Extracting the omega oils is a bonus for the mackerel hunters who sell the larger fish at huge profits.
The European Union this week called for an end to “discarding” — the process whereby fish are dumped when the catches are juveniles species, undersized or in excess of quotas.
A commission document blamed European Union (EU) and national legislation for discarding and says the practice is motivated by “financial interests of the fishing industry to keep only more valuable fish on board”.
“We cannot go on with business as usual,” said European Commission Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. “This is something we could afford when we had healthy stocks; but now, when stocks are declining, nobody can justify that we take fish and because of our policy we force people to throw it back.”
However, the Irish Fisherman’s Organisation (IFO) has said finding a solution was not as easy as ending discarding. They believe improving fishing technology will be a key issue.
Ms Damanaki proposes regulating fleets through limits on fishing time, closing “mixed fisheries” when the maximum quota of one species in it has been caught along with expanding the use of observers and electronic logbooks.
But IFO chairman Ebbie Sheehan insisted the smaller family-run operations are not overfishing. He accused the European freezer trawlers of “a disgusting amount of discarding”.
“We are all being tarred with the same brush. Yes, there is discarding and overfishing going on but it’s not the small guys who are doing it. It’s the supertrawlers,” he said.
“Off the western coast, there are large numbers of freezers who are bringing in a catches, taking out the smaller mackerel, mincing it and removing the oil.
“They then sell on the high-grade fish. The difference in price between high grade and low grade mackerel is between €1,700 and €250 per tonne. These guys have 1,000 tonne quotas and are claiming to have 100% high grade mackerel. That would be a physical impossibility, any fisherman will tell you,” said Mr Sheehan.
The IFO claims technical measures such as the decision to increase net mesh size has had a positive effect on overfishing. With the larger mesh size, they say the “majority” of smaller fish can swim out of the net.
They are firmly opposed to the concept of allowing fishermen able to “buy” quotas if they exceed their own.