Annually about 7,3 million tonnes of fish are thrown into the sea1. The industry and the government agree: this problem has to be mitigated. But what will actually make a difference?
Capitalism is today’s market form, and money is what makes the world go ‘round. The fishery industry is no exception; the world populations dependence on the proteins of seafood (demand) is met by thousands of fishers getting up at 5am to provide them with the wanted goods (offer).
Unluckily this happens often without considering what will make the world go ‘round tomorrow. Water pollution, destruction of the sea bottom and of marine ecosystems, decreasing the marine biodiversity and minimising the world’s fish stocks are among the most threatening issues resulting from fishing2. One of the problems are the vast amounts of by-catch, defined as the catch of unwanted species like marine mammals, seabirds or reptiles or unwanted exemplars like small or cheap fish. Whereas the first ones are undesirable due to legal restrictions that prohibit the catch of protected species the latter ones are unwanted for economic reasons. Those organisms are discarded into the sea, which induces several problems 3.
Discarded fish and other animals often die due to the injuries and trauma of capture, so that discarding results in wasting of large quantities of fish which died in vain3. It also inflicts heavily the reproductive capacity of the stock, and large quantities of discarded juvenile exemplars threaten the future dimensions of the fish populations. The discard of marine mammals, reptiles, seabirds and other marine animals has an impact on marine ecosystems and biodiversity; already a small amount of killed exemplars can lead to the extinction of the species, especially if the specie is already threatened4.
Many countries have agreed on the necessity of the reduction of by-catch and discards, and so has the European Union, as they state that “the reduction of by-catches and of discards is consequently a key aim of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)” 3.Solutions like the usage of selective fishing gear, the closure of areas with high by-catch and banning of discards have been proposed4.
In fact there have been made many technical developments for fishing gear: by changing the colour to make the nets less visible for seabirds, varying the size and shape of the mesh to prevent the catch of smaller fish, leaving “emergency exits” for juvenile exemplars or non-target species, discouraging marine mammals with sounds or stimulating the prey with lights and sounds just to name a few.
Many of those possibilities as well as discard bans and time and area closures have been scientifically approved to show a positive effect on the increase of fish stocks. In fact studies show that it might be possible to reduce by-catch around 25%-64% without a greater impact on the total catch of almost every target species5. In addition less by-catch means saving the time to sort and discard non-target species, and after all, time is money 3. Also, in the past decade, labelling eco-food has been on the rise, and this does not exclude seafood. Among many others, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies seafood from fisheries that meet their environmental standards, among which one can find the obligation of avoiding by-catch and reducing discards6.
So if the technical knowledge is available without greater economic effects, and if it is regulated by law to use this knowledge, why isn’t the adjustment to ecologically more sustainable fishing methods more popular? No technical development and no law will make a fisher change his gear if he is not convinced that it will procure the designated success, both economically and idealistically. If, on the other hand, he is involved actively in the developing process alongside with scientists by contributing to or testing the new technologies or he can experience how successfully the adjustments work, he presumably will take the chance to preserve the source he makes a living of5. So it is not only money what makes the world of progress go ‘round, but what we believe.
2Hall, SJ (1999).The Effects of Fishing on Marine Ecosystems and Communities
3Directorate-General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs of the European Commission (2007). Reducing by-catches and eliminating discards. Fisheries and Aquaculture in Europe, Nr.34
4Commission of the European Communities (2007). A policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European Fisheries.
5Hall, SJ and Mainprize, BM (2005). Managing by-catch and discards: how much progress are we making and how can we do better? Fish and Fisheries, Volume 6 Issue 2, Pages 134-155
6MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing. www.msc.org/documents/msc-standards/MSC_environmental_standard_for_sustainable_fishing.pdf