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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

My hon. Friend advocates well on behalf of his constituents.

I think that it is recognised that catch quotas are no panacea for the white fish fleet. They will help to mitigate the most damaging social and economic impacts of this year's expected quota cuts and reduce discard levels further, allowing our fishermen to catch less and land more, but in order to take things to the next level, we need the opportunity to trial a mixed-species catch quota option. The North sea is really a mixed fishery, and we need to consider the ecosystem as a whole. I hope that the UK Government will pursue a full catch quota system for cod in the year ahead. I also urge the Government to secure options to trial catch quotas for other species such as haddock, whiting or plaice. If fishermen are to reap the full benefits of their conservation efforts, the Government must secure changes in the management regime.

Over the past decade, the Scottish white fish fleet has more than halved as the industry has attempted to place itself on a more commercially and ecologically viable footing. We must start rewarding our fishermen for successful conservation efforts and recognise their central role in managing and conserving our fishing resources. In my experience, it is fishermen themselves who want a whole-ecosystem approach to fisheries management. They see the dangers of displacement and know only too well that cack-handed management measures have unintended consequences for them and for the marine environment.

It is also important to remember that the quota reductions likely to affect the white fish fleet next year will have a knock-on effect on processers, some of which are already under pressure from the impact of the recession on global markets and the reduced availability of quotas. In such circumstances, the argument for extending the catch quota scheme next year is compelling, and I hope that the Government will pursue it vigorously.

The other big issue that I want to address is the so-called mackerel war between Iceland and the Faroe Islands and the rest of Europe. I have welcomed previous assurances that the Minister is not minded to acquiesce to the unreasonable demands of Iceland and the Faroe Islands for huge chunks of the global mackerel quota and is keeping pressure on the European Commission not to cave in on the issue. As he knows, about 60% of the UK pelagic fleet is based in my constituency. I have been in regular contact with pelagic fishermen and their representatives during recent months, as I know he has, and they keep saying to me that they want a negotiated settlement, but not at any price.

Mackerel is the UK's most valuable fish stock. It is also one of the most sustainably managed. Iceland and the Faroe Islands have awarded themselves quotas amounting to 37% of the total allowable catch. Their grossly irresponsible actions are jeopardising the sustainability of the stock and threatening the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation that the pelagic fleet worked so hard to achieve. Our fishermen accept that there are mackerel in Icelandic waters and that Iceland is entitled to some quota, but they argue rightly that that quota must be proportionate and in line with the long-term management plans that exist to protect the stock. There can be no doubt that the increase in mackerel in Icelandic waters is attributable to the successful implementation of conservation measures elsewhere in the North sea. I do not want that work to be undone in order to give Iceland an expedient political payoff.