Fishing Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 14th February 1991.

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Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 9:45 pm, 14th February 1991

I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his welcome. This has been a very interesting debate. Bearing in mind the fact that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has gone to such considerable pains to persuade our colleagues in the European Community to reduce the number of days from 10 to eight, I was slightly surprised when the hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that the Government would not extend the eight-day tie-up period. I think that he can be fairly safe with that assurance.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is making a great error if he confuses structure—the Government agree that there is a need to look at structure—with a decommissioning scheme per se. A number of countries in the Community have begun to consider individual transferable quota schemes, for example. The Government have themselves submitted a capacity aggregation scheme. In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) confused the need to look at structure with the need to look solely at decommissioning. That is a matter to which I will return in a few moments.

The motion refers to a crisis in the fishing industry". In fact, the Government are trying to conserve fish stocks with a view to preventing a real crisis in the future. The worst crisis of all for the fishing industry would arise if there were no fish in the sea. During the 1970s, the North sea herring stock collapsed because of over-fishing, forcing the closure of the fishery. Only through careful conservation has the fishery recovered. On the other side of the Atlantic, the George bank haddock stock collapsed over 20 years ago and has never recovered. In both cases, there were severe consequences for the fishermen and for the processing industries that were dependent on the fisheries. That is a matter to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) referred. We must avoid such a collapse of our cod and haddock stocks.

Conservation measures, such as the introduction of the 90 mm square mesh panel and the eight-day tie-up, have an effect of fishermen's incomes. No one denies that. I very much regret it, but we must balance short-term needs against the long-term survival of the industry.

Tragic events towards the end of last year reminded us —if any reminder was necessary—that fishing is a hazardous occupation and that the safety of crews must be put above all other considerations. I say to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that, in administering the eight-day tie-up, we shall not require fishermen to do anything that would directly put their vessels at risk. In the same way, we shall expect fishermen not to behave irresponsibly by going to sea when it is not safe to do so.