Putting The Fishing Industry In Credit

Minister must stand firm on promises to revamp the Common Fisheries Policy, says Marine Conservation Society, before it’s too late

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has today called on the UK Fisheries Minister “put an end to discards” and show substance behind his promises for “radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy”.

Interviewed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on Channel 4’s Hugh’s Fish Fight programme, Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Resources and Fisheries, repeated assertions he made at a recent meeting with MCS.

However, MCS says the Government has not yet outlined the specific measures that will actually deliver on these promises and with time running out before the European Commission finalises a revised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the charity says it’s concerned that this rare opportunity to fix the CFP may be slipping.

“In the light of the recent TV coverage, we have written to Mr Benyon, asking him to set out Government plans for the CFP overhaul that will be essential if UK fish stocks and our fishing industry are to recover and survive beyond the next 50 years. Research by ourselves and the University of York, published in the journal ‘Nature’ last year, indicated that UK landings have effectively fallen by 94% over the last 118 years and the EU Commission itself acknowledges that 80% of EU fish stocks are overfished!” says MCS Director, Sam Fanshawe.

Marine Conservation SocietyMCS, and leading environmental law organisation ClientEarth, have proposed a possible solution to the appalling wastage caused by fish discards and bycatch so graphically shown in ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’ – the ‘Fishing Credits System’. The system is a mixed catch quota programme. All species (including those caught accidentally) are given a number of points or ‘credits’ – fish which are plentiful are given a low points value, whereas fish whose stocks are at low levels and biologically vulnerable to over-exploitation (like deep sea fish) are given a high points value. Each fisher is given a credits allowance, which they can use any way they like. However, fishers can get more fish for their credits allowance if they target the ones with the lower credits value. This is the real strength of the MCS/ClientEarth idea – it encourages fishers to target more sustainable fish.

“The Fishing Credits system could have a number of benefits as fishers would be able to land all fish caught and encouraged to actively avoid catching unwanted species to maximise their credits allowance. It would also ensure sustainable fishing techniques were used and look at the whole ecosystem when managing fisheries,” said Sam Fanshawe.

Sandy Luk, Marine protection lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Discards have long been hated by fishermen and environmentalists, but thanks to the Fish Fight programmes, everyone is beginning to hear about what’s going on just a stone’s throw from our shores. When we devised the Fishing Credits System with MCS, we knew we had to come up with an alternative that would suit fishers as well as the biodiversity of our seas. The FCS not only gets rid of discards, but also allows fishers to keep what they catch and rewards them for good practice.”

MCS and ClientEarth have submitted the Fishing Credits System to the European Commission and the UK Government for consideration.

MCS says the practice of discarding is indefensible, catching fish only to throw them back dead into the sea is an irresponsible waste of natural resources. “We are delighted that Mr Benyon voiced his commitment to putting a stop to discards, but he must set out concrete ideas and proposals soon, so that the fishing industry, conservationists and scientists can input and ensure that any new measures actually do result in a net gain for the seas and the fishing industry,” says Sam Fanshawe.

MCS says discards are not the only problem with the CFP – the whole management system has brought most fish stocks down to levels considered unacceptable to fisheries scientists. In the seas around the UK a number of once plentiful food species are still below ‘safe biological limits’.

If we are to continue eating and enjoying fish caught in UK waters, we need to ensure that the ten year revamp of the CFP currently taking place is not a lost opportunity, and that all of the best management options are discussed as widely as possible.