25 Jun 2012

CCTV monitoring keeps an eye on anything fishy

A new CCTV system for trawlers aims to keep any eye on fishermen in a bid to stop “discards” – throwing back fish when a catch exceeds the quota. Channel 4’s Tom Clarke reports.

At 58 foot and a few years past her prime, Emulator looks just like many other English fishing trawlers.

Only she has been fitted with experimental CCTV technology in the hope of ending the perverse practice of “discards” – of throwing good fish back over the side dead.

Not every trawler owner would consent to having Big Brother-style cameras fitted to his boat. But Fred Normandale, who part-owns Scarborough-based Emulator, sees it as an opportunity to show what really goes on at sea.

“We’re prepared to take cameras to prove to the scientists and the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls of this country that we are not criminals and we want to preserve cod as much as anyone else does.”

The dig is aimed at the celebrity chef whose TV campaign helped force European fisheries ministers agree to a ban on discards. Earlier this month, they agreed to ban discards of all fish under the common fisheries policy by 2018.

90 per cent discards

A basic flaw the CFP – set up in the 1980s to protect fish stocks – sees much of the fish European boats catch go straight back over the side.

The average European fishing trawler discards 38 per cent of its catch – for some species of fish 90 per cent are thrown away. But boats like the Emulator, involved in the current trial, have reduced discards to just 0.2 per cent.

The problem of discards results from the way fishing rights are shared out. Each vessel is awarded a strict quota in tonnes for the fish species it wants to catch. If it catches too much of that species, or members of another species, it faces a fine for landing them. Fishermen get round the problem by dumping the fish they can’t land back into the sea.

The trial is for boats fishing cod in the North Sea and sole in the English channel.

It requires fishermen to land all the fish they catch. If they have caught undersized fish, they are unable to sell them, and if they meet their quota allocation, they have to stop fishing. In return for those conditions, fishermen are given more fishing quota than equivalent boats.

Black box monitoring

Compliance is tested by four CCTV cameras fitted to the boats. One monitors the catch coming over the side, others watch which fish are kept and which are discarded.

The video, along with GPS data on exactly where the boat is fishing, is then stored on a black box which is sent to the Marine Management Organisation’s monitoring centre back in Scarborough.

“It’s not so much an intrusion as an incentive,” said Grant Course, the trial manager with the MMO. “This encourages fishermen to be responsible for his own resource.”

According to the MMO boats in the trial take more effort to avoid catching undersize fish which have no value at market, but under the conditions of the trial they are forced to land.

Reform priority

Banning discards is high on the list of reforms being negotiated today by the EU.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said the British government, with the support of Denmark which is chairing the fisheries council, wants to see a ban in place by 2014. “This is a once in a decade opportunity to get this right,” said Benyon.

But even if the minister can make discards ban work in British waters, it will not work unless it is adopted Europe-wide. The proposal will face tough opposition from France and some Mediterranean states who benefit most from the CFP in its current form.

“What we have to do is get it back to local management instead of thinking that we can manage mesh-sizes from Brussels. That’s been the absurdity and at last we’re seeing a change in direction.