21st Jan 2021

Nordic countries irked by continued EU fish dumping

  • In the North Sea, the total annual quantity of discards has been estimated at 800,000–950,000 tonnes (Photo: EU Commission)

Two fishermen on a Shetland-based trawler in the North Sea carry huge, yellow boxes on their boat. The trawler has already been inspected and declared legal in Norwegian waters and it crosses back into UK fishing territory.

The fishermen open the yellow boxes and start to throw tonnes of dead fish into the sea. Within a few minutes, they have dumped 5000kg of cod and other dead white fish - nearly 80 percent of their own catch.

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Last autumn, the Norwegian coast guard documented in a video the dumping of over-quota fish catches, one of the biggest and most controversial challenges of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

While discarding fish has been illegal in Iceland, Norway and the Faeroe Islands since the 1990s, boats in the European Union are obliged to discard their fish if they catch the wrong fish or if the fish do not measure up size.

European Union quotas strictly limit the amount of fish that ships can bring back to port, but there is no restriction on the amount of fish they can catch. Last year, the EU estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of all fish caught by trawlers in the North Sea was discarded.

"The current Common Fisheries Policy has been a dismal failure. Thousands of tonnes of fish are dumped overboard every year due to the lack of discard regulations. We believe that the EU should consider a ban on discards," Halldor Asgrimsson, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, told EUobserver last week.

No agreement

Three days later, on Friday (20 November), fish ministers met in Brussels to try to tighten up the discards regulations by making a political agreement on technical rules on how to catch fish. Minimum net mesh sizes, the obligation to use sorting grinds and the question of closing areas with too young or small fish, were some of the measures up for the discussion.

The meeting ended without agreement.

Seven member states – Spain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Ireland – argued that further analysis was required and asked the Swedish EU Presidency to postpone a decision.

"A big problem in the Common Fisheries Policy is that the member countries are more interested in their own interests than in what is best for the Union. The minority can stop changes, and this leads to little concrete action," Jesper Raakjær, professor and expert on the EU fisheries policy at the Innovative Fisheries Management (IFM) at the University of Aalborg, told ANB.

\"Understands but does not act\"

Paul Oma, counselor for fisheries at the Norwegian mission to the EU, regretted that the meeting saw no result.

"The problem is not indifference or lack of understanding. The problem is just that it goes too slow, and the rejection of the proposal on technical measures on Friday is not what we needed right now. If the Nordic countries could decide, there would propaply have been an agreement," Mr Oma said.

With discussions postponed to early 2010, the question is what role the European Parliament will play. MEPs gain co-decision powers on fishery policy under the Lisbon Treaty, entering into force on 1 December.

Some fear that this change will delay the law and make the process more complicated, while others believe it is an advantage, since the parliament is normally seen as being more transparent and easier to influence.

Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, a member of the fisheries committee, believes that the EU has a lot to learn from Norway in creating a sustainable fish policy.

"I am in favour of a ban, and I think we should aim for anti-discard movements. It is ridiculous that Brussels forces fishermen to dump tonnes of healthy fish back into the sea, and it is a scandal that fishermen who attempt to land these fish rather than discarding them, will face massive fines, a criminal record or even a possible jail sentence," Mr Stevenson said.

Earlier this year two fishermen from Northern Ireland got jailed for four months when they were not able to pay the fine after they fished over their quotas and decided to land them.

Spain, which is the next country to hold the EU pesidency after Sweden, will take over the sensitive issue in January.

"We are of the opinion that we should ban discarding, establish co-ordination and harmonise all the sanctions. Spain is working to get a system more similar to [Norway's]," said Carlos Larranaga, fisheries counsellor at the permanent representation of Spain to the EU.

However, the Norwegian fisheries counsellor is not optimistic.

"Many member states and the European Commission are interested in a system where discards are eliminated, but it seems that there is a lack of ability to act. Unfortunately, I am not certain that the EU will agree on banning all discards, but I hope I'll be proved wrong," Mr Oma said.

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