Discarding is the practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea. In the EU, the rejected and often dead fish and shellfish that are thrown back do not have to be counted against quotas. As many as two-thirds of fish in some areas are thrown back dead into the sea, including half of all fish caught in the North Sea, according to some estimates. This is the result of the EU's common fisheries policy (CFP), under which fleets are awarded a quota of each species they may catch. When they catch more than their quota, or species for which they do not have a quota, they throw the excess back – but they are usually dead.
A proposed ban on the practice is now still on track to become law later this year. A strong showing of public support for the discards ban, orchestrated through social media sites on the internet, was thought to have played a major role in persuading EU fisheries ministers to stick to the ban.
"European fisheries ministers have at last bowed to public pressure and agreed to implement a series of bans that will effectively outlaw the controversial practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea. Provisional dates agreed by ministers at a tense European Council meeting in Luxembourg would see a ban on discards of mackerel and herring in place for 1 January 2014, while a phased ban on the discarding of cod, haddock, plaice and sole would be fully operational by 1 January 2018. However, these dates are now subject to negotiations within the European Parliament."
What worries me however are the vague and weak timelines, and there is a real risk that fish and fishermen are facing another 10 years of overfishing and stock decline, with real consequences for species like cod, hake and tuna. We're not the only ones worried about this aspect. Campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall aired concerns that while the pelagic ban got the go-ahead with “a big political fanfare,” there would be a delay in the ban on discarding whitefish.
EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki, the architect of the CFP reform proposals and the program to ban discarding, has conceded the outcome of the discard negotiations was a compromise, but was still a “workable” step in the right direction. She will nevertheless be wary that the proposed bans are pushed yet further into the future and that the strong political resistance doesn’t weaken her other recommendations for wholesale change.