Fisheries: Parliament calls for discard ban

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Beam trawl and cod fisheries should be selected as pilot projects for the elimination of discards with a view to extending the scheme across the entire EU fishing sector, recommends a report adopted yesterday (31 January) in the European Parliament.

Adopted during the Brussels plenary session, the report welcomes the Commission’s attempts to address the issue “with a view to finally shifting the emphasis of the Common Fisheries Policy so that the practice of discarding is ultimately eliminated.” 

Fishermen ‘discard’ healthy fish by dumping them back into the ocean in order to avoid prosecution under EU rules on under-sized or ‘out of quota’ fish. Discards create imbalances in ocean ecosystems and are believed to be a major cause of stock depletion. 

The report – drafted by Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter (Greens/EFA) – estimates that discarding by fishermen results in over a million healthy fish being thrown back into European waters each year, constituting a “serious ecological and economic problem”. Discard estimates worldwide amount to a quarter of all fish caught, it adds. 

“Given much of these discards occur because fishermen, and the gear they use, are not selective enough in the way they fish,” fishermen “must be given a chance to solve the problem themselves” with “incentives given to those who do so,” said Schlyter. “If they do not show rapid progress, a total ban on discards must be put in place,” he added. 

The report urges the Commission and national authorities to introduce specific incentives for the industry to improve its fishing practices, including: 

  • Allowing more days at sea or increasing the permitted fishing time for vessels equipped with selective gear; 
  • providing preferential access for vessels using selective gear to areas that would be closed to those without it, and; 
  • allowing vessels with selective gear to fish during times when others are not allowed. 

The report proposes reducing the overall fishing effort because over-fishing leads to depleted stocks, which in turn contain under-sized fish. “Reduced fishing pressure would bring significant benefits for the industry by allowing depleted stocks to recover and become more productive as well as saving time and effort in sorting the catch”, it states. 

Moreover, Parliament is calling for a total ban on discards to be implemented “after other types of negative incentives have been tried, including timed series of increases in mesh sizes and closed areas.” 

“Now we have won this key vote against fierce opposition, we expect to see rapid change,” said UK MEP Struan Stevenson, fisheries spokesman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament. “The EU cannot continue to condone a policy which leads to more than one million tonnes of healthy fish being discarded every year. We now look forward to the introduction of legislation aimed at putting an end to the discards debate,” he added. 

The report was adopted yesterday by a large majority of MEPs, with 616 votes in favour and just 22 against. 

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