Camera surveil­lance on fishing vessels one step closer thanks to the Party for the Animals

16 March 2021

To counteract the bycatch of dolphins, seabirds, and other vulnerable marine species, the Party for the Animals wants to use camera surveillance on fishing vessels. This would also prevent the illegal discardment of commercially unviable fish. To achieve this, the party submitted a proposal to the European Parliament last week. “Better control is in the best interest of fish populations and other marine life and as a result in the best interest of fishers themselves”, states Anja Hazekamp, MEP for the Dutch Party for the Animals.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of dolphins and over 200 thousand seabirds die each year as they are caught as bycatch in fishing nets. The European Commission’s official advisory committee on fishery, the STECF, also states that fish that are too small or commercially unviable are still illegally thrown back into the sea on a massive scale. This practice has been outlawed since 2016, with the landing obligation requiring fishers to bring these “commercially unviable” fish ashore. As a compensation for this landing obligation, the fishing quotas were raised by up to 50%. In practice, however, a large share of the caught fish are still thrown overboard without being registered.

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Speech by MEP Anja Hazekamp of the Dutch Party for the Animals during the debate about the European Regulation on Fishery Control last week.

Overfishing and illegal dumping
According to research by the Wageningen University, the majority of caught fish that are thrown back into the sea do not survive. Because of this, fish populations are under an enormous pressure and the European system of fish quotas is on the verge of collapse, the STECF warns. According to experts, the collapse of the North Sea cod population is related to this practice of discardment. In 2018, the environmental organisation Our Fish already noticed that barely any “unwanted” cod was landed in the United Kingdom, even though fishers had received 5,200 additional tonnes of quota to compensate for landing the “unwanted” fish. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea also estimates that a lot more cod is caught than reported.

The Party for the Animals submitted a proposal that requires camera surveillance on fishing vessels in order to verify the catch data, to monitor the illegal discardment of “commercially unviable” fish, and to monitor the bycatch of vulnerable species. This way, the areas with the highest amount of bycatch can be mapped. Areas in which dolphins, seabirds, and turtles thrive can then be closed off to high-risk fishing activities, or other measures can be taken to prevent bycatch in those areas.

Privacy of the crews
“Naturally, the camera surveillance has to be done in line with the GDPR and other regulations regarding privacy and the processing of personal data”, Hazekamp stresses. The Party for the Animals has therefore proposed that the camera surveillance is limited to the parts of the ship where the fish are brought aboard, treated, and kept. The party also wants the cameras to be video-only, as recording audio could threaten the privacy of the crews.