Commission proposes to end discard "waste" –

Commission proposes to end discard “waste” Published:  28 March, 2007

Joe Borg

TODAY, the European Commission spelled out their proposed strategy for reducing unwanted catches and eliminating discards in European fisheries.

The Commission’s “Communication” on the issue is intended to initiate a debate which will continue through to the end of this year. A plan for implementation in specific fisheries will be drawn up, and the first regulations for specific fisheries could be proposed as early as 2008.

The Commission says discarding is the practice of dumping overboard unwanted fish or other marine organisms which have been caught unintentionally. Discard rates in European fisheries vary widely,they say from negligible in some small-scale coastal fisheries, to up to 70-90% of the catches in some trawl fisheries.

“The proposed approach represents an innovation for the Common Fisheries Policy. It involves the adoption of a progressive fishery-by-fishery discard ban and the setting of standards for maximum acceptable by-catch. This will provide an incentive to industry to devise ways to meeting the by-catch targets, rather than through series of measures to regulate landings. In short, the incentive would be for fishers to take from the sea only what can be marketed.”

Discarding is wrong, says the Commission, because it represents a waste of precious marine resources. Therefore, it makes no ecological, economic or ethical sense. The sooner we bring this wasteful practice to an end, the better for fish stocks, the marine environment and the fishing industry.” European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, added.

Discarding has been addressed in the EU before, mainly through measures regulating fishing gear, such as net mesh sizes or the use of escape panels in, or acoustic devices on nets. Some types of fishing gear have had considerable success but the application of the related measures is already complicated to apply and control. To make it more complex would be “counter-productive.”

Instead, the Commission believes that a management system based on outcomes, defined in terms of maximum acceptable by-catch, together with an obligation to land all fish caught, will provide a strong incentive for fishermen to devise the technical solutions that are most appropriate to their own activities. Such a system would also be far simpler for all parties to implement and enforce. Flanking measures would include encouragements to improve the selectivity of fishing gear, area closures and obligations to switch fishing grounds when there are aggregations of young fish, for example.

The exact structure of such a management system, and its impact on related measures, such as total allowable catches and quotas, will need to be worked out in some detail, as will the arrangements to be put in place for landing what would previously have been discarded.

Unwanted catches and discards represent a direct threat to the sustainability of European fisheries as most of the fish and organisms discarded do not survive. Discarding affects particularly young fish which are below the authorised minimum landing size (MLS). MLS are designed to ensure that young fish are not targeted so that they stay in the sea to replenish the stocks. However, discarding also hits stocks of adult fish. This can be the case in fisheries where several species are caught together (for example, cod, haddock and whiting). The vessel may have quota remaining for one species (say haddock), but not for the others (cod or whiting). Fishers can also choose to retain only the most valuable fish, thus dumping marketable fish of lower value.

Discarding results in reducing the number of mature fish which could be caught and sold, by fishing them when they are too young and reducing the number of mature fish which survive to reproduce. In both cases, discarding directly reduces the future productivity of the seas. Discarding also affects other species taken as unwanted by-catch, not only non-commercial species of fish, but also other marine organisms such as some sea birds, turtles and mammals. It thus not only undermines the biological and economic sustainability of the fisheries within which it is practiced but it can also have a wider negative impact on the marine environment, on the integrity of marine ecosystems and on the conservation of biodiversity.

Discarding, therefore, is contrary to both the aims of the Common Fisheries Policy, and to specific commitments made by the European Union, such as those under the UN Convention on Biodiversity, or the commitment to manage fish stocks for sustainable yield given at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

A 2005 study published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated the amount of discards in the North Atlantic at 1,332,000 tonnes per year – 13% of the catches. The estimated discards for the North Sea ranged from 500,000 to 880,000 tonnes. To the west of Ireland and Scotland, discards ranged from 31 to 90% of catches depending on the fleets, target species and depth. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, discards amounted to 18,000 tonnes or 4.9% of the catches. In the Baltic, this rate was estimated to be low at an average of 1.4%