Tough Quotas for Scotland’s Fisheries
Back in November, it was revealed by Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary, that a shocking one-third of fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead, a practice known as discarding. This is because of an EU fishery policy that limits what fishing boats are allowed to land as opposed to limiting what they are allowed to take out of the sea.
“The culture of discards imposed by Europe’s flawed fisheries policy forces fishermen to dump good quality fish back overboard, dead into the sea,” Lochhead said. “This is a waste of a valuable food and economic resource. Nobody gains from discards, it is an abhorrent practice that can’t be tolerated.”
The amount waste caused by discards is boggling.
“In 2009, almost 28,000 tonnes, and a third of the value of the Scottish cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, plaice and hake catch was thrown back dead into the sea last year,” Lochhead said.
These massive discards mean that £33 million worth of fish was wasted economically and environmentally in one year alone. “Throwing dead fish back into the sea will do nothing for cod recovery or deliver the main aim of harvesting fish stocks sustainably,” Lochhead said.
With these distressing facts as a backdrop, an EU Fish Council meeting in Brussels last week to set the final fishing opportunities for 2011 brought in some big changes.
A number of Scotland’s 2011 priorities were already agreed with Norway earlier this month, including a substantial expansion of the catch quota scheme, which will end North Sea cod discards for participating vessels. EU-Norway also came to a new mackerel agreement, following Iceland and the Faroes walking away from talks.
Unfortunately for Scotland’s marine life and fishery sustainability, not all of the changes being sought by Scottish representatives were achieved. However, by calling for quotas to be set in line with the most up-to-date science available and pushing for measures to reduce discards, the Scottish Government has improved the outlook for the sustainability of stocks and viability of the industry.
Key outcomes for Scotland’s priorities from this Council include:
- A substantial increase in the highly value megrim quota – up 10 per cent for West Coast and 5 per cent in the North Sea
- Monkfish flexibility maintained, with a smaller than expected 2 per cent cut in quota for the West Coast
- Nephrops landings from the North Sea will be able to match 2010 levels
- A range of expected reductions, such as West Coast haddock quota, following management plans
Lochhead said, “These tough and exhausting talks have delivered positives for Scotland in some areas and disappointments in others. The future remains challenging for many Scottish fishermen, nevertheless I believe that we have done everything we can to secure a fair deal for Scotland.”
He continued, “It’s frustrating that our West Coast proposals were not taken fully on board at this Council. Our sensible plans for West Coast cod and whiting would have seen a zero Total Allowable Catch, helping these stocks recover, with some provision for unintended by-catch to be landed. Instead, impossibly low quotas will effectively lead to discards, as fishermen are forced to throw dead fish back in to the sea.
“No one is satisfied with a system that micro-manages every fishery decision from the Black Sea to the North Sea, from Burgas to Banff, with 27 Member States fighting it out,” Lochhead said. “It is a torturous process and with a broken and ineffective Common Fisheries Policy, the need for huge changes in EU fisheries management is abundantly clear.”
Dr Mireille Thom, Marine Policy Officer at People’s Postcode Lottery charity partner WWF Scotland, said:
“The result is mixed, however much of the EU approach vindicates the work of the Scottish Government towards long term management plans, the necessity of making decisions which reflect scientific advice and the need to reduce discards. A Commission’s declaration on ensuring a comprehensive review of the cod recovery plan next year is most welcome as the present plan is not delivering the expected results. WWF also welcomes the Commission’s encouragement to Member States to go for measures towards the elimination of discards.
“Cod avoidance measures taken in Scotland in recent years will now be reinforced by the extension of the catch quota trials which limit what fishermen can catch, rather than what they land. It will also substantially reducing the overall amount of discards. The Scottish Government’s efforts at extending catch quotas must continue so as to end the waste of perfectly good fish. “