Owen Patterson, the Conservative MP for North Shropshire, has been called out by BBC Reality Check over his claims that a million tons of dead fish has been thrown back into the sea each year by UK fishermen because of the discard ban.
BBC Reality Check has said “We’ve looked at a claim by Owen Paterson that UK fishermen “were throwing away a million tonnes of fish dead every year” because of the EU fishing rules. The rules required some fish to be thrown back (discarded’) it in the past but the EU started reversing these from 2015 onwards.
 “On the question of “a million tonnes every year” – we haven’t found any estimate that comes up with this figure for UK this cards alone.
“Mr Patterson told us that he believed to be widely recognised estimate but said that the reality is we don’t know.”
BBC Reality Check investigated to claims after Conservative MP and former Environment Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Brexit would allow the UK to become “an independent maritime nation” and “stop the complete horrors” of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
He said under safety rules UK fishermen were “throwing back a million tons of fish dead is pollution every year”.
The Reality Check verdict was No one has ever come up with a credible figure of one million tonnes for UK fishermen alone. It’s true that UK fishermen were required by EU rules in the past to throw back unwanted or undersized fish – although exactly how much is not known. The EU started reversing these rules in 2016 and by 2019 vessels weren’t allowed to throw back any fish subject to quotas. There’s some evidence discarding is still happening, though, despite the rule change.”
In 2010, University of Exeter scientists put the figure at 267,000 tonnes of fish discarded in the North Sea in 2010 – and said this figure had declined from about 500,000 tonnes in 1990. (BBC)
A House of Lords report published in 2019 said that 2013 an estimated 1.7 million tons of fish and other marine animals were thrown back into the sea each year across European waters – again and not specifically by UK fishermen
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) told the BBC that did not recognise that one million tons of fish, as quoted by Mr Patterson was discarded and also did not believe that the estimate could be reached.
From January 2015 onwards, the EU start reversing its policy on discarding and it introduced the ‘Landing Obligation’ on fishermen to keep the fish they caught.
When the BBC spoke to Mr Patterson, he said he was referring to the situation under the old rules but added he “knew the discard ban was not going to work.”
While he believed the one million figure to be widely recognised estimate, acknowledged that “the reality is we don’t know.”
Our.Fish and Open Seas have made similar claims in regards to discarding fish but so far none of their claims can be accurately proven.

Owen Patterson MP called out by Reality Check on Discard Allegation

by editor time to read: 7 min