§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What is their attitude to the European Union Commission's proposals to bring to an end, by stages, the use of drift nets designed to catch tuna or salmon at sea.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)
My Lords, the Government are opposed to the European Union Commission's proposal to phase out drift net fishing for most species, including tuna and salmon, over four years. Your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities examined the Commission's 816 proposal earlier this year and has now reported. Its report, which the Government have welcomed in their memorandum of response, also found insufficient evidence to justify the Commission's proposed ban.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. It is good news that the Government do not support the proposals. As the tuna war is likely to break out again next year when the North Atlantic season opens, will the Government arrange for earlier discussions with the other fishing nations in order to reach accommodations with them? Does my noble friend recognise that there are clashes between the different methods of fishing and that it is only three years since British fishermen entered into this fishery as an alternative to catching rare and endangered species?
My Lords, my noble friend has made some important points. Discussions are already taking place in the Council of Ministers on the Commission's proposal on drift nets. We have made clear our determination that an orderly tuna fishery should be allowed to continue. Further discussions in the European Union will naturally take account of this summer's conflict in the tuna fishery. Cost-effective enforcement and other arrangements will need to be reconsidered before next year's fishery starts in about June.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, in the face of the relentless efficiency of modern catching methods, does the Minister really believe that the tuna can remain an unthreatened species?
My Lords, there is no evidence to suggest that tuna stocks are under threat. In relation to the size of the overall fishery of both the United Kingdom and France, the tuna drift-netters represent only a small proportion.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Her Majesty's Government and, I am sorry to say, the National Rivers Authority are adopting a lackadaisical and complacent attitude towards the North Sea drift-netting of salmon? Is he further aware that as regards the conservation of stocks —which is what the Question is all about—the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Salmon & Trout Association and the Anglers Co-operative Association have opposed and condemned the practice? Why do the Government allow it to continue?
My Lords, the largest of the UK salmon drift net fisheries —that off the north-east coast of England—was considered in great detail in a report on a review of salmon net fisheries, which was presented to Parliament in October 1991. The report noted that the review found no evidence that the fishery posed an immediate threat to stocks and thus there was no justification for depriving licence-holders of their licences at a stroke. However, the Government decided that the fishery should be phased out as it exploited stocks from a number of different rivers and made their 817 management more difficult. That is being done gradually in order to avoid hardship to those involved in the fishery.
§ The Earl of Kimberley
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the proposal to abolish all drift net fishing not only in the Atlantic and the North Sea but throughout the world is one of the better proposals to come out of Brussels?
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend. A ban on drift-netting has not been scientifically justified. The UK believes that orderly drift net fishing, including for tuna in the North East Atlantic, should be allowed to continue and that our fishermen should be allowed to fish without harassment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, if the EC proposals were accepted what would be the effect on employment in the UK in the small drift net fishing industry?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised an important point because in large measure the UK drift net fishery is characterised by a substantial number of small inshore fisheries. One of the unfortunate consequences of a ban would be the gratuitous damage to employment in areas where employment opportunities are often poor.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, what will happen if the European Commission declines to listen to our representations to look after the interests of our fishermen?
My Lords, there is a sizeable body of opinion within the European Union which shares our view that there is no justification for a ban on drift-netting. We have the winter months in which to sort this out. The next stage is that European Union scientists will meet in December in order to assess the scientific justification for the Commission's proposal. The Council of Fisheries Ministers will discuss the matter again at future meetings, the next of which is on 23rd November.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, in the discussions will the Government try to arrange for a reduction in the unintentional catch of dolphins? Furthermore, will they try to settle this matter before the fishery re-opens in order that the Royal Navy should not again be confronted with ugly situations?
My Lords, by-catches of cetacean and other species are not a feature of our own drift net fishery but have been the feature of the French drift net fisheries. In particular, there were serious by-catches when some of the French vessels were operating with five kilometre nets. I am sure that Ministers and scientists will concentrate closely on that matter. We believe that enforcement should be orderly as well as cost-effective and that will be a matter to which we shall pay close attention.