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UK fishing industry faces 'grave' threat from new EU policy

West Quay Fisheries in Newhaven, southern England. Photo: Glyn Kirk for AFP/Getty Images

The United Kingdom’s fishing industry faces a “grave” threat from a new European Union policy due to be introduced on Tuesday, a House of Lords committee warned after hearing evidence on how fishing quotas will be enforced.

The new rules alter how discarded fish affect the quotas for each species. In the past, fish that were discarded would not count towards the total haul by crews. The new regulations mean that fishers must bring back their total haul, in a measure designed to reduce waste caused by dumping dead but unwanted fish.

Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, described the rules, which will be phased in over a four year period, as “badly designed.”

According to evidence presented to the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee, crews could reach their quotas for each year much earlier than before. That would mean they would have to stop their fishing until quotas were renewed.

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The biggest problem could be caused in areas where boats catch a mixture of species. It would be possible to quickly exhaust quotas of fish that have low thresholds, and prevent any further fishing from 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.

The sub-committee was also concerned about the method of enforcement of the rules. Boats employed to enforce these and other regulations can only check a small amount of boats, meaning there is a chance that those who break the rules will not be caught and punished.

“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 January 1,” said Committee member Lord Krebs.

He explained: “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.”