EUROPEAN proposals for a blanket ban on drift net fishing appear to have been put on the back burner, although the threat has still not totally gone away.
That’s the view of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) following a recent meeting in Brussels between the European commission and UK drift net interests, who are vehemently opposed to such a move.
The NFFO said that given the clear shortcomings in the preparation and consultation on this proposal, and the overwhelming opposition from the fishing sector, advisory councils, member states and even some NGOs, it was clear that a major error and misjudgement has been made, probably because of an undue focus on specific bycatch problems in the Mediterranean.
The purpose of the meeting was to spell out the consequences of a ban for UK fishermen if it was to go ahead.
The clear message received from the Commission, said the NFFO, was that, although there is absolutely no prospect that the ban would come into effect on 1January next year, the proposal would now be sucked into the tortuous co-decision process in which the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament will decide its fate.
At the meeting, the NFFO led the industry presentations with an overview of the importance of small-scale drift net fisheries for the several hundred fishermen who are dependent on the method for part or all of their annual income.
Drift net fisheries for salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, bass, sardine, mullet and a range of other species were described.
The Federation stressed that these were the kind of sustainable, small-scale fisheries, which should be supported not prohibited.
It argued that there had been clear weaknesses in the Commission’s consultation process to the extent that they it had failed to appreciate the scale and nature of our small-scale drift net fisheries.
The Commission’s own report, undertaken by independent consultants MRAG, had concluded:
• That there was no evidence to suggest that drift nets had bycatches that are significant, or exceed bycatch rates found in other passive net fisheries.
• That the lack of information on these fisheries was in part because they are small and considered by the authorities to represent a low risk to the environment, protected species or habitats.
• There is no guarantee that a blanket ban of drift nets would represent a gain for the environment given displacement into other less benign fishing methods.
• That a risk-based and targeted approach, rather than a blanket ban, would be the appropriate management response where bycatch rates are considered unacceptable.
The advisory councils had unanimously rejected the blanket ban and had asked why the new scope for a regional approach, in line with the reformed CFP, had not been employed, with 13 out of 15 member states voicing opposition to the ban.