Green advisers urge Major to act on fishing

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Prime Minister's special panel of environmental advisers attacked the Government and the rest of the European Union member states yesterday for allowing chronic over-fishing in the seas around the continent. It warned that a collapse in stocks was inevitable without a change of course.

The high-powered group, chaired by the former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, called on Britain to show leadership in reforming the discredited Common Fisheries Policy, beginning with an expansion of its own compensation scheme for decommissioning fishing boats. "There is some opportunity for the Government to take unilateral action,'' the report says.

It comes at a time when Britain's fishing industry is in turmoil. Fishermen are furious that the Government will allow Spanish trawlers into the "Irish Box" at the end of this year.

The panel, which includes Lord Alexander of Wheedon, the chairman of NatWest Bank, chose fisheries as a topic because its members saw it as a glaring example of where an indefinitely renewable natural resource was in grave danger from over-exploitation.

They reported that unless there were radical changes, "stock depletion will inevitably lead to the progressive closure of fisheries in European waters with all the consequences for fishing communities''.

All the conservation measures deployed so far under the Common Fisheries Policy - quotas, closed areas and seasons, restrictions on net sizes and meshes, decommissioning of boats - "have not amounted to a coherent or successful fisheries policy".

"The panel recommends that the Government act rather than react to events by giving a lead at home, within the European Union, and internationally in promoting long-term policies for conservation of fisheries.''

The panel felt that Britain and the other EU states had usually taken the short-term option by negotiating for the biggest possible catch quota for their own fishermen, when they should have been "mobilising the political will'' for a more expensive and unpopular long- term solution.

Panel member Lord Selbourne, a member of the influential Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, suggested that £100m should be sunk into compensation for decommissioning fishing vessels.

Last week, the Government announced a £53m compensation scheme, over five years, to decommission 700 boats longer than 10 metres - one- fifth of the UK fleet.

Lord Selbourne said the Government should structure this scheme in such a way that some of the larger, more efficient modern vessels were scrapped rather than only the oldest, least-effective boats.