The European Commission in Brussels adopted a communication on reducing unwanted catches and eliminating discards in European fisheries yesterday. Discarding is the practice of dumping overboard unwanted fish or other marine organisms which have been caught unintentionally.
The practice is contrary to the aims of the Common Fisheries Policy and to specific commitments made by the European Union, such as those under the UN Convention on Biodiversity, or the commitment to manage fish stocks for sustainable yield pledged at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
‘Discarding is wrong because it represents a waste of precious marine resources,’ said Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. ‘Therefore, it makes no ecological, economic or ethical sense. The sooner we bring this wasteful practice to an end, the better for fish stocks, the marine environment and the fishing industry.’
A 2005 study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated discards in the North Atlantic at 1,332,000 tons per year, and in the North Sea from 500,000 to 880,000 tons. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, discards amounted to 18,000 tons (4.9% of total catch), whereas the rate in the Baltic was lower at an estimated 1.4%.
‘Unwanted catches and discards represent a direct threat to the sustainability of European fisheries as most of the fish and organisms discarded do not survive,’ said the Ccommunication. ‘Fishers can also choose to retain only the most valuable fish, thus dumping marketable fish of lower value … In both cases, discarding directly reduces the future productivity of the seas.’
The new proposals involve the adoption of a progressive fishery-by-fishery discard ban and the setting of standards for maximum acceptable by-catch.
The incentive is thus for fishers to take from the sea only what can be marketed. The debate on achieving these aims will continue till the end of 2007 and the first proposed measures could be tabled in 2008.
European Commission for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
Photo: Joe Borg