Fishing fleets dump about 10 percent of the fish they catch back into the ocean in an “enormous waste” of low-value fish despite some progress in limiting discards in recent years, scientists said on Monday.
A decade-long study, the first global review since 2005 and based on work by 300 experts, said the rate of discards was still high despite a decline from a peak in the late 1980s. Discarded fish are usually dead or dying.
Almost 10 million tonnes of about 100 million tonnes of fish caught annually in the past decade were thrown back into the sea, according to the Sea Around Us review by the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Australia.
The review is a research initiative at British Columbia school that assesses the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and offers solutions.
Industrial fleets often throw back fish that are damaged, diseased, too small or of an unwanted species, the study found.
A trawler with a quota only to catch North Atlantic cod, for instance, may throw back hake caught in the same net.
Discards are an “enormous waste ... especially at a time when wild capture fisheries are under global strain amidst growing demands for food security and human nutritional health,” researchers Dirk Zeller, Tim Cashion, Maria Palomares and Daniel Pauly wrote “Global marine fisheries discards: A synthesis of reconstructed data”, which was published on Monday in the journal Fish & Fisheries.
The report welcomed the decline in discards from a peak of about 19 million tonnes in 1989, about 15 percent of a total catch of 130 million tonnes.
The fall may be linked to restrictions in some nations on discards and improved fishing gear. Also, a rise in the price of fishmeal for aquaculture made it profitable to keep formerly low-value species, it said.
However, it might just reflect a lack of fish.
“We suspect that [the decline] is because overfishing ... has already depleted the species being discarded,” Zeller of the University of Western Australia said.
Few fish survive getting thrown back although some species such as sharks, rays or crustaceans are more resilient.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization last estimated, in 2005, that 8 percent of fish were discarded from 1992 to 2001. Those numbers, using different methods, are not directly comparable with the Sea Around Us data.
The scientists said discards were now highest in the Pacific, a shift from the Atlantic.
Russian fleets, for instance, discarded large amounts of Alaska pollock in the North West Pacific because they only wanted the roe.
Fleets from Taiwan, South Korea and China were also among those dumping Pacific fish.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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