Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has welcomed the European Union Council's decision to end the practice of fishermen discarding dead or dying fish outside their quota, describing yesterday's accord as a “massive breakthrough”.
Current EU legislation states that any boat catching too many fish, or undersized fish, is required by law to return them to the sea dead rather than landing them, a practice considered by campaigners as extremely wasteful. On Wednesday evening the EU Council voted to begin steps to end discards.
In January 2011, Fearnley-Whittingstall led a campaign to end discards as part of Channel 4's Big Fish Fight. In the last year, with help from fellow TV chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, Hugh's Fish Fight has continued the campaign alongside a number of environmental groups, and has amassed over 800,000 supporters for the cause, with help from social media.
“It’s right to describe today’s commitment by EU ministers to a discards ban as a massive breakthrough, and our Fish Fighters should be delighted that our message has been not only heard, but acted on,” Whittingstall told RadioTimes.com.
The EU's provisional decision means that mackerel and herring discards are to be stopped before 2014, and cod, haddock, plaice and sole discards will be fully banned by 2018. The ministers also agreed that overfishing across Europe's waters should be completely stamped out between 2015 and 2020, following scientific advice on how much fishing the stocks can bear.
However, the River Cottage presenter was at pains to stress that the EU ruling was not a conclusive victory for the campaign:
“We know that changing EU law will be a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s still much more to do in the coming months to make sure the ministers deliver on these promises.
"We need to change provisional dates into a completely committed timetable. We need to persuade Members of the European Parliament to improve on, and then ratify, the decisions taken by the ministers. Only then can we ensure we will have sustainable fish stocks, a viable fishing industry and a healthy marine environment for generations to come.
"The binding commitment to sustainable levels of fishing within a defined time frame and to follow scientific advice without compromise, is also great news for Fish Fighters."
He was also keen to highlight the many different organisations that were tirelessly campaigning against discards before his Channel 4 show aired.
"As always, thank you all for your support. Massive thanks too to all our NGO supporters and advisers, especially ClientEarth, Greenpeace, The Marine Conservation Society and Ocean 2012. Their lobbying plays a vital part in keeping marine conservation on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform agenda.”
“We’re counting on you, our 800,000 Fish Fighters, to keep up the pressure!”