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Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
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Application of Appropriate Technology for On-board Handling in Small-Scale Fisheries

Key technology associated with food loss and waste (FLW) reduction on-board small-scale vessels are the fishing vessel and the equipment used on board and the way both are maintained and used.

After fish are caught, bacteria, biochemical changes, and chemical actions will deteriorate the quality of the fish, generally through physical and temperature damage. Controlling temperatures, handling fish carefully, and preventing contamination can slow these processes. Basic principles to follow are:

  • handle fish with care and avoid contamination
  • use approved detergents and sanitizers for cleaning equipment and the boat
  • keep the deck as wet and cool as possible, especially in hot weather
  • hose the fish down prior to sorting
  • sort catch quickly, concentrating on smaller fish (which will heat up faster) and higher-value species
  • limit physical damage through gaffing or throwing
  • gut and gill fish quickly, if required
  • chill fish as soon as possible

Fishing and Harvesting Vessel Design and Construction

Fishing and Harvesting Vessel Design and Construction

There are many different types of fishing vessel used throughout the world. They have evolved in particular regions to take account of the prevailing economics, environment and types of fish and shellfish caught or harvested. However, the Code Of Practice For Fish And Fishery Products highlights the basic requirements for cleanability, minimizing damage, contamination and decomposition to which all vessels should have regard to the extent possible to ensure hygienic, high-quality handling of fresh fish and shellfish and hence minimize FLW. The following summarizes relevant aspects of the Code, some of which are practical for small scale vessels and fishers to implement: 

For ease of cleaning and disinfection

  • Vessels should be designed and constructed to minimize sharp inside corners and projections in order to avoid dirt traps.
  • Construction should facilitate ample drainage.
  • A good supply of clean or potable water at adequate pressure.

To minimize contamination

  • All surfaces in handling areas should be non-toxic, smooth, impervious and in sound condition in order to minimize the build-up of fish slime, blood, scales and guts and to reduce the risk of physical and microbial contamination.
  • Where appropriate, adequate facilities should be provided for the handling and washing of fish and shellfish and should have an adequate supply of cold potable water or clean water for that purpose.
  • Adequate facilities should be provided for washing and disinfecting equipment, where appropriate.
  • The intake for clean water should be located to avoid contamination.
  • All plumbing and waste lines should be capable of coping with peak demand.
  • Non-potable water lines should be clearly identified and separated from potable water to avoid contamination.
  • Objectionable substances, which could include bilge water, smoke, fuel oil, grease, drainage and other solid or semi-solid wastes, should not contaminate the fish and shellfish.

To minimize damage to the fish, shellfish and other aquatic invertebrates

  • In handling areas, surfaces should have a minimum of sharp corners and projections.
  • In boxing and shelving storage areas, the design should preclude excessive pressure being exerted on the fish and shellfish.
  • Chutes and conveyors should be designed to prevent physical damage caused by long drops or crushing.
  • The fishing gear and its usage should minimize damage and deterioration to the fish and shellfish.

Fish Handling and Preservation

Fish Handling and Preservation

Many larger vessels capable of spending a day or more in fishing operations will benefit from the use of some form of on-board preservation, such as ice or chilled seawater (CSW). This might include artisanal fishing vessels, such as larger dugout canoes, outboard-motor-powered launches and larger inboard-engine-powered vessels up to 20 m long.

The most common means of chilling is by the use of ice. Other means are chilled water, ice slurries (of both seawater and freshwater), and refrigerated seawater (RSW). For the full benefits of chilling to be realized, it is essential to maintain chill temperatures throughout the different fish-handling operations. Although ice can preserve fish for some time, it is still a relatively short-term means of preservation when compared to freezing, canning, salting or drying. When used properly it can keep fish fresh so that it is attractive in the market place. The use of ice for preserving fish and fishery products has proved to be an effective handling method on board fishing vessels for the following reasons:

  • Ice is available in many fishing areas or ports.
  • Purchasing patterns can be varied according to need (e.g. block ice of different sizes is frequently manufactured, and crushed, small or fragmentary ice ready for use is sold by weight).
  • Ice has a very high cooling capacity.
  • Ice is harmless, and in general relatively cheap.
  • Ice can maintain a very definite temperature.
  • Ice can keep fish moist and as it melts it can wash surface bacteria from the fish.
  • Ice can be moved from place to place and its refrigeration effect can be taken to wherever it is needed.
  • Ice can be made on shore and used at sea.

On small boats portable insulated boxes made of various materials are often used to carry ice to the fishing grounds. Ice is then transferred to the catch in suitable ratios until either all the ice is used, or there is no more space aboard for more fish. Larger boats are able to carry more ice, which allows them to make longer fishing trips, generally with better economic returns for the vessel and crew. With advances in refrigeration, in particular the advent of compact and relatively lightweight ice-making machines suitable for on-board installation, it is now possible to install ice machines of various types on quite small vessels. This gives a certain measure of independence in fishing operations where trip length is no longer limited by the quantity of ice loaded in port or by how long it will last in the ice hold. 

The use of ice in itself is no guarantee of a better product unless proper handling procedures are fully implemented before the fish are actually iced. The time between the capture and death of the fish to when they are properly iced must be as short as possible, with minimum exposure to high temperatures. In tropical conditions, this would also require that fish be kept in the shade and out of direct sunlight. Where it is not possible to ice fish immediately, wet sacking is sometimes spread over the fish awaiting storage. Also, on some fishing vessels it is common to have a fixed or temporary canopy over the working deck which serves as a sun shelter for the crew and for the catch waiting to be processed prior to stowage.

For small open boats, ice is mostly carried in boxes or insulated containers that are used initially to carry the ice, then subsequently to store the catch in ice. Boxes and containers can also be used as shore side shipping containers if required, thus reducing the need to re-box the fish at landing. Some artisanal vessels, such as the large canoes of Senegal, require specially shaped boxes in order not to lose too much capacity. This tends to make them unsuitable for other purposes such as dockside storage or shipping containers. On the other hand, section shapes of the typical larger-size dugout canoes found in Central and South America and parts of Africa lend themselves quite well to standard box configurations, which are more suitable for the other uses, as mentioned above. Small fiberglass fishing vessels have become relatively common in many countries around the world. Mostly they are of the open style with only thwarts and floor area installed, having been produced as multipurpose vessels rather than specifically for fishing. In order to make these vessels more appropriate for fishing operations, some have been adapted to incorporate a small fish hold in the hull.

Key Publications

Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products CAC/RCP 52-2003

Global standard that presents information on freezing and cold storage practices which aim to reduce spoilage and waste.                                                                                          

The Use of Ice on Small Fishing Vessels

This publication describes the requirements for the use of ice and chilled seawater on board fishing vessels, and gives an overview of the different types of ice plants and the ice produced in them.                                                                                   

Improving Fish Quality On-board Fishing Vessels

Includes basic guidance on how to handle fish on board to maximize quality on landing in order to make the most of your catch.                                                                                          

More Resources

More Resources

Global standard that presents information on freezing and cold storage practices which aim to reduce spoilage and waste. 
Includes basic guidance on how to handle fish on board to maximize quality on landing in order to make the most of your catch.
Codes of practice and guidelines designed to help meet standards and comply with legislation (e.g. the Codex Alimentarius Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products).