MEPs vote to ban discards in reform of fisheries policy

A major step in the most radical reform of the EU’s fisheries policy was agreed by the European Parliament.

The proposal would see an end to fishermen dumping at sea, set low limits for the amount of species under threat that could be caught, and makes additional quota for Ireland permanent.

The 502-135 vote will put huge pressure on member states to agree changes that have been hailed as a victory by conservation groups.

This is the first time MEPs have equal powers to the member states in setting fisheries policy.

There were also big wins for Ireland, said MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher. This included backing for his proposal to make the Hague Preferences permanent. This refers to extra fish given to Ireland over and above the usual quota, but which has to be negotiated every year.

As well as committing to rebuild and restore fish stocks by 2020 under the principle of maximum sustainable yield, the MEPs also voted for greater regionalisation and special recognition for small scale and inshore fisheries.

This is something Ireland has been looking for for some time. But Fisheries Minister Simon Coveney told the MEPs last month he would prefer mechanical methods and larger mesh sizes be used rather than impose a full discard ban.

Ireland will be centrally involved in the next stage when, as holder of the EU presidency, it will take part in the trialogue negotiations between the parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the European Commission. These should begin in early March and be completed by June.

Overfishing has been blamed in part on the current fisheries policy and has left 80% of stocks in the Mediterranean and 47% of Atlantic stocks overfished.

Discards — fish thrown back into the sea — are estimated to account for almost a quarter of total fish caught. Most of them are dead or die.

Under the plans, vessels would land all their catch in accordance with a schedule of specific dates for different fisheries from next year. Undersized fish landed in this way could not be used for human consumption.

German MEP Ulrike Rodust, who put together the parliament’s report said: “We have shown we are anything but toothless. We have used our power to put a stop to overfishing. Fish stocks should recover by 2020 which will allow us to take 15m tonnes more fish and create 37,000 new jobs.”

From 2015, each country will have quota set that ensures it cannot catch any more of a given species than that species can reproduce in that year. There would be multi-annual stock management plans to oversee this maximum sustainable yield principle.

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