Fisheries Discards – Waste of a Resource or a Necessary Evil? Report to the EU on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Fisheries discards are often seen as an enormous waste of resources and an impediment to the rebuilding of fish stocks. However, many traditional fisheries management measures have effectively encouraged discarding in an effort to enforce catch quotas and protect undersize fish or undesirable species. Discarding is currently a particularly contentious issue in European fisheries, prompting the European Commission to review its approach to managing discards. Of key concern is the North Sea which accounts for some of the highest discard rates in the world. It is jointly managed under two different policies (The European Common Fisheries Policy and the Norwegian Marine Resources Act). In Norwegian waters discarding is banned, whereas in EU waters discarding is widespread. To assess the ecological and economic effectiveness of the Norwegian ban on discards we examined its effect on Northeast Arctic fish stocks. These are considered to be biologically isolated from those in the North Sea, allowing for a meaningful comparison. By analysing normalised spawning stock biomass over a 20 year period we provide evidence that the Norwegian approach in the Northeast Arctic has been more successful than the joint approach in the North Sea for the sustainable management of cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), saithe (Pollachius virens) and herring (Clupea harengus). By considering the short term economic costs and the current status of the North Sea fish stocks, we then ask if the Norwegian discard policy should be transferred to the North Sea stocks in order to make management of this area more effective and harmonious. Based on the results of this study we conclude that combined with a system of real time area closures and gear modifications, a ban on the discarding of cod, haddock, saithe and herring in the North Sea would provide substantial benefits to the stocks with minimal short term costs to the fishing industry. The major obstacle preventing the implementation of a discard ban would be the difficulties faced in enforcing it. However, new monitoring technology such as on board CCTV may dramatically improve compliance.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of York
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

Publication series

NameMarine Ecosystem Management Report
PublisherUniversity of York


  • Fisheries
  • Fisheries management
  • Fisheries discards
  • by-catch
  • common fisheries policy

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