A global assessment of fisheries bycatch and discards (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 339) was published a decade ago with the hopes of stimulating further investigation of these serious problems. Since its publication, fishery scientists throughout the world, conservation and environmental organizations and members of the fishing industry have extensively referenced the report. However, these estimates no longer constitute a true reflection of current global discard levels and continued citation of the papers estimates as such is inappropriate.
The estimates provided in the 1994 paper were largely based on data from the late 1980s and it was made clear that these estimates were of a provisional character. In 1996, a FAO Technical Consultation held in Tokyo noted that discards may have been overestimated for some FAO statistical areas in the report and there was strong evidence that discards were declining in many fisheries. FAOs 1998 publication The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture attempted to update the much-cited 1994 discard estimate of 27 million tonnes and provided a revised estimate of 20 million tonnes. The senior author of the technical report also published several updates, noting a variety of factors that may have led to a decline in global discard levels during the late 1990s. This FAO update on global discards on a fishery-by-fishery basis also supports the affirmation that global discards have significantly declined in recent years.
The reasons cited for this decline have included: (i) greater utilization of bycatch species in Asia and elsewhere for both aquaculture and human consumption; (ii) adoption of more selective fishing technologies and methods; (iii) a decline in the intensity of fishing for some species having high bycatch rates; (iv) a variety of management actions that prohibit discarding in some countries, set bycatch quotas, impose time/area closures, and establish marine protected areas and no trawl zones; and (v) more progressive attitudes by fishery managers, user groups and society towards the need to solve discarding problems.
Indeed, with some exceptions, discards in most fisheries in China and Southeast Asia are now considered to be negligible and bycatch landings have increased significantly in many developing countries. Major fishing nations such as Norway, Iceland and Namibia prohibit discards and bycatch reduction devices are mandatory in many Australian, European and Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) area fisheries. Numerous national and international workshops have taken place to solve bycatch and discard problems.
Thus, it is disturbing to note that so many scientists revert to 15-year old data in order to document possible current discard levels. These old estimates are frequently cited by various advocacy groups to decry the state of the worlds fisheries and the use of terms such as dirty fishing merely undermines the considerable efforts and investments of many responsible fishers, dedicated gear technologists and fishery managers to find solutions to long-recognized problems associated with certain fisheries and fishing gears.
We urge therefore that the 1994 global discard estimates are no longer cited to decry the state of the worlds fisheries. There is no one size fits all solution. Bycatch and discard problems must be addressed fishery by fishery and we urge that scientists and advocacy groups alike focus on the successes of the past decade rather than on the continued citing of data not applicable to fisheries in this century.