A new EU regulation could see fishermen leaving £165 million worth of fish uncaught a House of Lords committee has said.
A new EU 'landing obligation' will come in to force on January 1 following a four year phasing-in period which will see fishers landing fish which are in excess of their quota where previously they discarded the extra fish.
Legislators said they hope that this will put an end to fish being wasted in this way, encourage fishers to be more selective about what they catch and improve knowledge of what fish are caught.
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has heard, however, that this could have a devastating impact on the UK fishing industry. Without being able to discard fish, fishers may reach their quotas much earlier in the year – particularly in ‘mixed fisheries’ where it will be hard to avoid catching a species for which there may be a very low quota.
Committee member Lord Krebs said: "Maintaining the health of our oceans by fishing at sustainable levels is critically important, and the landing obligation was introduced to help make sure this happens. So it is deeply concerning that so many people — fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves — do not think these new rules can be implemented from January 1."
The Committee heard that fishers could hit their quota for some species in some areas within a few weeks of the landing obligation coming into force, forcing them to choose between not fishing for the rest of the year and breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota. One estimate suggests £165 million worth of fish could remain uncaught in 2019 due to fishers having to stop fishing early.
The Committee also heard, however, that enforcement agencies lack the capability to be able to implement the landing obligation. Ensuring compliance with the new rules requires the ability to monitor fishers at sea, to observe if any discarding occurs. Patrol vessels are an expensive resource that can only ever cover a small percentage of the fishing fleet at any one time. On-board CCTV is largely held to be the most effective and efficient way to monitor activity at sea, but few boats in the UK currently have this installed and the UK Government will not mandate it unless other EU countries do the same, for fear of putting UK fishers at a disadvantage
Lord Kreb added: "It is obvious that the UK Government does not have the resources in place to monitor compliance; nor have they used the opportunity of the phased introduction to make the changes to quote allocations of promoted the use of selective fishing practices that might alleviate some of the risk to fishers’ livelihoods.
"January 1 should be the start of a new era of more sustainable, less wasteful fishing, but most people we spoke to thought nothing would change – fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim to none and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them.
"When the Fisheries Minister is making his New Year’s resolutions, I would urge him to put sorting this issue out at the top of his list.”