Damanaki: Give fish discards to the poor

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki has a new idea to deal with fish that end up as discards: it could instead be given to the poor or used as food in fish farms.

About 1 million tones of fish are estimated to be tossed back to die each year into the North Sea alone. Damanaki has called discards "unacceptable" and told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament that banning it was necessary to make European fisheries more sustainable, UKPA reports. She suggested that instead of throwing lower-value fish back into European waters, the fish should be distributed to charities and other public organisations.

"We can use these for charitable purposes, [though] we will have to give fishermen compensation if they give fish to the poor," she told the House of Commons select Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, reports The Guardian.

However, the commissioner faces stern opposition from fishing groups and some member states because forcing fishers to land all their catch will lower their incomes. Current fishing practices let fleets get rid of damaged fish or lower-value species, which fetch less money, to optimise their profits. Damanaki acknowledged that these levels of compensation for less desirable fish would be difficult to establish.

"You have to give some money, enough [to encourage fleets] to be honest, but not too much – you want them to use selective gear [that would exclude smaller fish]," she stated.

Damanaki has urged consumers to call on governments, retailers and the fishing sector to halt the practice of discards and instead manage the EU's fish stocks more sustainably.

"We could not do this without the support of consumers," she said. "I would encourage people to make responsible choices [in the fish they eat] and keep up the pressure."

Damanaki also presented proposals to improve the behaviour of European fleets in the waters of developing countries as part of planned reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). To help phase out discards, she laid out various measures including EU funding to construct places to store catches of fish, all of which would have to be landed. She added that undersized or juvenile fish could not be sold at market rate to discourage fishers from catching them instead of using selective gear that only caught bigger fish, but they could be used as fishmeal for aquaculture, while the edible fish that could not be sold could be given to charity.

The commissioner's proposals are now being considered by the European Parliament and the EU Council and will be debated in 2012. They could become law as soon as the end of next year.

FIS

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