80.Fishers are now required to keep on their boats and bring to land all fish they catch, including those they have no interest in. These could be fish of lower value, or undersized fish (those below ‘minimum conservation reference size’) that are not allowed to be sold for human consumption. This new requirement poses several challenges for the fishing industry.
“All the unwanted catch has to be treated the same [as the rest of the catch], because vessels can be out for six or eight days. You cannot store them without ice … You have to separate all the species as well … A number of vessels physically do not have room for that … You fill up your fish room with fish you cannot sell, but you have to go home anyway because you are out of space and out of ice.”
82.Because discard data are not routinely captured, it is not known what percentage of catches will be below the minimum conservation reference size. Moreover, as these undersized fish would not previously have been landed, there are no systems in place to deal with them and it is currently unclear what the impact will be if significant volumes are landed. Dr Catchpole told us: “There are markets for that material, although … the price differential between the human consumption market and other markets is huge.” Jeremy Percy, from the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, said: “It can go for bait, cosmetics, food additives et cetera … [but] most of the ports, and certainly most buyers, will have no interest in it at all.”
83.Fishers expressed concern over what they would do with undersized fish. Plymouth fisher Graeme Searle told us: “You land it on the quayside and nobody knows what is happening to it … How do I get rid of it as crab bait, pet food or whatever? There is no clear guidance.” Jim Pettipher, from the Coastal Producer Organisation, told us: “The problem is that there is still no guarantee that anyone would buy it … [A fisher] in Hartlepool said, ‘We have one buyer in Hartlepool. What do I do with it if he doesn’t want it?’”
84.Allan Gibb, from Marine Scotland, said: “the challenges are around how you dispose of small amounts of undersize fish if you do not have the facilities. Are you going to pay for a big lorry to take half a box of fish 500 miles? There are economic elements and associated disproportionate costs.”
85.Dr Catchpole told us: “There will be challenges at the ports. The infrastructure is not there to deal with that material.” Jeremy Percy agreed: “Nobody has made any preparation.” Graeme Searle provided an example: “Plymouth Trawler Agents are the second biggest auctioneers in the country … We would have to double the refrigeration capacity, the boxes and the landing staff. There is absolutely nothing in place.”
“Around three years ago … We set up something called the onshore task force, which included all the ports and fishing industry interests, to work out how to handle it. At the time, they identified that there is quite a bit of processing capacity to handle those issues … Subsequently, as we rolled out the landing obligation in those areas, we found fewer problems with undersize and juvenile fish than we thought, because there have been improvements in selectivity. We have been able to have more survivability exemptions … I think I am right in saying that the problem has not presented itself as quite the challenge that was anticipated as recently as three years ago.”
87.Helen McLachlan, from WWF-UK, suggested that the reason that additional port facilities had not been needed to date was “because there have not been the levels of landings anticipated; the fish have presumably continued to be discarded at sea”.
88.With fishing vessels unable to discard unwanted fish, a proportion of their storage capacity will in future be taken up with fish of little or no market value. There is an obvious economic impact for fishers from this change.
89.Fish caught below minimum conservation reference size must now be landed. It is currently unknown what volumes will be landed or what markets there might be for these fish, which cannot be sold for human consumption. There are concerns that the port infrastructure and supply chains needed to receive, store and sell or dispose of these fish are not in place. Despite the Minister’s confidence that this issue had been resolved, the strong evidence heard in this inquiry suggests that those concerns remain valid.
90.Indeed, the fact that such concerns have not yet given rise to major problems during the phasing-in of the landing obligation may mean only that fishers are continuing to discard undersized fish. If the ban on discards is properly enforced, the volumes landed should rise significantly and additional facilities for storing and potentially disposing of these fish may well be needed.
91.We urge the Government to monitor this situation closely, and to work with the fishing industry and ports to obtain a clear picture of the volumes of undersized fish landed, the markets available and the quantities for which no market is found, which therefore have to be disposed of.