New fishing quotas may help lower discards

By James Mathews - 08 Nov 2011 16:4:1 GMT
New fishing quotas may help lower discards

Fishing boat via Shutterstock

New UK trials have made the first attempt in leading the way on putting a stop to the thousands of tonnes of dead fish, or discards, that are completely wasted and thrown back into the sea every single day throughout the European Union.

The UK Government, perhaps somewhat prompted by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight campaign, is calling for a drastic reform of this wasteful policy and a report shows that the fishermen who have taken part in the UK's catch quota trials have stopped throwing away fish.

Richard Benyon, UK Fisheries Minister said: "At the moment European policy allows fishermen to catch an unlimited amount of fish, provided they don't bring more than their quota back to port. This gives them no choice but to throw thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible fish back into the sea every day. This is a disgrace; it's no good for the future of our fish stocks and no good for fishermen trying to make a living.

"The UK Government is clear that the Common Fisheries policy is broken and needs drastic reform. We came forward with a practical solution of counting what they catch not what they land, and now we've shown that it works.

"This evidence will be invaluable as we continue to fight for radical reform of this outdated and wasteful European policy. The UK is leading the way and the rest of Europe needs to step up and follow our example."

At present, the EC rules state that each fishing boat has a quota for a specific area and specific types of fish that they are allowed to catch. They can continue to fish when they meet the quotas on particular fish but have to throw back anything of the type of fish that they have met their limit on. This means that fish that is perfect for eating and may already be dead is simply thrown back into the sea and wasted.

The new catch quota trials started in the UK in 2010 and saw expansion in the beginning of 2011 to further include English fishermen that were catching Cod and West Channel sole in the North Sea. The difference now is that the boats can catch all types of fish and they all count towards their quota, which, once is used up, stops fishing completely. These quotas are checked on and verified through the use of CCTV cameras and random checks.

Julian Roberts is from the Marine Management Organisation and is the trial manager for the new quotas'. She said: "Fishermen in the trial are demonstrating that they can avoid catching small, low value fish which might otherwise be discarded.

"They tend to be more selective in choosing their fishing grounds and introducing better gear that targets only larger fish. This can only be good news for the fishing industry's sustainable future."

The positive news is that the early reports show that the trials are really working because fishermen are now throwing back less than 1% of the cod and sole that they catch, compared to the average of 21% for the rest of the EU for North Sea cod and an estimated 9% of the sole that is thrown back by English and Welsh fishing boats in the Western Channel. It also shows that fishermen seem to be fishing more selectively as there are much lower levels of undersized fish being caught which would also usually be thrown back into the sea.

The aim is now to increase these trials to see that if these promising results continue and so the UK will attempt to gain higher quotas in this year's negotiations for the total allowable catches that can be made.

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