Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Discards: The CFP Paradox!

Anthony Debono

Despite the problems facing European (and global fish stocks), 180,000 Tonnes of fish are thrown back into the Mediterranean and Black Sea every year. [1] The issue of discards is quite paradoxical, especially since one of the main factors which results in discards is in fact the issue of quotas, which have been put in place to protect fish stocks to begin with! The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has lead to this quite impressive catch 22, with fish being thrown overboard (mostly dead) simply because landing them would result in prosecution.

The issue of discards is quite complex and the current EU Commissioner for Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has pledged to solve this problem. [2] Although there are a number of reasons for discarding fish at sea, they can be grouped into three main categories:

1. The fish are caught accidentally (non-target species/by-catch)
2. Quota Discards (Wherein the vessel has exceeded its quota for the particular species and if the fish are landed they would result in fines and possibly further prosecution)
3. Pre-Market Selection (this would be because of some market pressures i.e. the fish would not be attractive for sale and can be due to a number of reasons ranging from the fact that the fish spoil quickly or the particular sex or maturity of the fish are not marketable). [3]

These discards are a big question mark for fisheries scientists and law makers because although they are being physically removed from the wild stock they are not being calculated and considered when it comes to drawing up quotas and drafting legislation. Above I quoted 180,000 tonnes of discards in the Mediterranean alone, however it is impossible to give an exact figure since these discards happen before landing and fisheries statistics are based on landings.

"While the (European Fisheries) Commission sees reducing excessive fishing effort as the main way to reduce the level of unwanted catch, other measures should also be considered, such as:
  • temporary closure of zones where a high proportion of juveniles are found;
  • moving vessels to another fishing area once their unwanted catches exceed a certain level;
  • adapting fishing gear so that threatened species or juveniles can escape from nets;
  • reviewing existing management measures which may lead to discarding"[1]
An inspiring twist to the story of discards is the spark that started the European Commissioner's fire and inspired the change in tone to the problem of discards. This was celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's, campaign The Fish Fight, which ran a three-part TV series on the issue. Fearnley Whittingstall is a regular contributor to the Guardian where he delves into the murky waters of sustainable fisheries. [4]

It's inspiring to see a campaign like this contribute to decision making at a high level, such as the European Fisheries Commission. Putting a stop to discards altogether may be an impossible task, but developing a management plan which would not aggravate the situation such that quotas would not result in discards may be within our grasp.
Hugh's fish fight

Support Hugh's Fish Fight at http://www.fishfight.net/the-campaign/

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