Scottish ministers and representatives of the fishing industry have commended the work of campaigning TV cook Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in bringing attention to the issue of fish discards in the UK.
Fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said the cook’s Fish Fight campaign, which ran on Channel 4 last week, has brought the subject into “sharp focus”. Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall went to sea on two Shetland boats during the making of the mini-series.
Mr Lochhead has also pledged support to EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki’s calls for the Common Fisheries Policy to be revised, but called the current situation “not only a massive missed opportunity, but an economic and environmental affront”.
Mr Lochhead said: “As every day goes by, more and more people are getting behind the Scottish government’s long-held position that forcing our fishermen to discard marketable fish back into the sea, dead, is a scandalous waste of valuable food. The campaign is now being taken up by others including television personalities and is capturing the public imagination.
“But each day that passes where this goes unresolved is not only a massive missed opportunity, but an economic and environmental affront, with EU rules, perversely, working against efforts to manage fish stocks sustainably.
“The practice of discards – throwing fish back, dead, into the sea – is a scandal and a waste of a precious resource that is utterly indefensible. I welcome commissioner Damanaki’s support for the growing anti-discard campaign and I am pleased that she recognises the need to change the broken CFP if we are to stop wasting valuable resource.
“Scotland has been leading the way on campaigning for change and on developing innovative measures to reduce discards and move towards a ‘land all you catch’ system. But our hands are tied by an ineffective and broken CFP which doesn’t recognise the realities of mixed fisheries, and by Norway, who refused to sanction a major expansion of the scheme.
“The commissioner has the right rhetoric, but the EU is still not putting her words into practice. During the autumn negotiations, we pushed for very specific measures to help tackle discards on the West Coast, where stock are in a precarious state, but the commission rejected our proposals and cut quotas to impossibly low levels which do nothing but force fishermen to throw away marketable fish and risk increased mortality for vulnerable stocks.
“I’m in no doubt that Europe missed a golden opportunity in the autumn to tackle the issue of discards head on, imposing regimes and quota decisions that only encourage discards. e’ll continue to push the need for change at every opportunity, but it will be the end of this year before the EU can deliver on what the commission has been saying they want done.”
Chief executive of the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation Bertie Armstrong meanwhile said that while the problem was now being widely spoken about, finding a solution remains the ultimate goal.
Mr Armstrong said the Scottish government should broaden their approach to dealing with the problems of mixed fishery, and not assume that the CCTV system, which has been trialled by some boats, is the only answer.
He also said that politicians should be mindful of the upcoming Scottish government elections.
Mr Armstrong said: “We are listening with great frustration to the discard problem being described in ever more strident terms, followed only by a single proposal for a defective and overly simple fix.
“The underlying problem is how can the system be changed to manage the complexities of mixed fisheries, so that when the quota for one species is taken up, fishermen can still catch the other species that swims with it so as to enable fishing to continue throughout the year.
“There is no magic wand solution to this complex and many faceted problem. The time for dramatic rhetoric is over. We need, right now, to soberly address the faults in the present system with a view to changing it rather than just complaining about it.”