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“Big Brother” On Board In Return For Bigger Catch Quotas

Scottish fishermen are to take part in trials of “spy in the boat” technology aimed at overhauling EU fishing practices to end the waste of discarding thousands of tons of dead fish at sea.

The plan, devised by the Danish Government, will give fishermen bigger catch quotas in return for closed-circuit television monitoring on board. Supporters of the cameras argue that the numbers of fish taken overall will fall with the end of high rates of so-called discards.

It is a potential blueprint for the re-drawing of the EU’s failed fishing policy, which after 25 years of rows about quotas, days at sea and net sizes still results in 88 per cent of stocks overfished compared with 25 per cent worldwide. While 24,400 tons of cod were landed in the North Sea in 2007, 23,600 tons were thrown back dead and another 14,600 tons were unaccounted for as fishermen strove to keep within their strict EU landing quotas, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

The EU announced in April that it would rip up its Common Fisheries Policy and start again because stocks of cod, bluefin tuna and other fish such as anchovy remained depleted. The Scottish government will begin its trial of on-board cameras later this year by installing CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) technology in seven volunteer boats. Just as in a similar Danish trial already under way, the fishermen will be given catch quotas rather than landing quotas, meaning that every fish caught will be counted rather than simply every fish brought back to shore.

To reflect the dramatic reduction this will bring in discards at sea, the catch quota can be 50 per cent higher than the current landing quota, giving the chance for a much-needed increase in income for fishermen from higher sales.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, supported the camera trials as way of giving responsibility back to fishermen. “Everybody supports a reduction in discards,” said Mr. Armstrong. “There are pros and cons, with concerns about privacy with CCTV. But within the industry, the trial is awaited and there is cautious support. The Common Fisheries Policy has failed.”

The other advantage of CCTV cameras is that they will be able to confirm that fishermen have complied with international standards, so that consumers can have absolute confidence in fish marketed as sustainable.

WWF has supported the use of cameras. “It would be an important step forward to redress this failing policy and ensure that Europe’s fish stocks return to sustainable levels,” said Aaron McLoughlin, head of the European Marine Program at the wildlife conservation group.