European fisheries head announces proposals to end fish discarding

A fishing ship at seaProposals to preserve Europe’s fish stocks were presented last week by EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki, following a campaign to end the practice of throwing back unwanted fish.

All European fish stocks should be at “sustainable levels” by 2015, Damanaki said on Wednesday, aided by phasing out “discarding”, which happens when fishermen exceed their quota for a particular species or do not have a quota for others.

“We have to manage each stock wisely, harvesting what we can but keeping the stock healthy and productive for the future,” said Damanaki. “This will bring us higher catches, a sound environment and a secure seafood supply. If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm-produced.”

Under the proposals, responsibility for the long-term management of stocks will be devolved from Brussels to individual countries.

Targets and timeframes would be implemented to prevent overfishing and allow fishermen to trade  quotas.

Fishermen and countries with large fishing fleets are expected to react angrily to the proposals, which will hit their profits as a result of having to sell fish for which there is a smaller market. They suggest other measures, such as different-sized nets, should be considered instead.

Recent research suggests that Europe’s fish stocks are 10 per cent of what they were after the Second World War.

Chef Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall, whose Fish Fight campaign was aimed specifically at ending the practice of discarding, said the proposals looked encouraging but warned:

“There is another 18 months to go before anything becomes law, and the next year-and-a-half will be full of behind-the-scenes deals and compromises cooked  up by the fishing ministers.”

But Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies said Damanaki seemed “fearless and determined to push ahead with reforms” rather than back down in the face of opposition.

“Our waters are capable of supporting many times more fish than now exist. It is not too late for the situation to be reversed, but we have now reached a crisis point. Overfishing must cease or there will be no more fish on the plate.”

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