Fishermen still discarding fish even though EU laws have banned the practice

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 9 September 2019

Unwanted fish are being dumped back into the sea despite new EU laws designed to stop waste, a recent investigation for BBC Inside Out South West has found.

fishing vessels
© William Murphy

We’re not asking for excessive top down enforcement, but we do need to better monitor our fisheries.

Samuel Stone,
MCS Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture

The programme unearthed video evidence that fishermen are still discarding fish even though they are no longer supposed to “discard” fish when they catch more than their quota allows. The new laws mean fishermen have to bring species covered by EU quotas back to shore.

Samuel Stone, MCS Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture says: “Evidence that the landing obligation is being disregarded by fishers is not surprising, but is still really concerning and confirms that we have a serious problem for the accurate monitoring of catches and the sustainability of our shared fisheries resources.”

Under the new laws, more fish should have been brought into ports, but since the new rules were fully implemented this January, only 28 tonnes of discards have been landed in the UK - the Government expected a much larger figure.

A recent inquiry by the Lords EU Energy & Environment Sub-Committee (The Implementation and Enforcement of the EU Landing Obligation) which MCS contributed to, concluded that ‘…although the landing obligation has applied to a number of UK fish stocks since 2015, we heard no evidence that fishers have been complying with it.’ Monitoring of catches has not been sufficiently increased by UK governments to cope with the discard ban and there has been little in the way of on-water evidence to confirm these reports.

MCS says that non-compliance means that the evidence and data being provided to scientists to develop stock assessments may be inaccurate and could result in significant impacts with regards to setting Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for stocks going forward. This could mean TACs are set either too high or even too low as stock assessments are only as good as the data that feeds into them. Magnifying the problem is the fact that many fleets will receive what is referred to as ‘quota uplift’. Uplift is extra quota provided to fishers to account for what was previously discarded. This extra quota is provided to help fishers land the fish they catch, but if they carry on discarding it, the total catch will be in excess of the agreed catch limits and this would lead to overfishing.

MCS, together with WWF and ClientEarth has written to, and met with, senior civil servants and UK fishing ministers over the past year and has been calling on improved monitoring of catches and for uplift to only be granted after compliance with the discard ban has been demonstrated, but to date there has been insufficient action.

Samuel Stone says that by Government suggesting that the issues will be addressed after the UK has left the EU is simply not good enough and doesn’t reflect the urgency of the current situation: “Nobody actually knows when the UK will leave the EU, and UK governments have known non-compliance has been an issue for over 12 months and have the powers to act now. We need cameras put on boats or to vastly increase observer coverage so we at least keep a handle on what fish is being caught and discarded. We’re not asking for excessive top down enforcement, but we do need to better monitor our fisheries.”

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