DEAD OR DYING FISH – 800,000 – 900,000 tons of fish are discarded back into the sea every year under EU’s common fisheries policy…


The issue of discards is another highly controversial aspect of the CFP and has gained a high level of media attention and public awareness in recent years. Discards refer to fish that have been caught by a commercial vessel which have to be thrown back into the sea. The reason for most discards is that a vessel will have ran out of quota for that species and is therefore unable to legally keep those fish and – under EU and CFP laws – have to throw them away. However, fish can also be discarded for other reasons. For example they may be too small to sell, a species which has no commercial value, or vessels may high-grade (throw away less valuable fish to make space for a higher-value species). Fish which are discarded back into the sea are almost always dead or dying, as they will have been crushed into a net and their swim bladder will have been ruptured by being dragged up from the seabed. It is estimated that in the North Sea alone around 800,000 – 900,000 tons of fish are discarded back into the sea every year.

The issue of discards was brought to public attention in 2010 when celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall began his ‘Fish Fight’ campaign to ban discards. This appeared to have some impact, as prior to this programme many members of the public were unaware that such as wasteful practice was standard practice in European waters. A debate therefore began throughout the EU over how to proceed with discards, with consultations and plans being drawn up to formulate some kind of discard ban.


However, any kind of reform of the CFP proceeds at a glacial pace and many nations with powerful fishing lobbies such as Spain and France resist any form of change which will disadvantage their commercial fishing industries in any way whatsoever. This could be seen in the ways in which certain nations opposed the discards ban and attempted to derail the legislation and insert different forms of exemptions and loopholes to dilute down the legislation. However, in 2013, after two years of intra-EU squabbling and wrangling a deal was reached to ban discards. A discard ban for pelagic fish would be introduced from 2015, and a ban for demersal (bottom dwelling) fish would be phased in between 2016 and 2019. However, Portugal, Spain and France did win some exemptions with fishermen conducting certain types of deep sea fishing being allowed to discard 9% of their catch, with this number going down to 7% after a few years.

However, in keeping with the European Union’s usual way of operating as soon as the discards ban was announced there were fears that the pressure from Europe’s commercial fishing lobby would lead to the ban being weakened considerably with loopholes granted to commercial fishermen. Indeed, this proved to be the case with MEPs voting to give fishermen a two year delay before sanctions would be brought in for those ignoring the discards ban. Following this it was also announced that fishermen would be able to legally discard fish which were classed as damaged by predators or disease. However, it will be entirely up to the fishermen to decide what constitutes a damaged or diseased fish, with many conservation groups concerned that many commercial fishermen will simply continue to discard healthy fish they did not want to land under the guise of fish being damaged or diseased.

Even with overwhelming public support for a discards ban the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy is still incapable of passing a clear and robust piece of legislation which would prevent commercial fishermen from throwing healthy, edible fish back into the sea dead. Instead we have an discards ban which is announced with great publicity and then watered down with loopholes and exemptions which have absolutely nothing to do with rebuilding Europe’s fish stocks but instead keep the commercial fishing industry happy.

Information comes from: BRITISH SEA FISHING


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