THE dumping of prized fish catches off the Irish coast due to EU quota limits has been described as "insane and immoral" by a government minister.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the Irish Independent yesterday that Ireland would undertake a pilot EU project that would let fishermen land all their catch instead of dumping excess-quota fish.
Under the pilot scheme, fishermen will be encouraged to undertake less-extensive fishing expeditions, thereby reducing the amount of fish that have to be discarded.
It is estimated that for every adult fish caught under quota, four juveniles have to be dumped -- dead -- back into the sea.
It means vessels are undertaking lengthy excursions to catch adult fish while routinely dumping 'worthless' juvenile fish.
But the new scheme would see fishermen return to port more regularly as the fish exceeding the quota -- whether adult or juvenile -- could be sold commercially to other ventures, such as the fertilising industry.
The pilot project will also designate specific sea areas as 'set aside' for conservation -- with all fishing operations banned from these zones.
Mr Coveney, a lifelong sailor and fishing industry advocate, said he was hopeful Ireland would be able to sanction a quota increase later this year for herring and mackerel.
Mr Coveney acknowledged that it is a matter of "great concern" that dead fish have to be "discarded" back into the sea.
"It is obvious that it is both insane and immoral for any system to result in fish being caught only to be discarded back into the sea. It is one of the problems we have," he said.
Anecdotal evidence has indicated that the number of cod in the region has surged in recent years despite previous predictions of a disastrous fall-off in cod numbers.
Mr Coveney said that marrying the needs of commercial fisheries with the need to conserve and protect fish stocks was extremely complex -- but he said it was vital the Government, EU and the fishing industry develop a joint, agreed marine strategy.
However, he was hopeful that the pilot projects and 'set-aside' sea zones may offer a way forward as the EU is now forced to rely for 70pc of its fish consumption on imported produce.
Mr Coveney also said that the potential of Ireland's aquaculture industry had yet to be fully harnessed.
"Without fish we will not be able to feed the world -- it is a major part of the global diet," he said.
"There is a huge opportunity for Britain and for Ireland to develop a growing and developing aquaculture and fish industry.
"At the moment we (Ireland) only produce 12,000 tonnes of salmon each year from fish farms -- but Scotland is able to produce 150,000 tonnes, to (its) credit," Mr Coveney added.