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[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Backbench Business — Fisheries

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 2nd December 2010.

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Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Fisheries) 2:30 pm, 2nd December 2010

I agree with my hon. Friend that the current quota system is counter-productive with regard to discards. We have to recognise that discards happen for a number of reasons, but one of the key problems is that quotas are currently set for the amount of fish that is landed in port and not for the amount of fish that is actually caught.

I know that the Scottish fleet has worked extraordinarily hard in recent years to reduce discards. Since 2008, discards have declined by a third, which is a greater reduction than has been seen anywhere else, and it has been due in no small part to the introduction of real-time closures and the use of selective gears. However, while those have been very valuable mitigation measures, I do not think that anyone would argue that they have gone far enough. One in three cod caught in the North sea are still being discarded and discard rates are still unacceptably high. More than 14,000 tonnes of cod are still being dumped. That means that more cod is actually being dumped into the North sea than can be landed in the whole of the UK.

That is an environmental outrage, but it is also economically disastrous. In the North sea in 2009, 60,000 tonnes of white fish were landed in Scotland, worth £68 million, but the total catches amounted to 88,000 tonnes. That means that almost 28,000 tonnes-potentially up to a third of the value of the Scottish cod, haddock, whiting, saith, plaice and hake catch-were thrown back into the sea. In financial terms, we could speculate that up to £33 million-worth of good fish was dumped last year. That is a criminal waste in economic and environmental terms, and I can assure Members that nothing creates greater anger and frustration in fishing communities.

With quotas set to be reduced further, discards are actually expected to rise next year. That is why we need to take seriously the success of the catch quota pilot schemes in Scotland and Denmark, which have been running in recent years, and build on those schemes in the years ahead. Those taking part in the pilots have been freed from certain effort restrictions and awarded higher quotas in return for fully monitoring and recording their catches, and avoiding discards. Those fishermen are removing fewer fish from the sea, but they are able to land more fish. It is a win-win situation for them; it keeps the cod recovery plan on track, while rewarding fishermen who do not discard. It is also providing valuable scientific data on what is actually going on in our seas, which is no small point of controversy.