Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Thursday, 12 May 2011 18:47 UK

Fish discards debate

The government needs to reassert control over its waters to protect the UK fishing industry from European trawlers, a Tory MP has argued.

Zac Goldsmith, who represents Richmond Park, said the current EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was "staggeringly unfair" and meant that up to half of the fish caught by British boats had to be thrown back into the sea to adhere to strict EU catch quotas.

Opening his backbench debate in the Commons on 12 May 2011, Mr Goldsmith urged the government to "act now" to end the "scandal" of fish discards, as the CFP was soon to be renegotiated, and called on ministers to protect Britain's small fishing vessels from the "onslaught" of industrial foreign trawlers.

He said: "If rights for foreign vessels are to be retained, they should come with an absolute, non-negotiable obligation to adhere to our own rules.

"If we reassert control of our these waters, we will not only be providing welcome relief for our smaller boats against the onslaught of the factory fishing vessels, we will be able to establish an intelligent, eco-based, management system and ensure the health of our fish indefinitely."

Lib Dem Alan Reid said the practice of discarding fish was a "needless waste of economic and food resources" as well a moral and environmental issue.

The SNP's Eilidh Whiteford blamed the "systemic failure" of the CFP for the problem, while Tory Oliver Colvile remarked that one of the "very biggest mistakes" Britain made was signing up to the fisheries policy.

Tory Sheryll Murray called for scientists, environmentalists and fishermen to work together on reforms but stressed that "fishermen must be confident they are equal partners" in the discussions.

She told MPs: "It angers me when I hear scientists dismiss the fishermen's assessment of the stocks out of hand."

For Labour, shadow environment minister Willie Bain said there was a "strong consensus" that it was time for EU fisheries ministers to "turn fine declarations of intent into a clear programme for change".

Winding up the debate, Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon welcomed the motion, but said it did not fully reflect the scope of the government's ambitions for CFP reform.

He said: "We have an intensive diplomatic effort ahead to negotiate the reform we need and we must get the detailed measures right, including on discards, by working with our fishing industry and developing effective measures."

MPs approved Mr Goldsmith's motion, which called on the government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, without a vote.

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