DISCARDING and other unsustainable fishing practices are set to be abolished following a proposal to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), allowing Whitby fishermen to be cautiously optimistic their industry may finally be saved.
The European Commission (EC) has set out a radical approach to fisheries management that it hopes will secure both fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihoods for the future.
European commissioner for maritime affairs Maria Damanaki introduced the new policy on Wednesday by saying: “Business as usual is not an option. Europe needs more fish, more wealth and more jobs.
“We won’t have that without change and these proposals can deliver that change.
The new policy is set to abolish the controversial practice of discarding dead, undersized catch, it will decentralise responsibility to individual countries, and aims to make fishing profitable, although the tradeable quota system will remain.
Richard Brewer, skipper of Whitby vessel Copious, said: “Hopefully we can breathe a little bit of fresh air into the industry.
“We have cried out for a review for long enough now and it’s made a mockery of the fishing industry.
“Now we are hoping there’s a big enough push to put the brakes on the destruction of the industry and bring a bit of life back into
Yorkshire and the Humber MEP Linda McAvan welcomed the prospect of wide-ranging reform to the Common Fishing Policies, in particular the proposed ban on dead fish being thrown back into the sea.
She said: “The current system’s weaknesses are well known and I hope that these new proposals will eventually produce a fishing policy that is fair to our fishermen and also protects and helps replenish fish stocks.
“There is still a lot of work to do and these European Commission proposals are not perfect, but we are at least moving away from the discredited and damaging policy of the past.
“The campaign for change is by no means over and there are still plenty of people that will need convincing, but I am optimistic that the reforms will offer a brighter future to fishermen off the Yorkshire and Humber coasts.”
With all fish landed counting towards the limited quota afforded each vessel, skippers have been casting overboard smaller fish that are worth less, a controversial process called discarding, but under the new proposals this will be completely abolished.
Discarding has led to many species being overfished and Mrs Damanaki added: “According to our modelling exercise, if no reform takes place, only eight stocks out of 136 will be at sustainable levels by 2022.
“I want to break this vicious cycle.”
However, while a ban on discards is in theory a positive move, Mr Brewer said it does cause problems.
He said: “The EC can’t ban discards because an awful lot of fish that we catch is undersize, so just to have a blanket ban is ill-advised and ill-informed.
“Fishermen are more conservation-minded than people would believe and we certainly don’t want to be bringing undersized fish into port, for one thing it’s illegal.”
Another issue that has troubled fisherman is the ransoming of quotas, with organisations able to purchase a quota and then loan it to the highest bidder, something that severely restricts the amount of fishing smaller vessels and fishing companies can do.
This system appears to remain, although it will be restricted so member states will not be able to trade between each other and small-scale fisheries will be exempt from the scheme.
Management of fishing policies is also set to be returned to each member state, allowing flexibility to allow for each nation’s individual needs.
“The EU has to be the lighthouse,” said Mrs Damanaki, “Showing the way.
“Member states, regions and industry have to steer the ship - and avoid the rocks.”
Mr Brewer echoed this sentiment: “We would welcome the fisheries in this country being run by the UK Government.
“But as with everything else that comes from Brussels, no doubt there’s going to be an attachment that we probably aren’t going to like.
“The way we were going, we would be losing one of our key heritage industries, and once it’s lost it will never, ever be revived, so we’re going to watch this space.”
The new rules will come into effect once the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have voted on the proposals, and the aim for adoption and entry into force of the new legislation is 1 January 2013.
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