MEPs urge end to 'moral disgrace' of fish discards

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MEPs have backed plans by the Commission to end the practice of fish discards, during a debate on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Speaking on behalf of the Environment Committee on 5 February 2013, British Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies described the practice whereby unwanted but edible fish is thrown back into the sea dead as a "moral disgrace".

Fish discards are believed to make up a quarter of all EU catches and MEPs want to ensure that fishing vessels land all catches.

Since the passing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, MEPs now have full co-legislative powers alongside national governments over fisheries policy.

The reforms have been subject to intense negotiation between the parliament and the Council of Ministers over measures to protect endangered stocks.

The European Commission estimates that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished.

Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki urged an end to the "deadlock" between the parliament and the Council over the long term management of fish stocks.

MEPs want tough new rules to limit catch allowances to ensure sustainability but an amendment by the Council to only do this "wherever possible" was described by Swedish Green MEP Isabella Lövin as "shocking".

"Member states have not thought it possible to set quotas at sustainable levels for the past 30 years, so why should they think it's possible now?" she questioned.

Over time Europe's fishing fleets have grown too large for the dwindling fish stocks, but fisheries ministers are often reluctant to see their quota system - known as the total allowable catch (TAC) - reduced.

However Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, speaking on behalf of the Council, said he was hopeful a compromise could be reached.

He urged MEPs to continue to seek agreement between all institutions, warning "if we do not grasp the momentum now, we may not see CFP reform in this or the next parliament".

The parliament's lead negotiator on the key aspects of CFP reform, German social democrat MEP Ulrike Rodust, admitted the tough line of the Commission and the parliament on fish stocks "demands a lot of our fishermen" but said there would be 50,000 tonnes of additional fish stocks after 2020 if stocks were better managed for the rest of this decade.

The idea of agreed quotas was to make Europe's fishing stable and sustainable and prevent conflicts arising where foreign trawlers fish in a country's waters.

The new CFP is due to come into effect from 2014 and the approval of the compromise agreement by 502 votes to 137 at the daily voting session on 6 February will mark the start of final negotiations with EU fisheries ministers.

Useful links.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

The European Parliament's disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

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