Parliamentary Sketch : Silver clouds with dark linings

Posted on: 31st May 2012

It was not all bad news…

The week began swimmingly. Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, visited the constituency to meet fishermen from the Lizard, Porthleven, St Ives Bay and Newlyn.

We were able to celebrate the benefits of a success in fishing policy. A rare thing these days! For years Cornish fishermen had called for the closure of one of the most productive fishing grounds in the Western Approaches; the Trevose ground, off the north Cornish coast. They wanted the stock protected during the spawning season – January to April each year.

I had supported the initiative. Eventually, agreement was reached at UK and EU levels. Larger fishing vessels have been stopped from trawling the Trevose Ground for over 4 years. The results have been astounding – unless it is merely a coincidence. Scientists have yet to agree.

However, it is not all good news either. This is where our surreal fishing policy kicks in. There is now such an abundance of cod around our coast that most fishermen catch their monthly quota within the first day of each month! Cod which were about a kilo in weight in January last year have now reached 3 kilos. Therefore fishermen only need to catch a third of a number of fish they did a year ago before they’ve reached their quota! The rest of the fish that are caught have to be thrown back dead. The logic of the quota (fishing entitlement) system. Because it is not possible to distinguish between intentionally and unintentionally over-caught fish, the rules state that you cannot land it, so overboard it goes. Just as dead as it would have been if it were landed.

So, although it is a good news story – the success of a fisheries conservation policy – the insanity of the current fisheries policy had meant that fishermen are not really able to benefit from their responsible behaviour in foregoing the opportunity to fish in a once productive fishing area during the early part of each year.

As one of our local fishermen explained, on the east side of the Lizard there are between 15 and 18 under 10 metre day boats. They work are now catching monk fish with 10½ inch mesh nets. But the cod are now so large they can be caught in these nets. Therefore, after catching their monthly cod quota on day one each month, we now have another 15 to 18 boats catching 7 to 8 thousand kilograms of cod per month too; most of which is over the quota and therefore cannot be landed. I’m told that haddock stocks are also improving and quota restrictions are about to have the same impact on that stock.

We discussed some of the knotty problems that are faced by Fishing Ministers when trying to get the right balance between fisheries conservation and effective management. Fishermen don’t want to give up their quota, especially if they’ve paid good money for it. Managing the problems of a successful policy is as painful for Fishing Ministers as managing the industry when stocks are falling.

More good news too, as I will visit the Isles of Scilly to see how the 5p per litre fuel duty cut might give admittedly modest assistance to Scillonians who pay a higher price for their road fuel than anywhere else in the country. The pilot duty cut system will be monitored by the Treasury. If successful, I will encourage the Government to extend the scheme to rural areas on the mainland.

Finally, good news on the much unloved and almost universally despised Health and Social Care Bill. Keeping up the pressure does help. Further changes which hopefully will make the Bill less bad might now be accepted by Government. Even so, in my view, with all of these changes and amendments, unfortunately the Bill is still not good enough to be permitted to unravel a finely balanced NHS.

So it’s not all bad news, but as I have shown, every silver cloud seems to have a dark lining!

28th February 2012