Fish discard issue 'over-simplified'

image captionThe SFF says a "catch quota" system would only provide part of the solution to the fish discard issue

Scottish fishing industry leaders have warned that recent media coverage highlighting the problem of fish discards could over-simplify the issue.

Trawlermen have to discard fish if they have already met their EU quota.

Recent publicity, including Channel 4's Fish Fight featuring chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has brought the issue to the fore.

However, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation warned proposed solutions were "defective or overly simple".

Chief executive Bertie Armstrong said as a result of TV coverage there "could not be a single person in the UK who did not now know that the rules governing fisheries were the cause of discarding".

He added: "You would, however, be harder pushed to find anyone with practical proposals that will actually work."

Following the recent publicity, Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead called for the discards issue to be an agenda item at the January EU Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.

He said Scotland had been leading the way on campaigning for change and on developing innovative measures to reduce discards, by moving towards a "land-all-you-catch" system.

But Mr Lochhead said the government's hands were tied by an "ineffective and broken CFP" (Common Fisheries Policy) which "failed to recognise the realities of mixed fisheries".

Mixed fisheries

However, Mr Armstrong said the Scottish government's solution did not address the whole issue.

"At the moment all the Scottish government eggs are in the one basket - the use of CCTV to limit fishing," he said.

"This may indeed be part of a future solution, but as many problems are initially created as are solved.

"We are listening with great frustration to the discard problem being described in ever more strident terms, followed only by a single proposal for a defective and overly simple fix.

"The underlying problem is how can the system be changed to manage the complexities of mixed fisheries, so that when the quota for one species is taken up, fishermen can still catch the other species that swims with it so as to enable fishing to continue throughout the year."

'Take note'

The government is pressing the EU to move towards a "catch quota" system and is currently carrying out trials using CCTV to monitor the catch.

The aim is to enforce a quota based on the number of fish caught rather than a "landing quota" (based on the number of fish brought back into harbour) so that the fishermen have no incentive to throw smaller, less valuable fish back in to the sea.

In addition, the Scottish Conservation Credits scheme uses more selective fishing gear to avoid catching undersized and unwanted fish in the first place.

Fishermen taking part are rewarded by being able to spend more days fishing at sea for other species.

However, Mr Armstrong warned there was "no magic wand solution to this complex and many-faceted problem".

He said the federation would produce a fishing manifesto ahead of the Scottish election, and he urged politicians hoping for fisheries votes to "take note".

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