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Change to EU fishing quota system spells end of line for discards

After years of campaigning by environmentalists and a new drive spearheaded by chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the practice of discarding fish looks set to be phased out in the European Union.

Posted : 28 March 2011

EU ministers have agreed to rethink the current policy of setting quotas for certain types of fish, a consequence of which has been that non-quota fish are being caught and thrown away in vast numbers.

Because of the way fishing quotas are currently tallied, fishermen may not legally land more than a certain number of designated fish, and so are throwing excess fish back into the sea. Sometimes up to two-thirds of a haul may be discarded – a million tonnes of fish are killed unecessarily in this way in the North Sea alone every year.

Campaigns such as Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight were pivotal in drawing the attention of the public to the wasteful and environmentally damaging practice. More than 650,000 people signed the Fish Fight petition to change the EU fishing policy.

“We can’t go on like this, with this nightmare of discards. We need a new policy,” EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki conceded earlier this year.

It is hoped that a reformed Common Fisheries Policy will be in place by 2013, despite the objections of EU member states that have large fishing fleets to protect.

“The battle lines will be drawn across Europe,” said fisheries minister Richard Benyon. “We have to change this practice, which is something people quite rightly find offensive.”

Benyon is proposing three alternatives to the current system: allowing fishermen to land all of their catch but limit the amount of time they may fish; changing equipment and techniques to reduce the number of fish that are discarded; and building up a market for fish that are not currently eaten in great quantities.

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