Fish discards are indefensible, but will the EU ban them?

Posted by Willie — 2 March 2011 at 6:23pm - Comments

If yesterday’s news is supposed to be today’s fish and chip wrappers, then today we have an odd scenario: your fish supper is probably wrapped in a hefty helping of column inches on fishing. For yesterday was a busy day for fishy news, in particular the issue of discards. Discards, as we explained very recently, are the unwanted fish caught, killed and thrown back over the side of fishing boats.

This is not a new issue of course, but there was an unprecedented event in Brussels yesterday that made sure that fish discards were high on the media agenda: namely, an EU-wide discussion to consider a ban on discarding fish.

Campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the force behind the Fish Fight campaign, did a fantastic job explaining the issue on the BBC, Channel 4, and in the Guardian (although the latter clearly didn’t know about his new haircut...).

The EU fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, has started a much-needed discussion about possible ways to implement ban on catching and throwing away fish. Whilst no decisions have yet been made, there were a few options on the table (in this document, which you’re not supposed to have seen, oops!). As I mentioned in my previous blog, banning discards is not the solution to the many problems in Europe’s shared seas, but it is a vital first step.

Now there have been grumblings about discards over many years, including talk about instigating a ‘ban’ similar to the Norwegian system, whereby all dead commercial fish species must be landed. There have also been many attempts to address the issue of discards with ‘better’ fishing methods, and other laudable initiatives, like the Scottish fleet’s catch quota scheme.

But the issue of discards has become something that a growing number of people - including Damanki, UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon, Fearnley-Whittingstall and yours truly- agree needs urgent action. And that’s understandable. Everyone abhors discards, they make no sense, and are the most obviously insane product of a system of European fisheries legislation that is fundamentally flawed.

So, it is only right that this key issue is at the heart of discussions on what reform those regulations need.

There are some who think a discard ban is too heavy-handed. I don’t agree, I think it’s vital. Our starting point needs to be: discards are wrong. Only by doing that will we get round to fixing the problem. If all the fish caught is brought back to land we will immediately have better scientific information on the make-up of catches. We will accurately be able to see where the biggest problems are, and then can take steps to eliminate them.

Lest we forget, the point is to stop the ‘unwanted’ fish being caught in the first place, and to do that we will need to find ways of fishing better, set areas off-limits that are not fished, and also have a more realistic attitude as consumers when it comes to buying fish.

This is just the first step, but it’s a hugely important one. We must all keep applauding those who are trying to stop this ridiculous waste of life and resources, but let’s also remember that there is still a lot more we need to do to ensure we have a sustainable thriving fishing industry, in thriving European seas. The EU fisheries legislation is up for reform in 2012, and of course Greenpeace and many others are campaigning to make sure that reform is the sort our oceans so desperately need.

Hey Andrew - hope you are doing well.

I agree the science ain't perfect - and a discard ban would start to make that science much better straight away. When we don't have all the info however, we should be being more cautious and that is not what happens at the moment. I think we can all agree that if our taxes are used by politicians to pay for the scientific recommendations - we should at least be paying for something worthwhile and that we listen to!

what of course you also fail to mention (through modesty I assume) is that the current set up unfairly affects small-scale fishermen like those NUTFA < > represents, because of the way quota is shared out.

the smaller scale boats employ more people, catch better quality fish, contribute directly to the local economy, and of course have a very clearly vested interest in looking after their own 'back yard', yet they get a tiny amount of quota. That means that any further squeeze on them makes their existence unviable and discards more likely (under the current system).

In all the bleating we get about 'bloody EU' this, that, and the other, one thing our domestic politicians could, and should, do is redress that balance and support 'the little guys' more.

in the current economic climate, it seems like a no-brainer that they do that.



Andrew, do you have an internet link to Tom's report that you could share on here?

if not, i'll just ask him for a copy!



About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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