Ben Webster’s article in the Times today accuses me of ‘misleading’ the public about discards. Unfortunately he used barely any of the information or quotes I gave him yesterday. I want to set the record straight here, and I’m due to be on Newsnight tonight (Weds 14th May) to debate this further, so please tune in if you can.....
• The article says that fishermen will be forced to land ‘all the fish they catch.’
o This is not true. The ban only covers species of fish that are covered by catch limits: the commercially important species. So a species like the lesser dogfish which has no catch limits, and is one of the most discarded fish, will be exempt from the discard ban.
• Barrie Deas of the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations claims that the Fish Fight campaign supported a ‘simplistic, blunt ban’ on discards
o We have always maintained that fish which are proven to survive when thrown back into the sea should be exempt from the ban, and indeed the ban has been designed in a way that does allow these exemptions. We totally accept that the key to success is in careful, phased-in implementation that gives fishermen flexibility to adjust to the new rules. We fully support flexible quotas and quota exchange systems to help relieve the ‘quota chokes’ he mentions in the article.
• Mr Deas also says we have not given fishermen credit for their efforts to reduce discards so far.
o This is not true. One of the main features of the last episode was my fishing trip with the Budding Rose, one of around 30 boats fishing under the Catch Quota system that have virtually eliminated discards of cod. It is perhaps the best example of how fisherman in the North Sea are adapting their methods to reduce discards, and we specifically suggested that this approach could be crucial in restoring cod stocks to sustainable levels. A lot of public money is being made available to help fishermen adapt to this new challenge.
For the record: we only support a ban on discards if it is implemented in such a way that it brings the total number fish killed down to sustainable levels and helps to achieve stock recovery: this will of course be to the long term benefit of all fishermen. We believe this can only be achieved if fishermen use more selective gear that more effectively targets their quota species, and if quota rules are fit for purpose and set at sustainable levels.