BRITAIN’S fishing industry could face serious damage from new European regulations, even though the UK is due to leave the EU in three months’ time, a House of Lords committee has warned.
The warning centres around the age-old controversy of discards. Under the new rules, which came into force this week and are designed to stop good fish being wasted, skippers must bring their full haul back to port.
Previously, when a vessel went over its quota, that part of the catch was thrown back into the sea.
At face value, the new regulations would appear sensible, but they have thrown up serious issues.
Both the English and Scottish industries have told the committee that the ruling would be particularly problematic in mixed fisheries, where it would be hard for boats to avoid catching a species for which they have a very low quota.
It would also prevent any further fishing being carried out in similar areas. If crews continued to fish in mixed areas they would run the risk of breaking the law by exceeding the quota for some species in the pursuit of others.
Although the UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March this year, under the transition arrangements it will remain part of the Common Fisheries Policy until December 2020 – unless it crashes out without a deal.
The House of Lords committee also said patrol vessels would only be able to cover a small percentage of boats, creating a temptation for crews to break the rules. Over time, this posed a serious risk to the industry.
Committee member Lord Krebs said: ‘It is deeply concerning that so many people – fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves – do not think these new rules can be implemented from the start of this year.
‘Most people we spoke to thought nothing would change – fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim to none and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them.’
It is obvious that the UK government does not have the resources in place to monitor compliance, said Lord Krebs.
Nor have they used the opportunity of the phased introduction to make the changes to quota allocations, or promoted the use of selective fishing practices that might alleviate some of the risk to fishermen’s livelihoods.
Barrie Deas (pictured), chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said the rules were ‘badly designed’ and would result in boats having to stop fishing for long stretches after reaching quotas on specific species.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was working with the industry to address the challenges posed by the new sustainable fishing policy.