The European parliament voted on Wednesday to ban the wasteful practice of throwing away healthy fish at sea in a victory for campaigners and green groups after more than two years of procedural wrangling.
Campaigners in Strasbourg for the “historic” vote on the EU common fisheries policy (CFP) were jubilant. After significant opposition to the changes from the powerful industrial fishing lobby, and multiple attempts to scupper the process, the final vote was won by an emphatic 502 votes to 137.
“This is really excellent news,” said Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the chef and food writer who spearheaded the Fish Fight campaign that mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to oppose discards. “It was a nerve-wracking morning – there was still a faction who wanted to derail the process – but well done to the MEPs, and well done to the Fish Fighters.”
Discarding – where fishermen toss back hundreds of tonnes of edible fish, usually dead, because they have exceeded their fishing quota or have caught species for which they have no quota – has been the most striking example of the failures of a common fisheries policy that green groups have said is “broken” and encourages overfishing instead of protecting dwindling stocks. Between one-quarter and one-third of the total catch quota is estimated to be discarded, and this may rise as high as 90% of the catch in some circumstances for some species, according to Fish Fight.
The vote makes it highly likely that the biggest shake-up of the common fisheries policy for decades will pass into law, perhaps next year. It is still not quite final, as there must be some further negotiations with member states, but campaigners said the reform proposals were now over the biggest hurdles to their adoption.
“The MEPs have sent a really strong, clear message – it would be very difficult for member states’ ministers to try to go against that,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries chief, who brought forward the proposals, welcomed the vote. “