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Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
Statement on discards
Brussels , 25 May 2009
Dear President, dear Ministers,
First of all, I would like to thank the Presidency for including this point in the Council agenda. Discards is an issue that I personally attach great importance to.
The practice of discarding in Community fisheries is one of the biggest problems facing European fisheries. While discarding affects many species, some of these discards are of good, marketable fish. This is a phenomenon which nobody can accept or support. It is a practice which must come to an end.
The Commission signalled its intention to solve this problem back in 2007. Although some significant initiatives to this end are underway, much more still needs to be done. I wish to stress that eradicating this wasteful practice is a fundamental objective of the Commission, and I intend to take the necessary measures to address and resolve this problem.
The problem of discards is very complex, since discards take place for a variety of reasons: some discards result from the implementation of the current regulatory system, others from specific national legislation, but much of what is discarded is simply the result of economic considerations.
Since the causes are varied, the solutions also vary and require a concerted effort by all. Community legislation will certainly have to change to address this problem. But Member States will also need to revise certain national rules. And lastly, but most importantly, fishermen's behaviour will have to change. No legislative framework will be effective unless fishermen embrace the "no discard policy" as a fundamental aspect of their conduct. This will not be easy. But with the coordinated efforts of the administrations concerned and the industry, I am convinced we can achieve this objective.
The different elements needed to solve this problem require a step-by-step approach. This approach will focus in the short term on the most pressing issues and will address regulated and other major commercial species. The scope may gradually be broadened as we develop the necessary instruments for effective implementation.
Several measures can and should be taken as early as 2010.
- As you know we have a high-grading ban in place in the North Sea and Skagerrak since 1 January 2009 for all TAC-regulated species. It would only be logical to enlarge this high-grading ban as of 2010, so that it would cover all other Community waters.
- The Member States also need to do their bit by licensing vessels according to likely catches, in a way that ensures that only vessels having appropriate quotas have the opportunity to fish for regulated species.
- The fishing industry itself needs to persevere with ongoing efforts at improving the selectivity of fishing gear, by increasing mesh sizes, introducing square mesh panels or adopting new gear designs such as the eliminator trawl. In this respect I believe it is worth mentioning some positive bottom up examples like the fishermen's initiative from the Bay of Biscay, where French fishermen have already, years ago, begun trials and are now using a gear design in the nephrops fishery that catches about 80% less undersized hake than do conservative trawls. Another initiative comes from Scotland where the industry is trying out the Orkney trawl in the whitefish fishery. This trawl catches about 50% less cod, but still keeps the important haddock and whiting catches. I believe that industry led initiatives like these are important and we need to incentivise them as much as possible.
- We also need to make more use of instruments such as real-time closures and the obligation to move fishing ground when a percentage of undersize catch is reached.
- Carrying out pilot projects is also important. We can, by virtue of such projects gain more information about the size of the discard problem in the various fisheries. One example is that of fully documenting a fishery by electronic monitoring being run in Denmark. This project involves six vessels that have to land all their catches.
- And, last but not least, reducing overall fishing effort will also decrease discards.
These are all contributions to resolving the discard problem that we can apply today. We cannot keep delaying the use of these instruments, there is no excuse.
However, while much of what is necessary can and should be done immediately, other changes can only be effected as part of a major policy reform, which we have just launched with our Greenpaper. One example is a possible change to the TAC and quota system under relative stability.
The question of how to implement these measures is also crucial. The Commission wishes to simplify and reduce the costs of control of the CFP. On the other hand, controlling the necessary steps to eliminate discards does not necessarily come cheap. We therefore need to develop more creative ways of ensuring adequate implementation, for example through incentives. Here, the industry and its organisations must play a key role. The commitment to contribute to this objective will be a test of fishermen's commitment to the principles of long-term sustainability of fishing activity, which is enshrined as the fundamental objective of the CFP.
Current aid schemes already provide mechanisms to promote more selective fishing practices. These mechanisms should be used to their full potential to accompany this process. In addition, we should also actively develop the future instruments that will allow us in the mid term to find practical solutions to the problems to be encountered when landing unwanted fish.
Dear President, dear Ministers,
Consumers are making more and more informed choices every day. It won't be long before they decide that they are simply not going to buy a fish which was caught in a fishing operation where a certain quantity of perfectly marketable fish was chucked overboard. We should not wait around for this day to come, we need to start acting now and constantly move in the direction of eliminating discards, because it is an objective we all share. Even if it is a difficult objective, which necessitates a step-by-step process, there is absolutely no excuse not to tackle this problem head-on now. I am counting on your support and your initiative to help bring about the long needed change that we need here.