REGULATIONS due to come into force in January 2016 could ultimately prevent more than 25,000 tonnes of dead fish being thrown back into the sea every year, equivalent to 22 per cent of the Scottish catch, Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said today.
Fish discards are a problem in nations across Europe and Scottish discards are enough to fill over 11 Olympic sized swimming pools.
These figures come as the regional groups are set to recommend a phased approach to the discard ban in both the North Sea and the North West Waters, which Lochhead welcomed.
Speaking at the Skipper Expo in Aberdeen, the minister outlined how joint regional plans for the new regime are progressing.
‘The fishing expo this year was bigger than ever before and it was heartening to see the industry in a buoyant mood – with quayside landing and seafood exports reaching record highs and talk of new boats being ordered.
‘No one wants to see dead fish being thrown back into the sea – least of all our fishermen.
‘It’s also a waste of food that goes against the grain of what the public want.
‘With just over seven months to go until the discard ban covers some of our most popular fish, including cod, haddock and monkfish, the industry is entering its biggest period of change in a generation.
‘Our fleet has already made good progress to reduce the level of discarded fish in Scotland.
‘However, we need to do more to end the waste caused by dead fish being thrown back into the sea.
‘The fact that in one year alone enough fish to fill 11 Olympic sized swimming pools were thrown from our vessels is a stark illustration of that.
‘We are working hard in Europe on behalf of fishermen to ensure the ban is implemented in a pragmatic, proportionate and phased way.
‘If managed sensibly, the landing obligation will be good for Scotland and help the conservation of fish stocks that offer up dependable and sustainable catches for fishermen.
‘I am pleased the regional groups are set to recommend a phased approach in both the North Sea and the North West Waters. This is a sensible and measured position which is good for the Scottish fleet.
‘It shows the benefits of the discard planning process being spearheaded by member states working in their regions in close consultation with industry and others through the advisory councils.
‘I’m particularly pleased that Scotland has a place at the regional table in the North Sea and the North West Waters.
‘It is exactly why I fought so vigorously for regional decision making, so that these crucial reforms could be shaped and delivered at regional level in ways which are tailored to different local circumstances and which make sense to local fishermen.
‘However, I don’t underestimate the challenges that the discard ban brings, particularly with the complexities of a fleet covering around 30 different species.
‘It is important that, as well as fishermen adapting, fisheries managers also adapt.
‘We need 21st century tools for 21st century challenges. New management tools and thinking are required, for example around stock distribution and mixed fishery plans.
‘Of course, the fishing industry is very important to Scotland’s economy: the value of fish landings is currently at a record high, contributing £513 million to the economy in 2014.
‘This has been reflected in the landings posted into the key north-east ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead in 2014, which provisional figures show are up 35 per cent by weight on 2013 and valued at over £200 million.
‘The industry has an important role to play in our economy and I will continue to support the fleet.’