On the eve of a crucial meeting in Brussels, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is warning that significant sections of the fishing industry could face a threat to their future if a “simplistic” ban is imposed on discards.
The hearing tomorrow will give the European fishing industry the chance to tell the European Commission of its major concerns over the proposed ban.
The SFF is totally opposed to discarding but warns that sensible measures must be used to keep discard levels to a minimum – otherwise the consequences for the structure of the fleet and coastal communities could be severe.
Bertie Armstrong, SFF chief executive, said: “The Scottish fishing industry abhors the waste inflicted by discarding, but we are extremely concerned with the commission approach to its management, which up until this point has been alarmingly superficial, giving scant recognition to innovation from the industry and many member states in pursuit of discard reduction.
“The limited details in the proposal for a discards ban made public by commissioner Maria Damanaki at a recent high level meeting of fisheries ministers fails to recognise the complexities of the fisheries – especially those dealing with mixed catches – that many of our boats operate in.
“The major source of discarding is not bad behaviour by fishermen, but instead their unavoidable reaction to the ill-fitting regulations for mixed fisheries – the disease underlying the symptom of discarding.
“We are disappointed that the EC has not yet qualified its condemnation of discarding with any form of commitment to attack the source regulatory problem. The commission has yet to offer to take practical account of the work being progressed urgently across the industry, with the help of other stakeholders, to seek and develop solutions.
“The commission’s present stance does no justice to the complexity of the problem and to the commitment of stakeholders to innovate and experiment. Instead, in sharp contrast, the message transmitted to the public is that the industry clearly needs the electric-shock treatment of a ban to stimulate action.”
Mr Armstrong said this was an enormous source of frustration, given that discarding does not exist in all fisheries at all times and that much of the European industry has demonstrated its commitment to the development of practical solutions to prevent discarding.
In the UK, these include the use of more selective nets; closed fishing areas; cod avoidance initiatives; catch quota trials; partnerships between scientists and the industry for research and innovation; and marketing initiatives for under-used species.
Mr Armstrong said: “There is no present mechanism by which an attack on the regulations causing discards can be made by stakeholders, other than to hope that the commission’s eye will be caught by our innovation and dedication to resolving the problem. It is hoped that under CFP reform, such a mechanism may be created, leading to tailored regional solutions.
“We urge the commission to recognise publicly the complexity of dealing with discarding and the efforts of the industry in addressing the problem. Simply banning the practice is over-simplistic – a commitment to regulatory change must accompany the ban, or the consequences for the industry will be unpredictable instability, with serious implications for our fragile fishing communities.”