Action on fish discards

2 Nov 2009 03:37 PM

Immediate action is needed from Europe to eradicate the 'unacceptable practice' of dumping dead fish back into the sea and potentially save Scotland's fishermen £180 million, Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said today.

According to figures, during 2007, whitefish worth £60 million was discarded in the North Sea. Since then Scotland has developed selective gear and closure schemes to reduce catching fish without quota that is then discarded.

These measures are reducing wastage, but Scottish Ministers believe the European Commission must change their rules now to prevent £180 million worth of dead fish from being discarded whilst waiting for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to be reformed in 2013.

At a major international conference in Edinburgh tomorrow (Tuesday), Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead will challenge the European Commission to make discards history now, rather than waiting for reform of the CFP.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Lochhead said:

"One of the most pressing issues facing the fishing industry is the scandal of discards. Almost all species are wasted and discarded. North Sea whitefish discards alone are worth around £60 million a year - money which could go back into our economy.

"That is utter madness and a damning indictment of the Common Fisheries Policy. These crazy restrictions mean our fishermen have little choice but to throw away much of the fish they catch.

"In return for taking less fish from the sea in the first place, our fishermen should be allowed to land more of what they do catch rather than be forced to dump it over the side of the boat. For reducing overall fishing effort, we can reward our fishermen by allowing them to land and sell much of which is currently thrown overboard.

"The difficulties we face are down to the system we have to work within under the broken CFP. Reform is due in 2013 but that will be too late for many of our fishermen and we must press the Commission to help us make discards history now.

"Reducing the horrendous waste caused by discards will provide additional income for our fleets, reducing the need for imports that are so harmful to our industry."

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said:

"RSPB Scotland supports Mr Lochhead's view that discards are the scourge of the fishing industry and a barrier to wise stock management, and we are disappointed that decisive action to stop discards has not been forthcoming.

"The problem continues across the EU, damaging ecological and economic sustainability. The positive action being brought forward by the Scottish government and some in the Scottish fleet towards addressing the issue is to be welcomed.

"Looking to the future, the EU and member states need to grasp the nettle and institute fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy - to place the environment at its heart, so as to manage stocks in a long-term manner that delivers genuinely sustainable fisheries. Such change would be good for fish, for the wider marine environment and, in the long term, for the fishing communities, which all rely on this natural resource."

Almost two-thirds of Scotland's top fish stocks for which the status is known are being fished sustainably but the discarding of commercially valuable, high quality fish remains a serious problem.

Observer programmes suggest well over a third of whitefish caught is actually discarded. North Sea discards of whitefish would have been worth £60 million in 2007.

The Inter Regional Advisory Council Conference is being co-hosted by the Scottish Government on November 3-4 at the Merchant's Hall, Edinburgh. It is entitled 'Decision-Making in the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy' and is the most high-profile plank of the Scottish Government's CFP reform consultation process. It features a number of well- known international speakers and delegates, including President of the Committee on Fisheries of the European Parliament Carmen Fraga Estevez and David Symes, a leading commentator on fisheries policies and member of the Inquiry into Future Fisheries Management.