§ Mr. Martyn Jones
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made since the publication of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Morley
In April 1998 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Wales formed a small independent group to review existing policies and legislation in England and Wales concerning the management and conservation of salmon, trout, eels and freshwater fish. The Review Group submitted its report in February 2000, and the Salmon and Freshwater fisheries Review was published in March. Interested individuals and organisations were then invited to comment on the Review.
Over 700 individuals and organisations sent in comments, and these have been taken into account in deciding the Government's response to the Review. The great majority strongly supported the Review's recommendations and conclusions, although concern was expressed about some individual recommendations, in particular one relating to the coarse fish close season on rivers.
The Government intend to respond to all the 195 recommendations in the Review in relation to England, and this detailed response will be placed in the Library of the House, and sent to all hon. Members who have expressed an interest in the Review, after the recess. 206W The National Assembly for Wales will be responding separately. In the meantime, I would like to outline the key elements of our response.
The Government welcome the Review, which we consider to be a major contribution to the development of modern policies on salmon and freshwater fisheries. It endorses the Review's recommendations on the rationale for Government involvement in the conservation and management of salmon and freshwater fish and accepts the great majority of the Review's recommendations relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation. When parliamentary time permits the Government intend to introduce proposals for new salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation to implement the agreed changes.
The Review recommends a substantial increase in grant-in-aid to fund the Environment Agency's fisheries function. The Government have considered this recommendation with particular care. We note that pressures on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food budget made it necessary to reduce grant-in-aid in England by £1.5 million in 2001–02; grant-in-aid paid to the Agency by the Ministry next year will therefore fall to £3.2 million.
The Government have, however, now decided, in the light of the Review's recommendation, to increase grant-in-aid in England by £3 million a year for the years 2002–03 and 2003–04; this will mean that grant-in-aid for each of these years will be set at £6.2 million—an increase of 30 per cent. on the level of grant-in-aid in the current year. It will be for the Environment Agency to decide how these additional funds should be spent, but the Government have identified two priority areas: conserving and restoring salmon stocks and improving controls over unauthorised transfers of coarse and non-native fish.
Salmon stocks in England are currently at historic low levels and the Agency will use the extra funds to further the implementation of the Salmon Action Plans on all 47 main salmon rivers in England, with the aim of increasing the number of rivers in which salmon stocks meet the conservation limit.
Coarse fish imported illegally from outside the UK and unauthorised fish transfers can spread fish diseases to wild stocks; unauthorised introduction into waters in England of non-native fish species also poses a threat to native species and to biodiversity. The Agency will aim to secure a significant reduction in the number of unauthorised transfers of fish.
In allocating additional grant-in-aid to the Environment Agency the Government accept the Review's conclusion that the Envionment Agency's fisheries functions continue to be funded from both grant-in-aid and rod and net licence income. We also endorse the Review Group's view that the Agency's work on coarse fish and on trout should benefit from grant-in-aid, in particular when new work is being undertaken. We expect the Agency to devote around one third of the £3 million increase in grant-in-aid to work on coarse fish.
As the Review Group points out, Government spending on salmon and freshwater fisheries is not restricted to Environment Agency Grant-in-Aid; these fisheries also benefit substantially from other forms of Government expenditure. Projects for habitat improvement and to 207W develop salmon and freshwater fisheries are, for example, eligible for assistance under agri-environment schemes and the England Rural Development Programme. The Environment Agency and Sport England are continuing to liaise closely to identify any specific projects where two organisations can collaborate together.
The Review recommends that the existing phase out of mixed stock salmon net fisheries should be accelerated by offering compensation to netsmen to encourage them to leave these fisheries on a voluntary basis as soon as possible. It also recommends that the Government should provide substantial pump-priming funds to launch the necessary compensation arrangements.
The Government welcome the Review's endorsement of its policy on mixed stock fisheries. We agree that it would be desirable to speed up the current phase out, on a voluntary basis, and have decided to contribute to the cost involved. We will contribute a maximum of £750,000 for this purpose, payable in the years 2002–03 and 2003–04. However, the Government share the Review Group's view that those who benefit from the phasing out of mixed stock fisheries, particularly riparian owners and anglers in both England and Scotland should contribute a major share of the cost. The Government's contribution to the costs of a compensation scheme will, therefore, be conditional on private interests raising a matching sum.
The Government will discuss the details of the proposed compensation scheme with interested parties. We propose that the scheme should initially focus on the largest mixed stock fishery, the north-east salmon drift net fishery.
The Review contains a number of recommendations on angling close seasons; these attracted more comments than any other changes proposed by the Review Group. A substantial majority of these expressed opposition to the recommendation that the coarse fish close season should be abolished on rivers. The Government endorse the general approach on close seasons proposed by the Review Group, and have already, in line with the Group's recommendations, confirmed byelaws lifting the close season in most canals. As to the coarse fish close season on rivers, the Government agree with the Environment Agency's view that any change to the coarse fish close season on rivers should be based on science, that at present there is inadequate information on rivers and that no decision on lifting the close season should be considered until further evidence is available.
The Review makes recommendations on a variety of other matters that can affect the conservation of fish in freshwater, including agriculture, forestry, water abstraction, land drainage and flood defence, and predation, most of which the Government have accepted.
A number of the recommendations, in the Review relate to the duties of the Environment Agency. The Government note that the Agency is currently subject to a Financial, Management and Policy Review. This will be a comprehensive review that will ask fundamental questions on the purpose, functions and organisation of the Agency. In these circumstances, the Government have not yet reached a decision on the recommendations in question; we will determine our response to them in the light of the outcome of the FMPR.