More than 7 million tons of fish are discarded around the world each year. This means that in some fisheries up to 9 of every 10 kilos of fish caught are thrown overboard either dead or dying.
This unsustainable practice continues even though the oceans are on the verge of collapse.
Discarding continues to constitute one of the most shameful fisheries practices around the world. Aware that the tools necessary to stop this wasteful practice are within reach, the European Commission is faced with this problem at a time when most stocks are on the verge of collapse or suffer from overexploitation.
Last week, Oceana presented a document as a response to the Commission’s consultation on specific aspects for implementing a policy to reduce by-catch and eliminate discards.
In the document, the international marine conservation organisation requests that the policy objectives be developed by prioritising conservation of the ecosystem as a whole, including all species in the catch and not only the commercial species.
The measures are broad and include in-depth analysis of provisions. The Commission itself is in favour of these measures. For example, Oceana supports the establishment of by-catch limits and believes these objectives should be under 10% of the total catch per vessel.
Another proposal made by Oceana is the creation of fishing areas with preferential access for vessels that use the best available technology (BAT). Stocks are often exploited with different types of gear, or with modified gear, and the impact on resources and the ecosystem can vary. Classification of the various systems and promotion of more selective and less harmful ones may constitute an interesting incentive to stimulate responsible fishing practices.
For years, a lack of interest has led to a lack of development of mechanisms, strategies and regulations to enforce selective fishing of targeted species. As such, the fisheries that discard dead or dying fish into the ocean have been –and continue to be--permitted. These discards constitute up to 9 of every 10 kilos caught.
According to Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana Europe: “It is no longer a question of emphasising the seriousness of the situation, but of applying the necessary measures to reduce these figures,” and he adds, “of course many of these require a firm commitment from the authorities. Let’s hope all of this does not end in a mere declaration of intentions.”
One of the measures considered prioritary is the establishment of a ban on discards. Some European countries, such as Iceland and Norway, have already established this type of prohibition, with excellent results. In Norway’s case, for example, the adoption of this measure, along with other supplementary measures, lowered discards to only 3.9%, while other fisheries in Europe present percentages as high as 69% (beam trawling in the North Sea) or 90% (French deep-sea trawlers).
Jose Rodríguez, in charge of Oceana’s discard campaign in Europe, states: “What is incongruous is that many of us agree with the measures that should be adopted. The solutions must be firmly enforced. If we delay the decision-making process or enforce only the most lenient measures, we may be headed towards a point of no return.”