of their licences at a stroke. It would, however, aid and improve the management of individual east coast salmon and sea trout stocks if the drift-net fishery were to come to an end. We consider therefore that it is desirable to phase out the drift net fishery, but gradually so as not to cause unnecessary hardship".I must say that when I read it I was puzzled, as indeed was the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which was obviously disappointed. I can understand that frustration. It seemed that MAFF had ignored the scientific evidence in its own report. Perhaps the Minister can give us the reason for that in his reply.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, said in his excellent speech, in its report of August of this year the NRA said that it had no plans for a further phase-out of drift-net fishing. The authority also said that there was no evidence of that fishing having a major impact on marine mammals and birds. When I read that, I had to compare it with the words of the petition, which says that such nets,kill, mutilate, entangle and squeeze the life out of virtually every living thing in their path".I presume that the petition is referring to industrial drift-net fishing and not the small-scale coastal interceptory netting about which we are talking this evening, especially as it refers to the 18-foot 2-tonne basking shark. I am not quite sure how many of those are to be found in Northumbria.
There was also a letter from Mr. David Curry dated 9th February this year to Mr. John Greenway, the Member of Parliament for Ryedale, in which he made it clear that, in the absence of evidence that the net fisheries posed a threat to stocks, there is no justification for the Government to speed up the phase-out. The letter also included a curious suggestion that somehow the buy-out of the drift-net licences should be privatised. I must admit that such aspects of privatisation had not occurred to me. If it is to be a private sector initiative, as suggested in Mr. Curry's letter, presumably that could be done without the approval of the Government or the NRA. If that is the case, I wonder what it would do for fisheries' management.
It is clear from the debate that there is a considerable division of views between those who wish to see an end to the drift-netting and the fishermen who make their living from the practice. When he replies, can the Minister explain the Government's position where opinion is so divided? Does the Minister still hold the view as expressed only a year ago when he repeated the words in the MAFF report:Your Lordships may recall that the review did not produce any evidence that these drift-net fisheries posed an immediate threat to salmon stock, or for that reason any justification for depriving existing netsmen of their licences at a stroke".—[Official Report, 5/11/92; col. 1590.]1104 Is that still the Government's position? Further, are they still relying on the legal argument that if it is not possible to prove that drift-net fishing poses a threat to stocks, then compensation will have to be paid if licences are revoked?
A year ago the Minister pointed out that ending drift-net fishing would result in an average increase in rod catches from the Scottish east coast rivers of less than 7 per cent. Does that mean that the figures which have been quoted for job creation resulting from an expansion in rod fishing are perhaps a trifle overstated? I am genuinely puzzled on that point which was also referred to by the noble Viscounts, Lord Thurso and Lord Mills.
I have already referred to the conflict of evidence between the NRA report of August 1993 and the statement in the petition regarding the effect of drift-netting on wildlife. There is a further confusion in that the petition clearly refers to,every Conservation, Environment and responsible Fishery Body,supporting the petition.
I am sure that Members opposite will be aware of the letter from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is the partner in the UK of BirdLife International. I am referring to a letter to Mr. Vanya Hackel of 2nd December, just a few weeks ago, in connection with the petition. It made the RSPB's position on drift netting completely clear. It said:The RSPB is opposed to large scale drift netting, now banned by the United Nations. High seas drift netting for salmon has been highly damaging to wildlife. However we are not opposed to all drift nets and cannot support a blanket action against this form of fishing".That does not seem to accord with the remarks in the petition about "every" conservation body being involved.
I should make it clear from these Benches that we are adamantly opposed to large-scale industrial drift-net fishing, but it is clear that the case against small-scale interceptory netting is, to say the least, "not proven". It somehow seemed appropriate to use the Scottish legal terminology when considering the riparian arguments which have been advanced in the debate. Moreover, like the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, I was slightly puzzled by the use of the word "interceptory" as if it were somehow derogatory. Indeed, what else does a rod fisher do but intercept? I imagine that he is more successful on some occasions than on others.
We know that to fish for salmon at sea is illegal and that the salmon which are so caught must be discarded. The point has also been made that there is no use made of drift netting in Scotland. Therefore virtually all the salmon going up river in Scotland are reserved for riparian owners. This has resulted, as we know, in illegal drift net fishing for salmon in Scotland. I am told this occurs on a large scale. The estimated catch is in excess of the reported legal catch in England and Wales. If anglers accept that the drift net fisheries on the north east coast are to be closed, presumably exactly the same will happen there. It has been put to me that the licensed fishermen act in a way as unpaid bailiffs.
Important points have been made regarding employment but there is a knock-on effect on 1105 conservation. Presumably the ending of the drift net fishing would divert the fishing effort to other pressurised stocks—for example cod, lobster, crab and others—with a consequent effect on the inshore fisheries. I believe the argument must be examined in greater depth than it has been in some cases.
As I have said, it is clear that the whole matter is by no means as straightforward as some of the arguments advanced in this debate have suggested. I conclude by asking the Minister when the Government expect the phasing-out process to be completed. Are the Government prepared to consider the question of compensation to expedite this process? Will the Government ban nylon filament gill nets or, if not, what is the Government's view on these nets? I understand they are in widespread use and that a high percentage of the Cornish catch is caught with these nets. Presumably there would be an effect on the white fish stocks if they were banned. I presume it would not be suggested that they should be banned only on the north east coast and nowhere else. This is a complicated matter and I do not believe it is as straightforward as some of the speakers have suggested. Like other noble Lords, I await the Minister's reply with interest.
§ 9.1 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Kimberley and other speakers have reminded us, it is a little over a year since we last debated the subject of drift netting for salmon in this House. On that occasion I reminded your Lordships that the largest of the salmon drift net fisheries in the UK— that operating off the North-East coast of England—had been considered in great detail in a report of a review of salmon net fisheries which the then Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland jointly presented to Parliament in October 1991.
I also explained that the report noted that the review did not produce any evidence that the drift-net fishery posed an immediate threat to stocks and thus any justification for depriving licence holders of their licences at a stroke. It did, however, confirm that the fishery exploits several salmon and sea-trout stocks; and that the dependence of the fishery on this multiplicity of stocks made the task of conservation and management more difficult. The report recognised that a substantial proportion of the fish caught are heading for Scottish rivers.
The report concluded that it would aid and improve the management of individual stocks if drift netting were to come to an end. It was for this reason that Ministers decided that it should be phased out. But they took the view that in order to avoid hardship this should be done gradually by reducing the number of drift-net licences as licence holders left the fishery.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked why we had apparently ignored the scientific evidence as regards phasing out the fishery. We did not ignore the scientific evidence. As I have said before, the report made it clear that the drift nets intercepted salmon from a number of separate stocks and that made the management of 1106 individual stocks more difficult. It is precisely to improve the management that the drift-net fishery is therefore being phased out. Measures to implement the phase-out on the basis envisaged in the report were introduced by the National Rivers Authority last year and took effect on 22nd January 1993. These place new restrictions on the number of licences that may be issued and prohibit the reallocation of surrendered licences except in extremely limited exceptional circumstances.
My noble friend Lord Kimberley has asked when the Government expect the drift-net fishery to come to an end. It will come to an end when the last of those entitled to fish for salmon and sea-trout decides not to renew his licence. When it responded to the recommendations in the Government's report, the NRA estimated that a phase-out on the basis proposed might take 30 years to complete, with licence numbers falling by half in 10 years. This was based on NRA data on historic rates of departure of licence holders from the fishery. My noble friend gave the impression that the Government regarded this period of time as somehow fixed. Noble Lords may recall that during the last debate I emphasised that this was only an estimate, and that factors such as the fall in drift-net catches and the reduction in the value of wild salmon as a result of the increased availability of the farmed variety could result in a much faster rate of decline. This view so far appears to have been borne out by what has happened in the first year of operation of the new licensing system, which has seen licence numbers decline by 12.7 per cent. almost double the rate predicted by the NRA.
It is of course open to those who see a benefit from a faster phase-out to negotiate a private buy-out with the netsmen themselves, as has been done elsewhere. As I explained during the last debate, there is nothing to stop a driftnetsman from accepting payment in return for not renewing his licence. But I would say in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as well as to my noble friend, that these are matters for private agreement and private capital and not for British taxpayers.
The arrangement mentioned by my noble friend that has been made by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund to buy out the Greenland drift-net fishery is a case in point. As I understand it, this is a private arrangement under which the Greenland fishermen themselves have agreed not to fish against the 213 tonne quota set by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation for two years in return for cash compensation raised by angling interests. As far as I know, the Greenland authorities have not banned drift netting. Indeed, under the terms of the arrangement a small subsistence fishery will continue. Nor does the arrangement remove Greenland's right to fish for salmon—a right that is recognised by all signatories to the NASCO Convention. The same is true of the Faroes, where the salmon long line fishery has also been bought out by private interests.
It is often said that most other North Atlantic countries prohibit drift netting for salmon. I would not dispute that. Some also impose river specific quotas on recreational fisheries, seasonal and daily bag limits, and catch and release. But I see no reason why any of this must influence the way in which we manage our own 1107 salmon stocks. We have a long history of regulation in the UK. The measures that we have taken reflect local circumstances and needs, as I am sure is the case in other countries. They also recognise the legitimate right of both rod and net fisheries to exploit the resource, and control both, to the extent that is necessary to protect stocks. The restrictions that apply vary from area to area. In England and Wales those on nets may include limits on the number of licences that may be issued, controls on the times when fishing may take place, on the size and design of the nets used and on their method of use.
My noble friend Lord Kimberley said that the Irish Government are planning to prohibit drift netting. In fact, the Irish Government have not made any proposal to end drift-netting for salmon in their territorial waters. They are undertaking a review of their policy on drift-netting. So far as I am aware they have not yet reached a conclusion. However, the Irish Government have made it clear that any change in the balance between commercial and recreational fishing would have to be carried through with great sensitivity, on a gradual basis and with a high degree of consensus.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made a valuable contribution to the debate by injecting a degree of balance. I am grateful to him for that. I note that he suggested offering fixed nets to drift-netsmen to encourage them to give up their drift-net licences. Our report recommended something similar. He may like to note that the net limitation order now in force enables drift-net licenceholders to elect instead for fixed net licences.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mills for the additional balance that he injected into this debate. If I recall correctly, he asked why drift netting should be singled out from other methods of catching salmon and suggested that all netting methods are interceptory. I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in arguing that fishing with rod and line is interceptory. After all, those fish that are caught are, unless released alive, prevented from reaching their spawning grounds, and there is little control over what component of a catchment's stock is taken. Should we ban angling too? What is important is to ensure that exploitation, by whatever method, is controlled and salmon fisheries are effectively regulated.
My noble friend Lord Mills also noted that other forms of netting are capable of exploiting mixed stocks. That needs to be remembered by those who point out that drift netting for salmon has been prohibited in many North Atlantic countries. Even Canada—often held up as a model by those who are critical of the UK's policy—still permits netting. The nets used may not be drift nets, but they still manage to catch salmon which originate in the United States. Norway is another country with a commercial net fishery. Its coastal nets intercept salmon returning to their home rivers in Sweden, Finland and Russia—a fact which is seldom, if ever, acknowledged by those who campaign for an end to interceptory netting in the United Kingdom.
My noble friend Lord Kimberley mentioned that a substantial petition was delivered to 10 Downing Street 1108 today. I am not clear about what it is that the petition seeks to achieve. The publicity material produced by the organisers proclaims that "drift nets must go!" It talks of the carnage that this method of fishing has wreaked throughout the world's oceans, claiming that the nets:kill, mutilate and entangle the life out of virtually every living thing in their path".It refers to them as "walls of death". That is all good emotive stuff which seeks to capitalise on justifiable concerns about the use of large-scale fisheries with very long drift nets, on the high seas. But I am given to understand that that is not a petition against such drift nets but against drift netting for salmon and sea-trout—a fact that only becomes clear if one reads the wording of the petition itself. Nowhere is any distinction drawn between those two very different types of fishery. Indeed the two have become one in the minds of many. Only the other week a journalist wrote, in the context of the North-East coast salmon drift-net fishery, that drift-net fishing:involves stretching a huge net—up to fifty miles long—across the salmon's known routes".He went on to explain that drift nets:can easily annihilate a whole migration, depriving distant rivers of most of their intake of fish".Let me make one thing absolutely clear: there are no 50-mile long drift nets being used off the North-East coast of England—or indeed anywhere in Community waters. The salmon drift nets operating off the North-East coast are not even five miles long. The maximum permitted length of drift net which may be used to fish for salmon off the coast of Northumbria is 550 metres. Those used off the coast of Yorkshire are even shorter—370 metres. Nor could the nets "easily annihilate a whole migration". There is roughly one licensed drift net for every seven square miles of sea in which they may be used. They can only be fished during a specified period each year—26th March to 31st August in Northumbria and 1st February to 31st August in Yorkshire. They may not be fished at weekends, nor during the night. While the nets themselves may be efficient they are not all-embracing.
I accept that birds and sea mammals may occasionally become entangled in the nets. Our report on salmon net fisheries acknowledges that. But it also points out that drift nets must be attended at all times and notes that the netsmen endeavour to remove alive any bird or mammal that becomes entangled in them. There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, to suggest that such occurrences pose a threat to the survival of any of the species involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked whether we would ban monofilament netting. Perhaps he was thinking of what has been done in Scotland. The history and regulation of salmon and other fisheries in Scotland and England are quite different. A significant proportion of the whitefish catch landed in England and Wales is caught using gill nets. Their use in English and Welsh waters is already regulated by primary and secondary legislation. In those circumstances, further controls would be difficult to justify and would place undue restrictions on the activities of inshore fishermen.
My noble friend Lord Kimberley suggested that the drift-net fishery accounted for far more fish than was 1109 suggested by catch returns. I am also aware that a recent article suggested that the numbers of salmon and sea-trout killed as a result of the North-East coast nets is 90 per cent. more than the declared catch. That figure is highly speculative. The report on salmon net fisheries acknowledged that in addition to the declared catch some salmon and sea-trout were taken by seals and others died after escaping from the nets. It is estimated that losses for those reasons, together with undeclared catches by licensed netsmen and illegal fishing by unlicensed netsmen, amounted to about 25 per cent. of the declared catch. It should also be borne in mind that total mortality in other fisheries, rod and net, is also likely to be greater than that suggested by catch statistics.
My noble friend Lord Kimball mentioned predation by seals. It is unlikely that predation by seals has a significant effect on salmon stocks. Evidence available from various studies suggests that they are opportunistic feeders, whose feeding habits and ranges vary greatly from individual to individual. It is known that some seals may take salmon in estuaries before they enter rivers to spawn. Seals have also been known to take salmon from nets. However, by far the major part of their diet is made up of marine fish species such as sand eel, Norway pout, tusk and ling.
Drift nets are not of course the only method of fishing that can lead to the death of birds and mammals. Even angling gives rise to casualties. An article earlier this year in one of the magazines devoted to salmon angling drew attention to the perils of monofilament—not monofilament nets but monofilament fishing line. The writer spoke of finding a great crested grebe that had become entangled with a fly fisherman's lost leader; of mallard, teal, shoveller, moorhen, coot, heron, dipper, robin, blackbird and pied wagtail dying because of discarded monofilarnent; of a sheep that needed to be destroyed; and of a horse and cow that needed expensive veterinary treatment. In suggesting a ban on monofilament nets would my noble friend wish to go further? Regrettable as such incidents are, they are not the central issue.
I have already said that our report found no evidence that the North-East coast drift-net fishery poses an immediate threat to salmon stocks. Yet we receive many letters from individuals who are convinced that if drift netting is allowed to continue salmo salar will become extinct. Let us put the drift-net fishery in context. In 1988, the first year in which drift-net catches were separately identified, the reported catch of salmon in the North-East coast drift net fishery was 47,465. We estimate that 80 per cent. of those—say, 38,000—were heading for rivers in east and north-east Scotland. In that year the rod fisheries in those same rivers reported a catch of 39,000 salmon, and the Scottish net fisheries 78,000. In 1992, the last year for which we have complete data, the drift-net proportion of the total catch was smaller still.
However, I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue in Scotland and appreciate the work done by the River Tweed commissioners, district boards and others in their own areas to manage salmon stocks. But I think that even the commissioners would not claim that the 1110 present level of drift netting would lead to the extinction of the salmon. Rather it has an effect on the management of local fisheries. Our report recognised this and it is that effect which we are removing by the gradual phase-out of the drift-net fishery.
I am of course well aware of the importance of recreational salmon fishing to the Scottish economy. But the impact of the North-East coast drift nets on the number of salmon caught in Scotland is far less than some claim. The scientists' review noted that, if all netting off the North-East coast—by fixed nets and drift nets—were to come to an end, the average increase in catches in the commercial net fisheries operating in those Scottish rivers to which most of the salmon in question are returning would be less than 7 per cent., as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned. The effect on individual rivers will vary. The benefit to southern Scottish rivers such as the Tweed would be greater—an increase of perhaps 14 per cent. in the net catch—but in some of those rivers further north it would be very much less than 7 per cent. Our scientists estimate that the increase in rod catches in Scotland would also be less. It is debatable whether increases of this magnitude would have a significant effect on the number of anglers fishing those rivers or on their expenditure.
There is a general belief among many anglers that the operation of the North-East coast drift-net fishery has in recent years resulted in a significant decline in the number of salmon caught by rod and line in Scottish rivers. But that is not borne out by the catch returns. The rod catch of salmon and grilse recorded in 1992, in those Scottish East and North-East coast rivers to which many of the fish caught by the English North-East coast nets are returning, was 34,592. That figure has been exceeded only three times since 1952—in the years 1963, 1988 and 1989. Even the 1991 catch, which at 30,656 was regarded as exceptionally low, has been exceeded only eight times since 1952. As my noble friend Lord Mills has noted, increased angling effort and a reduction in netting may have contributed to this in some rivers. But if it is the case that catches and effort have increased, then it must surely cast into doubt the assertion that anglers are deserting Scotland in their droves.
My noble friend the Duke of Roxburghe asked whether we regarded wild salmon as a food resource or as a sporting resource. I have to say to my noble friend that he poses a false antithesis. We regard it as both. The ministry is responsible for both commercial and recreational fisheries. We consider the needs of both on their merits and in the light of all prevailing circumstances.
Many of the points made in this House today were made by representatives of salmon angling and conservation organisations when they met my right honourable friend the Minister on 8th November. She listened carefully to what they had to say, but she made it clear that in the light of the findings of the report she could see no scope for changing the basis of the phase-out. She did, however, agree to reflect upon a number of the points made. In doing so, I am sure that she will take into account the views expressed here today. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the 1111 phase-out of the fishery closely, monitoring the state of the stocks, the levels of catches, licence numbers and fishing effort, and looking carefully at the connections between them. And I will repeat the assurance that I and 1112 other Ministers have previously given; that is, if further action is required in order to conserve stocks, we will not hesitate to take it.
§ House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past nine o'clock.