Industry leaders in the Westcountry have welcomed final approval of EU reforms billed as the end of the “shameful” practice of discarding fish at sea.
The European Parliament has agreed to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), including changes to discards, which will become law
in 2015 for some quota species and a year later for others.
The decision marks the end of three years of difficult negotiations and a long campaign to end discards championed by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, said the agreement had come to a practical solution but one which fell short of a total ban.
“People can dress this up as much as they like but it is not a total ban and is targeted to quota fish only,” he added.
“Campaigners for a ban on discards will be claiming victory, but people in the industry see it as more of a common- sense approach – somewhere between an unworkable ban and business as usual.”
MEPs yesterday (tues) gave final backing in its plenary session to the biggest reform plan in the history of the EU’s much-criticised CFP – vowing to restore fish stocks after years of failed conservation measures and to return profitability to fishing communities.
Central to the package is change to the practice of dumping dead fish back in the sea, or so-called fish “discards”, within three years, following public outrage.
Fisheries minister George Eustice, the MP for Camborne and Redruth, is to attend the Fisheries Council next week. He said final approval of the “broken” CFP was a “milestone” which would make fishing more sustainable.
The vote in Strasbourg also approved moves to wrest control of fishing stocks away from remote officials and give it to regional fishing bodies – trumpeted as the most significant reform since deeply unpopular quotas were set by diktat in 1983.
A ban on discarding in offshore “pelagic” fisheries (such as mackerel and herring) will take effect on January 1, 2015 with a further ban on discards in other fisheries starting from 1 Jan 2016. However, the law will not apply to a raft of non-quota fish such as lemon sole, dab, red mullet, gurnard and bass.
Under the new rules, extra quotas will be handed to states based on estimates of the fish they have thrown away and fishermen will, in most cases, have to land all their catch. However, where they have caught species for which they have no allowance, they will have to buy or swap to obtain extra quota or risk being forced to tie up their boats.
Dave Cuthbert, co-chairman of the New Under Ten Fishermens Association (NUTFA), said catch quotas would have to be redistributed.
“We need an uplift in quotas and it needs to be done across the board – how this is implemented is really important and if the Government doesn’t do it fairly it will be a disaster for the small-scale fleet,” he said. “The theory behind it is good but the arguments are going to be very difficult and there is a hell of a long way to go with this.”
Sir Graham Watson, a South West Liberal Democrat MEP and member of the cross-party Fish for the Future group said Britain had played a constructive role.
He added: “For too long, decisions were made about fishing policy that ignored scientific advice, with the result that Europe now has to import two thirds of the fish we eat.
“These changes are hugely important, and British ministers and MEPs can claim credit for the role they played in overcoming French and Spanish opposition to bring them about.”