Positive outcome, but fears persist over discard ban

A boat at Peterhead Harbour
A boat at Peterhead Harbour

Despite a positive outcome to last week’s Fisheries Council talks in Brussels, huge fears remain over the potential impact of the discard ban.

A freeze on proposed cuts to days fishermen can go to sea and gains in key quotas were two of the main wins for Scotland as a package for the next 12 months was agreed by EU Fishing Ministers.

The deal agreed was hailed as positive for Scotland with significant increases agreed for North Sea monkfish (20%) and prawns (15%), West Coast haddock (14%) and monkfish (20%) and Rockall haddock (113%).

However, while welcoming the increases, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, warned of difficulties ahead as the discard ban comes into effect in January.

He said: “With the majority of stocks of interest to Scottish fishermen either in good health or moving in the right direction, the quotas agreed last week deliver an element of short-term stability for much of the Scottish fleet.

“It is particularly pleasing that for 2015 there will be more catching opportunity for haddock, monkfish, North Sea prawns and North Sea cod. This is helpful for the Scottish fleet and our thanks go to Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead and his negotiating team.

“However, the biggest challenge now facing the industry will be the implementation of the discard ban, or landing obligation as it is known. It will come into operation for mackerel and herring fishers on January 1, 2015, with the demersal fleet following the year after. The scheme means that fishermen will have to land all the fish they catch, which will be counted against their quota.”

Mr Armstrong continued: “Fishermen hate having to discard and throw perfectly good fish over the side, but we have real fears that the landing 
obligation will be implemented in a way that will lead to unnecessary damage to the industry.

“Unbelievably, the present regulations which force fishermen to discard fish – such as the ‘minimum landing size’ rules - remain in force and there is no legal certainty over whether these regulations or the new ones will prevail.

“This is well-recognised by the UK and Scottish Governments, who will issue guidance, but the fact remains that the introduction of a revolution in fisheries management has no proper legal foundation. This inevitably makes the industry deeply nervous.

“It is essential that this is corrected over the coming months – and certainly before the introduction in 2016 of the discard ban for complex mixed fisheries. The industry and Scottish Government have agreed that this is a top priority for 2015,” he added.

Following the talks, Scotland’s Fishing Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Securing a freeze on proposed cuts to days at sea as well as increases in key stocks is welcome news and will help our fishermen with the implementation of the challenging but transformational discard ban which is being phased in from January 2015 onwards.

“These valuable and timely increases, alongside the increases already secured in past weeks, and the rollover secured on a number of other key species are in line with scientific advice and show that stocks are recovering and the fleet’s conservation efforts over the past decade are paying dividends.

“We have secured increases in eight of our ten most valuable stocks across the North Sea and west of Scotland. That is good news for the fishing fleet and gives much needed economic stability not just to them, but to our onshore sector and the coastal communities who depend on the jobs the sector provides.

“Over the past few weeks and months I have been making a plea for Europe to give greater urgency to preparing for the implementation of the landing obligation (discard ban) and stressing how we must look at developing 21st century tools, and modern management plans, to provide a workable solution to ensure successful implementation of the ban.

“I am pleased that the need for flexibilities to help prepare for the discard bans in Scotland’s complex fisheries are beginning to be acknowledged. And I look forward to continuing discussions on wider management options as we move this year toward the next phase of the ban.

“I also made it clear that any inter-institutional wrangling over rules designed to help the implementation of the discard ban cannot be allowed to hamper smooth implementation or used in an attempt to de-rail the process.”