Minister hails excess fish dumping ban


The UK Government today hailed an EU agreement to introduce a blanket ban on dumping dead fish back in the sea.

Speaking from Brussels after marathon talks, fisheries minister Richard Benyon said: "This is a historic moment in reforming the broken Common Fisheries Policy.

"The scandal of discards has gone on for too long and I'm delighted that the UK has taken such a central role in securing this agreement.

"I am disappointed that some of the measures required to put this ban into place are no longer as ambitious as I had hoped but it's a price I am willing to accept if it means we can get the other details right.

"The final package will still need to be agreed with the EU Parliament but the result we have achieved today is another step in the right direction and will prove to be good for bothfishermen and the marine environment."

Earlier this month MEPs overwhelmingly backed the biggest-ever Common Fisheries Policy reforms, crucially including an end to so-called "discards" - a consequence of current CFP quota rules restricting the size of landed catches.

The issue galvanised wide UK support when chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched a "Discards Campaign" which has so far attracted more than 850,000 signatures on a petition condemning the throwing away of perfectly edible fish to avoid breaching limits.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki - who once admitted the CFP was "broken" - says the discards system means almost one quarter of all fish caught in European waters is being dumped at sea.

Biggest resistance to fisheries reforms on the scale demanded by MEPs came from France, Portugal and Spain.

The agreement will see the discarding of edible fish banned for stocks like herring and whiting from January 2014. A ban for white fish stocks was also agreed, to begin in January 2016.

The UK also claimed to have successfully fought off attempts to include a modification in the new Common Fisheries Policy for quota swapping that would have allowed other countries access to UK quotas.

Scotland's Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead said: "This negotiation is a key milestone on the road to a discard-free Europe and delivers a compromise plan which is both realistic and workable.

"No longer will European fishermen be dumping millions of tonnes of fish overboard which is a waste of a valuable food resource to the detriment of our stocks and the industry.

"Fisheries ministers from across Europe have now given a mandate to the negotiators to reach a final deal with the EU Parliament as part of the reform of the failed Common Fisheries Policy.

"It has been a long hard road to achieve agreement towards a package that represents the regional difference across European fleets. And the negotiation was dominated by attempts of some nations to exempt certain stocks by adding in specific loopholes.

"We recognise there is still a challenge ahead for our fleet but they have already shown leadership by reducing discards over the past few years. Now there is more for them to do and a requirement for the rest of Europe to follow. We all need to work together to ensure smooth implementation."

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "Ministers seem to have taken care to agree upon a practical plan that would work for the fishing industry and we are pleased that a more realistic timescale for the implementation of a discards plan was agreed.

"We also welcome the provision for a degree of flexibility in the plan so as to take into account any practical difficulties in implementing the scheme.

"It was also embedded into the agreement that a ban on discards will mean that fishermen can land more fish.

"Whilst this agreement is an important first step in ensuring the practical introduction of a discards ban, it should be recognised that huge challenges remain for the industry in its implementation that will require major changes in the way that fishermen operate.

"The Scottish industry has already made heavy sacrifices in working towards this.

"We note that there has been some criticism from the green lobby on this agreement, but the compromises agreed will assist in the practical implementation of the plan and this should be welcomed.

"It is very easy to have the luxury to commentate and criticise from the outside, without actually being involved in the practical implementation of the measures."

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said this morning that he was pleased with the commitment to ban discards, but added that the "devil is in the detail".

"What they agreed last night is weaker and harder to enforce than the ban our MEPs in the European Parliament voted for - with a huge majority - three weeks ago," he said.

"There's now going to be weeks of negotiation to reach a final deal, and we will be fighting to strengthen those details and support our MEPs who want to see a discard ban that does the job it is supposed to."