Wasteful fishing rules to be thrown overboard

EU fishing rules, in place for forty years, are set for a shake-up after ministers agreed that the old system was 'unethical.' Campaigners are pleased, but fishermen worry 'what next?'

Campaigners were celebrating yesterday after the EU fisheries commissioner called for a change to rules for Europe's commercial fishermen. She wants to ban 'discarding,' where huge quantities of edible fish are dumped, dead, into the sea. In future, she hopes, whatever fishermen catch, they'll have to keep and sell.

Throwing away fish sounds crazy. So why does it happen? At the moment, fishermen in Europe are restricted by an EU quota system. These quotas set strict rules about what sort of fish they can bring home, and how much.

Of course, trawler nets can't tell one fish from another – anything large enough gets caught up in the vast lines and hauled onto fishing boats. Fishermen then sort through the piles of dying fish, and anything that isn't part of their quota gets thrown back into the sea.

Some estimates say that half of all fish caught in the North Sea, off Britain's East Coast, is thrown back dead. Across Europe, as much as 1m tonnes of edible fish are dumped every year.

But, although quota rules have caused this terrible waste, they are there for a reason: if there were no limits to how much fishermen could take home, we might end up stripping the seas of their entire stocks of edible fish species.

Already, fish stocks have seen a dramatic decline. More than a century ago, small trawlers, powered by sails, fished much closer to shore and brought in double the quantity of fish that gets brought in today. Modern trawler men, with powerful boats and high tech equipment, work 17 times harder for each tonne of fish than their Victorian predecessors.

In fact, 80 per cent of European fish stocks are currently either over-fished (fish are taken out faster than they can replace themselves by breeding) or threatened with total collapse.

Fishy business
Quota systems cause massive waste but they did slow the decline of fish stocks. Is there a different system that solves the waste problem without encouraging overfishing?

Campaigners argue for a range of measures: protected marine reserves where fishing is banned; limits to the time fishermen can spend at sea or the number of fish – of any species – that they are allowed to catch.

Many fishermen agree that discarding unwanted fish is a sad waste. 'It is heartbreaking to throw fish back overboard,' said one. But they worry that new rules, if they aren't well thought through, could hurt their already fragile livelihoods.

You Decide

  1. Are people's livelihoods more or less important than protecting the environment?
  2. Should the EU be involved in managing Britain's fisheries? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Activities

  1. Fishing can be a hard job, but a rewarding one. Write a short story or poem about a fisherman's life.
  2. Do some research into sustainable and unsustainable fisheries. Then design a poster to educate people on which fish they should eat and why it matters.

Some People Say...

“We should just ban fishing. Fishermen can get other jobs.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about overfishing?
The average person in Britain eats about 21kg of fish each year. It's healthy and delicious. But we risk running out of fish to eat.
Really? Surely there are plenty more fish in the sea?
Sadly not. We've been fishing at unsustainable levels, which means taking fish from the sea faster than they can be replaced. If we keep doing that, many popular kinds of fish could become extinct.
Sounds bad. Why don't fishermen just catch less?
Fishermen already have a hard time making ends meet. Whole communities traditionally depend on fishing for their livelihood.
And can I do anything to help?
Actually yes. You can try to eat fish from sustainable fisheries, for example: mackerel, sardines or rainbow trout. Be careful with fish like cod and haddock, and definitely avoid swordfish and bluefin tuna.

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