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Hugh’s right to fight - we can get rid of discards


February 26 2011 Fish2Fork


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Henrik Høegh

While the search for a new Common Fisheries Policy enters a phase of responding to years of unsuccessful measures, the UK, Denmark and Germany have quietly established the basis for a turn-around through the most extensive trials in the CFP’s history.

Through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign, UK consumers, retailers and industry are showing the EU that the revision of the CFP must contain a clear and effective management for fish as sustainably-caught food.

Now EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki has pledged to end the wasteful practice of discarding fish and she has invited ministers and the EU parliament to discuss the issue in Brussels on March 1.

Discards must go and they can. The richness of marine food must be better utilised and it is possible.

EU management today is focused on managing the fisher, not the fishery. Where should he fish? When and for how long? What mesh sizes should he use and how much by-catch of a given species should he be expected to have? At the same time only the fish landed in the harbour count against the quota. If the fisher throws out smaller, lower-priced specimens he can save his quota for the big higher-priced fish. If he catches a mixture of fish species he must discard the fish for which he does not have a quota.

These are just a few situations where the fishers are incentivised or even obliged to discard. From a food utilization perspective this is intolerable, for the fisherman not discarding it seems unbearable to see his vessel quota being cut year after year to make room for discards, and we see that consumers and retailers turn their back on one of the healthiest, low-carbon food sources we have. Are we in a position to change things?

I believe that we are in a fundamentally new situation. The CFP is no longer owned by “fisheries interests.” Fish are a common property and a common concern and society now wants a say. Fishermen and retailers have realised that making a livelihood from fisheries starts with the selling not with the fishing. And we now have technologies to find the right fish, to fish it selectively and to document the results of the harvest to authorities and the market. Let us take advantage of that.

Let the fisher take responsibility for what he catches instead of being told how he should act. Let him use technology to show exactly what and how much he catches. Give fishermen catch quotas instead of landing quotas. This will replace the incentive to discard small less valuable fish and non quota species with the incentive to fish selectively to avoid them.

The logical consequence that a mixed fishery must stop if just one species quota is exhausted is a challenge, but a worthy one. Fishermen will have to use their skills and technology to innovate and fish selectively. They will need the flexibility to swap and lease fish in order to optimize the use of quotas across the fishing sector. Already in the Danish pool system no fisher is allowed to discard as long as one vessel in the pool still has quotas, and day-to day quota exchanges are extensively used.

With freedom to plan and conduct the fishery comes the responsibility of documenting that the given catch quotas are respected. Electronic documentation by CCTV cameras and sensors will ensure that the authorities and the market selling the fish get the necessary guarantees.

Together with my German, UK and Scottish colleagues I have proposed the turnaround of current policy from a regulatory regime to a result-based approach called Catch-Quota Management (CQM).

Could the new policy work? Next to its simplicity and logic its strength is the extensive testing there has been of its practical functionality. CQM was tested in a 12 months scientific trial in 2008/2009 and it was incorporated on a trial basis in practical management from 2010. Denmark, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and UK have all now implemented the trial in national management. More than 80 vessels are expected to participate in the scheme in 2011 and UK, having taken the lead, may fish up to 40 % of its cod quota in the North Sea under catch-quota management.

Results so far have shown that CQM works. All fish are accounted for, discards are negligible, participating fishermen have changed gear and methods and they consider electronic documentation as a proof of good conduct and a source to better knowledge about fish stocks.

As CQM is voluntary it can be introduced with a speed that allows for the industry to adjust and for authorities to develop and simplify regulations and controls. A first step should be a gradual reduction of EU minimum landing sizes of fish thus allowing fishermen to land all fish and markets to adapt to the situation of all fish being landed.

CQM is now being considered by the Commission for its CFP revision proposal due in May.

I believe that we can formulate the right policy: in which marine food potential is fully utilised and where discards will disappear as economic interests, accountability and market demands are aligned towards conservation. Having seen the UK resolve to consume only sustainably caught fish, lately embodied in Hugh’s Fish Fight, I have little doubt that this alliance will bring about the results we want from the new CFP.


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