Fish discards ban 'may be diluted'

How a UK trial uses CCTV on fishing boats to crack down on discards

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Europe's fisheries ministers may dilute plans for a total ban on the practice of discarding fish at sea, as they meet in Brussels.

An outright discards ban was widely welcomed when backed by the European Parliament last month, but it is being resisted by France, Spain and others.

Ministers will consider a compromise text, that a European Commission source described as "quite unacceptable".

It would delay fisheries reform beyond the current proposal of 2016-2019.

It would also allow maybe 7% of fish to be discarded, exempt some species from the ban altogether, and give fishing crews extra catch quotas for an interim period.

It would also allow blue whiting, one of the most abundant stocks of the North East Atlantic, to be dumped if it is inadvertently caught. Boarfish may also be exempt.

Some ministers are striving to soften the provisions of the reform package to protect their fleets from sudden change.

Hi-tech nets

But the Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, urged ministers not to compromise.

"The politicians must listen to what the public is telling them," she said. "The public does not want fish to be just thrown away."

Pie chart - EU catches in 2010

She said all caught fish should be landed; if they were of low value, they should be turned into fish meal.

Ms Damanaki was presented with a petition signed by nearly a million people demanding an end to discards, and for fishing at a level that allows stocks to replenish.

Campaigners were surprised and delighted last month when MEPs voted by a margin of around 4-1 in favour of sweeping reforms. The majority was far greater than had been predicted.

The Irish Fisheries Minister, Simon Coveney, who is chairing the meeting, said: "It is imperative that European Fisheries Ministers collectively take this progressive but challenging decision now and co-operate in agreeing appropriate and effective measures to eliminate discards with ambitious timelines."

But he is obliged at the meeting to find a joint position that the Council can negotiate with the Commission and parliament - and compromise will be difficult as several nations, including the UK, consider than any slipping from a total ban would be wrong.

The "progressive" nations fear that any discussion of exempt species would open the door for further exemptions.

In a review of global discarding, the UN noted that the north-east Atlantic had the highest discard level in the world, estimated at 1.3 million tonnes - the majority attributed to the EU. The Commission estimates that 23% of all fish caught by EU vessels are discarded.

Discussions at the Fisheries Council may last into the night, although on a less contentious note, ministers are likely to re-commit to better technology to prevent unwanted fish being caught in the first place

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

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