5.19 > Pot fishery: a form of artisanal fishing still practised in Denmark.
Doing battle against discards
In its current draft of the new CFP, the European Commission also makes a number of proposals for dealing with the problem of discards. All over the world, millions of tonnes of freshly caught fish and marine fauna are dumped back in the sea every year. Most of the discards are already dead when they go back into the water. This practice is a massive waste of natural resources. What’s more, the discards are not systematically recorded, creating a large gap in the data that fishery scientists need to estimate the size of fish stocks accurately. In North Sea sole fishery, for example, large quantities of plaice and other flatfish, such as dab, are caught as bycatch. In some cases, this unwanted bycatch amounts to 70 per cent of the catch. As many plaice are too small to be landed legally and other flatfish are unpopular as eating fish, the bulk of this bycatch – with the exception of a few high-grade individuals – is dumped overboard. As the discards are not recorded, researchers find it almost impossible to make an accurate assessment of the status of flatfish stocks other than sole and plaice.
There are various reasons why fish are discarded:
- For some species, such as crustaceans, starfish and smaller fish such as the European eelpout and the family of gobies, there is simply no market.
- The fishermen sort out the high-grade components of the catch, such as the largest and heaviest individuals from a given species. The rest is dumped overboard. This high-grading has been prohibited in the EU since 2010 but is still practised.
- The fish are too young or too small. The rules currently in force prohibit the landing of these undersized fish.
- Fishermen are not permitted to land species for which they have not been allocated a quota. Nor can they land species for which their quota is already fulfilled. This problem occurs in mixed fisheries, where several species of a similar size occurring in a single habitat are sometimes netted together. A haddock fisherman, for example, is not permitted to land any cod caught as bycatch. Under the current rules, the cod must be discarded.
- Due to the rules currently in place under the existing CFP, this type of prohibition on landings means that discarding still takes place on a large scale within the EU. As one possible solution, the European Commission is proposing a reform of the old quota allocation system. At present, individual quotas are still allocated for many species, even though these species are only caught in mixed fisheries. In future, it would be possible or even obligatory to acquire additional bycatch quotas, for example for cod and haddock. These bycatch quotas would be allocated in a flexible and straightforward manner. For example, rather than automatically being allocated for an entire year, they could be assigned on an ongoing basis throughout the course of the fishing season, depending on the status and development of stocks. The aim is to encourage fishermen to avoid bycatch of unwanted species – for example, through the use of better and more selective fishing gear. If they failed to achieve an appropriate reduction in the amount of bycatch, they would be obliged to apply for a bycatch quota. A fisherman would then have to demonstrate that he had been allocated a separate quota for each species likely to occur in the fishing grounds. In a mixed fishery, his fishing activities would then be oriented towards the stock with the smallest population.
In the North Sea, for example, the haddock stock is in a good state but the status of cod is less favourable. At present, a fisherman can catch as much haddock as he needs to fulfil his quota. Inevitably, though, some cod are caught as bycatch in the net and must be discarded. If the fisherman had two quotas, he could land both haddock and cod. However, he would have to stop fishing – for both haddock and cod – as soon as he had met his cod quota. This is intended to protect cod from overfishing and avoid discards. Furthermore, the European Commission is keen to encourage the use of more selective fishing gear in future, as more sophisticated fishing technology can also help to reduce the amount of bycatch. A further proposal aims to reduce bycatch by obliging fishermen to avoid certain areas of the sea with large stocks of bycatch species at certain times of the year. A further possibility being discussed with a view to reducing discards is to equip the EU’s fishing vessels with electronic surveillance systems, including CCTV, in future. This would enable checks to be carried out to determine whether any fish had been discarded, and if so, of which species. More intensive deployment of observers is a further option. However, the advantage of CCTV, compared with observers, is that it is far less expensive.
- 5.20 > Discarding of bycatch is a problem worldwide, not just in the EU. This Mexican prawn fisherman is dumping fish with no market value overboard.
More power for fishermen
At present, the EU’s fisheries policy is still largely a top-down policy. The rules are agreed in Brussels at the highest level and must be adhered to by every fisherman in the same way. National or, indeed, regional approaches to fisheries management are virtually non-existent at present. As a result, conflicts are inevitable. Many of the sometimes contradictory rules agreed in Brussels are viewed by fishermen themselves as excessive or impractical. Indeed, some are ignored altogether. The Commission is proposing to defuse the situation by involving fishermen in fisheries management and decision-making to a greater extent, in the hope that this will increase their acceptance of the rules.
There is to be stronger regionalization of fisheries policy, as the Agriculture and Fisheries Council explains in its proposal on CFP reform. The proposal envisages that Member States would be able to devolve decision-making to the regional level. In recent years, a number of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) have been established by various EU Member States, e. g. for the Baltic Sea and for the waters in the Arctic and around Iceland. These RACs have produced a number of proposals for CFP reform. Up to two-thirds of the members of the RACs are experts from the fisheries sector, with experts from other interest groups, such as nature conservation organizations and trade unions, comprising the remaining one-third. In future, the RACs, in conjunction with the relevant national authorities, could potentially undertake the management of fisheries in their specific region and submit their proposals to Brussels. Provided that there were no objections from the European Parliament or individual countries, the proposed fisheries management strategy would then enter into force.
Only time will tell which of the European Commission’s reform proposals will be implemented; that will become clear when the new CFP is adopted in 2013. Ultimately, it is up to the Council and the European Parliament to decide which of the Commission’s proposals will be incorporated as rules and provisions in the new CFP. We can only hope that the two institutions manage to agree on a fisheries policy which is good for both the economy and the environment. In fact, there is cause to be reasonably optimistic here: with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the European Union, in 2002, imposed an obligation on all Member States to take the necessary measures to protect and conserve the marine environment and achieve or maintain its good environmental status by the year 2020 at the latest. The Council is therefore obliged not only to ensure, with the new CFP, that fisheries are exploited at levels which produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY); it must also minimize the impact of fishing on the marine environment at the same time.