'Overhaul needed' as 38pc of fish caught are discarded
Published 09/11/2011 | 05:00
FISHERMEN in Ireland throw away a staggering 38pc of the fish they catch each year.
The high rate of discards is commercially and morally wrong and measures are needed to tackle the problem, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday.
"It's a problem that's not only indefensible from a commercial point of view but from a moral point of view as well," he said.
However EU proposals for a blanket ban on discards -- by forcing fishermen to land everything they catch -- are simplistic and would be highly damaging to the fishing industry, he said.
Fish are thrown away if they exceed quota, are the wrong species or are too small to sell, but opponents argue that this creates massive waste of dead fish without doing anything to conserve threatened stocks.
The Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara yesterday published a "Discard Atlas" outlining for the first time the scale of discards in the Irish fishing industry.
It shows that between 2003 and 2009, at least 14,000 tonnes of the 36,600 tonnes of fish caught here each year were thrown away dead, giving an average discard rate of 38pc per annum. Another 7,200 tonnes of non-commercial fish species were also discarded.
The discard rate varies between species, with for example 55pc of Irish haddock thrown away; 54pc of whiting; 71pc of plaice; 18pc of monkfish; and 11pc of cod. Mr Coveney said Ireland was the first country in Europe to publish these figures, but they would be similar or worse in other countries.
EU Marine Commissioner Maria Damanaki is calling for a radical overhaul of EU fishing policy that would include an effective ban on discards in a bid to cut back on over-fishing.
A report published in Britain this week found that trials to reduce discard levels there by giving fishermen extra quota if they land everything they catch had been successful in cutting the discard rate of unusable fish to under 1pc.
However Mr Coveney said this would not work for the entire fishing industry because of the complexities of different species and fisheries, and Ireland must lobby in Europe to come up with workable solutions.
The Federation of Irish Fishermen said measures undertaken here such as seasonal closures of cod stocks and nets with larger meshes and escape panels for smaller fish had helped improve the situation.