EU: Fisheries policy deal ‘brings fishermen benefits’

Britain's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson, right, talks wit

Britain's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson, right, talks with Portugal's counterpart Assuncao Cristas at the start of an EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council at the EU Council in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, May 13, 2013. Ministers discussed the reform of the common agriculture and fisheries policy. - Credit: AP

A compromise deal to shake up Europe’s controversial fisheries policy was hailed today as bringing real benefits for British fishermen - if it wins approval from MEPs.

Marathon talks which started on Monday between EU fisheries ministers ended at dawn today with agreement on plans to correct decades of failed attempts to restore dwindling fish stocks.

But the proposals do not include the proposed blanket ban on “discards” - the dumping of some fish back in the sea, dead, to avoid breaching restrictions on the size of landed catches.

Instead the deal bans from 2015 only the dumping of pelagic fish - those living near the surface.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said it had been a difficult negotiation and “not as ambitious as I would have liked”, but he urged the European Parliament to approve it.

“The next step is for the European Parliament to agree these reforms which are set to bring about real benefits for our fishermen and the marine environment for years to come.

“We have worked hard on these negotiations, and I hope that Parliament supports our agreement and brings negotiations to a swift conclusion.

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“The wait is nearly over.”

The problem of “discards” is a consequence of current Common Fisheries Policy rules on permitted catch quotas.

The issue galvanised wide UK support when Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched a Discards Campaign which has so far attracted nearly 860,000 signatures on a petition condemning the throwing away of perfectly edible fish to avoid breaching limits.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki - who once admitted the CFP was “broken” - says the discards system means almost one quarter of all fish caught in European waters are currently being dumped at sea.

Today’s deal delays the start of the discards ban, as well as limiting it, but before the talks Ms Damanaki urged ministers and MEPs to compromise for the sake of a deal that would put drastically depleted fish stocks “on the road to recovery”.

But campaigners expressed concern that the deal delays a ban on discarding surplus deep-sea fish catches until the start of 2016.

Greenpeace EU Fisheries Policy Director Saskia Richartz said: “There is still a significant gap between the reluctant stance of some countries and the progressive position of the European Parliament.

“The Parliament will need to decide whether to continue negotiations on the basis of this take-it-or-leave it proposal from the Council (of fisheries ministers).

“The Parliament must continue to represent the political and public support behind the recovery of our oceans for Europe to be able to safeguard its marine environment and keep its sustainable fishing sector alive.”

Conservation campaign group Oceana said the deal fell short of the necessary radical CFP reform, with exemptions to the discard ban even after 2016.

“We acknowledge the progress that has been made in the Council position, but the public should be made aware of what this outcome would represent. With half of EU fish stocks overexploited, ministers have delivered a compromise that does not match the ambition of the Parliament and is not enough to restore stocks,” stated Xavier Pastor, Oceana’s executive director.

An Oceana statement explained: “Oceana is pleased that the Council finally agreed that rebuilding fish stocks should be the ultimate objective of that policy, but remains concerned that ministers are not yet willing to commit to a timeline. While they decreased the percentage of exemptions to the discard ban from seven to 5%, it still means that substantial amounts of fish will be thrown back at sea and that the wasteful practice of discarding will continue.”

But Mr Benyon insisted: “I came here to secure an agreement that would be good for the UK and to head off those who sought to water down the changes we desperately need to mend this broken policy. I am delighted that we have been able to do that today.

“This was a difficult negotiation, and although it is not as ambitious as I would have liked, we have stuck to our key principles.

“This package of reforms fulfils our promise to make discards a thing of the past and ensure sustainable fishing for future generations.”