Quota trial slashes fish discard rates

The amount of edible fish being discarded overboard can be virtually eliminated by making fishermen count all of their catch towards their quota, a trial has shown.

The UK trial reduced discards of North Sea cod and Western Channel sole to just 0.2 per cent, compared with average discard rates for North Sea cod trawlers of about 38 per cent and 28 per cent for Western Channel sole beam trawlers in 2010.

Fishermen also drastically reduced the amount of undersized fish they caught, showing that measures such as using larger net mesh to avoid juvenile fish – which would otherwise count in the quota – were effective.

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Under current EU rules, fishermen have quotas for certain fish, but can carry on fishing once the limits are reached as long as they do not bring any more of that species to shore.

As a result, tonnes of edible fish that exceed the quota are thrown back as “discards”, accounting for up to 90 per cent of the total catch in some fisheries.

Wasting usable fish in this way is a major issue, as three quarters of EU stocks are overfished.

UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon said the results were “tremendous”, adding he was pleased more fishermen had joined the 2012 quota scheme.