Agreement to ban discards hailed
The UK Government has hailed an EU agreement to introduce a blanket ban on dumping dead fish back in the sea.
Speaking from Brussels after marathon talks, fisheries minister Richard Benyon said: "This is a historic moment in reforming the broken Common Fisheries Policy.
"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 reforms, crucially including an end to so-called "discards" - a consequence of current CFP quota rules restricting the size of landed catches.
The issue galvanised wide UK support when chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched 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.
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. Biggest resistance to fisheries reforms on the scale demanded by MEPs came from France, Portugal and Spain.
The agreement 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. The UK also claimed to have successfully fought off attempts to include a modification in the new Common Fisheries Policy for quota swapping that would have allowed other countries access to UK quotas.
Scotland's Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead said: "This negotiation is a key milestone on the road to a discard-free Europe and delivers a compromise plan which is both realistic and workable. No longer will European fishermen be dumping millions of tonnes of fish overboard which is a waste of a valuable food resource to the detriment of our stocks and the industry."
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said he was pleased with the commitment to ban discards, but added that the "devil is in the detail". He said: "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. 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."