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Fisheries Debate in Parliament

Dec 07,2007 SACN


On the Thursday 6th December a Parliamentary Debate on Fisheries took place in Parliament.

This is a traditional annual event, prior to the respective Fishery Ministers meeting in Brussels to determine next year's quotas etc.

Part of the Debate turned to Recreational Sea Angling.

Below are the relevant extracts, and links to the full debate are given at the bottom of this page.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs) and Minister for the South East), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

.....There are other examples of such activity: for instance, earlier this year fishermen and anglers worked collaboratively to draw up the recreational sea angling strategy that I published for consultation this morning.

To achieve sustainability, we need to build stocks. We must also put the right regulatory framework in place, both domestically and at the European level, to enable the fishing industry, sea angling businesses and others who depend on this vital resource to operate efficiently, profitably and in an environmentally responsible manner. We need a clearer, simpler and more transparent rights-based system for accessing fisheries, and we must make sure that the economic and social benefits from fishing, whether commercial or recreational, are shared fairly.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin (Leominster, Conservative)

DEFRA, the self-proclaimed

"policy custodian for the marine and aquatic environment",

is failing to live up to its name. What kind of policy custodian for the marine and aquatic environment fails to protect the pink sea fan of Lyme bay, which is supposed to be a protected species��"protected by whom?��"bans British vessels from pair trawling only to have foreign vessels lawfully come into our 12-mile limit and sweep up our bass while killing and wounding dolphins and porpoises, or plans marine protected areas that will apply only to British vessels? The marine Bill must be introduced as soon as possible, and its measures must be sound and robust. The Minister must press his European counterparts into accepting provisions that impact on fisheries.

The marine Bill must also deliver real reform to sea fisheries committees, which will mean ensuring that the nation's more than 1 million recreational sea anglers are involved in fisheries and marine management. In my party, we recognise the benefits that sea anglers bring to the UK. It is an industry worth £1 billion and 19,000 jobs, which is why I tabled early-day motion 468. We want to see bigger fish, and more of them. We want an end to discards, we want anglers to be given greater representation on sea fisheries committees, and most of all we want effective management that will deliver more and bigger fish.

In contrast, despite its spin, Labour has let sea anglers down. "Net Benefits" recommended that developing the inshore sector included the management of recreational sea angling interests. We were promised a recreational sea angling strategy by March last year, but it is being published only today, in December. Has the Minister realised that it will be difficult for Britain's sea anglers to trust Labour and take the RSA seriously, when he has already let down anglers over bass, or when his plans to introduce sea angling licences, bag limits and no-take zones could reduce RSA participation by 60 per cent., as was seen when similar measures were introduced in Portugal? We have heard it all before, and now, I suspect, the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) will tell us it all again.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for plagiarising a large section of my speech on bass minimum landing size. Will he confirm whether the Conservatives now support the introduction of a minimum landing size for bass? Yes or no?

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he is still Labour's spokesman for angling?

Yes.

If he is, how come he has not been given a job, despite doing that for 10 years? Is it not the case that nobody believes what the Labour party says about fishing any more? Part of the hon. Gentleman's problem is that he has been going up and down the country telling people that Labour care about angling, when the reality is that it does not. I shall finish my bit on angling and tell him why he and his party have failed sea anglers so badly.

In the foreword to "Labour's Charter for Angling", the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), paid

"tribute to the close working relationship between Labour politicians and the world of angling."

He went on to comment that the Labour Government would be committed to the bass management plan, saying

"It was anglers' concern for the conservation status of sea bass that has persuaded me to agree to implement much of the excellent bass management plan put forward by the Bass Anglers Sport Fishing Society."

In the introduction, the hon. Member for Reading, West wrote:

"angling representatives have direct access to government ministers and a voice in policy making. Labour has demonstrated by word and action that we are the most pro-angling political party in Britain."

What rubbish.

What actions have the Labour Government delivered to sea anglers? The reforms proposed in "Net Benefits" to

"review the evidence supporting arguments for re-designating commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling beginning with bass by the end of 2004"

were not developed. On bass specifically, Labour promised a minimum landing size, and it got the entire sea angling community's hopes up, including those of the hon. Member for Reading, West, only to disappoint them by postponing their plans at the last minute, completing the U-turn a few weeks ago.

Labour was so focused on introducing a minimum landing size that it was blinded to the other measures, such as netting restrictions and bass nursery areas, which the Minister is now claiming to be reviewing. Had DEFRA taken a comprehensive approach from the start��"I hope that this helps the Minister��"then, despite backtracking on the minimum landing size, other measures may have been implemented by now to protect bass stocks. Instead, sea anglers continue to be let down by Labour.

"Net Benefits" offered sea anglers hope with sentiments such as:

"Fisheries management policy should recognise that sea angling may, in some circumstances, provide a better return on the use of some resources than commercial exploitation."

Little progress was made on that and little is likely to be made with the new RSA strategy, which does little more than echo sentiments expressed previously about minimum landing sizes, protected areas and management plans. With its slowness to implement proposals and its discreditable handling of the bass minimum landing size, is it any wonder that DEFRA is the byword for incompetence?

It is touching to hear a Conservative Front Bencher quoting from "Labour's Charter for Angling". If the hon. Gentleman had carried on reading it, he would have seen a section committing us to inshore netting restrictions and bass nursery areas. To give the Minister credit, he has committed himself to that aspect of the bass management plan. I could not have been more scathing in my comments about the decision to go back on a bass minimum landing size. However, I must press the hon. Gentleman again on where the Conservative party stands on that issue. It is all very well trying to make political capital out of it, but is his party in favour of it��"yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman had his answer��"if he was paying attention. There are plenty of other things that he could have done with his job that the Minister could have done or that the Minister's predecessors could have done. However, they did not. They focused on bass minimum landing sizes, and then failed. [Hon. Members: "What would you have done?"] It is no good asking me what I would have done, for I was not in government. I hope that the hon. Member for Reading, West was not trying to make political points but wanting to save bass. If that was his genuine concern, he would know that the bass management plan contained far more than just minimum landing sizes, none of which has been done. That is the problem that he has to face up to. He went round the country telling people that his prime concern was saving bass, and the evidence shows that the Government have done none of it.

The Minister may now be content to talk about nursery areas, but it is 10 years too late. What a shame that all that time has been wasted. When it comes to scoring political points, I suspect that it is the hon. Member for Reading, West who is doing so, with his passion for such things rather than delivering proper policy that would have been more useful for people who want to fish for bass. If he wants to intervene again and repeat the question, he is most welcome.

Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings & Rye, Labour)

The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) is one that my constituents in Hastings and Rye and under-10 m fishermen around the country will want to know the answer to. They will want to be sure that, should there be a Conservative Government, they will not go back on the Minister's wise decision to hold off imposing a size of bass that is different from that in any other European country. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the greater size or not?

There is a genuine problem that I shall not be able to solve. The hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to commit to policy, which I shall not do at this Dispatch Box today, no matter how much I might like to. However, because his question is valid, I shall give him the firm assurance that, like him and his fishermen, we want a sustainable future for fishing. That means bigger fish and more of them. That is exactly what we want to deliver. I think that the Government have got it wrong, because bass should be allowed to spawn. If they are killed before they reach the length of 42 cm, that will not happen. I do not believe that the minimum landing size alone would have delivered that future for bass, but if we are taking the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society's plan for bass management, we should have included the minimum landing size. That is not a straight answer, and I can only say I am sorry for that. I would not have started from this point, and that is why it is difficult. However, the hon. Gentleman's fishermen at home should be more than content with the knowledge that we want to deliver the future that they need, which they will get under a Conservative Government.

Does anyone else want to have a go on minimum landing sizes?

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

My point is not on minimum landing sizes, and I hesitate to intrude on the spat between the Conservative and Labour parties. However, the hon. Gentleman said that the issue had needed to be addressed for the past 10 years, and I agree with him. In order to reassure me that this is not merely political opportunism, because there is clearly a strong bandwagon campaigning in favour of sea anglers, will he reassure Members about what the Conservatives did to support sea anglers during their 18 years of custodianship��"by giving them a seat at sea fisheries committees, for example?

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby, Conservative)

We have heard a lot in the debate about recreational angling, but it is worth noting that many former fishermen now take recreational anglers out to sea. It is therefore not merely a hobby: people earn their living from recreational angling, and it is very important that they are supported.

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5:25 pm

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I was pleased to contribute to last year's fisheries debate and remind the House that fisheries are not just the preserve of the commercial sector, but provide the resource on which recreational angling depends. I welcome the opportunity��"admittedly, I have only a few minutes��"to update hon. Members on developments in freshwater fisheries. I particularly want to highlight the work of the fisheries section of the Environment Agency. I also want to draw Members' attention to the work of the Anglers' Conservation Association, of which I am a member; I declare that interest.

I welcome the Minister to his first fisheries debate. I was delighted that he made a number of references to the importance of recreational angling; that point was replicated across the Chamber. Being fisheries Minister is not easy; after all, the Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), said:

"if you are a Fisheries Minister you sit around the table arguing about fishermen, not about fish. You are there to represent fishermen, you are there to ensure that if there are ten fish left you get your share and, if possible, a bit more. The arguments are not about conservation"��"

wise words from a politician who has scars on his back as a result of having done the job. I wish the Minister well, and if he is short of bedtime reading during the Christmas holidays, I heartily recommend "End of the Line" by Charles Clover��"a fairly apocalyptic snapshot of the state of the ocean's fisheries in particular.

I turn briefly to the work of the Environment Agency. Hon. Members will be aware that it is the lead body for protecting and improving the freshwater environment. Not only does it regulate, enforce and prosecute the users and abusers of our waterways, but it is charged with increasing participation in angling.

I hope that the Minister has had the opportunity to read two important documents from the agency. The first, "Our Nation's Fisheries", gives a useful snapshot of the state of freshwater stocks. The overall picture is reasonably encouraging, but behind the generalisations there are serious concerns. Coarse fish numbers are increasing in many of our rivers. In the most recent survey, fish were present at more than 98 per cent. of sites and 50 per cent. of sites contained eight or more species. That is a big improvement on a decade ago, when many more rivers were grossly polluted and their fish communities were restricted to a few or a couple of species. However, salmon stocks have been seriously depleted, and stocks of multi-sea winter fish particularly so. In 2002, 70 per cent. of rivers failed to meet their conservation limit, and 46 per cent. achieved less than half the limit. As the Minister will be aware, the news is not all bad. Salmon stocks on some previously polluted rivers, including the Tyne, the Tees and rivers of the south Wales valleys, have recovered dramatically. However, there is no cause for complacency.

I hope that the Minister has also had the opportunity to look at "Fishing for the Future", the angling participation strategy produced by the Environment Agency. The agency draws attention to its new statutory obligation to maintain, improve and develop salmon and freshwater fisheries. It has a participation target, which aims to deliver an extra 100,000 anglers by 2010. In the past three years, it has exceeded that target. Licence sales have risen and angling is doing well under Labour; we are catching bigger and more fish��"at least I am.

However��"here is the rub��"there is the issue of DEFRA grant in aid, which I raised in DEFRA questions earlier. A properly funded fisheries budget for the Environment Agency is crucial. I urge the Minister to consider what has happened to the ratio between funding for EA fisheries work delivered through the rod licence income and that delivered through grant in aid. In 1995, 44 per cent. of the total budget came from grant in aid and 52 per cent. from rod licence income. Now, 29 per cent. of the budget is delivered through grant in aid and 68 per cent. through rod licence income. Contrast that with navigation, where grant in aid has increased from £8.3 million in 2004-05 to £13.3 million in 2006-07. It is clearly unfair for the increased burden to be borne by rod licence holders.

I wish to turn to the excellent work of the Anglers Conservation Association. Not all that is done to protect our rivers, streams and canals is done by the Environment Agency��"anglers have been putting their hands in their pockets for years. The ACA was established in 1948, backed with funds of just £200. Three years later, it forced a city corporation to spend £1.8 million, worth £30 million at today's prices, on a new sewage works to prevent pollution. This year alone, it has settled 30 legal cases concerning pollution with sewage, pesticides, sediment, fertiliser and slurry. It has lost only three cases in its 60-year history, and just this week successfully negotiated £500,000 in compensation from Thames Water for its disgraceful pollution of the beautiful River Wandle, London's only chalk stream within the boundary of the M25. I wish the ACA well; it is a great shame that only about 10,000 of Britain's 2.5 million freshwater anglers are members.

Hon. Members will be pleased to know that the constituent parts of recreational angling��"the National Federation of Anglers, the Specialist Anglers Alliance, the Salmon and Trout Association, the ACA and the Association of Rivers Trusts��"have finally come together to provide a united voice for angling. It is important that angling, as a guardian of the waterways, is able to punch its weight in this place and elsewhere.

Video of the Debate

Text Record of the Debate



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