STRASBOURG, France, December 10, 2013 (ENS) – A ban on the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly edible fish is part of an historic deal to reform the Common Fisheries Policy agreed today by the EU Parliament. The new Common Fisheries Policy will become law on January 1, 2014.

The new policy also includes, for the first time, a legally binding commitment to fishing at sustainable levels. Annual quotas will be governed by scientific advice, to achieve healthy fish stocks and a prosperous fishing industry. The promotion of sustainable aquaculture also forms part of the new policy.

discarded fish

Discarded fish are ejected from a fishing boat (Photo by bowsawblogger)

It also provides for decentralized decision making, allowing each of the 28 EU Member States to implement measures appropriate to their own fisheries.

The final deal follows more than three years of difficult negotiations, in which UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice says his government took the lead to secure reform of the policy.

“The long fight to reform the broken Common Fisheries Policy and end the shameful practice of perfectly good fish being thrown dead back into the sea has been won,” said Eustice.

“Today’s vote signifies a new chapter for the CFP that will make fishing more sustainable, will end the centralized one-size-fits-all approach to decision making and will make discards a thing of the past,” Eustice said.

Today’s vote is the result of a lengthy process which started with a public consultation and a reform package proposed in 2011 by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch.

Earlier this year delegations from the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament conducted negotiations which resulted in a political agreement  reached in May. The Council of Ministers unanimously supported the agreement in October before the final vote of support was given by the Parliament in today’s plenary session.

The new Common Fisheries Policy seeks to support coastal communities across Europe by creating the conditions for an economically viable and sustainable EU fishing fleet. It also seeks to ensure sustainable resource management while maximizing catches for fishermen.

In order to support this dual ambition, the wasteful practice of discarding will be stopped gradually with clear obligations and deadlines put in place to allow fishermen to adapt.

Under the new policy, a ban on discarding in deep sea fisheries, such as mackerel and herring, will take effect on January 1, 2015 with a further ban on discards in other fisheries starting from January 1, 2016.

Discarding occurs in EU fisheries sometimes at high levels, such as: 30-60 percent for the finfish fishery off the Iberian Peninsula; 50 percent of the catch in North Sea beam trawl fleets; between 20-98 percent in the North Sea nephrops trawl fleet; and 40 percent of most species through bottom-trawling in Northeast Atlantic fisheries.

A 2005 study found that 1.3 million tonnes of fish are discarded annually in an area that includes much of the EU’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

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Fishing boat off the Isle of Skye, Scotland (Photo by Kaliharry)

Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, welcomed today’s final vote of the European Parliament in support of a new, reformed Common Fisheries Policy for the EU that she initiated in July 2011.

“Today’s vote by the European Parliament means that we now have a policy which will radically change our fisheries and will pave the way for a sustainable future for our fishermen and our resources,” Damanaki said. “We can now return to sustainable fishing in the short term and put an end to wasteful practices. The new CFP is a driver for what is most needed in today’s Europe: a return to growth and jobs for our coastal communities.”

All fishing activities should be banned in areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems, but bottom trawling should not yet be phased out entirely, said Members of the European Parliament in a separate vote today on a draft EU regulation on deep sea fishing in the Northeast Atlantic.

Deep-sea fish are caught in waters beyond the main fishing grounds of the continental shelves. Most of these species are slow-growing and long-living, which makes them vulnerable to fishing. Their habitats and ecosystems are largely unknown and their fragile environment, once damaged, may take centuries to recover.

“We fought for the best possible protection for deep-sea fish and vulnerable marine ecosystems. But the plenary decided to back the compromise reached in the Fisheries Committee. So Parliament gave in to industry demands and voted against an immediate ban on bottom trawling and a switch to more selective fishing gear,” said rapporteur Kriton Arsenis, after the vote of 567 in favor to 91 against, with 32 abstentions.

An amendment calling for a general phase-out of bottom trawling after two years was narrowly rejected by 342 votes to 326, with 19 abstentions.

“Now is the moment of truth for the Council. Is it going to accept the Fisheries Committee compromise, or does it want no protection of deep sea stocks whatsoever?” asked Arsenis. “People want to know. Otherwise they will start asking who is blocking the decisions needed to protect and sustain deep-sea species.”

Still, all deep-sea trawling could be banned after four years. MEPs introduced a review clause requiring the Commission after four years to evaluate the impact of the special fishing gear used for deep-sea fishing – especially bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets – on vulnerable deep-sea species and marine ecosystems.

If this assessment shows that these ecosystems or deep-sea stocks are not well protected, the Commission would then table a proposal for a general ban on the gear concerned.

Owners of boats using deep-sea bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets would be eligible for European Maritime and Fisheries Fund financial assistance to help them change fishing gear, modify boats where necessary, and acquire the necessary know-how and training to use this new gear. But they would only receive this assistance provided that the new fishing gear has a lower and limited impact on the marine environment and vulnerable marine ecosystems.

The next step for this draft regulation is a session in the Council of Ministers where Member States will state their positions. MEPs then will try to negotiate an agreement with them, to be approved by Parliament in a second reading vote next year.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.