13 Jul 2011

New plans aim to end dumping of dead fish

The most radical overhaul of European fishing laws in 40 years has been unveiled in a bid to give hope to struggling trawler fleets.

Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki pledged to revive the sector’s ailing fortunes, following decades of dwindling white fish stock and a significant decline in fishing community numbers.

The plans include a ban on a much-loathed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) practice of dumping dead fish back in the sea, publicised by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Hugh’s Fish Fight” campaign.

Existing CFP rules impose catch quota limits on fishing fleets, which are not allowed to land their “by-catch” – any non-quota fish species they have netted accidentally.

Trawlers dump the dead “discard” back into the sea to avoid being penalised fisheries inspectors for catching too much fish, or the wrong species, or immature tiddlers.

Hugh’s Fish Fight (Channel 4/Keo Films)

Mrs Damanaki promised fishermen that the policy change would mean a return to “a decent living”, but she vowed to crack down on the plundering of the seas.

“Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations,” she said.

“Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities.”

She added: “We have to manage each stock wisely, harvesting what we can, but keeping the stock healthy and productive for the future.

“This will bring us higher catches, a sound environment and a secure seafood supply. If we get this reform right. fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm-produced.”

Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon told Channel 4 News said that this was the best opportunity to change current fishing regulations.

“We have to fix this now,” he said. “If we wait another 10 years we will see fish stocks continuing to crash, we’ll see fishermen going out of business.

“This is the one and only opportunity we’ve got to turn this around, to make sure we have healthy seas producing a really healthy product for people in this country. We’re in the forefront of driving for radical reform. We’ve got to deliver that right now.”

The commission wants bring in a long-term fish quota management system, rather than the discredited annual haggling in which ministers wrangle to raise catch quotas for their own fleets in defiance of scientific warnings about the need for cuts.

The reform plan calls for more accurate scientific evidence on which to base decisions, and for an end to “micro-managing” the fisheries policy in Brussels. Instead, day-to-day decision-making will be devolved to regional fisheries bodies across Europe.

Read more: EU proposals say fishermen 'must land everything'

But a statement by Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group’s European Marine Programme, said that the policy changes do not go far enough.

“The Commission’s proposal includes solid targets for the recovery of European fish stocks, including requiring that measures be taken in accordance with the best available scientific advice. This could bring an end to overfishing in EU waters and by its fleet internationally.

“However, the Commission’s proposal falls short in the way it addresses overcapacity, which its own 2009 Green Paper identified as a key driver of overfishing. Instead of mandating a capacity reduction, it aims to decrease the EU fishing fleet by what amounts to the quasi-privatisation of EU fish resources.

“This type of approach has a mixed track record in other countries and would fail to provide compensation to the public for the loss of communal fishery resources or to reward those who fish in the most environmentally and socially responsible way.”

The proposals were also criticised by some small fishing boat operators.

Phil Edwards has been working out of Whitstable, Kent, for his entire life. He told Channel 4 News that any move to force him to land fish that are currently discarded at sea could backfire.

“It could completely ruin the small boat fishermen we have around this part of the coast because it’s a mixed fishery. We go to sea targetting Dover soles mainly but with rhe Dover soles we catch skate, cod, plaice,” he said.

The no-discards ban might go down the route of saying you’re only allowed a percentage of by-catch, otherwise you have to stop fishing which would completely destroy us.

“Our quota on skate is only 200kg a month, so say we fill our quota of skate for a month, we’re still catching soles but on one particular day we catch 50-60kg of skate with our soles, we’d be stopped from fishing.

“They’re not getting discards, they’re just stopping people from going to work.”