Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 9:49 pm on 1st December 2009.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 9:49 pm, 1st December 2009

We are almost at the last-chance saloon and we have to get common fisheries policy reform right this time-it is almost certainly the last chance for fish and for fishermen. I wish to echo the consensus across both sides of the House about the need to move away from the centralised system of decision making by the Commission in Brussels and towards a decentralised system based on regional management committees. Such committees would involve fishermen, scientists and fishery managers from the member states. Only by decentralising decisions down to the lower level will we ever get a system that sustains both fish and fishermen.

In the short time available to me, I want to raise some of the issues that concern my constituents. In the waters off Argyll and Bute, nephrops are by far the main species that are caught. Of immediate concern to local fishermen are the Commission's proposals for year-on-year cuts in the days at sea of the nephrops fishery. If the restrictions come into effect, fishing will become unprofitable for many vessels.

Nephrops stocks have been shown to be stable and healthy over a long period of time, but the Commission's cod recovery plan and its concerns about cod by-catch have serious implications for the nephrops fisheries. Those concerns are the reason why the Commission wants year-on-year cuts in the days at sea spent by the nephrops fleet.

There is an exemption from the cuts in days at sea for vessels whose catch is made up of less than 1.5 per cent. cod, but in practice fishing vessels have encountered great difficulty in obtaining it. The Clyde Fishermen's Association has told me that many vessels have proven observed data that show that their catches are made up of less than 1.5 per cent. cod, yet the Commission will not accept that evidence and exempt the vessels from the days-at-sea restriction.

The Commission is taking the approach that it will allow exemptions from effort restrictions only if a Swedish grid is fitted to the nephrops trawls. However, its insistence on the use of the Swedish grid does not take account of the measures already successfully employed to reduce the cod by-catch to less than 1.5 per cent. The grid has also been shown to be dangerous to handle, especially in bad weather, and trials have raised doubts about its effectiveness.

Further reductions in days at sea would force many vessels out of business, so it is important that the Minister and his Scottish counterpart make sure at the coming negotiations that the Swedish grid is done away with and that agreement is reached with the Commission so that there is a sustainable and transparent method of measuring the 1.5 per cent. level. Unless exemptions are gained, many fishermen in my constituency will go out of business. That is just one example of how centralised control in Brussels simply does not work.

I wish the Minister all the best at the Council, and hope that he will negotiate a sensible way to measure the 1.5 per cent. cod by-catch level.

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