Last week the EU fisheries ministers agreed to phase in a ban on whitefish discards from 2015. This was the culmination of a well-fought, yet poorly researched campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
At first a discard ban sounds like a good idea, waste reduction and more profit, etc. However, there are some serious issues which will arise under a ban we need to start trying to resolve now.
For example I wonder what will happen to 10 tonnes of over-quota coley which can’t be landed and can’t be dumped. Just now if we hit a haul like this and we have no quota we would put it back into the sea. This is where it would go if the fish had been allowed to live its natural life, where it would decompose into the marine ecosystem and be eaten by other fish and sea creatures.
We make no money from discarding and there is no incentive to catch these fish, so we would most likely move on to try and catch something else. It is not easy for us to dump marketable fish but under a quota system it is what should happen.
Those who support a ban can surely tell us what will happen to the fish when taken ashore. Will there be remuneration to the vessel landing them? If so can we all of a sudden land all of our fish?
Will all EU fishermen be able to land all their fish? Or is it that a truck will be waiting (who pays for the truck?) and the fish shall be taken to a gut factory (if there is one available) to be made into fertiliser or farmed fish feed?
If after landing the fish can’t be sold and can’t be taken to a factory will the fish rot on the pier in the sunshine for visiting tourists to gawk at (if they can stand the smell), or will another truck and digger driver be hired to take the fish to landfill? After all we can’t discard them at sea so we will just have to do it on shore instead!
After a vessel has landed her quota for say only one of the many species she has quota for, will she be allowed to go to sea and catch her remaining quota? Or will the exhaustion of the one species mean no discarding, no landing and therefore bankruptcy?
We must be aware that the EU fleet operates under the principle of relative stability. This is the only thing standing between the rich North Sea grounds and the many desperate fleets in many countries which could exploit them. When we start resolving some of the problems I have posed above we will have to try and do it in a way which retains this principle. I can see this being very difficult to do.
I believe we should abandon the idea of a discard ban. It makes no sense to break the natural cycle of fish decomposing back in the sea where they came from. It will be a nightmare to put into practice; this is why the Norwegians won’t have cameras on board. Their ban is a ban in name only, and we should not have to be preached to by them about fish conservation.
Let us continue the work we have been doing for many years before Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall came on the scene, and continue to try and reduce discards in a way which allows us to make a living at the same time.
So come on Hugh, tell us how this ban will work. Otherwise we will have to refer to a quote I read on Twitter the other night by Seneca: “Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk.”