The UK has discarded nearly one billion pounds’ worth of cod, according to a report by think tank NewEconomics Foundation (NEF) published this week.
In total, £2.7 billion worth of cod has been discarded into the North Sea, English Channel, and Skagerrak by EU fishing fleets since 1963. Fish are discarded because they are unwanted, not profitable enough, or do not conform to fishing regulations.The NEF report says the discarded fish could have supported 711 English jobs for 43 years. If discards had not occurred during this period and had been left in the sea, the cod population would have been on average 13.2 per cent larger year-on-year, leading to an increase in profits and jobs supported by the cod stock. If fishing nets with larger holes, sparing the small discarded fish, had been used, those fish could have weighed up to 9.26 million tonnes and been worth £7.5 billion.
“Everyone can see that discards are hugely wasteful, but far more wastage comes from overfishing: taking more than what the oceans can produce. Action to end discards must be accompanied with action to restore fish stocks,” said Rupert Crilly, environmental economics researcher at NEF and author of the report.
“Avoiding discards in the first place is more important than the creation of markets for unwanted species. Promoting the consumption of unwanted species is a risky gamble which could lead to more demand for fish and put more pressure on our fish stocks. Eating more fish will do little to end overfishing,” he said in a NEF media release.
In July this year, the EU Commission set out proposals for reforming the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This includes phasing out discards for quota species. The NEF welcomed this but said the Commission did nothing to prevent the capture of non-quota species or the discard of non-quota species.
In June, Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee criticised the current system for allowing fishing quota to be traded as a commodity. An Early Day Motion called for the creation of new markets for currently unpopular species of fish that are being discarded.
Ian Campbell, UK coordinator of the not-for-profit organisation OCEAN2012, said in a statment, “We’re calling for a carefully implemented discard ban aimed at reducing unwanted fish and by-catch, not the creation of new markets for them.
"There is more work to be done to show how a discard ban would work in practice, but NEF’s report suggests that the Council and European Parliament need to support the Commission in ending the unacceptable practice of discarding. Fisheries Ministers and MEPs have an important role in making that happen.”
The EU is reviewing the entire CFP and should propose major reforms by 2013.
The UK, alongside France, Germany, and Denmark, has signed a joint declaration calling for the gradual implementation of a ban through a move away from the current system of limits on the amount of fish that are landed, towards limits on the number of fish that are actually caught.