The discarding of fish at sea needs to be banned – but its introduction should be gradual and accompany other reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
That was the message today from EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki in a speech in Brussels that was widely trailed as likely to announce an immediate ban.
Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said he was pleased the commissioner demonstrated that she understood the “complexities that need considered when looking to substantially reduce discards and that a phased and gradual approach is needed”.
“We need to fix the EU’s broken fisheries policy because discards are a chronic waste of food and economic resource. Scotland has led Europe in seeking ways to reduce discards therefore our fishermen need to be at the heart of finding the solutions.”
Last year around a quarter of Scotland’s whitefish catch, worth £33 million, was put back in the sea because of the restrictions imposed by the CFP.
Ms Damanki said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that 7.3 million tonnes, or eight per cent of global fish catches were discarded in 2004 but in Europe half of whitefish is thrown back and as much as 70 per cent of flatfish.
“Surely you will agree with me that these figures are alarming. I have to make it very clear: I consider discarding of fish unethical, a waste of natural resources and a waste of fishermen’s effort. But I would like to go further. Beyond our own beliefs or principles, since our stocks are declining, these figures are not justifiable anymore.
“If we continue with our policy, then we will soon face a situation where the production capacity of marine ecosystems is at risk.
“If we continue with our policy, then discarding will erode the economic basis of our fishermen and our coastal regions will be eroded. Then fishermen and their families will pay the bill.
“If we continue our policy, the consumers will turn away from fish, because, sooner or later, it will receive a negative image of waste of our natural resources.”
She said she was considering proposing a discard ban as part of the CFP reform proposals.
“My idea would be to have a gradual approach. For example we can start with the pelagic fisheries, and then cover a few important demersal mixed fisheries after a short phase in period. The list of species covered by a discard ban could then be enlarged year by year.
“The question then is which management system to choose, in order to manage fish stocks. One possibility would be to only manage our mixed fisheries with an effort system. The idea is to preserve relative stability by translating the relative stability in quotas into a relative stability in effort for mixed fisheries. Such a management system is relatively simple as all catches would need to be landed. Control is also easy as the time spent at sea can be easily controlled by the vessel monitoring system.”
“Another possibility is the catch quota system with by-catch quotas. All catches would have to be counted against quotas and then later against the by-catch quotas. In such a system it would also be necessary that member states allocate quotas more in line with the real possible catches of their vessels. A catch quota system would need guarantees that it would work, because it will be more complicated.
“Whatever system is chosen in the end, whether it is effort management or catch quotas, a discard ban needs consistency in all rules of the CFP. We need consistency in market measures. Also the control pillars of the CFP, will be very important. We will need CCTV or observers on board vessels above a certain length.”