Oceana call for discards ban – Fishupdate.com

Oceana call for discards ban Published:  27 March, 2007

Ricardo Aguilar

CONSERVATION group Oceana has called for a total prohibition of discards in the European fleet as a much-needed measure for the protection of fishing resources and marine ecosystems

They say more than 7.3 million tonnes of fish are thrown overboard every year. This amount represents 8% of the world’s total catch. “This practice, known in the fishing world as discards, consists of throwing away the portion of the catch which is of no commercial value or which infringes some current norm or regulation. The accidental capture of non-commercial or non-target species, catches that are over the quota or that are too young, or even the simple desire to raise the product market price are some of the reasons why discards are such a widespread practice.”

But discards are not only a waste of fishing resources, they also pose, they say, an additional problem where over-exploitation is concerned as they cannot be adequately measured for the purposes of evaluating the real state of stocks. Scientists do not receive any information about what is really being taken from the sea, and so the models that are applied for evaluating the state of fishing grounds are dubious or even erroneous. Discards also disrupt the ecosystem and put the future survival of fish populations at risk. Oceana calls for the total prohibition of this practice in the European fleet. Countries like Norway and Iceland have already made this new measure a part of their national legislation.

“For the European Commission, minimising discards is a priority of the first order for management of fishing grounds. That is why the Commission intends to publish a Communication setting out the procedures for the elimination of this practice in the fishing fleet in the coming years.”

Commented Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director of Oceana for Europe: “Let’s hope that the direction taken by the Commission is the correct one and is not just limited to a series of purely superficial or cosmetic measures that leave new legal loopholes for the maintenance of this practice. Oceana not only calls for the total prohibition of discards but also for measures that move towards keeping in check the causes of this practice and that they should be accompanied by adequate controls, without which the plans effectiveness will be put at risk.”

One of the main causes of discards says Oceana is the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) system, which is the quota system used in the EU. It theoretically provides a number of quotas for catches, but there is a problem: these quotas are based on what is unloaded in port. The quotas should really be called Total Allowable Landings. If a ship exceeds the assigned quota, the only alternative available to the captain is to throw overboard, or discard, the excess fish. It is estimated that 1 out of every 6 kilos that reaches port in the EU is thrown overboard as discards. This estimate is based on unloading at port, not on real catches, and so this figure could be considerably higher. Oceana has frequently reiterated the need for assigned quotas to really be for catches and not for quantities unloaded.

Another common cause of discards, says the grouping is the capture of fish that are smaller than the permitted size, according to the current Minimum Landing Sizes. The use of unselective fishing gear leads to the illegal capture of immature fish that cannot be unloaded at port and that cannot be commercially used for any other purpose. Consequently these individuals are also discarded. The capture and discard of immature fish eliminates the possibility of their growing and becoming reproducers, thus reducing stocks without providing any commercial benefit.

Bycatch, or accidental catches make up the greatest part of the discarded fish, however they are not accounted for or regulated. There are fishing grounds in the EU where 70% of the total discard is made up of species with no commercial value.

Ricardo Aguilar adds: “A total prohibition of discards for the European fishing fleet would make fishermen amongst the first in being very interested in reducing bycatch. They would use all means at their disposal to increase the selectivity of their fishing gear”. He concludes by saying “Let’s hope that this process set in motion by the European Commission imposes measures to minimise this practice as soon as humanly possible and that these measures can be adapted to the reality of the situation.”

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