Vicky Ford MEP

Member of the European Parliament for the East of England

13 JAN 2011



Brussels 12 January 2011. Following the Channel Four Dispatches programme last night in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall outlined the problem of a million tonnes of fish being dumped back into the North Sea, Conservative MEP for the East of England and amateur fly-fisher, Vicky Ford said:

" My email account has been buzzing all day with questions from residents of the East of England who watched last night´s TV program. They are right to be disgusted by the sights of healthy fish being chucked overboard and to ask what we, as their Members of the European Parliament, are doing about it.

This is not new news to those of us who have fought to end this obscenity. Indeed, this is not a problem confined to Europe. According to the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) around 7.3 million tonnes of fish are dumped overboard by fishermen around the world every year. Although this is a dramatic fall from the estimated 27 million tonnes that was being dumped a decade ago, it is nothing to celebrate. The number of fish being discarded has fallen because global fish stocks are collapsing. Fishermen are catching fewer fish and therefore they are dumping fewer fish.

"There are an estimated 850 million people in the world today suffering from hunger. It is an obscenity that we stand idly by and watch the wanton destruction of global fish stocks and the dumping of unwanted and juvenile fish on this appalling scale. In the EU the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas say that 16 separate fish stocks are on the verge of collapse - but we nevertheless allow more than 1 million tonnes of fish to be discarded annually. As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showed, the problem is particularly prevalent in the North Sea where around 70% of discards are demersal roundfish (e.g. cod and haddock) and flatfish.

"In Norway, it is illegal to discard fish and all catches must be landed. This provides Norwegian scientists with a much more accurate picture of the state of fish stocks on which they can base their management strategies. It also allows them to immediately close down areas where fish that are too young are being caught, allowing these fish to mature.

"Over 60% of the UK whitefish fleet has been scrapped in the last 6 years. Much of this problem can be traced to the way in which we operate our current system of fisheries management. Under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, Brussels has imposed a ludicrously complex system of TACs (Total Allowable Catches), quotas and effort limitation (or restrictions on the number of days a fisherman can go to sea). As well as being the primary cause of discards, this mixed bag of controls, introduced mainly to aid the recovery of cod stocks in the North Sea, has failed to stop a rapid decline.

"This has not been the only cause of discards, however. Some fishermen have been guilty of high-grading, which involves dumping good healthy marketable fish, to make room in the hold for bigger, plumper and more expensive ones. Thankfully, this deplorable behaviour is less common now and seems to be on the decline.

"The EU has started work on a total reform of the fisheries policy. Formal papers will be presented this May but we have already been working hard to make sure that it deals with the issue of discards. To ensure that our East of England voice is heard, representatives from our own fishing community, environmentalists and other local organisations have already got together to submit an East of England response to an EU consultation. I contributed to that response.

"In Scotland they are trialling a new system whereby trawlers are equipped with CCTV - if the fishermen can prove they have not discarded fish they are rewarded with extra quota for the catch that they land, even if it is of a species that they had not intended to capture. This appears to be working well.

"We are also lobbying hard for the whole system of quotas and targets to be taken away from Brussels bureaucrats and instead run by local panels. This could for example involve a cross-border panel where nations have coasts on the same sea.

"European Institutions must see sense over this issue and I am hopeful that this upcoming review will lead to a radical reform that ends discards."


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Economic Stability must come first. Without a strong economy we can not deliver a strong society. I work with businesses and consumers to keep Britain open for business, cutting red tape, boosting trade opportunities and helping to deliver jobs and growth for all.

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