Report: £1b worth of cod thrown away


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
August 2, 2011

In the wake of proposed reform to Europe’s lambasted fisheries policy, a new report claim that the United Kingdom alone has discarded GBP 1 billion worth of cod in 50 years. According to think-tank new economics foundation (nef), the UK has thrown away enough fish to support 711 jobs for 46 years.

The report comes less than a month after European Union Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki released her proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Under Damanaki’s proposals, all commercial catches would be required to be landed, with the phasing out of fishermen throwing non-quota fish overboard, also known as discards.

Campaigners for reform to the CFP, which governs the 27-member European Union, have hooked onto discards, the leitmotiv of an unworkable policy system run by bureaucrats in Brussels. 

Discards are fish that are caught, but not retained, during commercial fishing. For a variety of factors, including quota restrictions, the fish are thrown back into the sea. As much as two-thirds of the fish caught in some European waters is thrown back as a result of the current CFP.

In 2010, high-profile UK campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched Fish Fight to raise awareness of discards. So far the campaign has harnessed more than 700,000 signatures in a petition calling for discards to be banned. 

Reacting to Damanaki’s proposals last month, Fearnley-Whittingstall called the proposals “encouraging” but warned that the new policy should emphasize ways to “avoid catching discards in the first place,” which, in other words, is overfishing.

Underlining the core issue of overfishing, Rupert Crilly, author of the nef report, said: “Everyone can see that discards are hugely wasteful, but far more waste comes from overfishing — taking more than what the oceans can produce.”

The report, titled “Money Overboard: Why discarding fish is a waste of jobs and money,” finds that while there are benefits from landing fish that would have otherwise been thrown away, there would be much bigger benefits if the fish were given more time to grow by fishing more selectively.

According to the report, since 1963 a total of total GBP 2.7 billion worth of cod was discarded in the North Sea, English Channel and Skagerrak; the UK alone threw away nearly GBP 1 billion (GBP 935 million) of this total.

If selective gear had been used to spare the small cod, the cod population left in the sea could have weighted up to 9.26 million metric tons, almost five times the weight at which they were actually discarded (2.14 million metric tons), estimated nef. The discarded fish could have been worth GBP 7.5 billion in total, and GBP 2.6 billion to the UK, underlined the think-tank.

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