Fisheries ministers agree discards ban
by Daniel Mason
European Union fisheries ministers have agreed that discards should be banned but said they would take a gradual approach to implementing the new rules. The deal was made after 20 hours of negotiations in Luxembourg, where ministers in the Council of the EU reached a political agreement on the main aspects of long-awaited reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy.
According to a statement published by the council, member states agreed that discards – dead or dying fish thrown back into the sea so that EU quotas are not exceeded – would be eliminated in stages. They said a ban on the controversial practice would come into force for fish such as mackerel and herring by 2014, and for whitefish including cod, haddock, plaice and sole on a staggered basis between 2015 and 2018.
Following the meeting the United Kingdom's fisheries minister Richard Benyon said: "After years of pressing to eliminate discards it was always my aim to get the council to agree to end this wasteful practice as soon as possible. While I am disappointed that the council has not agreed the firm dates I was seeking, a commitment to eliminating discards is a step in the right direction." His French counterpart Frédéric Cuvillier, however, welcomed the delay in introducing the ban as "realistic and pragmatic".
As well as eliminating discards, ministers said they would aim to make fishing yields sustainable "by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest", based on scientific advice. They also pushed ahead with plans to devolve some powers over fisheries from Brussels to regions, saying in a statement that a "vast majority of majority of member states" supported the idea because "one size does not fit all".
But Chris Davies MEP, founder of the Fish for the Future group in the European Parliament, said there was "a great deal still to be done". He added: "For governments to say that we should stop overfishing but not for another eight years is little short of madness. The proposed introduction of discard bans through multi-annual plans is made uncertain by the fact that such plans are currently being blocked by the ministers themselves.
"And although Europe has too many boats chasing too few fish nothing has been determined about the need to reduce overcapacity." The reforms will have to be agreed by MEPs, and Davies said he hoped they would "work to close the loopholes and tie the hands of those who will seek to avoid any real commitment to change".
The ban on discards follows a high profile campaign by, among others, the British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. On Twitter, his Fish Fight organisation described the outcome of the council as a "massive result".
But Greenpeace was less optimistic. Its fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: "Ministers are failing miserably on their promise of an overhaul of EU fisheries management. They want to leave reform hanging in the balance, condemning fish and fishermen to another decade of overfishing and stock decline, with dire consequences for species like cod, hake and tuna."
She added: "Instead of backing a blanket ban on discards as soon as possible, ministers want to dither and to pick and choose which fish species the ban should apply to. Discarding will not stop unless fishermen use more selective gear and fish more sustainably. The best way to stop discards is to reward fishermen who fish sustainably and phase out destructive, indiscriminate industrial fishing, which causes most discards. This is something ministers have completely failed to do."
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