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Research directed at understanding the consequences of fish mortality associated with the capture and discard of undersized target species and the imposition of regulations to reduce the catch of undersized species dates well back into this century. However, development of explicit national and international policies to deal with fish discards is of more recent vintage.

This does not imply attention to discards was not a subject of concern of earlier marine scientists and managers, but the focus of discard studies was much narrower. The post-World War II years was an era of rapidly expanding fisheries in which scientists and managers searched for strategies to avoid diminishing catches and optimize the use of whatever nature provided in terms of recruitment to exploitable resources. It was a period when yield per recruit analysis provided a management approach independent of information as to why fish stocks fluctuated. At the heart of this management concept was the establishment of mesh regulations designed to minimize the capture of unwanted small fish and optimize the capture of fish at sizes leading to the greatest possible yield, taking into account the amount of fishing effort and the biological characteristics of the species harvested (growth and natural mortality).

Discard studies for more than a quarter of a century following World War II largely involved developing an understanding of how to optimize sustainable catches of species through adjustments in codend mesh-size regulations for trawlers. Researchers were not oblivious to the catches and discards of substantial quantities of unmarketable species, but for the most part they felt either such catches did not constitute a threat to the populations of discarded species or tended to feel it was a non-issue.

In fact, even in the latter half of the 1980s, Bricklemyer et al. (1989/1990), referring to fisheries managers, noted that “In the first instance, where discard is a concern, it is usually characterized as a narrow problem, such as waste of a potential food source, interference with fishing operations, or excessive kills of high-valued commercial (for example, prohibited species) or protected species.” With few exceptions, this observation aptly conveys the attitude still held by a significant sector of fishermen and fisheries managers.

Nevertheless, the nature of waste or potential waste resulting from non-selective fishing practices was clearly identified by many early researchers. In this respect it is interesting to see that Saila (1983), in discussing the nature of the discard problem only a decade ago, noted waste was often seen as a single problem and pointed out that “wastage in throwing back fish into the sea was seen as no worse than the underutilization of some stocks (squids, mesopelagic fish, etc.) or the overfishing of other.” He also noted the problem of losses of future catches, such as mortalities to undersized discarded target species. Saila saw the growing need to deal more deliberately with the discard/waste problem largely in light of the growing world need for animal protein, stating “...the utilization of products now being discarded at-sea must be substantially increased.”

Policy Development in the U.S.

The breadth of the emerging literature underscores the fact that the bycatch and discard issues have surfaced in recent years as high-priority fisheries management issues in developed and developing countries. Perhaps nowhere in the world has the incidental catch/discard issue received as much public policy attention as in the U.S. Conflicts emerged between the U.S. conservation community and the (1) U.S. ETP tuna industry, (2) high seas foreign driftnet fisheries, and (3) the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery. These marine mammal/fisheries conflicts, coupled with inter-gear discard disputes in the large-scale Alaskan groundfisheries and elsewhere and commercial recreational allocation disagreements, formed the substrate upon which a significant body of U.S. and international law was designed to address discard problems (Burke et al. 1993).

Freeberg (1992), provides an excellent chronology of actions taken in the fisheries of the Northeast Pacific leading to a growing diversity of regulations directed toward limiting levels of discards. The regulations include establishment of chinook salmon bycatch caps, target discard rates for foreign fisheries taking incidental catches of species of interest to U.S. fishermen, industry bycatch regulations, vessel incentive programs to reduce discards, “hot spot” closures, and allocations of pollock to midwater gear to reduce the incidental catch of prohibited species, given the “cleaner” characteristics of pelagic trawls.

Bricklemyer et al. (1989/1990), in his review “Discarded Catch in U.S./Commercial Fisheries,” covers a series of specific discard issues in the U.S. and outlines a number of laws that specifically deal with or can be used to address discard problems. These include the U.S. Endangered Species, the Marine Mammal Protection, the Migratory Bird Treaty, and the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management acts. Iudicello and Leape (in press) expand on this list, and Greenberg (1992) discusses the legal aspects of bycatchand discard issues.

By the early 1990s, the growing controversy over discards in U.S. fisheries had become a topic of debate among members of the American Fisheries Society

who published a policy on bycatch in the society's Bulletin of Fisheries (Perra 1992):

  1. To encourage state and federal agencies to promote development, use, and implementation of bycatch reduction devices to conserve fish and wildlife.

  2. To support the continuation and expansion of conservation engineering programs to reduce bycatch of undersize or non-target species.

  3. To request states and other entities conducting research on turtle- and fish-excluder devices to develop and support programs to extensively field test all bycatch reduction devices and designs that allow for juvenile finfish escapement.

  4. To encourage programs through its membership and publications and by other means that demonstrate the usefulness of bycatch reduction devices to the commercial fishing industry.

  5. To support efforts to hold national and international conferences on conservation engineering in order to improve technology transfer between researchers and other groups developing bycatch reduction and other fish separator devices.

On a national level, the U.S. MFCMA, as reauthorized by Congress in 1990, notes that it is the policy of the Congress in this Act to “…ensure that national fisheries conservation programs consider the effect of fishing on immature fish.” The Act directed the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to secure a ban on high seas gillnetting. About the same time, fear of the implication of regulations involving the catch and discard of sensitive species, such as turtles and certain finfish in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic shrimp fisheries lead the U.S. Congress to adopt the Incidental Harvest Research Amendment Act. This Act prohibits the Secretary of Commerce from implementing regulations to reduce incidental harvests in the Gulf and South Atlantic shrimp fisheries until January 1, 1994.30 Klima (1992) highlights the importance of this problem, noting the discard rate in high seas driftnet fisheries ranges between 50 and 300 individuals per metric ton of target species, while the discard rate for the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries is close to 200,000 individuals per metric ton of target species taken.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act prohibits “taking” of any endangered species by any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction. The term “take” includes kill, trap, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, capture, collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct. Even if a U.S. fishing activity were to capture an endangered animal accidentally, it could be considered a “taking” (Bean 1983). The Act has already been used in several instances to modify fishing practices (Bricklemyer et al. 1989/1990).

30 The Act allows for a research period to find potential solutions to bycatch problems

Perhaps the most well-known marine mammal bycatch problem in the world is that involving the ETP tuna purse seine fishery. In the early 1970s, this fishery, dominated by U.S. vessels, set large purse seines around dolphins to capture schools of associated tuna. During this period, annual dolphin deaths were said to have reached a level exceeding 300,000 animals and involved several species (Marine Mammal Commission 1991). In order to address the dolphin catch and discard problem in the face of widespread attention to the issue in the U.S. and global press, the U.S. Congress incorporated into the MMPA a dolphin permit requirement for the U.S. tuna seine fleet.

In 1974, the National Marine Fisheries Service, responsible for administering the U.S. MMPA for pelagic species,31 issued a permit regulation authorizing U.S. seine vessels to take an unlimited number of dolphins until December 1975. However, after this date the number of kills and concern over the impacts of these kills led to a series of increasingly constraining permitted kill levels. Regulations set an aggregate U.S. kill level for dolphins at 78,000 in 1976 and 1977, 51,945 in 1978, 41,610 in 1979, 31,150 in 1980, 20,500 in 1984. Total international fleet kills in 1991 and 1992 were 27,292 and 15,539 respectively (the current mortality level is <4,000 annually). Although the kill rate of dolphins dropped markedly, so did the number of boats in the U.S. tuna seine fleet. Between 1980 and 1984, the U,S. fleet numbers fell severely, from about 94 to 42 (Young et al. 1993), and in 1993 only a few U.S. vessels continue to operate in the ETP. However, a large international fleet continues to set on dolphin schools in the region (Hall 1994, pers. comm.)

The increased U.S. attention to discard research and management is noted by Murawski (1991) to be due, in part, to trends of increasing fishery effort and greater specialization of fisheries in recent years. In addition, there has been a growing importance placed on the effects of discard mortality on threatened or protected species. Murray et al. (1992) note a recent switch in interest from potential use of bycatch to “impacts on fish populations” and suggest this change of emphasis may in part reflect increased political sophistication of user groups.

Fox (1992) identifies four different facets of the discard problem: (1) allocation, (2) conservation, (3) legal or regulatory problems, and (4) those relating to the public ethic issue. The last issue, he notes, is the “most overlooked as a driving force of the bycatch problem and was an underlying factor in the emergence of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S. and modifications made in the U.S. MFCMA which address incidental catch and discard issues.”

31 Includes coastal species such as the harbor porpoise.

Fox's first three problem categories are similar to those noted by numerous authors, but ethical concerns raise a new emerging issue. The point is well made that the U.S. public's ethical consideration of incidental catches and mortalities imposed on discarded non-target species, in particular marine mammals, turtles, and birds, served as a catalyst formulating early “bycatch” (discard) policy in the U.S. Congress. Ethical considerations may go well beyond the question of the continued viability (conservation) of the stocks in question. The capture of large quantities of these animals, regardless of the status of knowledge regarding populations of concern, was enough to ignite a political force which ultimately required major changes in the U.S. tuna seine fisheries and helped to formulate a U.S. policy providing for and leading to termination of high seas gillnetting in the Pacific.

The socio-economic implications of the public's perception of the ETP seine fishery for tuna and its associated porpoise take is reflected in the now famous Heinz Co. announcement that it would no longer purchase tuna caught in association with dolphins.32 As noted by F. Alverson (1991), “There is no doubt that H. J. Heinz gave careful thought and agonized for a considerable time prior to the decision to make this announcement that was fostered by the U.S. public's ethical concerns and emotional attachment to marine mammals.” 33

Miles (1992a) concludes:

In the U.S. the legal prohibitions concerning discards derive:
…either from the conflicting interest of gear types and therefore different groups of fishermen, or the desire to protect a variety of marine mammals and seabirds (non-consumptive uses).
Conceived in this fashion, one realizes that the bycatch issue presents a powerfully multivalent political problem which involves at least three components:
  1. Biological issues of great technical complexity facing tight constraints because of an inadequate knowledge base.

  2. Contentious issues of who gets what and how much among different groups of fishermen. In this conflict, bycatch issues are used as surrogates for different allocation rather than conservation decisions.

  3. Issues of emotion, values, and ethics concerning marine mammals and the political potency of the environmentalist coalition.

32 The “dolphin-safe” definition requires no purchase of driftnet-caught fish or fish caught in the ETP fishery if dolphins were encircled at any time during the ETP trip.

33 Whether all seafood companies are subscribing to this policy and are in reality declining purchase of such tuna seems highly questionable (F. Alverson 1991).

There can be little doubt that the public ethic issues noted by Fox (1992) and emotional issues involving marine mammals (Miles 1992a) helped serve as a stimulus to forge international policies concerned with high seas driftnetting. The consequence of societal concerns with marine mammals is well reflected in U.S. policy dealing with high seas driftnet fisheries.

High Seas Salmon Driftnet Fisheries

Japanese driftnet fisheries for salmon have been carried out in the waters off Japan and in the Northeast Pacific since early in the century. But the explosive growth of the high seas motherships and land-based driftnet fisheries beginning in the early 1950s marked the beginning of the large offshore driftnet fisheries:

...The mothership driftnet fishery, which started with three motherships and 57 catcher vessels, quickly ballooned to 16 motherships and 506 catcher vessels in 1956. During its early development, the fishery operated throughout much of the North Pacific between 160°E and 175°W longitude and from 46°N to 62°N latitude. In peak years, as many as nine million tans34 (about 450,000 km, or 270,000 miles) of driftnets were deployed in a season. To complete this picture, one should add six million tans deployed by the Japanese land-based fleet between 38°N and 45°N latitude and about 143°E to 175°W longitude. Japanese catches of salmon from the high seas driftnet fishery soared from about 3,800 mt in 1952 to over 100,000 mt in 1955. Similarly, the land-based catches rose from 23,600 mt in 1952 to over 72,060 mt in 1959. Catches of both fleets decreased throughout the 1960s and 1070s, and the Japanese mothership fleet activities were terminated in 1988 in the U.S. EEZ and part of the Bering Sea (Alverson 1992b).

The growth of these fisheries at the onset, particularly the mothership operation which fished off the coast of Alaska, were seen as highly detrimental to U.S. interests, but not as part of the bycatch and discard problem. Although conservation problems were highlighted in attempts to stop or alter driftnetting for salmon, the underlying economic consequence of interception of fish bound for U.S. and Canadian waters (allocation) was of equal or greater concern (Miles 1989).

The growing need to establish an institutional structure to deal with the expanding Japanese fisheries in the Northeast Pacific (Miles 1989) led to the establishment in 1953 of the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission (INPFC) between the U.S., Canada, and Japan. The Commission passed the now famous “abstention principle”35 which governed fishing activities in the Northeast Pacific region for most of four decades (Jackson and Royce 1986).

34 One tan of salmon net equals 50 m (Fredin 1985).

At first, U.S./Canada concerns within the INPFC regarding adjacent high seas salmon fisheries rested on (1) management problems resulting from mixed stock fisheries, (2) capture of immature fish diminishing their MSY (maximum sustainable yield), and (3) economic dislocation of U.S. and Canadian fishermen who were already using available surpluses from North American rivers. The breadth of the U.S./Canada concern was subsequently expanded to include the wastage of salmon resulting from “dropouts.”36 In aggregate, these arguments resulted in some adjustments in the distribution of salmon driftnetting giving temporary reprieve to the Japanese from the continued pressures mounted by U.S. and Canadian salmon interests (Jackson and Royce 1986).

In the INPFC debates in later years, the U.S., Canada, and Japan never agreed on whether “salmon of North American origin” qualified for abstention. Nevertheless, through economic and political pressures and tradeoffs involving Japanese interests in groundfisheries off Alaska and Canada, the U.S. and Canada managed gradually to displace the high seas mothership salmon fleet from the Bering Sea.

The ultimate political force proving most devastating to the continuation of high seas driftnet salmon fishery resulted from the coalescence of the interests of numerous U.S. sport and commercial fishermen and Alaskan Native American and conservation groups (Miles 1989). The former argued interception by Japanese fishermen of sockeye and chinook salmon bound for western Alaskan rivers was detrimental to the economic/social welfare of their members and complicated the conservation of the resources. The latter raised the problem of “bycatch,” in particular the catch and discard of large quantities of Dall's porpoises, other marine mammals, and birds.

After passage of the U.S. MMPA in 1972, Japanese vessels operating in U.S. waters were required to have permits for the incidental capture of marine mammals, and following renegotiation of the INPFC in 1978, U.S. marine mammal observers were placed aboard motherships. The observer program verified that rather large numbers of Dall's porpoises were being taken in the high seas salmon gillnet fishery. Jones (1990), for example, estimated in excess of 10,000 Dall's porpoises may have been taken in 1982. The Japanese, encouraged by the U.S., did undertake efforts to reduce catch and discards of marine mammals and such experiments were begun. Nevertheless, the combination of legal actions, the inability to establish an OSP level,37 arguments raised by conservation and North American Native groups, and probably the costs of high seas fishing (Miles 1989) ultimately led to the phasing out of the Japanese salmon driftnet fleets.

35 A principle accepted by Japan requiring their fishermen to abstain from fishing stocks of fish in the Northeast Pacific region which were fished at the MSY level under scientific study and management.

36 Dropouts are fish captured in nets that may die and subsequently drop out of the net, resulting in an unobserved mortality.

Squid Driftnet Fisheries

Driftnetting for squid in the North Pacific was initiated by Japan in the fall of 1978. This fishery quickly came into conflict with the historical near-shore Japanese jig fleet, and the driftnet fleet was subsequently restricted to the waters north of 20° and east of 170°E (Court 1981). The fleet expanded rapidly, and Japanese fishermen were joined by neighboring Korean and Taiwanese fishermen. By the early 1980s, the aggregate fleets from these three nations had soared to over 750 vessels, with squid catches in excess of 300,000 mt (Alverson 1992b).

The onset of the high seas squid fleets' activities immediately raised the ire of American fishermen who perceived salmon of U.S./Canadian origin were once again being intercepted and that catches were of enormous proportions. As noted by Johnson (1990), “Some estimates suggest this new and expanding high seas fishery caused a loss of 40 million salmon from Canadian and U.S. rivers in the last year, as well as the destruction of 50,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds….” As the fisheries grew, U.S. and Canadian fisheries bodies initiated studies to attempt to clarify the extent of marine mammal, bird, and salmon interception. The commitment to documenting the nature of the squid driftnet fishery was inspired by (1) growing observations and concerns of the U.S. albacore (Thunnus alalunga) fishermen, (2) evidence of illicit sales of salmon on the international market, and (3) early observer data supporting conservationists' claims that the fishery was impacting marine mammal and bird populations (Miles 1989). These observations provided a basis for promoting an expanded U.S./Japanese observer program in the fishery.

As a result of the growing disenchantment of U.S. fishermen operating off Alaska and Native and conservation groups, the U.S. government passed the Driftnet Monitoring Act in 1987. This law required the U.S. to negotiate observer monitoring agreements with any foreign government authorizing its nationals to conduct driftnet resulting in the taking of U.S. marine resources in waters of the North Pacific seaward of the EEZ (Northridge 1991a). Shortly after passage of the Act, a broad-based multinational observer program was initiated.

Meanwhile, the South Pacific island states had for some time been mounting a coalition opposing long, large-mesh driftnets, and in November 1989, together with Australia and New Zealand, opened for signature a Convention for Prohibition of Fishing with Long Driftnets in the South Pacific (FAO 1992). Interestingly, a report (Allan et al. 1991) of the South Pacific Commission completed as the result of observations aboard Japanese driftnet vessels fishing for albacore and skipjack shows an overall discard rate (percentage of total species retained) during fishing operations in the Tasman Sea of 12%, of which three-fourths was discard of damaged target fish, small tunas, and dropouts. In the offshore fishery carried out in the sub-tropical convergence region, the overall discard rate was reported at 8% by number of target individuals retained, of which again three-fourths was damaged or small target species and dropouts. In the two observational sets, bycatch of non-target species constituted 3% and 2% of retained catch by number--a relatively low discard rate, considering the rates observed in many other major world fisheries (Freeberg 1992). Nevertheless, some marine mammals, birds, and turtles were taken, and the South Pacific community highlighted concerns over impacts of the high seas fisheries on local fisheries of the region.

37 Optimal sustainable population.

The perceived threat of high seas driftnets rapidly became a national and international issue. Even before the results of the North Pacific observer effort could be completely analyzed (Burke et al. 1993), the U.S. Congress, responding to environmental advocacy group pressure and the growing leverage of the U.S. public, moved to establish a moratorium on the high seas driftnet fisheries and shortly thereafter to join with the U.N. in calling for the termination of such fisheries. Miles (1992a), for example, notes “the U.S. in 1989 led the charge in the U.N. General Assembly to stop high seas driftnetting based on the ‘wastefulness’ of this gear type.”

There was little or no opposition in the U.S. Congress to the establishment of the moratorium or to the ultimate outlawing of high seas driftnetting. The fate of the high seas driftnet fishery was linked to:

  1. Excessive capture of salmon of U.S. origin.

  2. “Walls of death” which stretched across much of the North Pacific Ocean.

  3. The capture of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals.

  4. “Dirty” and wasteful fishing practices resulting in high rates of bycatch and discards.

  5. Grave concerns about the impacts of driftnetting on the integrity and productivity of the pelagic ecosystem.

As the U.S. mounted its efforts to outlaw the high seas driftnet fishery, an attempt was made to uncouple its own coastal gillnet fisheries and those within the EEZs of other countries from the negative image cast on the high seas fishery. However, Northridge (1991a) in his extensive review of driftnet fisheries concluded that there are:

…few important differences between driftnet fisheries which are operated inside EEZs compared with those operated outside EEZs, except that effective management and regulation of those in international waters may be more difficult. The environmental impact of numerous vessels operating a few net sections in coastal waters may be equivalent to, or even greater than, a smaller number of high seas vessels which operate a greater number of net sections.

More recent studies (Freeberg 1992; Burke et al. 1993) have shown the action of the U.S. Congress preceded careful analysis of the data acquired from the different high seas driftnet observer programs (Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese) designed to verify bycatch and discard rates. Freeberg (1992) and Burke et al. (1993)--confirmed in our study-showed that incidental catch rates and discards of non-target species for the Korean and Taiwanese squid fisheries were significantly lower than those documented for the Japanese driftnet fishery and for most large-scale world fisheries undertaken within the EEZs of coastal nations. Although the level of sampling and the aggregate nature of the data reports make in-depth analysis of the available data difficult, significant areal differences in bycatch rates have been observed (Table 39). The results of the observer studies also indicated the incidental capture of salmon and marine mammals, birds, and turtles in the Korean and Taiwanese fisheries was low in relation to those observed in Japanese fisheries. Had bycatch rates for the Korean and Taiwanese fisheries been used to estimate impacts, different technical and scientific views regarding the impacts of high seas driftnetting may have emerged.

Regardless, even had the issue been considered in light of more recent information, it seems doubtful the outcome in the U.S. Congress would have been different. Although the salmon, marine mammal, and bird interception rates in the Korean and Taiwanese squid fisheries were relatively low compared to many fisheries, there was ample evidence the squid fishery constituted a staging area for illegal salmon operations to the north (Miles 1989; Burke et al. 1993). Further, the incidental albacore catch was impacting a stock apparently already overfished (Fox 1992),38 and some marine mammal populations may have been threatened, over time, by the Japanese squid fishery (Mangel 1993). These concerns, plus the lack of transparency in the high seas driftnet squid fisheries and the presumed need for timely action provided the basis for congressional actions. But perhaps of greater importance, the issue was emotionally charged and vigorously pursued by the world press, who were being fed information by government sources, advocacy groups, and, at times, scientists unfamiliar with the problem. Finally, the numbers of marine mammals, seabirds, and other sealife killed in the driftnet fisheries were perceived to be ethically unacceptable to the U.S. public.

Thus, advocates of terminating all high seas driftnet fisheries successfully promoted a general ethical and philosophical view regarding driftnet fisheries, their take of marine mammals, birds, and turtles, and the potential environmental degradation they induced. This helped to motivate a fast reaction by the U.S. Congress--a response which the international community, prodded by the U.S., was quick to endorse.

38 Albeit no international effort had previously been made to control albacore catches in other fisheries.

Table 39. CPUE rates (# per unit of gear) for various species groups in Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese driftnet fisheries in 1990. Source: Freeberg 1992.
Japan SalmonSharksTunaBillfishPomfretOthfishSeabirdsMammalsTurtles
Korea SalmonSharksTunaBillfishPomfretOthfishSeabirdsMammalsTurtles
Taiwan SalmonSharksTunaBillfishPomfretOthfishSeabirdsMammalsTurtles

Country and Regional Policy Developments

European Community

Although the development of policies to deal with a range of emerging discard problems has received considerable attention within branches of the U.S. government, it is by no means an issue unique to the U.S. A recent communiqué from the Commission of the European Community to the Council of the European Community (Commission of the European Community 1992) noted:

The quantity of fish discarded into the sea is substantial, since although the practice varies considerably, it is followed by virtually all vessels. The seriousness of the problems to which it gives rise would be assessed in objective terms, whether as losses of a certain amount of a raw material, economic losses for the sector, or ecological impact, particularly in terms of the protection of biological resources and the environment. Further problems include compliance with Community rules, which makes discarding compulsory, and with Norwegian legislation, which partially prohibits it, albeit in different circumstances.

This paragraph of the report raises the Community's awareness of the problem's severity. The report concludes:

The problem of discards is of such importance and its repercussions of such gravity that drastic solutions must be sought now, at a time when the increasing scarcity of stocks is of great concern to Community fisheries and when the ecological damage, true or imagined, caused by fishing is raising more and more questions. The Commission acknowledges that some of the existing Community rules contain drawbacks. The search for solutions will only be possible, however, if all the forms of and reasons for discards are considered.

European managers have imposed a number of area closures, such as the “pout box,” which bans the Danish industrial fleet from fishing an area of the North Sea to prevent capture of small haddock and cod (Amos 1992). A more comprehensive policy is expected to evolve within the European community which has only recently attempted to undertake an in-depth review of the magnitude and scope of the problem. At the Newfoundland Mobile Gear Selectivity Workshop (1992), Robertson, for example, states:

The United Kingdom Minister of Fisheries and the European Fisheries Ministry39 are working hard and effectively towards helping to improve the fishing industry by introducing more selective gears. The fishing industries of Europe are also working hard to this end. There is a better awareness by everyone working in and serving the industry that more selective gears are required.

Nevertheless, later in the Newfoundland workshop, Ashworth (1992), a fishing gear technologist, noted that “we in Europe have the situation where the industry puts forward ideas, not always listened to and usually ending up in fighting and disagreeing with administrators and scientists, and also ourselves internally within the industry.” Ashworth's conclusion is that not much progress is made, a somewhat different perspective from that presented by the government.


In recent years, Norway has made a major effort to use various gear technologies to reduce mortalities on non-target species. The Nordmore Grate40 (Amos 1992), for example, is now mandated for use in Norwegian shrimp fisheries and several other areas of the world (see Chapter 9 for details of Nordmore grate development). Recently, Norway also adopted a discard ban with the intent of minimizing catches of undersized fish. The ban is expected to (1) prevent the loss of usable raw material, (2) upgrade scientific data on the basis of which TACs are calculated, taking all fish caught into account, and (3) achieve better conservation, since all fish caught count against the quotas (Commission of the European Community 1992).

39 For a detailed discussion of various bycatch-discard regulatory actions taken in the Northeast Atlantic, see Chapter 7.

40 A metal grate system placed in the upper throat of the trawl to separate shrimp from roundfishes.

In contrast, the European Community has approved a ban whereby “it is prohibited to retain on board or to land catches from stocks for which TACs or quotas have been fixed or reached, except in six special cases.” The two opposing approaches perhaps reflect the complexity of the problem and differing perceptions as to how best to reduce losses due to discards.


In Eastern Canada where cod and other groundfish stocks have plummeted, the Honorable John C. Crosbie, Minister of Fisheries, has proposed a comprehensive plan to protect juvenile fish. Under consideration by the Minister are (1) gear restrictions, including mesh size and mesh types, as well as hook size for longliners, (2) implementation of an Atlantic-wide use of separator trawls and selector grates, and (3) new conditions of license requiring proper use of fishing gear and an expanded definition of illegal gear. Andrew Duthie (1992), Chief of Fisheries Technology for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, notes that “as a result of current serious resource problems41 with Canadian fishing gear selectivity, initiatives designed to allow for the escapement of immature fish and non-target species have been identified as an area of high priority within the fishery.”

New Zealand

Discard management has also become an integral component of the Individual Transferable Quota Management Regime in New Zealand and Australia. In reviewing the New Zealand fishery policy, Gordon (1992) notes:

Bycatch reduction touches on every aspect of the management and conservation regime: goals; objectives; understanding of the problems for which there appear to be solutions; acceptance of problems for which solutions appear partial or currently unavailable; legislation; regulations; enforcement by the agency; compliance behavior of the industry; the industry complex and its prosecution of the fishery from harvest to market; research and development both in biological stock and in gear technology and its behavioral interaction with the stocks under different conditions in time.

41 Cod and groundfish fisheries of the region have been severely constrainted as a result of a sharp decline of these species.

Central West Africa

Studies undertaken in the late 1970s by Senegal, Ivory Coast, Congo, and Nigeria have confirmed the need to increase mesh size for the trawl fisheries of the region. These studies ultimately led to a recommendation of a minimum mesh size of 60 mm for the exploitation of demersal fisheries. Garcia and Poinsard (1987) note:

Implementation and enforcement of this mesh size is, however, far from being realized even in areas where it is clear that the mesh size of 60 mm (stretched) is still smaller than that which would give best bycatch results…. This problem is now being studied, but progress will be slow because of the far-reaching political and economic consequences of any decisions.

In recent years there has been an expanded effort by West African countries to gather data and come to grips with the extensive bycatch and discard problems of the region (McGlade, pers. comm.).

East Africa

Although throughout much of the north temperate zones, nations have evolved fishery policies designed to reduce bycatch discards, in many African countries, government polices have concentrated on development of market opportunities for bycatch species. For example, in Mozambique efforts to dry and salt fish taken in the shrimp fishery date back over a decade (Jensen 1985). Further, at a FAO-Expect-Consultation on fish technology in Lusoha, Zambia, Jenson notes the development and use of six to seven-meter vessels with small inboards that transfer bycatch from at-sea vessels to shoreside markets. This transfer permits retention and use of bycatch that formerly had been discarded. Razafindralambo (1985) reports on other East African efforts recently utilizing gears and methods which avoid or reduce excessive bycatch.

Southeast Asia

Pauly and Neal (1985) discuss a number of problems involving fish/shrimp interactions, including bycatch, occurring in Southeast Asia and the technological, biological, and social difficulties underlying solutions to such problems. The authors note early bycatch studies were conducted largely by Indonesian scientists, but since the mid-1980s, a wide variety of bycatch problems have been studied by a number of Southeast Asian countries, including India, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Middle East

In the late 1970s, FAO (Grantham 1980) recognized the need to assess the quantities of bycatch and discards in the Middle East countries bordering the Arabian Sea. In order to promote more efficient utilization and rational exploitation of regional fisheries, an assessment was undertaken to determine the availability and composition of bycatch taken in the Gulfs area. The study also involved an assessment of the feasibility of bycatch preservation and possible utilization of bycatch for human consumption and other purposes. The largest quantities of bycatch in the sea were reported for Iraq and Iran, at that time the largest fish producers of the eight nations surveyed (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). In recent years, bycatch and discard policies are less clear, with the exception of Oman's, where a significant effort to establish bycatch and discard levels was undertaken in the late 1980s. As the commercial trawl fisheries off Oman developed, specific company quotas were established. These quotas referred to total catch amounts, not just retained catch. Thus, it became important to develop a program to obtain information regarding levels of discards. Subsequently, an onboard observer program was established which led to a significant increase in the available information concerning the community of fishes harvested and discarded by local fishermen (Hare 1992).

UNCLOS Provisions

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea contains a separate provision dealing with bycatch and discards, that is, coastal states in taking conservation measures for target species “shall take into consideration the effects on species associated with or dependent upon harvest species with a view to maintaining or restoring populations of such associated or dependent species above levels at which their reproduction may become seriously threatened.”

Burke (1992) notes the U.N. standard for bycatch seems to be higher than for target species in that the UNCLOS aim for target species is to prevent endangering them, while for discard species the aim is to prevent even threatening them. In other words, one might threaten target species, but not discarded species. However, the biological viewpoint is not that clear and the two situations may be roughly equivalent. Article 65 of the UNCLOS treaty on marine mammals declares that nothing in the Article on the EEZ “restricts the right of a coastal state or the competence of an international organization, as appropriate, to prohibit, limit, or regulate the exploitation of marine mammals more strictly than provided for in the past.” It would seem that a nation may completely prohibit any take of marine mammals, including incidental takes, for reasons other than imposed threats to a population.

U.N Involvement with High Seas Driftnetting

Development of U.N. bycatch policies like those in the U.S. was also closely linked to the high seas driftnet issue. In late 1990, the U.N. was drawn into the high seas driftnet conflict, primarily on the basis of the “dirtiness” (levels of discards) of this type of gear (Miles 1992b). The 1989 U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution No. 44/225 was crafted in a manner that in order for the fishery to continue, the fishery states would need to show there were no unacceptable impacts on affected species and effective conservation measures were in place.42 However, the analyses of the scientific data required to address such potential impacts and development of an appropriate conservation regime were never realized. Concerns for immediate action to prevent perceived unacceptable ecological risks outweighed interest in examining closely the data being developed from the observer program and results of further research.

The mandate to the nations involved in the high seas driftnet fishery demonstrates to the world community that no unacceptable ecological impacts occurring were insurmountable, as would perhaps be the case involving most fisheries conducted within the EEZs of coastal states. Thus, less than two years after the initial resolution, the U.N. framed its 1991 resolution recommending termination of driftnetting arguing that “in accordance with Paragraph 3 of Resolution No. 44/225, some members of the international community have reviewed the best available scientific data on the impacts of large-scale pelagic driftnet fishing and have failed to conclude that this practice has no adverse impacts which threaten the conservation and sustainable management of living marine resources.”

Burke (1992) notes the important significance of these findings is that they introduce into fisheries the “precautionary principle,” that is, in case of doubt about the consequences of an activity, apply regulations. It is further pointed out the key question about such a principle is whether it addresses a risk of such high order that it warrants precautionary action. We have no intention of attempting to enter into this dispute; it would seem the world community has at least tentatively passed judgment on these issues. We note, however, the consequences of fishing in areas beyond national jurisdiction may well be held to a measure of proof regarding potential ecological impacts difficult for managed fisheries within national jurisdictions to provide.

What cannot be argued is the discard issue. Associated policies have escalated to the highest level of world government and “the implication of bycatch mortalities on protected resources and societal perception of wasteful practices can no longer be ignored” (Murawski 1994; Martin 1992). Results of this study would seem to justify the international concern.

42 The UNGA Resolution contains a principle that reverses the normal burden of proof required by management agencies and mandates that conservation measures be in place before the available scientific data supporting specific actions is available or before fishing may begin or be continued (FAO i992).

Cancun Declaration

The International Conference on Responsible Fishing held in Cancun, Mexico, in May 1992 (Declaration of Cancun) pointed to the “vital need for fishing to continue and develop within a comprehensive and balanced system under the concept of responsible fishing.” The Conference outlined two goals for coastal states in respect to incidental catch and discards:

  1. In the design and subsequent introduction of new fishing gear and practices, states should take into account qualified assessments of impacts on the sustainability of fisheries, giving due consideration to the specific biodiversity of different fishing areas.

  2. States should promote systematic use of selective fishing gears and practices that minimize waste of catch of target species and bycatch of non-target species.

The Cancun Conference also addressed non-tariff barriers to trade that can be tied to the bycatch issue. The U.S., in attempts to extend the influence of national policies concerned with conservation and environmental policies, has frequently used and threatened to use trade sanctions to force other coastal states to adopt fishing methods and gear restrictions which would reduce levels of incidentally caught marine mammals, turtles, and seabirds. In 1992, the U.S. Congress adopted the International Dolphin Conservation Act (IDCA), authorizing embargoes on tuna products imported from Mexico, Venezuela, and Vanuatu, as well as “intermediary” nations, although it was not until 1990 embargoes were imposed on those countries and then as a result of a court order (Young et al. 1993; High Seas Driftnet Fishing Hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senate 5884, To Require the President To Impose Economic Sanctions Against Countries that Fail To Eliminate Large-Scale Driftnet Fishing). Concerns over U.S. efforts to impose its “conservation measures” on other nations (Freeberg 1992) led Mexico to request the convening of an international panel that contributed to a discussion of trade sanctions for environmental purposes and spawned a lengthy declaration regarding the use of trade sanctions on the part of the Cancun Conference:

States recognize that environmental policies should deal with the root causes of environmental degradation, thus preventing environmental measures from resulting in unnecessary restrictions to trade. Trade policy measures for environmental purposes should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. Unilateral actions to deal with environmental challenges outside the jurisdiction of the importing country should be avoided. Environmental measures addressing international environmental problems should, as far as possible, be based on an international consensus. Domestic measures targeted to achieve certain environmental objectives may need trade measures to render them effective. Should trade policy measures be found necessary for the enforcement of environmental policies, certain principles and rules should apply. These could include, inter alia: the principle of non-discrimination; the principle that the trade measure chosen should be the least trade-restrictive necessary to achieve the objectives; an obligation to ensure transparency in the use of trade measures related to the environment and to provide adequate notification of national regulations; and the need to give consideration to the special conditions and developmental requirements of developing countries as they move towards internationally agreed environmental objectives.

The report of the UNCED also addressed discard waste issues. Under Agenda 21, Chapter 17, Section 46 dealing with ocean management, the report promotes the development and use of selective fishing gears and practices that minimize waste in the catch of target species and minimize bycatch of non-target species (a repeat of the Cancun Declaration). The report further notes countries should (1) ensure fishing activities by vessels flying their flags on the high seas take place in a manner minimizing incidental catch and (2) take measures to increase the availability of marine living resources as human food by reducing wastage, post-harvest losses, and discards.

Finally, international involvement with bycatch issues and expanded national efforts to cope with discards is further reflected in the diversity of papers presented at the recent (1992) World Fisheries Conference in Athens. Papers by Buck, Suwanrangsi, Probkev, Morrissey and Robles, Wilson and Weeks, Pellegin, DeAlteris and Castro, Lien, Nielson and Lien, and Hartmann et al. discussed various aspects of the discard issue.

Chapter Summary

In a matter of a little over forty years, the attention and focus of world fisheries has radically changed from development and maximizing the sustainable use of the ocean's living resources to global concern over extensive overfishing of target species, biological waste, and the potential impact of fishing practices on non-target species and ocean ecosystems. Within the past decade, a plethora of studies has directed attention to discards and associated economic and biological losses. Although documentation of discard levels for many world fisheries is far from complete, the implied levels of discard mortalities and associated fishing-related losses, as estimated in our study, are large, and impacts are shown to be significant in certain regions. National programs directed toward reducing discard levels and associated mortalities are beginning to take shape, but considerable effort must be made to clarify national and international goals and to examine management strategies and technological solutions which will reduce incidental harvests of discards of overfished and threatened species and allow small, juvenile fish to survive to become a part of the fish harvest.

National and international policy to deal with bycatch and discards has evolved at a rapid pace in the past decade and is in a continuous state of metamorphosis. Within many developed and some developing countries “ethics” or “philosophical” issues concerned with the killing or taking of marine mammals and other sea life has added a new dimension to national resource management and has begun to play a major role in the evolution of discard policies.

As governments begin to examine alternatives to address the world discard problem, the formulation of an internationally agreed-upon set of goals and methods of quantifying discards and their impacts will be important steps in the future development of marine resources management policy. The goals should include a clarification of conservation, socio-economic, and ecological objectives and their respective priorities.

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