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Fishing industry struggling to avert lead ban

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EFTTA has failed to discredit a report calling for restrictions on the use of lead, leading to concerns that a European-wide ban is inevitable.

Industry concerns that a ban on lead in fishing in Europe is getting closer have deepened after the trade’s efforts to undermine a recent report supporting a ban were repelled.

The influential report, produced late last year by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for the European Commission, calls for the restricted use of lead in both fishing and shooting.

Its contents have been strongly contested by the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA), which commissioned its own response to the report from leading European fisheries management consultant and industry advisor, Dr Bruno Broughton.

However, in its response to Broughton’s 12-page advisory document, ECHA says that ‘for now, we do not see the need to update our report as we assess that the overall conclusions regarding fishing sinkers do not change.’

It is a bitter blow to EFTTA and an industry that relies heavily on lead as a component. It must now wait for the European Commission’s response to the ECHA report.

“We await the Commission’s next move,” said Jan Kappel, EFTTA’s Public Affairs Officer. “It is impossible to tell when they will make a decision. I am in the right expert groups to ask questions about this, beginning at the next meeting.

“The Commission would normally have three months to deal with ECHA’s submission, but as the report is a preliminary assessment of the information available at the time, the timescale could be extended.”

The ECHA report relies heavily on a study prepared by COWI, a Danish research company contracted by the European Commission in 2004 to explore the advantages and drawbacks of restricting the marketing and use of fishing sinkers.

But Broughton, former CEO of the Angling Trades Association (ATA) in the UK, has denounced the ECHA findings as ‘weak and confused’ and being based on outdated and inaccurate information.

“The COWI study was fundamentally flawed. An awful lot of the content was based on pure guesswork and could not be substantiated,” he said. “The ECHA report is consequently full of sweeping assumptions and lacking in real evidence. It refers to risks, but cannot back its assertions with data. Pick at it and it begins to unravel.

“This is a very important advisory report on which the European Commission will base decisions that are vital to the fishing and shooting industries. The document purports to be analytical, but its questionable quality could well have serious implications for angling.”

The ECHA report itself admits that the COWI 2004 study is ‘relatively old and potentially in need of some updating’, but insists that it incorporates all the necessary information for preparing a restriction on the use of lead.

It states that to protect European populations of certain water birds, further regulatory action addressing the issue of lead in fishing sinkers may be necessary.

And it further concludes that ‘the risk from lead in fishing tackle could be significantly reduced through a restriction on its marketing and use.’

EFTTA published a position paper in June 2015 calling on the tackle trade to phase out lead fishing weights heavier than 0.06 grams.

Several EU member states already have existing or voluntary agreements prohibiting the use of lead in fishing tackle. These include Denmark, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands.

European Anglers Alliance (EAA) President, Fred Bloot, told Angling International last year that the industry should not wait for the EU to apply pressure. “Angling must put pressure on itself to show the world we support sustainability,” he advised.

In his letter to Jan Kappel, ECHA’s Executive Director, Bjorn Hansen, says that ECHA’s report is a preliminary assessment of the information available at the time and does not have the status of an official dossier supporting a restriction.

However, the European tackle trade will be deeply concerned about the influence the report may have on the European Commission.

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