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Fish

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 2nd April 2009.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 10:30 am, 2nd April 2009

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the quantity of discarded fish.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

We are committed to ensuring more sustainable fisheries by tackling the important issue of reducing discards. The UK fisheries departments are therefore funding a range of work on discards in collaboration with the fishing industry. Ultimately, however, the solution to the problem will be found at European level, and the UK will play a leading role in agreeing an overarching EU policy on the issue later this year.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

When I go down to Worthing beach to see the last vestiges of the Worthing fishing fleet, and to buy my fresh cod and have it freshly filleted in front of me, I am all too often told, "We haven't got any, but you should have seen all the ones that we had to throw away." Is it not time that we got rid of the obscenity that is fish discarding, and piloted a scheme that at least allows fishermen to land some of their by-catch and be rewarded for part of it? We should incentivise fishermen with more environmentally friendly policies, and get a fair deal for Britain's fishermen, fish-eaters and fish.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government's commitment to tackling the issue of discards. Undoubtedly, as I have maintained, it has always been the people who fill up their trolleys in the supermarkets and fishermen themselves who most hate the idea of discards. We have some innovative ways to tackle discards, including real-time closures, the conservation credit scheme, avoidance of spawning grounds and the high grading ban, of which I am sure he is aware. We will continue to work in the European Union to make sure that we have overarching policies to tackle the issue.

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Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Chair, Administration Committee

My hon. Friend will be aware of the increasing anger in the fishing industry on both sides of the border about the way in which the effort control measures agreed at the December Fisheries Council operate in practice. In the Scottish fishing fleet, there are real fears for the viability of the industry. He will also be aware of the innovative and imaginative approach that the industry in Scotland has taken to the sustainability of the fleet. Is he taking the case to Europe, and what does he expect to achieve?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I applaud my hon. Friend for the way in which he has represented, and continues to represent, the issues relating to ensuring a viable fishing industry in his constituency and elsewhere. He is right to say that his local fishermen have led the way, through the conservation credits scheme, and by coming up with some of the most innovative ways to avoid discards and to tackle the issue of the sustainable, viable use of the seas. We continue to have dialogue on the issue with Joe Borg, the European Commissioner. We knew that it was a tough ask of our fishermen to get the balance right for the year ahead, but my hon. Friend and I, and the rest of the House, agree that we have to achieve a sustainable fishery not only for the 12 months ahead, but for the next 10 years and for the long term.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I hope that the Minister will, as invited, visit my constituency and talk to the fishing industry. When he does, he will recognise that, by value, west Cornwall is the most important fishing area in the country within his domain. When he talks to the industry, will he reassure it that the under-10 m fleet will be permitted to have the under-10 m regulations kept under review, particularly with regard to the impact that they have on the unintended by-catch of fish?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for writing to me on the issue, and for representing the interests of the fishing community in Cadgwith and in other places along the shoreline in his area. There are two clear priorities for me this year as regards the fishing industry. The first is to make sure that the commitments that we made in the European Union in the December negotiations are met, and that we work with the industry to meet them. The second is the under-10 m fleet, which is so important to our coast. I encourage the fishermen from Cadgwith, the hon. Gentleman and others to engage with the industry-led advisory panel that we are setting up, because we want to ensure that the under-10 m fleet not only perseveres and holds on along the coast line, but has a viable future. It is vital that fishermen engage with us and talk about the wide remit of how we put them on course for a sustainable, long-term future.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

When looking at innovative ways of conserving fish stocks, I hope that the Minister will look closely at what has been done in Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands, which have used an alternative way of conserving fish. In the meantime, I know that he has a visit to my constituency pencilled into his diary. Will he look at the whiting quota? My guys on the east coast have already caught their whiting quota, and they will continue to discard whiting if additional quota is not released for them to use this year.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I am looking forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the near future. He is certainly right that one of the challenges that we face in how we organise fisheries policy in the EU is getting the balance right, so that we can fish throughout the year. We are in danger of exhausting stocks in the spring, but we also want our fishermen to fish in the autumn and winter. There are difficult choices to make, not only about whiting but about cod and other fish. We always continue to keep the matter under review. Together with the Marine and Fisheries Agency and our scientists, we continue to look at how things are going month by month. However, we cannot escape the fact—no Government can—that we have difficult issues of sustainability on our seas. As I have said, we want to make sure that we are fishing not just this year, but in the next 10, 20 and 100 years and more.

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