Monday, 4 August 2014

The Cornish Sardine

The Cornish sardine industry has a long history and is one of the recent success stories of the Cornish fishing fleet. Pilchards, as they were always known in Cornwall, were a staple part of the diet and a large industry grew up around them in the 19th century. The "huers" used to be scouts who looked out for the best schools of fish before setting out to sea and casting nets.

Like many other fish species, the pilchard was first over fished and then later fell out of fashion leading a decline in the industry. However, in the last decade or so a number of enterprising fishermen have revived the industry and the pilchard, now rebranded the "Cornish sardine", has been going from strength to strength.

At the end of last year we secured an important reform to the discredited Common Fisheries Policy. There is now a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and we will be phasing in a ban on the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly good fish dead back into the sea from next year.

In order to make this new ban on discards work will be much more flexibility in the way quotas operate. Fishermen will be able to count surplus stocks on one fish species as another where they have spare quota. There will also be exemptions for fish that usually survive if returned to the water.

There had been concerns about the possible impact of the discard ban on our sardine industry. Cornish sardines are not restricted by quotas but while targeting schools of sardines, fishermen will sometimes unintentionally land other species such as herring and mackerel which are subject to quotas.

There has been a practice of occasionally releasing nets at sea before the school is drawn out of the water when it is clear that they are mainly juvenile fish. Some say that these juvenile sardines have high survivability rates and we need more time to look into these issues. I was keen to ensure that common sense prevailed on this issue and we managed to get agreement from the European Commission that the sardine industry can continue as now giving us several years more time to assess the issue of by catch species and to identify a solution.

If we want a future for our fishing industry then we must start by fishing sustainably and, for once, we have managed to get a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy that has a real chance of delivering a result.