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Fish Discards

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

5. What recent discussions she has had on reductions in fishing discards; and if she will make a statement. (47197)

13. What recent discussions she has had on reductions in fishing discards; and if she will make a statement. (47208)

I was delighted to participate in a recent high-level meeting on discards with the EU Commission and other members states, which agreed with the UK that tackling discards must be a priority for common fisheries policy reform and that action must be taken now. There was a constructive and positive debate about measures needed as part of that reform. The UK is clear that these must be practical, effective and developed in co-operation with industry.

I know that the Minister, like me, welcomes the fact that Devon fishermen have cut their discards by 50%. Can he work on the total eradication of discards by promoting the greater use of other types of fish? Fish that do not meet human consumption standards could be ground down for use as fishmeal for fish farming, because we must keep that resource.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point—he eloquently made it yesterday at the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. DEFRA’s “Fishing for the Market” project looks at the fact that more than 50% of discards are created because there is no market for those fish. By taking up my hon. Friend’s suggestions and by working with fishermen to support the industry to find better markets for such fish, we will further reduce discards.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in this important quest to find new markets for what were formerly discarded fish we should work alongside organisations such as my local fish and chip shop in Penryn, the Mariners, which offers people delicious, locally caught and unusual choices, but not cod and haddock?

I applaud my hon. Friend for bigging up her local fish and chip shop. I also applaud the Fish Fight campaign, one benefit of which is that thousands of people have been going to their fishmongers and supermarkets and asking for precisely the species that we have been discarding on a large scale, such as dab and pouting, which are perfectly delicious, and which we should be using more of, because they can be fished sustainably.

Will the Minister commission research into the scientific levels of non-quota stock, and will he consider making it mandatory for scientists to go onboard vessels or at least to ensure that discards are quantified, so that scientists can have that information?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. The fisheries science partnerships have been doing precisely that, and have been doing good work. In prioritising this matter we are going with the grain of public opinion and the opinion of fishermen, who want to see an end to this practice, and yes, we have to do it on the basis of sound evidence. There is good practice going on, with scientists going onboard fishing boats for a variety of reasons, including to get a better understanding of what discards are and how we can tackle them. That work is highly valued.

As well as an end to discards, we need firm action on by-catch. Does the Minister welcome the announcement by Princes and Asda to follow other major retailers in ceasing to sell tuna caught using fishing practices that Greenpeace estimated in 2007 resulted in levels of by-catch of 182,000 tonnes per year? Will he also give a guarantee to persuade the remaining retailers selling unsustainably fished tuna to reflect the views of the 661,000 people who signed the Fish Fight petition and end fishing practices that damage the biodiversity of our oceans?

Yes to all that. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are at the forefront of measures to protect blue fin tuna. I thoroughly welcome the move by Princes and other processors to ensure that they use tuna from sustainable stocks, and we will continue to work with Members on both sides of the House to ensure that this continues.

I am pleased with what I hope is significant progress in this policy area after many years of campaigning, but how can fish stocks be protected effectively if discards are taken into account, and how can we distinguish between intended and unintended by-catch in the management of stocks?

No doubt when a lot of those who signed the Fish Fight petition see the words “Discard ban imposed”, they will think, “Job done”, but unfortunately, as the hon. Gentleman and his fishermen know, life is not that simple. Working with the fishing industry is the way to find solutions. For too long there has been too much stick and not enough carrot. We are proposing—we have benefited from this through policies such as the 50% project and catch quotas—that when we work with the industry we get much better results.