report published today by the House of Commons’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee concludes that the European Commission’s proposal for an out-right ban beginning in 2014 of “commercial” fish discards – the controversial practice of fishermen being forced to throw overboard any fish not permitted within their quota allowance – is a “knee-jerk reaction” to the problem. It argues:A
We strongly support the Commission’s desire to minimise discarding rates. However, we are concerned that by deciding to implement a ban so swiftly and with so little scope for stakeholder engagement, the Commission risks creating a scheme that will be unworkable and will be flouted, or worse, will merely shift unwanted fish in the sea to unwanted fish on land. We suggest it might be advisable to delay the discard ban until 2020 to give time to do the groundwork for its successful implementation. This is not an excuse to ignore the discard problem — effective and proactive measures must be put in place in the mean time to incentivise more selective fishing…The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should support a rapid shift from counting the fish landed against quotas to counting the fish caught against quotas. This will address the problem of inaccurate reporting of fish mortality due to unrecorded discards in the period before the discard ban is implemented.
Delaying the ban until 2020 is likely to anger campaigners who have fought to see an end to this wasteful practice. For example, FishFight, the campaign against discards set up by the food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has gathered more than 750,000 signatures of support from across the EU, as well as forcing a debate in the UK parliament. However, the FishFight campaign’s position acknowledges ending discards outright is not simple:
Re-writing the Common Fisheries Policy is going to be an enormously complicated business, and unfortunately there is no one easy solution to ending discards. Most people agree that the answer will lie in a combination of different ideas and policies. Experts have offered a number of potential answers. Hugh’s fish fight is not trying to dictate the exact solutions politicians should choose – simply to ensure that whatever their choice for 2012, the prevention of discarding should be a top priority.
Attempts to reform the Common Fisheries Policy has long been complicated by a web of vested interests and national politicking. But, over the past year, a consensus among the fishing and food industries and campaigners has emerged indicating that there is widespread agreement that discards need to be phased out. The question now, it seems, is how to phase them out, and how soon.
But what are your own thoughts about the banning of fish discards? Should they be outlawed as fast as possible? Or is a slower, more considered phase-out more wise? For example, the parliamentary committee wants a “more gradual approach built on a sound science base and the local experience of fishermen”. And should member states, as some within the EU are calling, be allowed more flexibility to “go it alone” when it comes to fishing quotas?
If quoting figures to support your points, please provide a link to the source. I will also be inviting various interested parties to join the debate, too. And later on today, I will return with my own verdict.
FishFight programmes:I’ve just received this response from Will Anderson, series producer of the
Hugh [Fearnley-Whittingstall] is out at sea, filming the next instalment to the Fish Fight campaigns, so he hasn’t yet heard this disappointing news yet. But it shows just how broken the Common Fisheries Policy has become when a committee of MPs come out with a report suggesting that it is a good idea to carry on killing and then throwing away perfectly edible fish at sea.
Fish Fight understands that introducing a blanket ban on discards overnight would not be practical, which is why we were heartened by Commissioner Damanaki’s plans to introduce a phased in ban over the next 4 years. Delaying a ban until 2020 means millions more tonnes of fish are going to be pointlessly wasted, a situation we simply cannot afford to allow to continue.
Most fishermen hate discarding fish, and the response to our campaign has proven that the public hate the discarding fish, and yet some politicians seem to be the ones who want this ludicrous situation to continue. It is the politicians’ responsibility to find a solution to this mess. Carrying on as we are for longer is not a solution.
Of course, it is a complicated problem. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But Fish Fight believes that a ban will incentivize everyone concerned into coming up with ways of reducing the amount of unwanted fish which are caught in the first place. This has got to be the ultimate goal, and we can all do our part in helping to achieve this. At the moment 50% of the fish discarded are thrown away because there is no market for it. That is why we have been encouraging the public to become more adventurous fish eaters, and retailers to promote more different kinds of fish. If we can help create a market for these fish, they won’t need to be discarded in the first place.
Everyone seems to agree that the Common Fisheries Policy needs a radical reform. We are afraid that this report is going to derail the good work that many people are doing to try to achieve that. In order to change things in Europe, the UK needs to take a bold stance. Delaying any change until 2020 does not feel bold.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation in reaction to the related news that the EU used its emergency powers yesterday to avoid excessive discarding of haddock in the West of Scotland:I’ve received this statement from the
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has welcomed the move today by the European Commission to use emergency powers to reduce and avoid excessive discarding of haddock in the West of Scotland.
Under the previous “unworkable” catch composition rules, which governed the proportion of the various species that could be landed, fishermen had no option other than to dump large quantities of marketable haddock back into the sea despite having a catch quota for the species.
Now, in a move to bring an end to unnecessary discards and following a long campaign from the Scottish industry, the EC will permit fishermen to land their haddock quota as it is caught by immediately suspending the catch composition rules. This will apply for an initial six-month period (the maximum available under emergency powers), with the expectation that it will be extended thereafter.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “We welcome this announcement by Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. Under the previous ludicrous and totally unworkable catch composition rules fishermen had no option other than to discard large quantities of perfectly good haddock, which was a tragic waste.
“We also welcome the fact that this appears to be a long overdue recognition from the EC, made in a statement by Commissioner Damanaki, that the inherent cause of discarding is down to fundamentally flawed regulations, rather than from the legitimate activities of fishermen.”
posted online all of the written evidence it received when considering its report. It includes submissions from the RSPB, Defra, the Scottish government, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and the New Economics Foundation.The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has
pdf). It contains a huge trove of data, but includes an overview of the problem:Last July, the European Commission published its Impact Assessment of Discard Reducing Policies (
It is important to distinguish between by-catch and discards. By-catch is the unintended catch of organisms during fishing. It also refers to the catch of juveniles or undersize fish of the species targeted. By-catch can still hold economic value and may be kept on board to sell as a by-product. However, discards is a term specifically used for catch which is not kept but is thrown back, often dead, in to the sea. This may be either unwanted by-catch or target fish. It may occur for a number of reasons, including the perceived poor quality and lack of value of fish compared to others (high grading), or because landing or retention is prohibited by regulation. Globally, discarding is estimated to be 8% (6.8 million t) of the total volume of fish caught annually (Kelleher 2005). Kelleher (2005) also noted that 1.3 million tonnes of this discarding occurs in FAO area 27 which includes much of the EU’s EEZ. The level of uncertainty over total catches that arises from discarding can hamper efforts to accurately assess current stock levels. In an economic and social sense discarding is wasteful of the energy and cost used to catch the fish. It also represents a waste of wealth and resources, given the importance of fish as a source of protein.
Discarding in EU fisheries:
Discarding occurs in EU fisheries sometimes at high levels, such as: 30-60% for the finfish fishery off the Iberian Peninsula (MRAG, 2007); 50% of the catch in North Sea beam trawl fleets (MRAG, 2007); between 20-98% in the North Sea nephrops trawl fleet (Enever et al, 2009); and 40% of most species through bottom-trawling in North east Atlantic fisheries (STECF, 2006). High levels of discarding are often associated with trawl fisheries. However, given the influence of regulation and perverse market incentives, discarding at high levels can occur in fisheries targeted by any gear type. For example, the longline fishery for swordfish and albacore tuna in the Adriatic can reach discard levels of 50%.
Discarding does not only occur due to poor gear selectivity and the capture of unwanted fish. Undersize fish may be discarded due to the minimum landing size regulations, overquota fish can be discarded in a multi-species fishery due to quota exhaustion of one species. Both these issues are reported to be present in EU fisheries, although for those that are not managed by quota the biggest problem is minimum landing size discards. Finally, despite the high-grading ban for the North Sea implemented from 2008, there are still suggestions of high-grading occurring. Given that this form of discarding is purely the fisher’s decision and not regulation-driven – to the contrary, it is illegal to do so – the persistence of illegal highgrading suggests a lack of incentives to voluntary comply and/or a lack of suitable monitoring and control.
A discard ban may be seen as an extreme and heavy handed measure, however, considering the current state of the European fishing industry it is a necessary one. A ban would allow more accurate data collection and should ensure a reduction in wasted edible fish. However, it is essential that we address the root of the problem, not just the symptoms and stop these unwanted fish being caught in the first place. Thus a ban on discards should only be put into place with accompanying measures (such as measures to increase selectivity of fishing gear) to minimise the catch of these discarded fish.
The Commission’s latest proposal doesn’t detail enough technical advice on how the fishing industry should introduce more sustainable practices. The weight of the problem must not be left to fall solely on the shoulders of fishermen, but on the EU policy which enforces it in the first place. A weakened proposal from the UK government is, therefore, unlikely to provide us with changes on the water. We would encourage programme’s such as the Scottish Conservation Credits scheme and selective gear trials, and would also like to see those individuals who are actively increasing the sustainability of their gear being encouraged and positively rewarded.
We at the Marine Conservation Society believe that the story is not as simple as “discard ban” or “no discard ban”, and insist that a discard ban has to come with measures to reduce discards in the first place, or we will simply see problem displacement. The decisions made now will have repercussions for the next decade, and way beyond that, and we cannot afford to get this wrong, for fishermen or for fish.
via Twitter, points to this study published last year by two researchers – Ben Diamond and Bryce Beukers-Stewart – based at the environment department at the University of York, entitled “Fisheries Discards in the North Sea: Waste of Resources or a Necessary Evil?” (pdf). In its conclusion, it highlights lessons learnt by Norway and Russia:Robert Wilson, a reader
It has been shown that since its implementation in 1987, the discard ban has received at least partial compliance within the Exclusive Economic Zones of Norway and Russia. Discarding still occurs but at a significantly lower level than in the North Sea (Kelleher, 2005). Allowing fishermen to land everything does not appear to have increased pressure on the fish stocks. On the contrary, combined with a system of real-time area closures the discard ban appears to have generated an incentive for fishermen to install gear modifications and fish more selectively. This, combined with greater scientific knowledge about the status of the stocks, is likely to have contributed to the relatively fast stock recovery rates experienced in the Northeast Arctic. Initially, the economic cost to the fishing industry was relatively high with fishermen experiencing catches comprised of greater proportions of small fish with lower values and lower CPUE [catch per unit effort]. However, the period for which the fishing sector remained unprofitable lasted for just four years. Today, the Norwegian and Barents Sea fisheries are some of the most prosperous in the world.
GAP2, a European Commission-funded initiative “connecting science stakeholders and policy” on fisheries management:I have received this statement from
Whether we ban discards in 2014, phase out discards or keep the current system, no sustainable progress can be made without better data, and the buy-in of both the scientific and fishing communities.
While discard assessments can affect directly affect fishermen’s’ livelihoods, fishermen are often excluded from the process of crunching the numbers. Even worse, they often feel that the assessments are over-simplified, if not misleading. This attitude is founded on a lack of data; a fact acknowledged by many scientists also.
Estimates of discarded catch are based on averaging numbers gained through a relatively small number of observations. As such, they often fail to reflect geographic and seasonal variations. But while many scientists agree (pdf), the cost of collecting better data has precluded progress.
However, the solution may lie with the fishers themselves. Within GAP2, we’re piloting a project in Dutch flatfish fisheries, where fishermen and scientists are trialling “self-sampling”.
This involves fishermen taking samples from their own catches, and then passing them on for scientists’ assessment. By involving the fishers, many more samples can be taken, giving more insight in spatial and temporal variation. Also because the results are discussed with the sector, whereby fishers’ day-to-day knowledge about the fishery (often otherwise ignored) can be included. We’re right at the beginning of the project, but the crucial part will be ensuring that the data collected is up to the standard required by scientists, and indeed that scientists are happy to use such data.