Last year, the British public helped win a hard-fought battle to protect our oceans from overfishing. On December 3rd, their work might be unravelled. EU politicians are voting on what was supposed to be a technical detail of the new, improved fisheries law. Unfortunately, the vote risks being hijacked by those who want to take us back to the bad old days of overfishing and throwing away edible fish.
In 2010, we started working with the Fish Fight campaign that aired on UK television. It highlighted how Europe's perverse fishing laws made fishermen throw back tonnes of fish every day, dead or dying. Everyone agreed that this system had to be changed.
Fish Fight, led by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, aimed to get 250,000 signatures calling for an end to discards. By the time we took the campaign to politicians, it had over 850,000 signatures. Thousands of people also took to Twitter to demand sustainable fishing. Politicians and industry listened, and the EU chose to move away from discards. The new policy, known as the landing obligation or "discard ban", means quota-managed fish managed that are caught will be brought to land. This also means that the total number of fish caught will be recorded. With this information, more sustainable fishing limits can be set. This is better for fish, fishers and the public.
Banning wasteful discards was the major success of the new EU fisheries law, known as the Common Fisheries Policy. It is clearer than the old law and includes safeguards to protect fishers. Fortunately, the landing obligation is here to stay. The vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday is to make sure the old rules that made fishermen discard are now in line with the new policy. Unfortunately, this is under threat.
Some members of the European Parliament, particularly from France, Spain and Ireland, want to undermine the discard ban and make it less enforceable. If they have their way, the result will be confusion and uncertainty - the last thing the industry needs right now.
The fishing industry has been gearing up for the landing obligation, and progress is being made. New nets with larger holes mean smaller fish, doomed to be thrown back dead under the old law, are allowed to swim free.
When the public voted to reform EU fisheries law, politicians showed they were listening. Healthy oceans are achievable, but continued support from Brussels is essential. This support has been promised and is enshrined in the new Common Fisheries Policy. For the vote on December 3rd, this support is more important than ever. By trying to push through their own agenda, instead of just doing what needs to be done, Parliamentarians are no longer listening. If they were, they would vote to uphold the discard ban and protect our oceans.