Discards: The Dangers of Posturing

22nd January 2009 in Discards

Although no formal announcement has yet been made, there are signs that the Commission’s discard policy has stalled and is likely to founder on the outgoing Commissioner’s ambition to have a discard- free CFP as his legacy.

Joe Borg, the current Commissioner, is due to leave office during the course of this year and has ambitions to be seen as the man who ended discards in the EU, even if this is a relatively empty gesture without substance. He is said to be frustrated at the slow progress in implementing the Commission’s current approach which is based on setting targets and timetables for reducing discards on a fishery by fishery basis.

Whilst the announcement of a discard ban would certainly grab the headlines, Commission officials lower in the hierarchy know very well that discards is a multifaceted issue and an announcement of a ban is very far from a practical policy that can be successfully implemented. The danger once again is that appearance will again take precedence over substance. Some of the worst Commission fisheries legislation has been in response to the driver of “must be seen to be doing something”.

The NFFO recognises that discards are one of the most pernicious elements of the CFP regime which:

  • Damage the reputation of the industry
  • Waste the resource and squander future potential earnings
  • Impede stock recovery
  • Undermine accurate stock assessments

However, we also recognise that there are many different underlying reasons for discards in the complex mixed fisheries that comprise most of the CFP. These include:

  • High-grading to maximise the value from a given quota
  • Discarding to meet EU catch composition rules and other regulatory requirements
  • Where the gear being used is not selective enough for a given species
  • Mixed fishery complications

All of these different types of discards demand different solutions.

The Commission’s original proposals on discards are actually one of the CFP more progressive policy initiatives. By setting a challenging framework, harnessing the knowledge and will of the industry and aligning economic incentives with management objectives, for the first time there was hope that we would see steady progress across the EU in reducing discards. It would appear that this approach has, without discussion, been abandoned in favour of a return to gesture politics.

In the meantime the industry is trying to absorb the implications of the EU commitment to Norway as part of the EU Norway annual fisheries agreement to ban high grading on shared quota stocks. The difficulties involved in implementing this commitment is seen where a vessel is obliged to discard to keep within the prescribed EU catch composition rules but otherwise subject to a ban on high-grading (discarding when the vessel holds quota for the discarded species).