The common fisheries policy requires fishermen to throw back fish that are too young, over fished or for which they have no quota. Many fish die in the process.
Celebrity chef turned fisheries campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We want to see a discards ban. Half a million tonnes of fish – including prime cod – are thrown away every year because fishermen are over quota.”
Sometimes smaller fish are thrown away by fishermen anxious to reserve their quota for bigger fish, he added.
Fearnley-Whittingstall said fishermen should be rewarded for adopting more sustainable forms of fishing.
Speaking on the same programme, fisheries minister Richard Benyon – who is attending the meeting in Luxembourg today – said that a discards ban for pelagic (open ocean) species could be introduced by 2015.
Implementing a discards ban for white fish (such as cod and whiting) was more complicated, he said. “But we are one of the countries pushing for a discards ban. We know that working with the fishing industry is effective,” he said.
France, Portugal and Poland are thought to oppose a ban on discards. Some fishermen favour discards because it allows them to throw away lower value species and land only the best and most profitable fish for sale.
Describing the Common Fisheries Policy as “broken,” Benyon said he wanted to see an end to “the top down control [from Brussels] of the fishing industry”.
Benyon was optimistic that stocks would respond to conservation measures. He reported a 140% increase in catches of cod in the western channel.
Thousands of tonnes
But Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “The only cod stocks that are not rated as over fished are in the eastern Baltic. We are still seeing thousands of tonnes of white fish discarded each year.”
Speaking ahead of today’s meeting Fearnley-Whittingstall urged people to contact politicians and to show their feelings via social networking. "This is a key meeting [today] – lines will be drawn that will be very hard to retract or adapt afterwards."
The TV chef has led a high-profile campaign to ban fish discards based on his series for Channel 4 Fish Fight. More than 650,000 people have signed a petition supporting an end to discards.
Celebrity supporters include: Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Paxman.
Commenting on discards Paxman said: “If this is conservation, then I’m the Mad Hatter.”
For more information about the Fish Fight campaign, click here.