Reform hope on fish quota laws

Scarborough Harbour with fishing boats
Scarborough Harbour with fishing boats

HOPES have been raised that European fishing laws, which force trawlermen to throw dead and dying fish overboard, could be overhauled.

Cllr Peter Popple, who represents the Northstead ward on Scarborough Council and holds the cabinet portfolio for harbours, wrote to Maria Damanaki, the EU Fisheries Commissioner, in December.

He told her of the “devastating impact” of the rules on the fishing fleet in Scarborough and its surrounding areas.

Fishermen are often forced to discard perfectly good fish to fall into line with fishing quotas. Quotas were introduced in an attempt to protect fish stocks and prevent overfishing.

In her reply to Cllr Popple, Commissioner Damanaki agreed that the EU’s common fisheries policy was in need of reform.

She said: “Tackling discards has been high on my agenda since I have taken office last year and I cannot agree with you more that we must eradicate this wasteful practice.

“I consider it a shameful waste that cannot be justified and that should certainly not be encouraged by EU or any other legislation.”

She said that in a review of fishing policy, due later this year, she would make concrete proposals which would mean fishermen were no longer forced to discard fish.

Commissioner Damanaki added: “I would like to inform you that we are currently working on reforming our policy to make it simpler, more effective, less top down and to give Member States in the EU more play in implementing it and taking local decisions.

“I am heartened by the interest that you and many citizens in the UK and other Member States take in this problem of reforming this policy and tackling discards of dead fish.”

Cllr Popple, who is also chairman of the Whitby Harbour Board, welcomed the response, calling it a “welcome re-think” by the EU.

He also revealed that he has invited Commissioner Damanaki to the borough of Scarborough to meet the area’s fishermen in person, and said he would be keen to go to Brussels himself if invited.

Cllr Popple said: “I wrote to Commissioner Maria Damanaki outlining the dire consequences EU fisheries policy has had on our fishing fleets, bringing them to the verge of collapse and bankruptcy.

“It takes a long time in Brussels to change things, but at least they have acknowledged the policy isn’t working.

“I do intend on keeping up our fight against the common fisheries policy until it has been discontinued and reformed.

“If we lose our trawlers it will change the character of our harbours forever.”

During the 1980s, 130 trawlers fished out of Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington. That figure has fallen to 12, with only eight remaining in Scarborough.

Many of the town’s fishermen blame European fishing policy for the dramatic decline. As well as fishing quotas, the number of days which fishermen are allowed to spend at sea is also limited.

The proposed reforms will be put before the European parliament within two years.