Fishermen ‘dreading’ new discard ban


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
August 21, 2015

On 1 January of this year, a discard ban coming into effect for pelagic fishing gave fishermen throughout Europe their first taste of one of the most notable changes to Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

In less than five months, the real test begins, with the demersal version of the discards ban phasing in, starting 1 January 2016. It won’t be in full effect for three years, and may not get as much attention as the pelagic ban did, but it seems a lack of detail and advice from the European Commission is going to make this a rough transition indeed for EU fishermen.

The ban’s purpose is well-meaning enough: Until now, fishermen who pulled perfectly edible fish up by accident with their target species were forced to throw them away, since the rules forbade them from selling it. Since the fish were already dead, however, sustainable fishing proponents such as celebrity chef-turned-activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall railed against the practice as wasteful and doing nothing to preserve marine life.

Now, even bycatch will have to be landed and sold – no discards allowed, and when mixed demersal fisheries have to start abiding by the new rules in January, that could be a problem, according to Keith Broomfield, a spokesman for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF).

“I think the industry is dreading it a lot,” he said.

Broomfield said he and the fishermen he represents are worried that the rules are too simple, light on detail, and come with no advice for implementation. For example, how will the ban affect so-called “choke” species? In other words, what happens when a mixed fishery hits the quota for one species of bycatch, but not another? Must the entire fishery shut down? And what about landed bycatch? What if the only market for selling it is 100 km away from port? What then? Questions like these, Broomfield said, hang over the 1 January start date for the new ban.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, really,” he said.

Fishermen are asking the questions, but for now, Broomfield said, the government’s response has been for the fisheries to come up with their own ideas on how to handle the problems.

Broomfield isn’t alone in his concerns. “I would certainly agree with him,” said Kathryn Stack, managing director at Europêche, the industry group that represents EU fishermen. “The discard ban has many complex factors that just simply have not been addressed by the EU institutions, and gaps have been left for the industry to fill in. They are effectively saying, ‘These are the rules you have to abide by, but we cannot tell you how.’”

Stack agreed that “choke” species bringing an entire fishery to a stop too early could have major economic consequences.

“This will lead to many vessels prematurely halting their fishing practices; losing huge amounts of revenue and quota going uncaught,” she said.

Enrico Brivio, a spokesman for the European Commission on maritime affairs, fisheries, environment, health and food safety, noted the ban will not take full effect on 1 January, but be phased in starting on that date. He also said there are many options, including temporary discard bans, for phasing in the full regulation. He also said the commission has made efforts to explain the new rules.

“The Member States and the fishing industry, which are already aware of the provisions of the discard bans, have been provided with the necessary clarifications on the applicable rules at EU level,” he said.

Brivio also underscored the purpose of the ban, to help protect fish stocks and prevent waste, something that Broomfield did agree with.

“Fishermen hate discarding fish,” Broomfield said.

To that end, the SFF is working on developing new fishing gear that will keep out the unwanted species. There has been some success creating shrimp nets with partitions in them to keep other larger fish out. Now, the plan is to create new nets for demersal fishermen to keep bycatch out of the boat altogether, and the SFF has received a pledge of GBP 110,000 (USD 172,451, EUR 152,911) from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund to help pay for the research and development.

“I would think the ideal solution would be not to land fish you don’t want to take to market,” Broomfield said.

But the new gear will likely not be ready by 1 January, meaning fishermen will still have to figure out a way to handle the new bans on their own. Broomfield hopes the commission will be mindful of the learning curve fishermen will be on.

If he and Stack are right, it will be a learning curve, and the commission would do well to stay in constant communication with the fisheries, to stop problems and confusion before they start. The need is best summed up in Broomfield’s advice to the commission starting 1 January: “Don’t be too rigid in the implementation. You have to have flexibility.”

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