Minister seeks fish discards action


More than a third of white fish caught in Irish waters by the domestic fleet is dumped back into the sea dead or dying.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney called on Europe to lift bans and change quotas and catch quantities in favour of species-specific rules.

“Fishermen and the industry want this. It makes no sense for fishermen to be catching fish and then having to throw them back in dead,” he said. “It damages stocks for the future, it puts equipment under strain and costs everybody time and money.”

The Government has for the first time recorded the extent of waste forced on to domestic and foreign fleets operating around Ireland under strict European laws.

Trawlers are throwing back tonnes of valuable species either because the fish caught are too young, the boat does not have a quota for certain species and brings them on board as by-catch or the catch cannot legally be sold.

It is estimated 1.3 million tonnes of fish are discarded in the northeast Atlantic every year, from waters north of Spain up to Scandinavia - the second highest discard level in the world.

The Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara reported that 38 per cent of cod, haddock, whiting, monkfish, plaice and prawns caught are thrown back in dead or dying. Between 2003 and 2009, 50 per cent of haddock caught by the Irish fleet in the Celtic Sea was thrown away.

The report assesses only Irish vessels which catch 15 to 20 per cent of the total in Irish waters.

European Commissioner Maria Damanaki has been pressing for a total ban on boats dumping fish at sea and suggested all fish caught should be landed, even if they cannot be sold. Other options being put forward include reducing the mesh size of nets.

Sean O’Donoghue, chairman of the Federation of Irish Fishermen, said outlawing discards is uneconomic and will not ensure sustainable catches. “The commissioner’s approach demonstrates only a superficial and PR-driven approach to the issue. The EU measures taken must of course address conservation issues but also must be practical and allow the fishing fleets to operate in an economic manner.”

Mr Coveney called on the rest of Europe to follow the Irish lead and ask fishermen to record and publish full details of discards to reveal the full extent of waste.

The Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, with the backing of fishing fleets, trawlers and producers up and down the country examined the industry over six years. They looked at the top 10 commercial fish species landed by weight from 2003 to 2009.

The study, believed to be the first of its kind in Europe, recorded an average annual catch of 36,560 tonnes with on average 14,039 tonnes of fish thrown back to the sea dead or dying.

The report said the Irish fleet has a discard rate of 38 per cent.