NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Fishermen say fish discard ban has no legal certainty

fishing boats in harbour Image copyright Getty Images

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has criticised a ban on discarding unwanted fish into the sea as being "without a sensible legal platform".

They said the ban contradicted existing regulations on landing fish.

The ban is part of a new deal on fishing quotas and industry rules that has been reached after negotiations in Brussels.

Both the Scottish and UK governments have welcomed the deal.

Much of the discussion around the negotiations centred on how to deal with the ban, which will come into force in January for species such as herring and mackerel, and a year later for cod and haddock.

Image caption Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the new quota deal provided 'valuable and timely' increases

Fishing boats will be obliged to land unwanted species caught in their nets.

The practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea had increased due to strict EU quotas on which fish could be landed, part of efforts to conserve fish stocks.

In 2009, Scottish vessels were forced by the Common Fisheries Policy to discard almost 28,000 tonnes of fish, about a quarter of the white fish catch, valued at £33m.

The practice was changed after public outcry, reflected in TV shows such as Hugh's Fish Fight, presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

'Ramshackle'

However, speaking to the BBC, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, claimed that the ban "was rushed in without consultation" and provided "no legal certainty".

"We will do our best, of course, to reduce discarding as quickly as possible and as far as possible," he said.

"But we are angry that a revolution in fishing management is being introduced in this ramshackle way."

The Scottish MEP Ian Duncan, who sits on the European Committee on Fisheries, told the BBC that existing legislation would be amended to accommodate the discard ban.

However, he said he had severe reservations about the way the process had been carried out.

He is still concerned that the current ambition to amend all legislation in one go will lead to confusion, and undermine the ban.

"You're asking for such a big culture shift in the industry - you really need to make sure that the industry understands what it's meant to be doing", he said.

"We are continually telling fishermen they must fish within the law - but in this case we can't even make the law."

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said he had been "making a plea" for Europe to give greater urgency to preparing for the implementation of the discard ban.


The Cod Conundrum

Amending the existing regulations on discarding catch will be easier for some species than others.

Fish such as herring and mackerel (pelagic fish) are generally considered to be a 'cleaner' catch - that is to say, most of the fish caught will be of the desired species.

The 'mixed white fishery', which includes cod and haddock, has a much higher chance of bringing up other species in its nets.

Dr Duncan says this means that amending regulations for pelagic fish will be much simpler than for cod and haddock, and so should be done sooner.


Good News

Both the Scottish and UK governments welcomed the deal, with the latter saying it had secured the "best possible deal".

The Scottish government hailed its "main wins" as a freeze on proposed cuts to the days when fishermen can go to sea, and gains in key quotas.

The Brussels deal resulted in increases for North Sea monkfish (20%) and prawns (15%), and West Coast haddock (14%) and monkfish (20%).

Mr Lochhead said: "It gives much-needed economic stability not just to the fleet, but to our onshore sector and the coastal communities who depend on the jobs the sector provides."

A statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said they had delivered a fair deal for fishermen, "striking the right balance between supporting business, and conserving fish stocks to safeguard the future livelihoods of our fishing fleets and their local communities".

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