Working together with stakeholders to increase knowledge about discards and the strategies to reduce them.
A diverse group of approximately 60 fisheries stakeholders met with 50 scientists from the DiscardLess project to discuss the EU Landing Obligation at FAO Headquarters in Rome on 9-10 March 2017. Stakeholders represented many different organisations, interests and opinions, including fishers and their representatives from the small-scale fleet to large trawlers and pelagic fisheries, seafood processors, NGOs, Advisory Councils, the European Commission, national administrations, and the European Fisheries Control Agency. Conference participants came from all EU fisheries regions, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and also from outside the EU including Chile, North Africa, the Middle East, the USA and Australia.
The conference comprised three parts. In the first part, DiscardLess scientists presented their main achievements after two years, according to the three themes of the project:
- What are the expected impacts of the Landing Obligation, both on ecosystems and on fishers in economic and social terms? And which changes are we already observing in fisheries, including any changes in the quality and availability of discard data?;
- What do we know about options to reduce discards through gear technology and through changes in where and when to fish?;
- What are the most appropriate uses of unwanted catches in the value chain, and what are the associated logistic challenges with regards to equipment onboard, harbour facilities and traceability?
These presentations provided an overview of the very comprehensive technological, ecological, economic and cultural knowledge and data that have been brought together by the DiscardLess scientists. This knowledge is being made available and regularly updated on the DiscardLess website (http://www.discardless.eu) in the form of easily accessible tools such as catalogues, factsheets, maps, videos, newsletters etc. The presentations also highlighted our thorough understanding of the issues and challenges which are generic across all European fisheries and those which are more specific to particular regions or fisheries. Clearly, our understanding of these issues is much greater than when the project started two years ago, and considerably greater than when the political debate on the Landing Obligation began some years ago.
In the second part, stakeholders and scientists met in regional groups to discuss the results and issues linked to their specific area. Mediterranean fisheries received particular attention through a dedicated workshop. In this region, discard issues linked to Minimum Landing Size (MLS) regulations are overshadowed by overfishing and the poor state of most fish stocks. Nevertheless, the Landing Obligation is triggering important changes in the way stakeholders and countries work together, and could contribute to improved and more integrated regional management in the region. The MINOUW project, financed by the European H2020 Research Program together with DiscardLess, has also been very active in developing innovative but affordable solutions for improving selectivity in several Mediterranean fisheries.
In the third part of the conference, stakeholders shared their experience of changes in their fisheries, through a suite of panel discussions comprised of short presentations with questions and dialogue.
- The first panel brought experience from non EU-countries with a long history of discard bans, not only Norway and Iceland but also Chile. The Chilean experience is particularly relevant for European fisheries because of the multiplicity of species and fisheries, and because of similarities in its initial top-down approach. Remarkably, Chile changed its approach radically after a decade of implementation, and is now obtaining significant discard reductions through bottom-up mitigation plans defined for, and by, each fishery and supported by major educational efforts throughout fishing communities.
- The second panel discussed European experiences after two years of implementation of the Landing Obligation in Baltic and pelagic fisheries. Clearly, the amount of discarded fish that has been landed and recorded has remained low. But changes are being seen in the way European fisheries are being monitored, with new control strategies such as the “Last Haul Analysis” initiative being developed and implemented by European Member States in cooperation with the European Fisheries Control Agency in the Baltic Sea, and that in view of the positive results obtained is being extrapolated to other areas. This panel also highlighted the necessity for EU regulations to facilitate the timely legalisation of more selective fishing gears.
- The third panel addressed the Atlantic and North Sea demersal fisheries, where discard issues might be considered to be the most challenging. For some species and fisheries the Landing Obligation should be implemented without too much difficulty, and there are many options by which selectivity can be improved. However, two “elephants in the room” remain, which are the focus of most of the fishing industry’s resistance, and which would require some degree of regulatory adaptation to resolve. These are (i) the “choke species” problem, particularly where substantial mismatches in quota allocation across countries exist and which cannot always be resolved by quota swaps; and (ii) the excessive costs associated with the obligation to bring unwanted catches ashore in some fisheries. It was suggested that discard reduction should be integrated under the overarching goal of MSY-based sustainability, and that the reporting and restrictions on all catches might be more important for fisheries management than whether discards are brought to land or left in the sea.
- The fourth panel on the Mediterranean Sea recalled the main points discussed during the above-mentioned workshop. Important challenges include the lack of information about the Landing Obligation in small-scale fisheries and the risk of developing a market for undersized fish that would counteract the advances made in the last few decades to improve selectivity. The Landing Obligation will likely become a pillar of the regional management plans that are currently being established.
- Finally, the last panel returned to non-EU countries, discussing experiences in the USA and Australia which do not have discard bans, but which have a number of important by-catch regulations that ensure the overall sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries. It was highlighted that the 2013 CFP is the most complicated fisheries policy occurring in the world, and that its outcome is having repercussions in many other regions. The growing importance of fish-based pet food products on the American market was also highlighted, illustrating the potential future value of fish discards and by-products.
The conference closed in a positive atmosphere, despite the significant challenges raised and discussed. When revisiting the question raised in the opening statement: “What can Science do to help with the Landing Obligation?”, all stakeholders expressed appreciation and support for fisheries scientists and their role in this process, acknowledging that scientists help bring a balanced perspective to conflicting objectives, replacing opinions with verifiable data, sharpening the focus of discussions, promoting dialogue and ultimately finding solutions.
Clara Ulrich of DiscardLess and Javier Garat of EuroPeche both agreed in the concluding statement:
“Let us work together as we are pursuing the same goals!”