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'Watered down' fish discard deal given cautious welcome

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 28, 2013

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has welcomed an historic EU agreement to ban the dumping of dead fish back in the sea – but cautioned the proposals have been watered down.

Fisheries ministers from across the EU signed-off on proposals that will see the discarding of edible fish banned for stocks like herring and whiting from January 2014. A ban for white fish stocks was also agreed, to begin in January 2016.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose River Cottage food business is based at Axminster, East Devon, galvanised wide UK support after launching a “Discards Campaign” which has so far attracted more than 850,000 signatures on a petition condemning the throwing away of perfectly edible fish to avoid breaching limits.

The chef said yesterday he was pleased with the commitment to ban discards, but added that the “devil is in the detail”.

“What they agreed last night is weaker and harder to enforce than the ban our MEPs in the European Parliament voted for – with a huge majority – three weeks ago,” he went on.

“There’s now going to be weeks of negotiation to reach a final deal, and we will be fighting to strengthen those details and support our MEPs who want to see a discard ban that does the job it is supposed to.”

Speaking from Brussels after marathon talks, Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon hailed a “historic moment” in reforming the “broken” Common Fisheries Policy.

He added the UK also successfully fought off attempts to include a modification in the new fisheries policy for quota swapping that would have allowed other countries access to UK quotas.

Mr Benyon conceded some fishermen in the Westcountry were “nervous” about the changes and associated costs, but the reform would have “flexibility” that allowed small open-top vessels to continue as they are.

He said: “The scandal of discards has gone on for too long and I’m delighted that the UK has taken such a central role in securing this agreement.

“I am disappointed that some of the measures required to put this ban into place are no longer as ambitious as I had hoped but it’s a price I am willing to accept if it means we can get the other details right.

“The final package will still need to be agreed with the EU Parliament but the result we have achieved today is another step in the right direction and will prove to be good for both fishermen and the marine environment.”

Earlier this month MEPs overwhelmingly backed the biggest-ever Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reforms, crucially including an end to discards – a consequence of current CFP quota rules restricting the size of landed catches.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki – who once admitted the CFP was “broken” – says the discards system means almost one quarter of all fish caught in European waters is being dumped at sea.

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