Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 19 March 2012 examined the proposal on the ban on discards (i.e. throwing unwanted fish back into the sea). The aim was to find out what would be the best way of ending this harmful practice across the EU. The ban is part of a wider reform of Europe's common fisheries policy, proposed by the Commission in 2011.
Mette Gjerskov, Danish minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, said the member states’ meeting had “moved things forward”. The ministers discussed not “if we should have a ban, but how to do it – which fisheries are to be involved, and how we do it technically,” said Ms Gjerskov.
All member states agreed that the wasteful practice of discarding fish should be banned. A large majority of them would prefer the ban to be introduced taking the specificities of fisheries into account and not on a species-based approach. This was particularly important, some delegations said, in the case of mixed fisheries.
Several member states would prefer the implementation of the ban on discards to be gradual, but all agreed that there should be a clear deadline.
In addition, several ministers considered that very small fleets landing small amounts of fish could be exempted from the ban. The majority of delegations also agreed that an obligation to land all catches (which would be counted against member states' quotas), as a measure to stop the discards, should not be applied to species with a good survival rate.
They agreed that more and better scientific data were needed to establish exemptions based on fish survival rates. The same applied to setting minimum conservation reference sizes (i.e. very young fish should not be fished and landed). Almost all member states said that cooperation between fishermen and scientists should be encouraged.
Almost all delegations mentioned improving the selectivity of the gear as one of the best ways to combat discarding and reduce unwanted catches. This requires specific research and innovation, and several member states would like to use the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for this purpose.
“I am sure we will still need several technical meetings on the discard ban, but today’s discussion was really fruitful as the first step in achieving results, because people in Europe are asking us to get results on this problem,” said Minister Gjerskov.
Today the fishermen in EU waters discard 10 to 60 per cent of their catch. The fish thus returned to the waters are usually dead or have little chance of surviving after the shock they experienced. For instance, EU boats in the North Sea currently throw away up to half of what they catch to stay within their quotas, or because the fish they catch are of no commercial value.
Council's deliberation webcast (video)
Press conference webcast
EU Common Fisheries Policy reform (Europa website)