The controversial practice of East Anglian fishermen dumping dead fish back into the North Sea looks set to be scrapped it was announced yesterday.

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In the biggest shake-up of the Common Fisheries Policy to date, the European Commission revealed plans to ban the 18 small fishing vessels based in Lowestoft, Southwold and Great Yarmouth from discarding fish.

The EC says the ban is necessary to meet sustainable fishing targets from 2015 to help protect ever dwindling fish stocks.

As highlighted in Channel 4’s recent Fish Fight series it is estimated that 50pc of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back overboard dead because fishermen inadvertently catch more than their quota.

Discards also happen as fishermen may catch a fish they did not intend to catch or there is no market for.

Yesterday’s proposed shake-up will see quotas kept but discarding will end with East Anglia’s declining fishing industry obliged to land all their catch.

However the decision to ban discards was criticised by the Anglia Fishermen’s Association as there were no firm details as to how each country would police it.

And the organisation also said in order to protect fish stocks the quota system should be scrapped and replaced with a time limit of trawlers going out to sea and restrictions on the equipment they use.

Melvin Robinson, spokesman for the Anglia Fishermen’s Association, although welcoming the principle of banning discards, queried how it would be implemented.

Mr Robinson, who has been a Lowestoft fishermen for 25 years and has the fishing boat the Four Daughters, said: “It is all very noble, but how are they going to achieve it or police it? How would they monitor every fishing boat?”

Mr Robinson also said the core problem for beleaguered fishermen and fish stocks was the quota system. It only gives 4pc of Britain’s fishing rights to the country’s fleet of fishing vessels under 10m long – even 
though they make up 85 of the nation’s fleet.

His organisation has proposed quotas be replaced with time constraints on all vessels out to sea and limits on the size of their nets, lines and pots. Mr Robinson said: “The whole quota system is just unsustainable. It needs replacing with practical measures.”

The EC says banning discards will lead to more reliable data of fish stocks to help manage them and will encourage the use of selective fishing equipment. It says radical reform is needed as 75pc of fish stocks have been over fished.

Peter Aldous, Waveney MP said the reforms should help the region’s fishermen, although there was a lot of devil still in the detail to be confirmed.

The Common Fisheries Policy reform also includes reducing fleet over-capacity through market measure rather than subsidies, developing alternative types of fish management and financial support for environmentally friendly measures and small fisheries.

Announcing the reforms Maria Damanaki, commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, said: “If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run and all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish.”

The discard ban will not impact on King’s Lynn, Cromer and Wells as the towns’ fleets are focused on catching crustaceans and shell fish.

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

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