Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fish discards could end under EU proposals

From BBCNews

The European Commission is to set out its ideas for ending fish discards.

Currently, EU boats in the North Sea have to throw away up to half of what they catch to stay within their quotas.

Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki proposes instead to regulate fleets through limits on fishing time and greater use of measures such as CCTV.

She will discuss the ideas with delegates from EU member states in Brussels on Tuesday, with the aim of finalizing plans later in the year.

She hopes to introduce a discard ban as part of a reformed
Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013.

With attendance at the Brussels meeting limited to one representative per country, the Scottish government will not be sending anyone, which Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead described as "disappointing".

"Even though Scotland is home to the EU's largest whitefish fleet, the UK government is not willing to allow Scotland the opportunity to attend on behalf of the UK," he said.
"Incredibly, landlocked countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic have been invited to take part - despite their lack of a coastline, never mind a fishing fleet."

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, who will be there, is backing the broad thrust of Ms Damanaki's proposals.

"Everybody wants to see an end to the disgraceful waste of huge amounts of fish having to be dumped back overboard, and the UK is leading the way in efforts to tackle the problem," he said.
"I'm determined to keep pushing for reforms in Europe that prevent this waste, while fighting to protect our fishermen's livelihoods."

A petition started by UK "celebrity chef"
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall asking EU leaders to "stop this unacceptable and shameful practice" claims to have gathered more than 650,000 signatures.

Controlling effort

The commission's ideas are sketched out in a four-page document - obtained by BBC News - that explores ways of constraining fishing if discards are banned.

UK fishermen have been trialling schemes aimed at curbing catches of cod
"The reasons for discarding are EU and national legislation, which are not well suited for EU waters, where the majority of catches are from mixed fisheries, as well as financial interests of the fishing industry to keep only more valuable fish on board," it says.

Currently, fishermen have to discard fish when they exceed their quota for that species, or when they net fish that are too young or too small.

However, simply allowing them to land and sell everything they catch could open up a free-for-all.

Ms Damanaki suggests:
  • controlling "fishing effort", by limiting the amount of time boats can spend at sea and the places where they can fish
  • counting all fish landed against quotas
  • closing "mixed fisheries" when the maximum quota of one species in it has been caught
  • expanding the use of CCTV, observers, electronic logbooks and monitoring of ports
Even though discarding is acknowledged almost universally to be a wasteful practice, there are concerns that stopping it without enough thought could either harm sea life or the livelihoods of fishermen.

"Banning discarding would be a very good step forward in the quest to stop overfishing in EU waters and by the EU fleet," said Uta Bellion, director of the
Pew Environment Group's European Marine Programme.

Ms Damanaki aims to finalise plans in a few months
"However, this needs to be coupled with catch limits that follow scientific advice based on the precautionary principle, and effective monitoring and control," she told BBC News.

And Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the
Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said a blanket ban was not merited.
"The proposal from Maria Damanaki for a discards ban amounts to a draconian step too far," he said.
"It is a knee-jerk response to populist TV coverage which has accurately described the problem, but which offers no solutions."

Both the UK and Scottish governments want the commission to look at projects in British waters that have succeeded in reducing the volume of discards.

Scotland's Conservation Credits Scheme restricts fishing gear and obliges skippers to call a closure if they find they are catching juveniles or spawning fish.
In return, they gain additional fishing days.

The two governments have also been trialling a
Catch Quota Scheme for cod, under which all fish landed count towards a quota.
Boats have to use
Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) equipment.

Mr Benyon's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (
Defra) wants the revamped CFP to be less prescriptive, encouraging each government to adopt measures appropriate to its own fleet and fishery.

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