Dumping of unwanted fish to end
EU ministers back fish discards ban
European Union fisheries ministers have agreed to phase out the controversial practice of dumping unwanted fish. Almost a quarter of all catches go back overboard dead because they are not the fish the crews intended to catch.
Ministers said a ban on "discards" should be phased in, starting in January 2014 for stocks like mackerel, herring and whiting, and for white fish stocks from January 2016.
The decision reached early on Wednesday morning was driven by northern European nations, including the UK.
It is a partial victory for campaigners - almost a million people on the online campaign site Avaaz demanded an end to discards. The issue galvanised wide UK support when celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched a "Discards Campaign" which attracted more than 850,000 signatures on a petition condemning the throwing away of perfectly edible fish to avoid breaching limits.
But activists fear that exemptions for certain countries could open loopholes to be exploited in future talks.
Spain, France and Portugal managed to cling on to some restricted exemptions, particularly relating to crews operating far from land in mixed fisheries where the cost of landing unwanted fish is deemed to be prohibitive.
These crews will be allowed to discard 9%, shrinking to 7%. This figure is too high for the northern nations and the European Commission, which say the public expects that in a hungry world no fish should be thrown away.
Doubt remains whether the exemptions will be accepted by the European parliament which wants to see an almost outright ending to the practice.
Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: "The exemption of certain fish species called for by Spain, Portugal and France was avoided, but ministers are backing a partial ban at best. It's not a ban if you allow thousands of tonnes of fish to continue to be wasted for years to come. This half-hearted approach would also make it harder to monitor and implement a ban. It is, however, encouraging that a growing number of countries are joining the European Parliament's call for a far-reaching reform of EU fisheries to stop waste and encourage sustainable practices. Negotiations over the coming months will be tough."