Scottish government ministers have been accused of breaking their promise to uphold European environmental rules by “legalising” the dumping of dead fish at sea.
Campaigners say that new proposals for regulating the discarding of fish which have been accidentally caught are “wasteful”, “incredibly short-sighted” and will damage fish stocks. More fish could be thrown away, they warn.
The Scottish Government says that its plans are aimed at “simplifying and improving” the rules to increase accountability and confidence. The fishing industry stresses the importance of minimising unwanted catches and ensuring all fish caught are accounted for.
In the aftermath of Brexit, Scottish ministers promised to abide by the European Union’s environmental standards. The 2021-22 programme for government included a “commitment to align with EU standards and laws” and the Scottish Parliament passed a bill in 2020 to ensure “continuity” with EU law.
In March the Scottish Government published a public consultation on future fish catching policy, asking for views by 7 June. It claimed it wanted “to adjust and simplify existing exemptions and discarding rules” to take account of different fishing practices.
The consultation proposed changes to the EU rules obliging boats to land accidentally caught fish, known as by-catch. Fish brought ashore have to be included in the legal quotas that limit catches to try and prevent stocks from being depleted.
The EU’s “landing obligation” was introduced in 2015 after controversy over boats dumping large amounts of unwanted dead fish at sea. According to the EU, between seven and 10 million tonnes of commercial fisheries catches were discarded every year around the globe.
The Scottish Government is now planning to alter the landing obligation in different ways for different boats. “We are proposing deviation on certain technical aspects from EU rules on landing,” its consultation said, while maintaining EU “principles”.
The plan will allow small, juvenile fish to be discarded as long as they are below certain sizes. An exemption will also be introduced allowing adult cod, haddock, whiting and other whitefish to be discarded if the cost of landing them is “disproportionate”.