Discard issue key to any review of Common Fisheries Policy
OPINION:Tight regulations govern the complex and often emotive act of throwing fish back into the sea
THE DISCARDING of fish under EU quota rules was back in the headlines this week when a Wexford trawler owner landed and gave away monkfish to the public rather than throw them back in the sea. The issue was also prominent in the media throughout last year when the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall mounted a television campaign on discards.
As a result of media campaigns such as that one, pressure is increasing on policymakers, managers, fishermen and scientists to “do something about the discard problem”.
In February last year, the EU commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said “we must put an end to the nightmare of discards . . . We cannot go on like this . . . we need a new policy.”
Discarding is high on the agenda in the upcoming review of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, there are key issues at stake here that need to be considered in trying to understand and debate the complex facets of fish discarding.
It is important to remember that discards are the result of commercial fishing activity, and that this activity is driven by society’s insatiable demand for fresh fish. As a result, the fishing industry is big business in Europe. It employs more than 141,000 people, mainly in coastal, peripheral communities. The EU fleet of 85,000 fishing vessels landed €7.7 billion worth of fish in 2009. The total turnover of the EU seafood sector amounted to €23 billion in 2009, which puts it between Coca Cola (€23.6 billion) and Google (€18 billion) in terms of global turnover.
In Europe, the fisheries resource comes under the remit of the Common Fisheries Policy, which uses “total allowable catches” and national quotas as the main management measures. The policy is undergoing major reform, and discarding is high on the agenda.
Discards are defined as that portion of the catch of fish which is not retained on board a vessel during commercial fishing operations and is returned to the sea, often dead or dying.
Discarding is recognised as a significant problem in fisheries worldwide and represents a significant proportion of global fish catches. The practice is generally associated with bottom trawl fisheries and is considered to constitute waste or, at the very least, a suboptimal use of fishery resources.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation has estimated global discarding at 7.3 million tonnes, which represents about 8 per cent of the global catch. Shrimp and bottom trawl fisheries account for more than 50 per cent of total estimated discards. The UN body has also noted the northeast Atlantic has the second-highest discard level in the world, estimated to be 1.3 million tonnes, the majority being attributed to EU fisheries.