Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 18:13 UK

Scots anger over discarded fish

By Jeremy Cooke
BBC News

Advertisement

The Norwegian Coastguard filmed fish being dumped in the North Sea by Scottish trawlers

Spend any time out in the heaving grey waters of the North Sea and you're likely to develop a deep sense of respect for the trawlermen who brave the elements every day to put fish on our plates.

But around 1m tonnes of fish are dumped back in the North Sea every year - much of it because catches exceed EU fishing quotas.

We had the opportunity to join a Norwegian coastguard ship vessel patrolling the fishing grounds.

It was rough and uncomfortable, but from the bridge we could see much smaller Scottish fishing boats being lashed by the waves as they dragged their nets.

It is certainly a hard life, but one that is made much harder by the fact that EU rules and regulations mean that as much as half of the fish they work so hard to catch is thrown dead, back into the water.

For the Norwegians, who recently filmed a Shetlands-based trawler, dumping some five tonnes of dead fish overboard, it is inexplicable. Norway - which is not part of the EU - has a strict "no discards" policy for its fishing fleet.

But UK and other EU vessels are subject to complex rules.

I am appalled and frustrated at the scandalous level of waste and the economic and environmental madness discards represent
Richard Lochead,
Scotland Fisheries Minister

"Quotas" limit not the amount of fish that's being caught, but the amount that is landed.

As a result, an astonishing amount of fish is being wasted because it is too big, or too small or the skipper is over quota for that particular species.

At Peterhead fishmarket, it's clear that fish is a valuable commodity.

In the early morning chill, hundreds of boxes of cod, hake, haddock and other white fish are bringing good prices.

But the fact is that for every box of, say, cod at the market, another box has been dumped, dead, back into the sea.

The Scottish Government estimates that one million tonnes of fish is being wasted in this way in the North Sea every year.

'Golden opportunity'

And now a united front of Scottish fishermen, policy-makers and environmentalists are demanding an end to discards.

An industry "summit" in Edinburgh heard Scotland's Fisheries Minister Richard Lochead tell an audience including trawler skippers and environmental groups that the dumping of perfectly good fish was "madness".

He said: "I am appalled and frustrated at the scandalous level of waste and the economic and environmental madness discards represent. In what other industry would it be acceptable to throw away so much of what is produced?"

Trawler skipper John Buchan told colleagues: "This is a golden opportunity to resolve this problem once and for all... It is very frustrating for skipper and their crews to have to discard beautiful, high-quality fish."

Fish at market
Not all the fish caught by trawlermen are sold at market

Of course the quota system was introduced by the EU to protect threatened fish stocks. But what no-one predicted was that it would result in so much waste of such a valuable resource.

And now environmental groups including the WWF and the RSPB agree that discards are unacceptable and are supporting moves by the Scottish fishing industry to make changes.

The Scots will now hope that their complicated "cocktail" of measures, which include using more sophisticated nets and closing some areas of the sea to fishing boats, will meant that less fish is caught - but more fish is landed.

And that means a reduction in the amount being dumped.

The proposals will be put to the European Union later this year.


SEE ALSO
Fish 'worth 40m' dumped annually
25 Sep 08 |  North East/N Isles
EU to overhaul fisheries policy
17 Sep 08 |  Europe
Ownership key to saving fisheries
19 Sep 08 |  Science & Environment
Fishing funding package announced
08 Aug 08 |  North East/N Isles
Report rules out fishing fuel aid
22 Jul 08 |  North East/N Isles
Fishing fuel meeting 'positive'
31 May 08 |  North East/N Isles
Cod stock protection deal agreed
04 Feb 08 |  Scotland
Cod spawn ground closure revealed
16 Jan 08 |  North East/N Isles
'Fair' deal at fisheries summit
19 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Fishing quotas: The options
20 Nov 07 |  Science & Environment

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific