MEP wants debate on future of fishing

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EUROPEAN decision-makers have been told more needs to be done to protect the livelihoods of Hastings fishermen amid the release of concerning new fish figures.

Maria Damanaki, the European Union’s (EU) fisheries commissioner, revealed last week that the amount of fish being caught in European waters fell by more than 30 per cent between 1998 and 2008 - with those fishermen here in the south east among the worst affected.

And that, of course, includes the struggles of boats who fish from Hastings and nearby Rye, who are not only battling stringent EU quotas but also forced to throw back any dead fish landed over the legal limit.

During a heated debate in Brussels ahead of next year’s expected reforms to the existing common fisheries policy, Hastings area MEP Sharon Bowles made clear her expectations that the needs of small fishing boats should be at the forefront of any new legislation. She told fellow MEPS that while overfishing was a huge concern, it should not necessarily take priority over protecting the future of the industry. She said: “While sustainability is an issue that must be addressed, there are many other issues that need urgent attention.

“For example, the plight of sub-10 metre boats, which are prohibited from catching a better-than-subsistence quota of fish, has been largely ignored in favour of more emotive issues such as discards.

“I have met with fishermen in recent months who tell me that they struggle to catch fish because much of the quota is allocated to big producer organisations, many of which sell their quota, some of it unused, to other organisations for a profit.

“While I wholeheartedly support the abolition of discards, I hope that this issue, along with sustainability, is not the only issue on the table. There should be a proper debate on fishing quotas and their allocation, especially when there are so many fishermen struggling to make ends meet.”

The MEP has previously backed the Observer’s campaign to secure a fairer deal of the quota for the under 10 metre boats like those here in Hastings.