For Business Insider.
While fish populations are decreasing and the food prices increasing, UK fishing boats have still tossed over 2.15 million tonnes of perfectly edible dead cod into the sea in the past half-century. About one million tonnes are tossed back into the North Sea alone every year. Fisherman don’t do this because they want to. The EU forces them to.
European regulations that are intended to discourage overfishing are backfiring against fish populations. Fishing boats often have to throw away perfectly good fish because if they fall outside of their legally allowed species, or their catch exceeds quotas. Sometimes, they throw back fish that are too small and worth less. Boats often end up throwing back as much as 2/3rds of their catch.
According to a report by the New Economics Foundation, a UK think tank, the value of cod discarded between 1963 and 2008 was worth £2.7 billion ($4.4 billion). Since most of the cod would have been young, the future catch, had they not been killed and thrown away, could have been five times its size and valued at £7.5 billion ($12.2 billion). They argue that discarding cod endangers the future livelihoods of fishers. (The report focused on cod because the cod is the fish with the most accurate data available.)
Cod popuation and catch numbers in the North Sea, Eastern Channel, and Skagerrak. Despite dwindling population, discarded fish outnumber fish that is brought to market.
Image: New Economics Foundation
In March, the EU’s fisheries commissioner. Maria Damanaki announced plans to phase out discarding by 2013, hoping to trigger innovations in nets and tackle to reduce the number of undersized fish that are caught. Public outrage over discarding of fish was partly mobilized by a TV chef’s show that raised the issue. The television show and the petition campaign that followed were cited by Damanaki as a factor in her decision to eventually require trawlers to land their entire catch.
Fishing lobbies have come out against the decision.
According to the Guardian, Norway’s cod industry actually benefited from a ban on discarding fish in the late 1980s. The industry suffered four years of decreased profitability from the ban, but today, Norway’s fisheries are among the world’s most profitable.