EU sea change over fish discards an Irish success
Analysis:Sharp divisions exist among EU countries over the merits of a total ban
As Brussels standards go it was a long meeting. Bleary- eyed ministers emerged from negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy at 6am yesterday, with a commitment to end the practice of fish discards, a key strand of EU fisheries reform.
Discarding occurs when fishermen throw back fish because they have exceeded their quota or caught species for which they have no quota.An estimated 25 per cent of the fish caught by EU boats are thrown back into the sea, with the percentage believed to be as high as 50 per cent in some areas.
The EU quota system has meant that many fishermen are incentivised to throw less valuable, or over-quota, fish back into the sea, a process that has prompted widespread public criticism, particularly in the UK. The dumping of edible fish has also caused unease throughout Europe in the current austere times.
EU fisheries policy has long been one of the most controversial aspect of European Union law. In 2009, the European Commission initiated a review of the process. It found that the current system, which dates back to 1983, was in urgent need of reform. As well as widespread evidence of overfishing and depleted stock, there were indications the quota system was not working, and was leading to the widespread practice of throwing fish that were over-quota back into the sea.
There were also serious shortcomings in relation to the efficacy of the single market, with about two-thirds of fish on sale in the EU sourced from non-EU waters. It is in this context that a radical reform of European fisheries policy has been initiated, one element of which is the discard ban.
The aim is that the new fisheries policy will take effect from next year, but the process involves a laborious series of negotiation between the three European institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europ Ministers, representing ministers from each member state.
With the commission already having stated its position, the parliament voiced its opinion earlier this month, with MEP’s voting by an overwhelming majority for a total ban on discards. This week it was the turn of the member states through their fisheries ministers.
While they had already accepted the principle of some form of discard ban back in June, the specifics were still up for negotiation. Yesterday, they agreed a common position – the phased introduction of a ban on discards from January 2014.
This includes the introduction of a ban on the discarding of pelagic fish, ie fish like herring and whiting that live close to the surface, from January 2014, which will be extended to white fish stocks from 2016.