The dreadful waste of thousands of tonnes of dead fish being thrown back into the sea every day could be stopped if fishermen are required to count all the fish they catch as part of their quota, pioneering UK trials have shown.
Published today, the report shows that fishermen taking part in the UK’s Catch Quota trials have stopped throwing away fish. Its findings add weight to the UK Government’s calls for drastic reform of Europe’s broken and wasteful Common Fisheries Policy.
Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon 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“This evidence will be invaluable as we continue to fight for radical reform of this outdated and wasteful European policy.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.”
Under current European Commission rules fishing boats are given quotas for landing different types of fish in a specific area. If they go over their allowance they can continue to fish as long as they don’t land any more of that quota fish – leading to perfectly edible fish being thrown overboard.
Catch Quota trials began in the UK in 2010 and were expanded in early 2011 to include English fishermen catching West Channel sole as well as cod in the North Sea. Boats taking part have to land all of the fish of these species that they catch so they all count against their quota. Once the quota is used up they have to stop fishing completely. Onboard monitoring, including CCTV cameras, checks whether they are following the rules.
Trial manager Julian Roberts, from the Marine Management Organisation who manage the trial on behalf of Defra, 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 report, published today by the Marine Management Organisation, shows that fishermen involved in the trials are discarding less than one per cent of the cod and sole they catch. This is far less than the 21 per cent average across the EU for North Sea cod and the estimated nine per cent of sole discarded by all English and Welsh vessels in the Western Channel. Catches of undersized fish in the trial are also low, suggesting that boats are fishing more selectively.
The UK will work to secure additional quota in this year’s negotiations on total allowable catches and quotas so that trials can be expanded to enable more vessels to participate and to test the system in other fisheries.
This evidence will be used as the UK pushes to improve proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy put forward by the European Commission earlier this year. The UK is fighting for a more transparent and decentralised approach where fishermen themselves help solve problems such as discards, rather than one-size-fits-all regulation.