The ‘Discard’ problem

On Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new short series on commercial fishing, he first covered cod and what happens in the EU, and it was not a pretty picture. The EU Common Fisheries policy sets catch quotas for each type of fish so only that amount of each can be caught and no more. As an ardent environmentalist at first it seems sensible but whenever a policy is being considered it is vital market reaction is understood.
It is impossible for a fishing boat not to catch certain species if they happen to be in the water under or behind the boat, so EU regulation makes it illegal to land more of a species than the boat’s quota permits. So what happens? They are ‘discarded’ overboard – dead.
At the start of the quota season logically quotas of no species would be exceeded so no discard, but as species quotas run out through the quota season, that becomes impossible. During the filming more terrific fish were being thrown away dead than kept for market and consumption. It is and always was insanity so didn’t become insanity in 2010. I mean how could it ever make any sense to throw dead fish back into the sea for the gulls?
The EU formed its Common Fisheries Policy back in 1970 (over 40 years ago) and the current quota system became policy in 1995. This outrageous policy has therefore been with us for over 15 years which is plenty of time for it to have been changed, given it was clear by 1996 (if not in 1995) that it was a failed policy.
The EU politicians don’t seem to be clear about what to do and not all of them even want to change the policy. So is there a practical solution that works for everybody including the fish? There must be, so here is a strong suggestion with the rules defined:

  1. ‘No Fish’ zones should be defined that should be sensibly sized to maintain the ecosystems and preserve natural stock levels of the fish there. I suggest 20% to 25% of the ocean area. We are but one species and 75% is more than enough for us. Notice should be taken of the impending impacts of a changing climate to locate the Zones.
  2. It should be illegal to discard any fish caught that cannot revive if put back and the entire catch must legally be landed. [Currently it is illegal to land them].
  3. Quotas for each species should be set and distributed round the fleets and boats based on proper scientific study.
  4. Environmental taxes should be set per species to be levied on fish landed over and above the quota.

This would protect the fish we have; allow recovery of numbers for sustainable future fishing; stop any fish being discarded, and encourage the public to increase the species they eat. The tax when set at a sensible level would discourage fishermen catching species over quota, and this tax could be on a sliding scale. The world needs solutions but it also needs bad policies to be changed as soon as they are found to be bad. This is my proposition.
Mike