Celebrity chefs and environmentalists helped sway fish debate
Forced discards of fish at sea one of Europe’s more bizarre regulations
British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: it is thanks in part to his lobbying that EU maritime affairs commissioner Maria Damanaki made a ban on discards her priority
When a French fisherman criticised the European Commission for managing the sea “as though it were an aquarium plugged into a computer”, he could have been talking about one of its more bizarre regulations on discarding fish offshore.
Discarding fish has been practised ever since the first net was cast, but the debate about wasteful dumping of non-quota, and therefore non-marketable, stock has dominated the current reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Under the former regime, skippers who caught species which were not part of their quota were not permitted to land them, on pain of fines, gear confiscation and costly court appearances.
The Irish industry has worked with State agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and Department of the Marine officials to champion technical conservation measures which would minimise unwanted catches.
Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney went to sea to experience one such system – the Swedish grid – in the Irish Sea. However, it was thanks to lobbying by environmental groups, the power of television and the persuasion of celebrity chefs such as Britain’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that EU maritime affairs commissioner Maria Damanaki made a ban on discards her priority.
Fishing for hake
The commission responded to this, even as Spain and France lobbied successfully in 2009 to reduce the mesh size on fishing for hake off the Irish coast.
This move illustrated the hypocrisy of the commission, in effectively negating the benefits of emergency measures introduced in 2001 and 2002 to protect the northern hake stock.
Although Ireland has the EU’s second largest sea area, its concerns were ignored – and, in any case, demands to increase mesh sizes don’t have quite the same sound bite appeal as a dumping ban.
The first stage in the phased ban on discarding fish at sea has been put back to 2015, and will come into effect for pelagic fleets targeting mackerel and herring.
By 2020, some 97 per cent of stocks will be covered, but some exemptions will be made for mixed fisheries targeted by the Irish whitefish fleet.
An additional five years has been permitted in exceptional cases where reductions in fishing pressure may “seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets”.
Greenpeace has welcomed the fact that new rules will now require governments to eliminate excessive fishing capacity in their fleets and to use transparent environmental and social criteria when allocating access to fishing grounds and quotas.
“In addition, it will in future be prohibited for EU vessels to overfish the waters of other nations,”it notes.