An EU-funded project aims to propose economically viable ways for the fishing industry to stop the unsustainable practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea, in line with EU policy.
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Millions of tonnes of fish are thrown back into the sea from fishing vessels globally each year because they are not commercially viable or are banned from being caught under EU rules. This unsustainable practice wastes fish, potentially harming fish stocks.
Discarding is now being banned by the EU. Rules to be implemented by 2019 will require all catches of regulated commercial species to be landed and counted as part of a country’s quota. This requirement poses several challenges for the fishing industry.
In response The EU-funded project DiscardLess is leading efforts to help Europe’s fishing sector comply with EU policy to progressively eliminate fish discards at sea.
“Sometimes a large part of the fish and shellfish caught currently is discarded back into the sea, dead or dying, though it varies a lot across stocks, areas and types of fisheries,” says project coordinator Clara Ulrich at the Technical University of Denmark. “There are two main reasons for discarding: fish are either too small or not desirable for consumers, so there is no economic incentive to keep them on a fishing vessel; or because fishing vessels are complying with EU quotas, which restrict the amount of a certain fish species each vessel can land.”
Through collaboration with industry stakeholders, including fishing businesses, communities and authorities, DiscardLess is working to determine best practices to reduce unwanted catches and promote the commercial viability of all caught fish.
“The legislation has negative economic consequences in the short term, and is thus very unpopular among fishermen,” Ulrich says. “The benefits are instead ecological and potentially economically positive in the medium-term if fish stocks rebuild. In DiscardLess, we are evaluating which options would mitigate the negative impact in order to achieve the long-term objectives without jeopardising the viability of the fishing sector.”
Harnessing the long-term benefits of sustainable fisheries
The DiscardLess researchers are investigating how the use of more selective fishing gear could prevent unwanted species from being caught. For example, nets with different shapes and designs could allow undesired fish species to escape, while underwater cameras would enable fishermen to release unwanted fish before they are brought on board. Experiments incorporating coloured LED lights into nets are also showing promise in attracting or deterring fish species displaying different behaviours.
The researchers are also studying Europe’s major fisheries and marine ecosystems. They are conducting nine case studies on fishing practices along the Eastern Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea. The aim is to gain insights into fish behaviours and stock dynamics to determine where there is a higher risk of catching small juvenile fish or unwanted species.
On the other hand, the consortium is looking into how to make the best use of unavoidable catches of unwanted fish. This includes evaluating the potential to develop new products from fish that would otherwise be discarded, and how these could gain commercial viability and consumer acceptance.
“We are trying to support societal changes by being accepted as a legitimate partner in dialogue between policymakers and stakeholders,” Ulrich says. “So far we have achieved a lot of visibility and we are very involved in discussions and partnerships at all levels as a project that interfaces between society, economy and policy.”