NGOs smell something fishy about proposed discard policies

The proposed EU fisheries policy is doing little but not enough to ensure healthy fish levels for the future.

By Damien Currie

The current Common Fisheries Policy is due to be revised in the European Parliament in the next few months. This has lead for calls from Non Governmental Organizations, such as the World Wildlife Foundation, to improve the current overfishing issue concerning waters in the European Union and beyond to ensure that fishing practices are sustainable for future generations.

Member states of the European Union are distributed a quota each summer as determined by relative stability. Environmental Non Governmental Organizations contend that these quotas are set at a rate that is too high, which lends itself to overfishing of certain species of fish in European waters.

The European Parliament, Strasbourg

Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Discarding, Maria Damanaki (Panhellic Socialist Movement), released a proposition earlier this month in Brussels to end the process of discarding on European fishing vessels.

The World Wildlife Foundation views this measure as a step in the right direction, but not adequately killing the problem at the root to guarantee sustainable fishing for future generations by ensuring that livestock will be preserved and making fishing practices more selective. In their opinion this is the way to overcome the problem of overfishing.

Ms. Damanaki told the commission on 1 March that discarding practices were “unethical, a waste of natural resources and a waste of fisherman’s effort” during her proposal to see an end to discarding.


What is the process of discarding?

Each commercial shipping vessel is equipped with a quota of the total number of fish it is allowed to bring back to the shore. This number is decided by the European Union on a member state-by-state level. Not every nation receives the same quota as another and there are many elements that influence this figure, including economic and political pressures.

Fishermen cast their nets into the ocean and retrieve a mixed batch of different species that they have caught. Within this assortment, there may contain species of marine livestock that they do not have the appropriate quota to take back to land. Therefore they throw it back overboard. Similarly, if they catch too much of the one kind of fish then they are permitted to, they must return it to the sea.

By the time excess fish stock are returned to the ocean they come from, they are dead 99 percent of the time.

This means that even though quotas exist to reduce the amount of fish that is caught, it is inefficient in accurately monitoring the amount of fish and marine livestock that are killed by fishing practices.


Total Allowable Catch

The Total Allowable Catch that governs the amount of fish that fisherman can take is only measured on what they take back to land. This does not include that they take out of the water. Therefore, fisherman have the opportunity to fish as much as they like when at sea under the current condition, as they are only accountable with what they take with them back to the shore.

The total allowable catch relates to the quotas each member state is issued, based upon fish levels that are evaluated yearly. These evaluations, however, do not take into account the discards that commercial shipping vessels throw overboard.


Opinions are divided

Louize Hill, Head of the European Marine and Fisheries Policy at the World Wildlife Foundation, explains how this process is flawed.

“Discards are a huge problem. Total allowable catch are often set in excess of science so fisherman are already given more fish than are actually available to catch [and they are] given access to more fish than is available, “ she says.

Swedish Member of Parliament Isabella Lövin (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance), a member of the Fisheries Committee, supports Commissioner Damanaki’s proposed discard ban.

“You’re perfectly allowed to do anything out there. You could catch ten times what you’re allowed to land and then you discard it all,” she says.

“I think absolutely [the discard ban] will have a very positive effect on fish stock. If we have a discard ban one of the consequences will be that you could rely very much more on scientific advice.”

“Scientists now have a very hard job to try and estimate how much fish is out there when the only data they get is on landings,” says MEP Lövin.

As long as that is the management method the European Union are employing, it is very difficult to monitor what is killed by being removed from the water and what is actually counted by being returned to the land.

“One of the positive things of a discard ban will be that you have better data which gives the possibility of giving better advice,” says Lövin.

MEP Isabella Lövin and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual


More needs to be done

While the lobby group, The World Wildlife Foundation, has welcomed the proposed discard ban, Hill maintains that the European Union are not doing enough to ensure that fish stocks will remain sustainable in the future.

Hill commented that the World Wildlife Foundation would only accept a discard ban if it were adequately accompanied by the right technical measures.

According to her, 72% of European fish stocks are overfished. This is due to poor fishing management, quotas set too high, fishing season set for too long and too many boats out at sea.

“These quotas need to be reduced. They need to be determined by science.”

“We need a reduction in the number of fish killed, a reduction in quota and a reduction in discard,” says Hill.

Hill suggests that the reason why the European Union does not reduce the fishing quota is due to political pressure from member states. Fishermen ask for more quota as a means to make more money. If the laws are adapted so that fisherman are responsible for all the fish that they remove from the sea, Hill predicts that these fishermen will instead focus on maximising what they already can catch and stop more waste.


Killing the problem at the root

For the European Union’s revised Common Fisheries Policy to be truly effective in delivering sustainable marine options, they must “kill the problem at the root”.

“We need to have protected areas where fisherman don’t fish or don’t fish at certain times of year according to the distribution of the actual fish in the sea,” says Hill.

The proposal for the revised Common Fisheries Policy will be released this summer.


Fact Box

The State of the World’s Fisheries and Agriculture (SOFIA) report in 2010 recorded that:

  • 53% of the world’s fish is fully exploited.
  • 32% of the world’s fish is over exploited.

The European Commission state:

  • 72% of fish in Europe are overfished.
  • 59% of fish in Europe are at a high risk of depletion.












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