Marine Minister Simon Coveney hailed the unanimous agreement by the North Western Waters group (NWW), chaired by Ireland and which includes Belgium, France, Spain, the UK, and the Netherlands, as the first step on the road towards a total ban on the wasteful practice of discards by 2019.
“There were some interest groups and members of the public who thought we’d never make it happen,” Mr Coveney said.
“But this is proof that regional decision-making can happen. And in fairness to the industry, they are making it happen.
“The journey is not going to be easy but I am satisfied that this agreement, reached in consultation with all of the key stakeholders, is a good start.”
European fishermen have, for almost four decades, been forced to dump millions of tonnes of edible fish overboard every year because of how EU quotas were managed. Some studies have estimated that up to two-thirds of healthy fish caught in trawler nets were being thrown back into the sea dead.
However, a new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 led to an agreement on the phased introduction of a landing obligation for species subject to catch limits, and on the elimination of discards by 2019.
The CFP reforms also gave member states greater regional power to make decisions on the management of their own fish stocks.
The new regional discards plan agreed by the NWW group yesterday, which kicks in on January 1, 2016, and which covers all of the waters around Ireland and the Channel, provides for a ban on discards in prawn fisheries in the region’s waters, in the whiting fishery in the Celtic Sea, and in the haddock fishery in the Irish Sea and in the North West area.
The countries have also committed to rolling out the landing obligation to the other fisheries by 2019, when it will apply to all fishery stocks.
“All catches in all fisheries will have to be landed from 2019 and this agreement outlines the first steps on that journey that will allow our fleets the necessary time to gradually adjust and prepare for the full implementation of the landing obligation,” Mr Coveney said.
“This marks the real beginning of that journey where Ireland has managed to secure agreement with our regional partners on a plan that will see a number of important fisheries covered by the new obligation to land all catches in 2016.”
He said the regional deal also provides Ireland’s national discards implementation group, chaired by Dr Noel Cawley, with a clear blueprint to help the industry here prepare for the changes.
The minister said he is providing funding support to the fishing industry, through the new EU Fisheries Operational Programme, for the effective delivery of the new measures.
He has also asked BIM and the Marine Institute to explore over the coming months the potential impact of the landing obligation on commercial fishing activity.
“I am making up to €450,000 available for this work. This project will follow up on the work undertaken last autumn on discard simulation trials,” he said.