Michael Jopling – 1985 Speech on EC Fisheries Arrangements

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Jopling, the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the House of Commons on 10 January 1985.

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10171/84 and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 total allowable catches and quotas; of the unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 catch quotas in Greenland waters, and of the unnumbered explanatory memoranda on the fisheries agreements for 1985 between the European Community and Norway, the European Community and the Faroe Islands and the European Community and Spain; of European Community Documents Nos. 10697/84 on technical conservation measures and 10264/84 on 1985 fish guide prices; and welcomes and approves the provisional agreement reached on these arrangements for 1985 with the improvements obtained for the United Kingdom fishing industry. The motion before the House makes it clear that tonight’s debate covers a number of documents on EC fisheries legislation, most of which are concerned with the fishing arrangements for 1985 under the common fisheries policy.

Those documents have been recommended for the further consideration of the House by the Select Committee on European Legislation. We are, as always, grateful to the Committee for its careful scrutiny of these matters, particularly on this occasion when, I understand, it held a meeting yesterday in addition to its planned programme in order to deal with some of the later documents which have come before us.

Before going into detail on the various documents, I should first explain that the complete proposals on total allowable catches and quotas and on the third country agreements were presented on 18 December for discussion at the Fisheries Council the very next day, and that, after lengthy negotiations, a compromise package emerged to which all the other member states were able to give their agreement.

I considered that that package was satisfactory for the United Kingdom, too, but, in view of the recommendation of the Select Committee, I entered a formal reservation on the adoption of the regulations for 1985, pending a debate in the House.

However, in order that fishing should not be interrupted, I agreed that the regulations should be adopted on an interim basis to 20 January only, pending clarification of the United Kingdom position following completion of the Parliamentary scrutiny procedures. Therefore, the position of the House is fully reserved.

I should also mention that the proposals on guide prices for 1985, which were considered by the Select Committee on 14 November, came before the Council for urgent adoption in a revised form on 4 December. Given the nature of the proposals, and the need for a number of detailed implementing measures to be taken before the new prices could take effect on 1 January, I judged that it would not be in our interest to hold up adoption.

Therefore, I subsequently wrote explaining this decision to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who is so assiduous about such matters, and I am glad to say that with his customary understanding he was able fully to accept my explanation.

Having dealt with these procedural questions, let me now deal with the substance of the measures involved. I shall deal first with the TACs and quotas for 1985 covered by document 10171/84 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 4 January.

The annual fixing of TACs and quotas is of course one of the principal cornerstones of the common fisheries policy, determining as it does the opportunities for fishermen, and it is of particular concern to the United Kingdom given our major interest in most of the stocks concerned.

In 1984, agreement was reached on the TACs and quotas for the year at the end of January, but we and the other member states were determined this time to make every effort to settle TACs and quotas for 1985 before the beginning of the year, so as to give the industry a clear basis on which to plan. That we have now achieved, subject only to my own parliamentary reservation, and I see that as an important step forward in the development of the common fisheries policy as an effective instrument of fisheries regulation and management. I should also add that that was no easy achievement, given in particular the need for prior negotiations with a number of third countries, notably Norway.

Therefore, I think it right to pay tribute both to the Commission and to the Irish President of the council, that an acceptable compromise package was reached in the course of a single day’s negotiations, particularly as a full set of proposals was not available until the day before the Council meeting.

I shall now outline the main elements of interest to the United Kingdom, starting with the North sea joint stocks. Here, there are increases in the availability of all white fish stocks, as agreed with Norway in the light of the latest scientific advice.

The higher United Kingdom quotas for cod, haddock and saithe in particular, representing increases of 15 per cent., 19.8 per cent. and 11.1 per cent. respectively, will be most welcome to our fishermen both north and south of the border.

In particular, it is gratifying that North sea cod, about which concern has been expressed in the House on a number of occasions, has shown enough signs of recovery to enable the TAC to be increased significantly for 1985.

It has not yet proved possible to reach agreement with Norway on the problem of the allocation of the North sea herring stock. But, without sacrificing our existing firm position on that issue, it has been agreed that negotiations will continue in the course of 1985.

In the meantime, both parties will regulate their herring fisheries independently on an interim basis in the light of the scientific advice. That involves a provisional TAC for the Community sector of 320,000 tonnes.

The United Kingdom quota in the northern and central zones—IV A and B—which is more important for us than the southern zone, IV C, is to be 58,490 tonnes, more than double our figures for 1984. For the southern zone, IV C, our quota has also increased to 9,700 tonnes, and the provision allowing the transfer of a part of this quantity in IV C to the central North sea, IV B has been increased from 20 to 25 per cent. So we could using that transfer mechanism, fish 60,915 tonnes in IV A and B and 7,275 in IV C.

That allocation between the three North sea areas therefore constitutes for the United Kingdom a considerable improvement over the Commission’s original 970 proposal and I know that the fishing industry attaches great importance to the changes which were achieved in the negotiation.

The quantities of North sea mackerel available to the Community under the agreement with Norway have also been also increased. In previous years, the United Kingdom had not been awarded a quota for this stock, but in this year’s package several member states, including the United Kingdom have been allocated a small quantity, of 330 tonnes, mainly intended to cover unavoidable by-catches of mackerel in the North sea herring fisheries.

I come to stocks which lie outside the North sea. The TACs for west of Scotland haddock and herring will be lower than in 1984 in the light of clear scientific advice on the state of these stocks. I was, however, able to ensure that the figures in the final package were significantly higher than those originally proposed by the Commission. This is particularly important for the west coast herring fishery.

The so-called Manx herring TAC is further increased for 1985 to 4,400 tonnes, which will be particularly welcome to the Northern Irish boats which mainly prosecute this fishery.

The TAC for western mackerel, a stock of great importance to the United Kingdom fishing industry, is to be reduced following firm scientific advice. However, as I believe our industry recognises, this reduction is clearly in the best interest of the long-term conservation of the stock, and it should not in practice restrict the activities of our fishermen, as the reduced United Kingdom quota for 1985, of 220,000 tonnes, is still higher than our expected catch, which was about 185,000 tonnes in 1984.

Before leaving the question of TACs, I should mention a group of small but locally important white fish stocks in area VII; that is, the Irish sea, Bristol channel, Western approaches and English channel. During 1984, the TACs for this group of stocks and the management of the United Kingdom quotas attracted a great deal of attention, and although we were able to get a number of the TACs increased and arrange quota swaps with other member states, it was unfortunately necessary to close certain of the sole and plaice fisheries at various stages in the year.

Despite this, the Commission’s original proposals for 1985 would have meant reductions in the United Kingdom quota for some of these stocks, and I thus pressed strongly for these proposals to be reconsidered.

I am glad to report that the compromise package retains the quotas for all the area VII white fish stocks at least the 1984 level, while in the case of certain stocks of particular interest to our fishermen—notably, sole in both sections of the English channel and plaice both in the Irish sea and in the English channel — we have secured modest increases.

We shall of course continue to have to manage these, and, indeed, many of the other, quotas carefully, since the fishing opportunities they provide are by no means unlimited. Nevertheless, I can confidently state that the outcome of the Council’s deliberations on the quotas for 1985 represents an exceedingly good package for the United Kingdom fishing industry, and it has been warmly welcomed by the fishermen’s representatives, and I have no hesitation in commending it to the House.