Fishermen should be allowed to continue discarding edible fish at sea, despite public pressure to stop the wasteful practice, a group of MPs has urged.
The proposal, by a parliamentary select committee, is a blow to environmental campaigners who have long argued against the practice.
A high-profile public campaign led by the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has called an end to the discarding of fish. Fleets sometimes throw fish back, usually dead, because they have exceeded their quota or have inadvertently caught less valuable species.
Partly in response to the campaign, the European commission has proposed a phased-in ban on discards, which the UK government has backed in Brussels.
But the environment and rural affairs committee called in a report published on Friday for the practice to be allowed to continue until 2020 at least.
The MPs said it had not been proved how many fish died after being discarded and called for more research. They cast doubt on whether it was possible to end discards.
“We are concerned that, by deciding to implement a discard ban swiftly and without full engagement with stakeholders, the commission risks creating a scheme that will be unworkable, or worse, will merely shift unwanted fish in the sea to unwanted fish on land,” the committee said.
Anne McIntosh, who chairs the committee, said: “Everyone is appalled by revelations about the levels of discarding. We heard first-hand from fishermen in Hastings how frustrating it is for them to have to throw back perfectly good cod into the sea. The commission is right to want to tackle this, but we are concerned that a kneejerk reaction to the public outcry will do more harm than good. The last thing that we want to see is unwanted fish in the sea becoming unwanted fish in landfill.”
Some campaigners said this stance would simply result in greater waste of fish.
Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser for Greenpeace UK, said the MPs’ stance would lead to further and unnecessary depletion of already dwindling fish stocks. She said: “We cannot accept another decade of discarded fish and devastated fish stocks, and