Ministers agree 'new dawn' on EU fisheries
By Benjamin Fox
The EU's controversial practice on discarding fish will come to an end in 2017 under a deal brokered by the Irish presidency.
After talks that lasted into the small hours of Tuesday morning (27 February), EU fisheries ministers agreed a compromise to phase out the practice between 2014 and January 2017.
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A ban on dumping pelagic fish, which includes hake and mackerel, will start between 2014 and 2015.
Meanwhile, discarding the main demersal stocks, including hake and whiting, in the North Sea and the North and South Western waters would be outlawed from January 2016.
Finally, the discard ban will apply to fisheries in the Mediterranean and all other EU waters from January 2017.
The practice of discarding unwanted fish so that they cannot be counted against quotas was introduced as part of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 1983, ostensibly to protect fish stocks. But critics say the practice is unethical and a waste of effort.
Ireland's fisheries minister, Simon Coveney, described the deal as "a historic milestone in European Fisheries Policy" and as the "dawn of a new age for EU fisheries."
He also praised ministers for "their co-operation, help and stamina in agreeing this very ambitious programme for change."
Currently, 23 percent of caught fish are thrown back into the sea because they exceed quotas. Discards are often either dead or dying when they are thrown back.
Ministers had agreed the principles of a discard ban in June 2012 but haggled over the way the ban would be implemented to protect their national fisheries industries.
An EU official involved in the talks told this website that northern member states were keen to move faster on a discard ban.
"There's not a north south divide but geography is relevant", he said, adding that the presidency was keen to avoid "a Christmas tree of exemptions."
Coveney conceded that the issue was "always going to be contentious and resolving it difficult, not that there was any disagreement on the overall objective, but because there were divergent views on the associated management tools needed to make a discard ban a reality in practice.”
The deal swiftly drew criticism from Green MEPs. Isabella Lovin, the group's spokesperson on fisheries, described the agreement as "depressingly unambitious" accusing ministers of "bowing to pressure from countries like France and Spain."
"With many fish stocks teetering on the brink, we cannot afford a fudged or delayed reform," she added.
Meanwhile, lawmakers want a newly-created European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to help fishermen adjust to the new regime.
The EMFF, which is expected to have a €6.7 billion budget as part of the 2014-2020 EU budget framework, is to be used to pay for nets and equipment for small-scale coastal fleets.
The discards ban is the centrepiece of an overhaul of the CFP in a bid to safeguard the future of the industry.
Figures presented by the European Commission say that 80 percent of Mediterranean fish stocks and 47 percent of Atlantic ones are over-fished and becoming dangerously depleted.
The Irish presidency still has to broker a deal between ministers and the European Parliament.
Talks with MEPs, who have also backed a discards ban, are set to start within weeks, as the Irish government bids to finalise a deal before the end of its six-month presidency in June.