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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 703: debated on Monday 14 July 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the debate at the Report stage of the European Union (Amendment) Bill on 4 June, how many tonnes of dead fish are thrown into the sea each year under the common fisheries policy; and what research there has been into the damage caused to the sea bed and marine life. [HL4640]

Since 2002, all EU countries have been required to collect data on discarding, under the data collection regulation. Quantities of discards are estimated using data collected by scientific observers aboard commercial fishing vessels. The regulation requires member states to record the quantities of quota-restricted fish stocks landed and discarded, and the species and size composition of the discards each time the fishing gear is hauled. Deploying scientific observers in this manner is expensive and time-consuming, with the result that it is usually only possible to sample a small proportion of the overall fishing trips in a given area. As a result, it is necessary to extrapolate from the limited sampling to provide estimates for the entire fleet. Although the sampling is intended to cover a representative sample of the fleet, this does mean that the estimates of total discards are subject to uncertainty.

Estimates of mean annual averages from CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) for the North Sea are that 5,427 tonnes of fish were discarded, from a proportion of 16,370 tonnes retained (25 per cent discarded) by English and Welsh vessels over 10 metres between the years 2003-06. CEFAS has concluded recently further research which is currently being peer reviewed.

Estimates of mean annual averages for English and Welsh over 10 metre vessels fishing in the Channel, Western Approaches, Celtic Sea, and Irish Sea are 24,628 tonnes discarded, with 46,572 tonnes retained (35 per cent discarded) between the years 2003-06.

Defra, NERC, the Royal Society and the EC have funded research into the impacts of fishing on the seabed and marine life. These studies have been conducted in UK shelf seas and off the shelf edge and have assessed impacts on marine habitats, vulnerable fish and invertebrate species, seabirds and marine mammals. Research on seabed impacts has shown that the relative impacts of fishing depend on the balance between fishing and natural disturbance. Thus seabed habitats in deep areas with low natural disturbance are much more vulnerable to fishing impacts than shallow areas of mobile substrate where natural disturbance is higher. Research on marine life has shown that the impacts of fishing depend on the abundance, life history and distribution of a species and the type and intensity of fishing activity. The more vulnerable species tend to be slow-growing, have limited distributional ranges and are taken in targeted fisheries or as bycatch. The less vulnerable species tend to be fast-growing and widely distributed.