By Lewis Smith | June 13 2012
A ban on discarding fish at sea has been agreed by European ministers but it will take several years to put it in place.
The deal struck in Luxembourg represents a major victory for anti-discard campaigners, including chefs who signed up to Fish2fork’s demands for reform and Hugh Feanley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight.
But the agreement reached by European fisheries ministers could yet be watered down or rejected as it still has to go before the European Parliament for approval.
There is also concern that the dates for introducing the discard ban for different species are still up for negotiation. It was provisionally agreed that discards of pelagic species such as mackerel and herring will be banned from January 1, 2014 but for others, such as cod, the ban will not be fully in place until the start of 2018.
Another main element of the Common Fisheries Policy reform agreed by ministers was the reduction of Brussel’s power to micromanage fisheries by devolving more responsibility to regions.
Significantly, it was also agreed that member states should be legally obliged to listen to the scientific advice when setting quotas. In particular, by 2020 they will have to be fished sustainably, judged on a measurement of the maximum sustainable yield based on levels of fish mortality.
The agreement, if it gets through the European Parliament unscathed and is passed into law, satisfies three main points of Fish2fork’s campaign in which more than 80 of Europe’s leading sustainable chef have signed a demand for reform of the CFP. More than 80 chefs have signed it, including Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver, Tim Hughes, Mitch Tonks, Andrew Fairley, Jim Cowie, Philip Howard, David Moore and Mike Lewis.
Charles Clover, co-founder of the campaign website Fish2fork, said: "This is a good result. It's a battle on the way to being won and it couldn't have been achieved without the enormous public pressure put on policy-makers through groups such as Fish2fork and Fish Fight.
"However, it's not over yet and we must keep on fighting for nearer dates for doing these things so we get real and lasting reform that forces Europe to fish its seas sustainably instead of emptying them."
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, whose Fish Fight campaign against discards has been signed by more than 800,000 people, was delighted with the agreement which he described as a “massive result”.
Paying tribute to Fish Fight supporters who have challenged ministers on social media such as Twitter, he said: “It’s a genuine break-through and we are very pleased. I’m extremely confident the voice of 800,000-plus Fish Fighters have played a role. They’ve done brilliantly.”
He said that the terms of the deal have left ministers “some wriggle room” on their commitments but he is hopeful that MEPs will pass the reforms.
Sandy Luk, of campaign group ClientEarth, said the deal couldn’t have been won without the huge public support for reform. She said: "The ministers’ commitment to a discard ban is a serious victory for everyone involved in the Fish Fight campaign. So too is a binding commitment to sustainable levels of fishing within a definite time period. However, the fight is not over yet."
An estimated 1.3 million tonnes of fish from the North East Atlantic are discarded every year, with up to 900,000 tonnes in the North Sea alone, including many cod.
The UK government, which sent ministers Richard Benyon, Jim Paice and Scottish environment secretary Richard Lochhead to take part in the negotiations, was pleased with the deal that was stuck after 20 hours of talks in Luxembourg, though there was concern about the timetable for ending discards.
Mr Benyon said: “I came to Luxembourg to achieve fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, to achieve healthy fish stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and a healthy marine environment – there is still a lot more work that needs to be done but I believe the agreement we have reached is an important step on the way to achieving that.”
Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP and secretary of the European Parliament’s cross-party 'Fish for the Future' group was, however, less upbeat. He said the deal represented only “progress only of the most limited kind” and warned that member nations will attempt to water down the deal over the coming months. He was especially concerned at the discard timetable and described the attempts of some delegates to delay the ban until at least 2020 as “madness”.
Mr Davies added: “Although Europe has too many boats chasing too few fish nothing has been determined about the need to reduce overcapacity.”
Maria Damanaki, Europe’s fisheries Commissioner who has championed reform, said: “The Council has moved a real step forward by endorsing Maximum Sustainable Yield and has subscribed to a real discard ban with clear end dates.”