Based on a discussion paper prepared by the Irish Presidency, the April Fisheries Council of Ministers will hold an orientation debate on how to move forward on outstanding issues, in the context of the current negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council, such as the scope and detail of the landing obligation, otherwise referred to as the ‘anti-discards’ policy.
Many observers feel that fisheries ministers – under pressure from France, Spain and some other member states who want to protect their fleets from sudden changes – might try to dilute plans for a total ban on the practice of discarding fish at sea, even though an outright discards ban was backed by the European Parliament. Ministers will consider a compromise text, which a European Commission source described as “quite unacceptable”, as it would further delay the implementation of the discard ban and allow up to 7% of fish to be discarded.
The Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, urged ministers to stay strong: “The public does not want fish to be just thrown away.” She said all caught fish should be landed; if they were of low value, they should be turned into fish meal.
In a review of global discarding, the UN noted that the north-east Atlantic had the highest discard level in the world, estimated at 1.3 million tonnes – the majority attributed to the EU. The Commission estimates that 23% of all fish caught by EU vessels are discarded.
It will be important for ACP countries where EU fleets are active to gain clarification on whether, when and how the discard ban will apply to EU fleets fishing in their waters, as this measure is supposed to cover all EU fleets. In case the discard ban applies to EU fleets fishing in ACP waters, and in order to avoid potential local ACP market disruptions that could be caused by landing poor quality discards, such matters should be dealt with appropriately within the framework of fisheries agreements when they exist, or in the private agreements, giving access to these fleets.