FISHING leaders have given a cautious welcome to an agreement to phase out discards over a period of five years starting in 2014.
The deal struck by European fishing ministers in Brussels during the early hours of Wednesday morning should bring to an end the wasteful practice of dumping dead fish overboard to avoid breaching quotas.
The decision was forced upon the European Commission by campaigning led by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose TV programme Hugh’s Fish Fight generated huge public pressure on the issue.
However no agreement will come into force without the prior approval of the European Parliament.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott warned against “ministerial rhetoric” on the issue and said workable policies were needed.
“Ministers need to do what they are paid for and implement policies which work to end the dumping of marketable fish without destroying the very livelihoods of Shetland’s fishing community,” he said.
“That is the test of government that fishermen, fishing communities and environmentalists will watch.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the ban would mean huge challenges for the Scottish industry and would require major changes in the way fishermen operate.
But he welcomed the flexibility that took into consideration the complexity of Scotland’s mixed fishery and the fact that it would mean more fish could be landed.
The pelagic fleet will be the first affected by the discards ban, which will be implemented for herring and mackerel in 2014.
Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association chief executive Ian Gatt said the industry was gearing itself up to meet the “challenging timescale”, but warned the regulations must be applied fairly across all pelagic fleets so no one is disadvantaged.
“Scottish and UK governments must ensure that they deliver this parity,” he said.
Scottish fishing secretary Richard Lochhead called the deal “both realistic and workable”, praising it as “a key milestone on the road to a discard free Europe”.
“No longer will European fishermen be dumping millions of tonnes of fish overboard which is a waste of a valuable food resource to the detriment of our stocks and the industry,” he said.
However Scottish Green Party fishing spokeswoman Alison Johnstone warned against getting carried away, pointing out the details of the agreement had yet to be agreed.
She said Europe has the world’s worst record for dumping fish, with almost a quarter of catches going overboard, adding that Wednesday’s deal was weaker than the ban MEPs voted for earlier in the year.
Johnstone said: “The Scottish fleet has made progress using different gear to reduce unwanted catches, but the wider issue remains – we continue to allow industrial-scale trawling which doesn’t properly distribute the rewards of fishing, and we still need to develop a culture of respect for scientific advice.”
Wildlife charity WWF Scotland said financial support should be made available to ensure maximum uptake of selective gear techniques and practices, and all loopholes should be closed.
Richard Lochhead said that the negotiations had been dominated by some countries trying to introduce loopholes to protect specific fish stocks.
Lochhead renewed his call for an independent mediator to be brought in to resolve the dispute with Iceland and Faroe over their mackerel quotas, which has seen the stock lose its highly prized conservation status from the Marine Conservation Society.
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