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Industry fears more red tape in crackdown on overfishing

19 May 2005

Restaurants, hotels and pubs will be tackling yet more red tape in the future thanks to a move by the Government to control the fish market and prevent overfishing.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is proposing that all "first sale" fish buyers and sellers will have to register with Fisheries Departments in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from this autumn. The legislation will follow in Wales in 2006.

The legislation, the Registration of Fish Buyers and Sellers Regulation 2005, refers to trade in "first sale" fish only - a term that refers to fish sold for the first time.

A Defra spokeswoman said the new rules would combat the trade in "black fish", where fishermen land more fish than they're allowed under European quotas, and then sell the excess fish on the black market, which is contributing to overfishing.

Industry officials say the trade in illegally caught fish in Britain is worth up to £100m a year, and may account for up to half of all fish caught.

Buyers and sellers will have to notify the departments what they have bought and for how much each time they make a purchase. They will also have to keep a record of purchases.

Defra said registered buyers would include hotels, restaurants and pubs that purchase "first sale" fish. It added that this didn't include fish that had been previously sold to a supplier.

The legislation is due to kick in on 1 September, but has caused concern within the industry as it will mean more bureaucracy and form-filling.

A Defra spokeswoman said records had to be kept accurately so that the department could supply catch figures to the EU to help it set quotas and prevent overfishing. She also advised chefs to check the paperwork accompanying fish sales to ensure their supplies were through a legitimate source and hadn't been illegally landed.

But Mathew Onslow Brown, who owns the Fishes restaurant in Burnham Market, Norfolk, believes the answer to the "black fish" problem lies in the quotas.

"What we need is to get rid of quotas. Get small boats fishing for what they need to fish for and not boats that hoover up the entire ocean," he said. "Everyone needs to work for the common goal of the whole industry, and we don't need more red tape like this."

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