A DEFRA spokesperson told us it was taking a strong line on the ban, which was set for implementation on the 1 January 2015 if agreed by member states and the European Parliament. Proposed by the Commission in May with a period of public consultation ending last week, the strategy was in response to concerns that driftnet fishing could pose a risk for protected species such as turtles and some kinds of sea birds and mammals. The fishing practice sets nets drifting close to the surface of the water.
DEFRA said: “A blanket EU-wide ban on driftnet fishing is completely inappropriate for our waters. We anticipate negotiations will begin soon and we will be seeking appropriate derogations from this ban.”
Under EU law a derogation is a provision allowing all or part of a legal measure to be applied differently or not at all to individuals, groups or organisations. The option is often granted to member states to enable greater flexibility in the application of the law.
Discussing the ban, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said it sent a clear message “irresponsible practices" were no longer tolerated.
"Fishing with driftnets destroys marine habitats, endangers marine wildlife and threatens sustainable fisheries. I am convinced that the only way to eradicate this once and for all is to have clear rules which leave no room for interpretation. We need to close any possible loopholes and simplify control and enforcement by national authorities. This will in the end also save the livelihood of those fishermen which have applied the rules over the past years,” she said.
Meanwhile, a report from industry body Seafish and other stakeholders has called for an “immediate re-think” of the universal ban, claiming it was “unnecessary, heavy handed, disproportionate and inappropriate for UK waters”.
Seafish called for a more regional approach to the EU’s Common Fisheries Reform. It said the fishing practice was an issue in Mediterranean waters, but in the UK it was used mainly on a small-scale, seasonal basis.
It said the proposal – which has pushed DEFRA to write a letter of consultation counselling against a full ban - had generated some “unusual alliances across fishing interests in the UK”. It said it had united fishermen, managers, legislators, campaigners and NGOs, adding there was a general feeling that a “low-impact, versatile and iconic” form of fishing was being threatened.
Tom Pickerell, technical director at Seafish said the EU had not taken into account local-level implications.
“It has become a clear case of what is right for one, is not right for another. Larger scale drift net fishing is undoubtedly damaging in other areas of the EU but not evidenced here in the UK, so a far more considered assessment is required.
“The way UK fishermen use driftnets is on a small scale, often seasonal, and usually with the vessel close by, meaning environmental impacts when compared to other gear types are very low. For this not to be taken into consideration by the EU seems to be a mistake and industry and stakeholders are united against the current proposals.”
The report’s author, Jim Masters of Pelican’s Foot Associates, said UK driftnet fisheries were considered to be “very ‘clean’ in wider environmental terms”, and that there had not been any evidence to show they had had “significant close contact” with the endangered, threatened and protected species mentioned by the EU.
“It would be far better for the EU to therefore ensure that all fisheries are managed effectively and stocks are brought under formal scientific assessment. This would do as much to minimise the environmental impacts of driftnet fishing as any ban might,” Masters added.
In the EU it is already forbidden to use driftnets to catch certain migratory species such as tuna and swordfish, and large driftnets over 2.5 km in length are prohibited entirely. However the Commission said there were persistent concerns over unintentional impacts for protected species, as well as fishermen’s outright illegal use of the practice or exploitation of regulation loopholes.
It said alongside the ban, definitions of what constitutes a driftnet would also be “refined”. It said the fact that driftnet fishing occurred in a wide area and that many boats were small had made it difficult to enforce the current regulations. “This means Europe is not complying with its international obligation to restrict use of these nets,” the Commission said.
Driftnet fishing is carried out in several EU countries, including Portugal, Slovenia and the UK. A similar ban is already in place in the Baltic Sea.