The imminent ban on the practice of dumping healthy catches was at the forefront of discussions between the UK Fisheries minister and industry leaders last week.
MP George Eustice met with Scottish Fishermen’s Federation boss Bertie Armstrong and representatives from the whitefish, shellfish and pelagic sectors in Peterhead and Fraserburgh on Thursday.
Skippers concerned about how the ban will be put in place had a chance to air their objections to Mr Eustice as he gears up for the latest round of EU negotiations.
Mr Eustice last met with fishing representatives in Peterhead in October 2013, days after he was appointed Minister for Farming, Food and Fisheries.
After last week’s discussions, Bertie Fowlie said: “He had a quick look at the Scottish industry and its challenges and aspirations just after he joined and now he knows a great deal more about the whole process.
“It’s a good time to come. It’s negotiating season and we’re looking at perhaps the biggest challenge facing Scottish fishing and that’s the discard ban.
“He’s heard a concentrated view from the fishermen as to what might work and what might not work as well as their fears and aspirations so it was a good time for him to come.”
Mr Eustice was also positive about the talks. The Conservative MP said: “I’ve been encouraged because I’ve met a number of fishermen today who’ve made the point that fish stocks are in better health than they’ve been for many years.
“We’ve seen across the EU a number of fish, including across the North Sea, which are being fished at sustainable levels.
“A lot of these fishermen are saying they’ve got children who want to come into the business and that’s fantastic news.
“The future’s good provided we fish sustainably and that’s why, although we’ve had to take some difficult decisions at times around quotas that are set in order to get the stocks back to good health, its for the long term benefit of the industry that we do that.”
He described the discard ban as a ‘central discipline’ in ensuring the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy works.
“The discipline of fishing sustainably and not throwing perfectly good fish back into the water dead has got to be right.
“But I absolutely understand there are practical challenges to making that work in practice rather than just in theory and these were recognised in negotiations and that’s why there are lots of flexibilities in the way the ban works.”
From next year fishing boats will be obliged to land unwanted fish caught in their nets.
A number of exemptions have been attached to the ban which officials hope will allow it to work in practice.
Skippers will be able to offset quotas of one species with quotas of another, should they net unexpected quantities.
There are also exemptions for fish with high ‘survivability’ rates such as species of flatfish which can go back into the water.
The fisheries minister added: “There are lots of exemptions to make this work in practice as well as in theory.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure we get those right and that’s why myself and my officials are in constant dialogue with fishermen and representative to find a way through this.”
The practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea increased because of strict EU quotas on which fish could be landed, part of efforts to conserve fish stocks.
In 2009, Scottish vessels were forced by the Common Fisheries Policy to discard almost 30,000 tonnes of fish, valued at more than £30m.