SKIPPERS are hoping that there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel after the European Parliament finally voted to ban discards last week.
Last Wednesday MEPs elected to reform the “broken” Common Fisheries Policy, beginning with a complete ban on the controversial practice of discards within the next three years.
Fishermen and politicians have proclaimed the vote as a “step in the right direction”, but with no final deal expected until June following further negotiations, the full scope of the decision has not yet been revealed.
Arnold Locker, managing director of Lockers Trawlers and president of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation, said: “The devil is in the detail.
“Nobody seems to have the detail just yet, including DEFRA, but we are in favour of banning discards. It’s a waste of resources that can only help the ecological system and hasten the full recovery of the North Sea.”
In addition to banning discards, the measures would see a return to regionalised management with individual governments managing their own fisheries.
Timothy Kirkhope, MEP for Yorkshire and The Humber, believes the vote will end overfishing once and for all and added: “These reforms will be wresting control away from the micro-managers in Brussels who have made such a mess of fisheries policy for the past 30 years. The reform is now on the right track to give more independence to local fisheries, and that’s good news for fishermen in places like Whitby.”
Ahead of the vote, EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said that almost a quarter of all fish caught was being dumped in the sea. Optimistic estimates suggest a deal could boost fish stocks by 15 tonnes by 2020 and increase fish landings for fleets by half a million tonnes. This could see fishing incomes rise by 25%, with a third more jobs created.
Copious WY 170 is currently at Parkol Marine having a new engine fitted, but owner Richard Brewer said he was relieved that common sense is finally beginning to prevail, albeit at a slower pace than Whitby fishermen had hoped.
“Dumping fish is doing the industry and conservation no good,” he said. “It is something we wanted to see the back of as soon as possible.”
However, until the details of the deal are released, skippers are reluctant to celebrate too much.
Mr Brewer added: “Because we have to land everything that comes up in a net now, does that mean our quota is going to be used up quickly? Are they going to put a huge amount of restrictions on us? The proof of the pudding is in the fine print.
“We are just pleased that hopefully now we are turning a corner, the future does look a lot brighter for us but it’s something we will have to keep an eye on.”
While banning the wasteful practice of discards is a boost for the industry, Whitby skippers still have to contend with a lack of available quota and tight restrictions on days at sea.
Additionally, if all skippers must now land everything they catch, the boats must now work out what to do with their undersize produce, which may not be suitable for human consumption.
The nearest fish meal plant is in Hull, so transport costs would need to be paid to ship the catch their, while the extra fish will take up boxes and space on the fish market. This could lead to fishermen making a loss on the catch.
The cheapest alternative would be to form a partnership with the owners of smaller boats, who could use the undersize fish as bait.
Mr Locker said: “This is what we used to do back in the 1970s when I started fishing, so in some way we have gone full circle.”