Europe adapting to a discard-free future

Published on
July 29, 2016

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) drew industry, regulators and economists together at the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET) Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland this month to examine how the fishing industry is adapting, innovating and starting to overcome the significant challenges posed by the European Union discard ban.

Erik Lindebo, an economist and a senior consultant to EDF, chaired the panel, leading a wide-ranging discussion around the tools and approaches being applied across Europe. The aim was to give fishermen from all sectors insight into how others are avoiding discards, and in particular how to tackle the issue of choke species.

“As the centerpiece of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), we have to work with the discard ban, which is an obligation to establish full catch accountability, but it is far from certain how successful it will be as there are many issues to overcome,” Lindebo said.

EDF is committed to helping industry avoid and reduce unwanted catches, whilst taking into account the best available scientific advice to help inform better management, he said. To assist in this endeavour, EDF recently released the E.U. Discard Reduction Manual, which outlines the current tools and solutions available to help fisheries meet the landing obligation.

“We are not trying to be prescriptive, but rather to set out the different options that can be tailored to the diverse circumstances and variety of fisheries in E.U. waters. Much has been said about the problems of the discard ban in the North Sea, but little about the issues in the Mediterranean, yet it applies all around Europe,” he said.

The document outlines tools to help E.U. member states and quota managers use their available catch quota in the best possible way through well-designed, robust quota management systems. It also focuses on changes in the day-to-day operation of the fishing industry, such as introducing avoidance measures and improving selectivity. These approaches are supplemented by a section on achieving full accountability to support successful implementation of the landing obligation, Lindebo said.

The panel session heard from a number of speakers about current innovations. For example, Young’s Seafood is involved in a collaborative Trawlight project, in which lights are attached to the square mesh escape panels on prawn (Nephrops norvegicus) trawls, to guide fish out of the net.

“Early trials on this suggest a reduction in bycatch of around 33 percent, which is very promising,” said David Parker, head of corporate social responsibility for Young’s.

In Cornwall, fisherman David Stevens has been participating in catch quota trials with the Marine Management Organisation, using modified fishing gear and onboard monitoring.

“We have reduced our juvenile haddock catch by 90 percnet so far and shown that it is possible to prosper with increased selectivity. The collaborative approach has worked well for us; when you give fishermen the ability and incentive to deal with the issues themselves, they are able to come up with the best solutions,” he said.

In Sweden, fishermen have been working closely with the government to change the quota management system, to help them mitigate the problems of choke species, according to Peter Olsson of the Swedish Fishermen’s Producer Organisation. Olsson explained that the process had taken 18 months of consultation, and was expected to become law early in 2017.

“We have turned fisheries management on its head and have been encouraged by the positive response of the government to rights based management principles,” Olsson said.

Mike Park, CEO of the Scottish Whitefish Producers’ Association, underlined the importance of taking a positive approach in searching out the best ways to deliver a secure fishing future for industry.

“In Scotland, we are looking towards a huge potential problem with hake as a choke species, once this species is included in the landing obligation from January 2019. This is because we simply do not have enough quota for it, and run a real risk of having to close down mixed fisheries unless we can find a solution. However, we have a couple of years to work on it and are actively looking hard for some practical answers,” Park said.

Panel moderator Erik Lindebo, the EDF consultant, was delighted by the dynamic of the panel session, adding that he believed successful adaptation to the new E.U. guidelines would safeguard a profitable future for European fisheries.

“It was extremely useful for us. It’s all very well creating a reference manual for fishermen, but we need to understand better how it can be used from a practical viewpoint, and what the real management challenges are in specific situations. The discussions have gone a long way to helping with this,” he said. “With the right combination of industry expertise, tools and policy measures, I believe we can begin to tailor appropriate solutions to create the right conditions for sustainability and strong businesses in Europe.”

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