Thursday, July 25, 2024

Britain’s ban on sand eel fishing angers Danish fishermen, prompts EU challenge

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Denmark pulls in approximately 100,000 tonnes of sand eels from UK waters every year – a catch valued at US$43 million.

Fishing groups have warned of the wider impact of the ban, which puts hundreds of jobs at risk – and not just at sea.

Those in the supply chain will be affected as well, including dozens of fish processing factories which turn sand eels into a range of products such as fish oil for human consumption and food for commercially farmed salmon.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Sand eels is the common name used for several species of fish which make up a crucial part of the food chain in the North Sea.

Many conservationists describe sand eels as the cornerstone of the marine ecosystem there, adding that climate change and overfishing have caused their numbers to rapidly dwindle. 

That decline ripples up the food chain, where the eels are an important source of food for a wide range of animals from puffins to porpoises.

Conservationists said the scale of modern commercial fishing is unsustainable and they back the ban that many have, for years, campaigned for.

“Every year, 8 to 11 billion sand eels are removed from the North Sea. I’d like to see them do (a similar ban) in European Union waters,” said Jonny Hughes, a senior policy manager at marine conservation organisation Blue Marine Foundation.

“But first, (Denmark and the EU) should stop trying to tell countries outside of the European Union that they can or can’t take conservation measures within their own waters. To me, that’s pretty fundamental,” he added.

UK-EU TENSIONS

Denmark has since raised a complaint to the EU, saying its fishermen have lost significant fishing ground due to the new restrictions.

The European Commission is challenging Britain’s ban, saying it breaches post-Brexit international trade agreements. 

If the UK does not reach a compromise with the bloc, escalation could eventually lead to sanctions against Britain.

Many marine conservation groups have pledged their support for Britain, and launched a campaign demanding the EU bans destructive bottom trawling in protected waters.

Birgit S Hansen, mayor of Frederikshavn Municipality that includes Skagen, said she is well aware of the need to balance the ecosystem with a vitally important business.

“Of course, we have to take care of the environment, the sea… (think about) a green transition and sustainability. But the laws and the regulations (are made by) the parliament, the state and also the EU,” she said.

As the UK’s July general election looms, the government will need to make a decision on the longevity of the ban and whether to turn the disagreement into a much bigger issue with the EU.

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