September 26, 2008

Fishermen Fight ‘Madness’ of GBP 40m of Fish Thrown Away

By Jenny Haworth

FISHERMEN in Scotland are throwing away GBP 40 million worth of fish every year, in a situation that has been described as "economic madness" and "hell" for the industry.

At a time of high food prices and of economic downturn, millions of tonnes of dead fish are being thrown over the side of boats into the North Sea each year because of European quotas. It is now estimated that about 100,000 tonnes of fish are dumped by Scottish fishermen alone. This means that, for every North Sea cod caught and landed by Scots fishermen, another has to be thrown away.

Yesterday, politicians, leading members of the fishing industry and environmental groups called for an urgent change to EU regulations. At a summit in Edinburgh to thrash out a solution to the problem of discards, Richard Lochhead, the environment minister, said that he was "appalled" by the situation.

"Discards are bad news," he said. "Bad news for fishermen, bad news for consumers and bad news for the environment. I am appalled and frustrated at the scandalous level of waste and the economic and environmental madness discards represent. In what other industry would it be acceptable to throw away so much of what is produced?"

He said hard-working skippers were heartbroken, and he has even heard of many who cannot face going to sea.

He added: "The scale of the problem beggars belief. Crazy European regulations mean that, at a time of worldwide food shortages and higher food prices at home, our fishermen are having to throw away up to GBP 40 million worth of fish for which there is a perfectly good market."

He said that the solution must involve allowing fishermen to land much more of the fish they catch, rather than discarding it. It is claimed that the problem arises partly out of the mismatch between the quota available for North Sea cod and the increased abundance of the stock over the past year. This means that increasing numbers of large, marketable cod in particular are being dumped into the sea.

Mike Park, executive chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, said the solution should be a new system of regulations, based on a catch-less-land-more approach.

"The fishermen actually take less out of the sea, but they land everything they catch," he said. "It makes huge moral sense and huge environmental sense."

He said there was "huge frustration" among fishermen. "You are going through the process we have done all your life, and you are having to discard most of the big fish that you have always looked at as the cream of the crop."

The Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson described the situation as "scandalous". He said: "We have soaring food prices in the shops in Europe and people really struggling to make ends meet with household budgets.

"There are almost a billion people in the world starving. For us to be dumping a million tonnes of healthy, edible fish into the sea is scandalous. It's the unacceptable face of Brussels' interference."

He said he supported Scottish fishermen in their quest to change European regulations: "The discards debacle is the only way that fishermen can comply with the Common Fisheries Policy, and failure to do so would lead to them being prosecuted if they attempted to land out-of-quota or juvenile, immature fish."

He added that new regulations should enable all fish caught to be landed, with those too small to eat sold to the processing sector for fishmeal and fish oil. He said it would save fishermen time and costly fuel, because they would need to spend less time at sea: "In addition, scientists would get a much clearer picture of the state of fish stocks if all fish caught had to be landed."

The approach would be similar to that already in place in Norway, which does not belong to the European Union and can therefore set its own rules. It would mean an overall limit would be set on the number of fish caught, known as Total Allowable Catch, but quotas for individual fish species would be scrapped, so that every creature caught can be landed.

Mr Stevenson applauded Mike Mahon, a Cornish fishermen who announced a fortnight ago that he was refusing to discard any fish he caught. "He has started a revolution against the ludicrous rules."

He also worries about the environmental damage of dumping so many fish into the sea: "There's a limit to the amount of fish the birds can eat," the MEP said. "The rest rot. Rotten fish cannot be a healthy thing for the marine environment."

Richard Dixon, the director of WWF Scotland, agreed that a new approach of limiting days at sea but enabling fishermen to land all they catch has potential. However, he said the "devil will be in the detail", because it could end up encouraging fishermen to catch the species of fish that are vulnerable.

David Ritter, senior oceans campaigner with Greenpeace, said "one could get lost in superlatives" describing the discards situation. "It's dreadful. It's an appalling waste," he said. "It's something as an organisation we have been appalled about for some time. At a time of rising food prices, it makes it all the more ludicrous. There's simply no way of justifying it."

He called for quotas to be set, based on the scientific guidance, and said 80 per cent of European fishing stocks are now outside sustainable limits: "This is part of a broader dysfunctional system, whereby quotas are consistently given that are beyond the scientific recommendations."

And he thinks the priority must be creating marine reserves.

The Scottish Government yesterday announced it was starting a campaign to lead the way in changing the European regulations.

However, Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman, said the problems cannot be solved by Scotland alone.

"The Scottish Government must work constructively with Westminster and the EU, as well as with the Regional Advisory Councils, to address this complicated issue," he said.

"Inter-governmental action, not unilateral spin, is needed to resolve this problem."

A European Commission insider said the commission was "very open to changing the rules to reduce discards".

He added: "It's not an area where the commission tries to defend the current policy. If there's now a particular drive towards changing the rules, the commission is leading it."

He agreed the idea of changing the "rigid system of quota allocation" needed to be addressed. He added that a good way forward would be to reduce the total fishing activity, in order to diminish the amount of fish that are discarded.

It goes against everything we believe to dump dead fish, says Scottish skipper

DUMPING tonnes of dead fish over the side when they could be heading for the nation's dinner tables is heartbreaking for fishermen, says skipper John Buchan.

Mr Buchan is the seventh generation of fishermen in his family and hopes his grandson will take on the way of life he sees as part of his heritage.

But he says the current rules, which force fishermen to dump thousands of tonnes of dead fish overboard, are like "hell" for people in the industry.

"It goes against everything that's normal for a fishermen to do," he said. "It's a terrible situation and fishermen are pretty blameless. We are being punished for the sake of a policy. The policy of rigid quotas hasn't worked for years."

He described it as a "joke", but added: "It's a very serious joke, that's the problem."

Mr Buchan, 58, has been fishing all his life, sailing out in his 24m trawler, Fairline, into the North Sea from Peterhead.

Once they cast their nets, they are forced to take the gut- wrenching step of throwing much of their catch back into the sea.

"It causes anger, despair and concern," he said.

"To do this, which is completely abhorrent and against what we do, means that we feel a range of emotions but the predominant one is anger."

His grandson is training to become a fisherman and Mr Buchan hopes there will still be a future in it for him.

"It's not just a way of earning your daily bread," he said. "It's your heritage. I feel passionately for the industry."

He said he had heard of fishermen leaving the industry because they no longer think it is viable.

Discarding so much of the catch means fishermen are spending more time at sea, which is adding to the costs they face due to high oil prices.

"Fishermen are more important than fish, and we have to make a living," he said.

He is confident a solution can be found: "This is a problem that is man made and so there should be man made solutions for the problem. If we were experiencing no fish at all in the sea, that's a terminal problem, but we are experiencing large numbers of fish in the sea," he said

Mr Buchan is clear where the blame lies.

"It is fair and square at the foot of Brussels," he said. "We have always maintained the Common Fisheries Policy is severely flawed."


54 per cent

of North Sea cod caught and discarded each year.


tonnes of cod discarded.

36 per cent

of North Sea haddock caught and discarded.


tonnes of haddock discarded.

20 per cent

of North Sea whiting caught and discarded.


tonnes of discarded whiting.

14 per cent

of North Sea herring caught and discarded.


tonnes of discarded herring.

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