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A Million Tonnes of North Sea Fish Wasted Every Year

A million tonnes of fish and other sea creatures caught in the North Sea are thrown overboard every year, according to a new report from WWF-Germany.

The study, “Sea Creatures Are Not Rubbish”, shows that one-third of North Sea catch is discarded and calls for a gradual ban on the practice of discarding in the European Union.

This practice occurs when boats decide to dispose of fish which they catch but cannot land or derive income from, or when they have caught more fish than they are allowed to land, or they discard the less valuable fish in order to make more space for more valuable fish.

For example, the report cites the situation with Dover sole, for which six kilos of sea creatures are caught incidentally and discarded for every kilo found in the fishmonger. Similarly, catching one kilo of Norwegian lobster or scampi results in five kilos of bycatch.

The European Union recently declared that 88 per cent of the fisheries stocks of the EU are overfished, compared with 25 per cent on average globally. Bycatch is a major contributor to overfishing, providing even more impetus to address this unsustainable and illogical practice

Every year several million sharks and up to 250,000 sea turtles are killed in fishing operations designed to catch other species. This hidden fishing impact is already known to have contributed to the catastrophic decline in species such as the Pacific Leatherback Turtle, believed to have less than 2,500 nesting females remaining.

"Bycatch is an incredible waste and one of the largest threats to many sea creatures,” said Karoline Schacht, Fisheries Policy Officer, WWF-Germany. "The drama happens far away at sea but this unseen wastefulness must come to an end.”

Of most concern are fish that are too small or for which the fishermen have no catch quota – meaning that there is little or no measurement of the number or volume of these fish caught and killed. This could indicate an even greater level of over-fishing than is currently recognized in official estimates.

In Scotland, some fish for which the quota may have been exceeded are still being caught as the boats target other fish in the same area. The economic impact of this is frightening: fish to the value of €60m was discarded in recent months - for example, cod which may have been caught over the official quotas. As the quotas exist to assist in recovering highly vulnerable cod populations, it is clear how bycatch and discarding constitutes a clear threat.

WWF is calling for a European-wide discard ban and a bycatch action package. In the future every fish caught should be landed and allocated to the catch quota.

At the same time fishermen should be obliged to use better catch technologies and in this way the bycatch in some fisheries could be reduced by up to 90 per cent.

A legislative initiative against discard practice, announced by the European Commission, was only recently torpedoed by the powerful fishery lobby of some member countries.

“That is an outright scandal,” said Schacht. “Behind closed doors is an attempt to prevent sustainable fisheries.”

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