Discarding Discards


By Mike Small

Good news is a rare thing these days. Good news on sustainable food rarer still. But yesterday just such a thing happened. MEPs have promised that critically depleted European fish stocks will be returned to a sustainable level as they voted through what’s being described as “the most radical reforms to fishing policy in the history of the EU”. The reforms include measures to protect endangered stocks and a ban on “discards”, the controversial practice of throwing unwanted dead fish back into the sea. This is great news for Scottish fishing communities.

There were jubilant scenes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg as MEPs passed the reform vote by 502 votes to 137. Members of the Green group held up banners showing fish saying “thank you”, as delegates celebrated the end of years of wrangling over the notoriously divisive EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Discarding of the catch will be completely ceased from 2017. So far, some 40 percent of fish that is caught is thrown back into the sea to avoid exceeding quotas. “Unwanted” fish and marine animals that are considered worthless are thrown back into the water – many are already dead.

Scottish fishing leaders have welcomed the European Parliament approving major reform, including to end the discarding of dead fish. In a rare outbreak of agreement groups from Greenpeace to WWF to Scottish fishery leaders, all applauded the move. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) welcomed the vote. Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, said:

The current CFP is widely acknowledged as being badly over-centralised and failing to deliver effective fisheries management. We therefore welcome today’s vote in the European Parliament, which is another step on the way to a new and reformed CFP. In particular, we welcome the support for the decentralisation of fisheries management. Rather than a centralised ‘one size fits all’ policy, we now have a real opportunity to control our fisheries much more effectively on a regional basis where fishermen, government, scientists and other relevant stakeholders can develop effective management regimes. As far as discards are concerned, no-one hates discarding more than our fishermen but there is concern about how a discards ban would work in practice, given the complex mixed fisheries that our fishing fleet works in.

Richard Lochhead (Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment) said: “Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was badly needed and long overdue so I am pleased that MEPs have voted through these proposals which will finally see an end to the wasteful practice of discarding. This vote is a key milestone and provides a sound basis for discussions with the Ministers in the coming weeks. I am determined that we must not squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the reform that our fishing communities need if we are to ensure that both our marine environment and fishing industry can survive and thrive.”

MEP Struan Stevenson said: ” The vote today in Strasbourg was a seminal and long-overdue landmark on the road to reform of the CFP.”

Helen McLachlan, fisheries programme manager at WWF-UK said:

This is a ground-breaking result for the future of fisheries across Europe and beyond. This vote reflects the views of the hundreds of thousands of members of the public, industry and fishermen themselves who campaigned to ensure the long term stability of fish stocks.

Other measures voted through included a transfer of decision-making powers from Brussels to regional fishing organisations, the promotion of low-impact fishing methods and moves to bring the European fishing fleet into line with the available fish stock.

It is estimated that three quarters of European stocks are overfished and there has been enormous public pressure for tougher limits on catches. Under the current CFP quota system, vessels must throw away any fish exceeding their quota, or any species outside their quota.

The new measures would limit fishing to “maximum sustainable yields” – meaning that no more fish would be caught than the existing stock could reproduce.

To celebrate Fife Diet will be publishing a series of sustainable seafood recipes next month and a downloadable recipe book outlining what fish you can eat.

The reform package was presented to the full parliament in Strasbourg by the German Social Democrat MEP Ulrike Rodust.

She said:

“As of 2015, the principle of maximum sustainable yield shall apply, which means that each year we do not harvest more fish than a stock can reproduce. Our objective is that depleted fish stocks recover by 2020. Not only nature will benefit, but also fishermen: bigger stocks produce higher yields.”