Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Sunday, 1 November 2009

Call to change fish discard rules

Discarded fish
CCTV is being used in a bid to reduce discards

Changing the law which forces fishermen to dump dead fish back into the sea could save the industry £60m a year, the environment secretary has said.

Richard Lochhead said immediate action was needed from the European Commission to end the "unacceptable" practice.

He is calling for a change in the rules on discarded fish now, rather than wait until the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013.

Current rules limit the amount of fish landed, but not the amount caught.

As a result, a huge number of fish are being wasted because they are too big, or too small or the skipper is over quota for that particular species.

'Rules cannot cope'

Mr Lochhead said that by 2013 the economy will have lost out on £180m worth of fish due to the "crazy" restrictions which see trawlermen throwing away much of their catch.

Speaking ahead of an international conference in Edinburgh this week, he said: "In return for taking less fish from the sea in the first place, our fishermen should be allowed to land more of what they do catch rather than be forced to dump it over the side of the boat.

"For reducing overall fishing effort, we can reward our fishermen by allowing them to land and sell much of which is currently thrown overboard.

"The difficulties we face are down to the system we have to work within under the broken CFP.

Richard Lochhead
Richard Lochhead was speaking ahead of an Edinburgh conference

"Reform is due in 2013 but that will be too late for many of our fishermen and we must press the Commission to help us make discards history now."

Whitefish worth £60m was discarded in the North Sea in 2007, according to government figures.

Fishermen have since developed techniques to reduce catching fish outwith their quota but wastage remains high.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said there was no easy solution but credit should be given to progress made within the industry.

'Damaging sustainability'

He said: "Discarding is the most visible symptom of a set of rules that cannot cope with mixed fisheries such as those found in the North Sea.

"It is the rules that are the disease because quotas set for single species such as cod and whiting do not match what ends up in the nets.

"The industry has been making changes and sacrifices to be as selective as possible by working with government on selective gear and on closed areas."

Environmental group WWF Scotland said discards would be reduced if fishermen were given the incentive to land more of what they catch through increased catch quotas, as opposed to landings quotas, in return for documenting their catches more thoroughly.

And Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "We are disappointed that decisive action to stop discards has not been forthcoming.

"The problem continues across the EU, damaging ecological and economic sustainability."

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