What is discarding?
When fishermen haul up their nets, alongside the intended catch, they also inevitably amass “by-catches”, fish that are outside of the quotas. It is currently illegal to bring by-catches back to ports; therefore fishermen throw them back into the sea despite the fact that they are either already dead or dying. This is discarding.
The historical reasons behind discarding were essentially to help ensure that fishing quotas are enforced. So the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has sometimes given incentives for discarding. But whatever the original rationale behind discards, it has created a paradoxical situation – and it only causes more damage.
Figures for European fisheries are alarming: for instance, in the whitefish fishery up to half of the catch is thrown overboard and in the flatfish fishery we are even talking about 70 % of the catches being discarded. Since our stocks are declining, these figures are not justifiable any more.
I have made it abundantly clear that we need to bring an end to the disgraceful practice of discarding. In the context of the ongoing Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy this will be a priority issue. There is already broad support among the general public in favor of a discards ban.
There is a clear need to have a political discussion with key policy-makers across the European Union on this issue. On the 1st of March I invited EU Fisheries ministers, Members of the European Parliament, and the Court of Auditors for a High Level Meeting on discards. It was a very good meeting, and all participants were fully engaged in this policy debate.
This is not an easy task. A ban cannot be introduced overnight, and the difficulties are well known: the issue is technically complex, the specificities of each sea basin and fishery must be taken into account, and the effective application of the ban must be ensured.
Several options are on the table and we need to speak to those who will have to make the change happen, to choose together the best solutions: to scientists, to get advice on the timeline we have to stick to and the species that need to be covered; to the industry, to find appropriate accompanying marketing measures and incentives for compliance; to the organizations that work to ensure that our environment is protected; and of course to fishermen, who will need to develop innovative approaches to gear selectivity to reduce by-catches.
There is an emerging consensus for targeting a ban. I will continue this dialogue. On the 3rd of May I will meet the stakeholders and I look forward to discussing their approaches. There is no time to waste.