A recent study in the scientific magazine Nature highlights that, on its own, the elimination of discards – a key measure agreed in the new EU Common Fisheries Policy – has negative impacts on the environment. On the contrary, when combined with selectivity measures, it becomes beneficial.
The Nature study has reignited the EU debate about the implementation of the discard ban, its potential impact and the practical challenges for implementing it. A prominent EU fisheries scientist expressed concerns that the new discard ban “could do a lot of harm to the positive developments from the last decade which led to a decline in fishing mortality. What is needed is to take the discard ban as a learning process.”
This was also echoed in the recent European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) opinion, which advocated for a “more gradual and proportionate approach, based on progressively reducing discards, promoting and encouraging more selective fishing gear, implementing measures designed to process fisheries products in a manner that offers added value, searching for market outlets and adapting the infrastructure of vessels and fishing ports.”
The EESC suggests that these more pragmatic, straightforward and flexible rules would give fishing operators a transitional adaptation period – as has occurred in other countries – without facing heavy penalties. This is why the EESC can see no justification for the new control measures introduced to ensure total and immediate “day-one” compliance with unprecedented rules. It also regrets that there has been no prior impact assessment to study the repercussions of the landing obligation for each fleet. It considers that such a study is particularly necessary for pelagic fisheries outside the EU under the regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). A thorough prior assessment would help to harmonise implementation of EU legislation, taking into account the regulations already applicable to these RFMOs, ensuring that no comparative disadvantage or threat is caused to the competitiveness of European fleets operating in fishing grounds outside the EU.
Many also deplore the lack of clarity regarding the logistics for dealing with this part of the catch. The UK small-scale fishing organisation, NUTFA, explains that fishers incur increased costs the moment that “discards to be landed” come on board: extra boxes and ice, not to mention additional storage space, required to separate the catches destined for human and non-human consumption. Furthermore, it takes up valuable time to transport previously discarded fish: “One can foresee a fisher, with half a box of ‘landed discards’, having to spend time and money to meet the requirements for this element of the catch.”
Discarding vast amounts of unwanted fish at sea, resulting from unselective fishing but also from “high grading” (i.e. limited space on board, meaning that only the most valuable fish is kept and the rest jettisoned) is also an issue in many industrial fishing operations in ACP waters. In the long term, the EU landing obligation will also apply to all vessels fishing in ACP waters, and will raise similar concerns to those expressed here about the local impacts and associated costs of such operations. It is advisable for ACP countries to request a prior impact assessment on the local repercussions of the landing obligation for each fleet. ACP countries could also request more selective fishing by EU vessels to avoid many discards in the first place. Efforts on selectivity could become part of the future partnerships for sustainable fisheries.