Nephrops (Total Allowable Catch)

Question Time — Scottish executive — Environment and Rural Development – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 9th December 2004.

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Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 2:00 pm, 9th December 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive what progress is being made on achieving an improved nephrops total allowable catch for next year. (S2O-4459)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Initial proposals from the Commission are positive and suggest a potential increase of 12 per cent to 21,350 tonnes in the North sea—to reflect full availability of the 28 per cent increase that was conditionally agreed but only partially released in 2004—and an increase of 12 per cent to 12,700 tonnes in the west of Scotland. A final proposal on nephrops, which is linked to the wider management arrangements for cod, will be agreed at the December council.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I thank the minister for that encouraging answer. He will be aware of the importance of the nephrops fishery to my constituency and to the fishermen of Pittenweem. In last year's negotiations, 2,300 tonnes of nephrops quota were withheld pending the development of the management plan to minimise incidental cod mortality. The plan was submitted by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department in the summer. Has the Commission accepted that plan? Will the minister give an assurance that none of the 2005 quota will be withheld?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member is right to say that we put the proposal to the Commission but, unfortunately, its consideration overran the appointment of Commissioner Borg. That was very unhelpful. We continue to make it clear that the management arrangements that we have proposed are sound and that they justify an increased take-up of the quota. We hope to emerge from the December council with agreement on the United Kingdom getting its full quota allocations and on whatever management measures on effort or bycatch might be required. If that is settled in December, it will be of great benefit to fishermen, especially those in Pittenweem.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that, although a 12 per cent increase in the nephrops quota for the west coast is welcome, prawns are in even more plentiful supply? In the negotiations that he is shortly to undertake, there are two crucial aspects of a technical nature, on which I have written to him. First, there is camera evidence, which has been disregarded for west coast prawns, but which has been accepted for Fladden previously. Will he argue for the acceptance of that evidence? Secondly, does he agree that the so-called cod association formula is a misinterpretation, is misleading and should not play any part in informing the important negotiations?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

On the latter point, the answer is no. When I met west of Scotland fishermen, which I think was two weeks ago, we discussed the report that had been prepared on the cod-associated bycatch. Although it is completely true to say that, at certain times, the cod bycatch is as low as 2.1 per cent—a level that would indicate that measures were not necessary—I regret to say that the report also refers to much more substantial cod bycatches. That cannot be ignored. One cannot simply pick and choose which parts of the scientific evidence to base one's arguments on. The cod bycatch remains a problem.

As regards our advocation of an increase in the quota on the basis of the latest advice that has come from the helpful co-operation of the fishermen and the use of the technical data, that forms part of the submission that we have already made to the Commission and it is part of the case that we will be prosecuting in the next three weeks before we get to the December council and during the council itself.