European parliament votes for sustainable fishing

Proposed fishing policy protecting endangered stocks and banning discards and has been given the majority vote by MEPs

Fishermen face a ban on throwing away dead fish caught at sea under a package of sweeping reforms to Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Discards of fish caught by vessels that have used up their quota – or do not have a quota for that species – are thought to account for more than a quarter of total catches at present.

But a raft of new measures to protect endangered stocks, which would see an end to the practice, have now earned backing from members of the European parliament (MEPs) and EU ministers.

MEPs approved the reforms by 502 votes to 137 in early February 2013. Three weeks later, EU fisheries ministers reached further agreement on how the measures should be implemented following a day and night of negotiations in Brussels.

They agreed to stop discards of pelagic stocks, such as herring, mackerel and whiting, from January 2014 and of white fish stocks from January 2016.

Richard Benyon, UK fisheries minister, said the “scandal” of discards had gone on too long.

The Fish Fight campaign run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the television chef, secured more than 850,000 names on a petition opposing discards.

“I hope in years to come this will be seen as a historic turning point in Europe’s fisheries management” – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

“I hope in years to come this will be seen as a historic turning point in Europe’s fisheries management,” he wrote on his blog.

Further discussions must still take place between ministers, the European parliament and the European commission. Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries chief, hopes to have an “overall agreement” by June 2013, ready for ratification by all 27 EU governments.

The measures faced strong opposition from the industrial fishing lobby and incentives could be offered to ensure co-operation. Spain, France and Portugal managed to keep some exemptions for crews operating far offshore in mixed fisheries, which will still be allowed to discard 9% of fish, shrinking to 7%.

The CFP was launched in 1983 with the aim of improving management of stocks. But Total Allowable Catch quotas led to fishermen dumping hundreds of thousands of tons of dead fish overboard annually because it would have been illegal to land them. The system has also faced criticism for setting quotas too high.

Under the new rules, a principle of maximum sustainable yield would apply to ensure harvests do not exceed the numbers that scientific evidence shows a stock can reproduce. Vessels convicted of illegal fishing could lose subsidies and some spawning areas could be closed to fishing.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the UK’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), praised “a step towards a more rational and effective fisheries policy.”