Throwing fish away (discards) simply because they are too small or not included in a quota is a sore spot for fishers, conservationist and fisheries managers. Many of the fish returned to the sea area already dead so there is no ecological value to returning them to the ocean, and there is no economical value to discarding them either. Ideally, discards should be minimized by not catching non-targets in the first place. After all, there are reasons why we should not catch fish that have not reached reproductive age, or why we should adhere to quotas (even if they are at times over-inflated beyond sustainable limits).
The Marine Management Organisation released the latest details on a trial to monitor how reducing the level of discards as proposed in the Common Fisheries Policy reform will play out in practice. UK Fishers who entered into the trial were prohibited from dumping fish - even if undersized. Electronic monitoring - essentially CCTV - was used to record what fish are being caught and processed on fishing vessels.
The results were interesting. Fishers changed some of their gear types or fished in different areas to try minimize their bycatch. Some fisheries found it harder than others to reduce bycatch for a variety of reasons - including species being just too similar in size, shape, and habitat preference for fishing gear to distinguish between them. Never the less discards were reduced substantially. The 'worst offender' - the Western Hake beam trawl fishers who participated in the trial managed to reduce their discards from 18.2% in 2011 down to 1.7%.
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Image: Bycatch from prawn trawling makes up 1/4 of the annual discards. Credit Stephen McGowan, Australian Maritime College, 2006/Marine Photobank.