European Community (Fisheries)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 14th December 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar 6:30 pm, 14th December 1989

I frequently pursue a slightly different tack from other hon. Members, and I do not apologise for doing so again today. The reason is that I have the pleasure to represent a constituency with special and distinctive problems.

There is not just one crisis in the fishing industry in the United Kingdom because there is not just one fishing industry. Fishing differs radically between England and Scotland, and within Scotland from east to west coast. There are many dimensions to the industry.

I wish to emphasise the special nature of the difficulties that confront fishermen in my constituency and on the west coast of Scotland as a whole. It is a fragile area. In social and economic terms, its communities live a fragile existence. Time does not permit me to dwell on that, but I hope that it is obvious to the House.

We are not over capacity in the Western Isles, at least as regards our main fishing effort, which is directed towards prawns. We do not have the same problems and constraints as other sectors of the Scottish industry have had for the past decade. Indeed, our fleet has diminished during the past decade. The reduction has been among larger boats.

Another example of the special nature of fishing in the Western Isles is our attitude to total allowable catches. There are many criticisms of TACs. They can be only one of the tools used for conservation and to achieve sustainable stocks. Many criticise the Government for underestimating the amount of fish in the sea, but we tend to fear that they have overestimated the amount in our area, particularly the amount of prawns in the Minch. Although we believe that there is a possibility that TACs are too high in the Minch area, I shall make no final judgment about that, but merely observe that it shows our different attitude. One fear is that so much scientific research has gone into the North sea, and latterly the sand-eel controversy, that not enough has gone into the west coast fisheries to discover the true stocks of prawns so that we might establish a sustainable yield.

I emphasise that we are dealing with a distinctive style of fishing but, despite our specialness, we are constantly caught up in the general crisis that affects the national fleet. For example, some years ago, the European Commission, recognising the fragility of the west coast area, decided to award it a higher percentage grant than was available in other parts of the United Kingdom for the construction of new fishing vessels. Hardly a penny of that theoretically high grant arrived because of overcapacity in other parts of the United Kingdom.

A fisherman in my constituency is going after crabs and lobsters and wants to build a new boat with Vivier tanks to be able better to service the markets. He presents no problem in terms of catching capacity but has been denied the funds that the EEC wants to give him because of overcapacity elsewhere.

There must be urgent and tough measures to reduce national capacity. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) spoke of the need for a decommissioning scheme, he emphasised the need for a proper scheme. It must not miss the target. It must not vacuum up the small boats and small fleets and leave the large ones untouched.

There is a second way in which we are being caught up in the national crisis. We are suffering from increasing fishing pressure. Boats from the east coast, confronted with reduced quotas, come to the west coast to try to earn a living. We get caught up because of the pressure on prawns and white fish. We fear the drastic quota cuts that appear to have been agreed for cod and haddock on the east coast because we believe that one result will be a less favourable solution of the haddock quota on the west coast. We fear that boats from other areas will fish off the west coast, as they may fish against two quotas whereas we may fish against only one. Boats from the east coast could come over to the west, reduce the quota there, leaving nothing for local fishermen in the latter part of the year, and then return to the east, where we may not go, and finish their quota during the remainder of the year. That problem must be tackled. Such issues may seem rather detailed, but we must remember some of the special facets.

I realise that time is short, but I must say something about the amendment that I tabled. I understand why it was not selected, but in it I tried to convey what I have attempted to say in my speech—that we must recognise the very different nature of fishing fleets in different areas. Fish are obviously a finite resource. That is the crux of the problem. Whatever arrangement we arrive at, it obviously cannot he a laissez-faire free-for-all. There has to be controlled management. Because of my appreciation of the different types of fishing done in different areas, I believe that that management would be best organised at local level.

Some organisation of local management and local control is needed as we move into the 1990s and a new common fisheries regime. The fishermen whom I represent look to what has been achieved in the Shetland box, for example. They believe that something along those lines is needed round the Western Isles. That sort of approach will achieve the most benefit for the national interest, and that is the maximum sustainable yield of fish from the west coast area at the lowest cost to the Exchequer. Management regimes do not necessarily cost any money but they achieve the maximum benefit to the community in terms of jobs and downstream processing. That is why the fishermen in my constituency look to the Government to ensure the early introduction of some form of local managment scheme.