If yesterday’s news is supposed to be today’s fish and chip wrappers, then today we have an odd scenario: your fish supper is probably wrapped in a hefty helping of column inches on fishing. For yesterday was a busy day for fishy news, in particular the issue of discards. Discards, as we explained very recently, are the unwanted fish caught, killed and thrown back over the side of fishing boats.
This is not a new issue of course, but there was an unprecedented event in Brussels yesterday that made sure that fish discards were high on the media agenda: namely, an EU-wide discussion to consider a ban on discarding fish.
Campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the force behind the Fish Fight campaign, did a fantastic job explaining the issue on the BBC, Channel 4, and in the Guardian (although the latter clearly didn’t know about his new haircut...).
The EU fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, has started a much-needed discussion about possible ways to implement ban on catching and throwing away fish. Whilst no decisions have yet been made, there were a few options on the table (in this document, which you’re not supposed to have seen, oops!). As I mentioned in my previous blog, banning discards is not the solution to the many problems in Europe’s shared seas, but it is a vital first step.
Now there have been grumblings about discards over many years, including talk about instigating a ‘ban’ similar to the Norwegian system, whereby all dead commercial fish species must be landed. There have also been many attempts to address the issue of discards with ‘better’ fishing methods, and other laudable initiatives, like the Scottish fleet’s catch quota scheme.
But the issue of discards has become something that a growing number of people - including Damanki, UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon, Fearnley-Whittingstall and yours truly- agree needs urgent action. And that’s understandable. Everyone abhors discards, they make no sense, and are the most obviously insane product of a system of European fisheries legislation that is fundamentally flawed.
So, it is only right that this key issue is at the heart of discussions on what reform those regulations need.
There are some who think a discard ban is too heavy-handed. I don’t agree, I think it’s vital. Our starting point needs to be: discards are wrong. Only by doing that will we get round to fixing the problem. If all the fish caught is brought back to land we will immediately have better scientific information on the make-up of catches. We will accurately be able to see where the biggest problems are, and then can take steps to eliminate them.
Lest we forget, the point is to stop the ‘unwanted’ fish being caught in the first place, and to do that we will need to find ways of fishing better, set areas off-limits that are not fished, and also have a more realistic attitude as consumers when it comes to buying fish.
This is just the first step, but it’s a hugely important one. We must all keep applauding those who are trying to stop this ridiculous waste of life and resources, but let’s also remember that there is still a lot more we need to do to ensure we have a sustainable thriving fishing industry, in thriving European seas. The EU fisheries legislation is up for reform in 2012, and of course Greenpeace and many others are campaigning to make sure that reform is the sort our oceans so desperately need.