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Thursday, 17 January 2019

Prohibit fish discards: the stakes of the new regulation

This article (translated by Google) is from LaRecherche

Since January 2019, the "landing obligation" prohibits fishermen from discarding unwanted fish at sea. The European DiscardLess project assessed the effect of discards on the marine environment, the economy and society. Its coordinator, Clara Ulrich , answers the questions from La Recherche.

Research - What prompted the landing obligation?

Clara Ulrich - The idea of ​​this regulation came from the fact that we could not regulate the mortality of fish. As long as discards were still allowed, it was not possible to limit mortality in mixed fisheries, which target and capture a large number of different species at the same time. For each fish population, scientists estimate what is the sustainable volume (in tonnes) of dead fish by fishing ( RMD). The purpose of the landing obligation is that the total dead fish does not exceed this sustainable threshold, regardless of whether they are sold, brought ashore or processed into fishmeal. Before the measure, if the fishing quota was set, for example, at 50,000 tonnes, 60,000 or 70,000 tonnes could be fished and the rest discarded. We continued to fish as long as we still had quotas for other species and we rejected what we no longer had the right to land. British culinary celebrities have begun campaigning against this mess. The idea was supported by environmental NGOs and civil society. The reform of the fisheries policy was passed in 2013. The implementation of the landing obligation started in 2015. Gradually, it came into force in the countries of the different maritime regions. The goal was to have it all in 2019. Major commercial species like cod, sole, Norway lobster etc. were first concerned. All minor species, that is, less important in fisheries such as turbot, were included in the regulation in 2019.

What is your opinion on this new regulation?

This is a fundamental change in the way we understand fishing and its regulation. The rejection is a fundamental characteristic of the manner of fishing. For a long time, we have been fishing and we only keep what we can sell by putting the rest back in the water. This behavior has been reinforced by European policy which introduced regulations on minimum catch sizes and quotas. The stricter rules on what can be sold have, de facto , created fairly large releases. The landing obligation has a major economic, technical, psychological and cultural effect. It creates a shock to force change to cleaner fisheries instead of catching everything and rejecting the rest.

How to strengthen the landing obligation to reduce discards?

There is no single solution. The reasons for these rejections are relatively simple and universal. Fishermen reject either because it has no commercial value, it is damaged, or it is too small for sale; or it is forbidden to fish for the species. But the solutions to reduce these rejections, they are neither simple nor universal. Each fisherman will have a problem that is not necessarily the same as that of his neighbor. It will depend on the fishing area and the quota to which it has access. For each species, scientists estimate the discard rate. The rate is lower in industrial fisheries limited to a single species of fish such as mackerel or herring. The highest rate is for fisheries that use bottom trawl andbeam trawl . The statistics depend on the country, the gear and the neighboring species. It's very difficult to generalize. The change in fishing practice requires regulatory control.

How will the landing obligation now introduced throughout Europe be applied?

The regulation provides for a number of exemptions for species with a high survival rate or where it is almost impossible to sort the fish. But these exemptions must be validated. Thus, it must be proven that a species has a high survival rate. For five years, several works have been carried out. For example, research shows that rays and sharksare species that survive relatively well if released quickly. The fact that the fish is all wriggling is not enough to guarantee its survival. Most of the mortality occurs within two to three days. A fish that has remained on the deck of a boat, exposed to the air and light, is not very valiant. He will have a hard time escaping predators and feeding himself. The speed of sorting is an important factor. If he is released immediately, he will survive; but after thirty minutes in the air, it's less obvious. The temperature of the air, the sunshine, etc. are also important elements to consider in assessing survival.

How to prevent unwanted catch and value?

With the European project DiscardLesswe looked at it. It is funded by the Research and Innovation Department of the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. Scientists from 31 European research institutions have proposed solutions: changing net mesh, changing the trawl, and so on. There are many technical approaches but none are really used at the moment. We put the information on the table, but the change must come from the industry and the fishermen. As long as the fishermen are not convinced, or obliged to change the mesh, we can do all the science possible, there will be no change. The Spanish team of DiscardLess has done a lot of research on the valuation of unwanted fish. They could be used to make flour, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals. For now, the proposals remain theoretical because volumes are low. The regulations are not yet applied and therefore the fish are not brought back to shore. The idea of ​​valorization is a little history of the chicken and the egg. What will come first? Will the fishermen go back to the land and then develop the recovery or will they bring back to shore only when there will be someone to buy the unwanted fish The fishermen and the industrialists wonder if it's worth it invest in the recovery knowing that the supply of raw material may be very variable in quality and quantity. They wonder why invest in industries if in five years there are more rejections.

What will happen to marine animals feeding on discards?

All our models show that very few rejections go directly back to the fish. Those who eat the discards are crabs, hermit crabs, starfish. They are very opportunistic animals. They will eat everything they find. Their dependence on discards remains very low. There are also birds that are more reliant on discards, but it's a bit like birds in a garbage dump. Bird populations are maintained at a fairly high level artificially. Is the fact that there are birds feeding in landfills a good reason for keeping landfills? The situation for rejections is identical. We have populations that are artificially maintained. Is it a good excuse to keep rejecting? Scientists will continue to assess the effects of the landing obligation as it applies to fisheries.

Full article courtesy of Audrey-Maude V├ęzina.