Previous pageTable of ContentsNext Page

11. Incentives and disincentives to discarding

From experience around the world it has been generally found that one incentive which will reduce discards is to create viable markets for incidental catch. However, the incentive not to discard because the potential discard has a value must be balanced against the conservation and sustainability needs of the fishery or ecosystem. To quote Crean and Symes (1994):

"The ideal would be to create a marketing infrastructure that could accept all the catch taken by approved methods without stimulating demand for material which contravened conservation rules"

11.1 Banning Discards

For a number of years different governments and fisheries administrations around the world have instituted schemes making it obligatory for "bycatch" or non-target catch to be landed. This has either been in the form of the requirement for a certain percentage of bycatch to be landed or a complete ban on discarding of particular species. The enforced landing of specimens which for conservation or management reasons it would be better not to have been caught in the first place, brings its own problems.

Having landed the fish there are a number of questions that need answering.

1 Should the fish be dumped (is this any better than discarding at sea) or should the fish be used ? The enforced landing allows ability to record catches and thus better information on which to base management decisions and control of subsequent fishing activities to conserve stocks and sustain the fishery, however, the individual fish at this stage is dead and will not be available to replenish stocks or be caught later if released. In the interests of food security and non wastage of food it would seem appropriate that the fish be utilised.

2 However if the fish is to be used, should the fish catcher be paid for the "illegal" fish ? If, as is suggested in 1 above, the fish is to be used should the fish catcher be paid for it as this might encourage, or at least not deter, the capture of more of the undesirable fish from a conservation or sustainability point of view. As the examples below illustrate different approaches have been taken, including normal pricing structures, no monetary value and others in between.

3 If the fish is to be used, should the fish processor have to pay for the fish ? If the fishermen is to be paid for this "illegal" fish the processor might be cited as an accessory after the fact (to use the legal jargon) in encouraging the first capture in the first place, if full market value is paid by the processor to the fishermen.

4 Will utilisation of the fish create a market for the fish and thus encourage rather than discourage further capture of similar fish ? These market and pricing pressures and mechanisms run the risk of creating market forces for illegal fish and encouraging rather than discouraging first capture.

These questions therefore raise others, such as: if a ban on discarding is to be instituted what incentives should be in place to encourage compliance or conversely what disincentives should there be to non-compliance. There is a danger that if full market price is paid for fish which contravenes conservation regulations, fishermen will be encouraged to fish for it more. On the other hand if fishermen are not compensated at all for the extra work and costs of landing the full catch then there will be a temptation on the part of the fishermen to continue discarding at sea. Thus there needs to be balance between over compensation and encouraging trade and under compensation and thus encouraging discarding. This of course assumes that there is a market for the products of a discard ban and they have a value. This would normally be the case where the specimens landed is the same species as the target catch or is the target catch of another fishery, but in the case of bycatch from a multi species shrimp fishery, for example, there may be no ready market for the catch prompting the search for suitable products and markets.

The availability on markets (through discard banning) of quantities of probably low value, previously unmarketable products, could have profound effects on the marketing situation both locally and more widely. This is a major consideration required of fishery management bodies when instituting a ban on discarding and needs careful consideration and monitoring. Whilst not wanting to encourage capture in the first place it would seem that fishermen require some sort of compensation for landing unwanted fish if they are to land it. On the other hand they need to be discouraged from catching it in the first place. A number and combination of measures have been tried. The monetary value of the landed catch should be less than legally caught fish, the fish should count in part at least against the quota etc. etc. The carrot and the stick need to be carefully balanced if discarding is to be discouraged but capture in the first place is also to be discouraged.

11.1.1 Norway

The Norwegian Government introduced a ban on the discarding of some commercial species of fish in mid 1990. The idea of banning discards is that since the fish that are discarded have a negligible chance of survival it is better from a management perspective that they are included in the fishing induced mortality figures on which allowable catch estimates are based. The initiative in Norway has been coupled with a comprehensive programme of monitoring and surveillance and a system whereby areas can be opened and closed when bycatch rates become excessive. The Norwegian system of attempting to reduce mortality of illegal fish is based on reducing their capture rather than reducing landing of "illegal" specimens. (LÝbach and Viem 1996). The legislation specifies minimum sizes at capture rather than minimum landing sizes and it is at the capture point that the most efforts at control and assistance by the Norwegian government to the industry has been concentrated. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that discarding still occurs it seems to have stimulated the further development and acceptance by the fishing industry of selective fishing gears. The use of selective gears has now become compulsory in a number of Norwegian fisheries. Illegal fish that is landed is sold through the fishermen’s sales organisations but the revenue from sales remains in the sales organisation rather than being credited to the fishermen’s account thus acting as a disincentive to capture.

11.1.2 Canada

Canada has also instituted a ban on discarding at sea in it’s Atlantic groundfish fishery that makes it illegal to return to the water any groundfish except those specifically authorised and those caught in cod traps. Authorised release is only considered for species that are known to have high survival rates on release or where there is no practical or nutritional use for a particular species. In addition to the banning of discards larger vessels are required to carry observers which would imply that there are now no illegal discards on these vessels. The discards ban in Canada has been backed up by regulations which allow temporary closure of areas with high bycatches and including small percentages of bycatch in quota allocations. Fishermen may market small fish or bycatches and these quantities are counted against quotas.

11.1.3 Iceland

The introduction by Iceland of an ITQ system of fisheries management across virtually all its major fisheries has now been followed by the introduction of a ban of at-sea discarding of catch, it seems that in spite of the ITQ system the cod stocks for instance had not recovered and in fact discarding had increased. The Icelandic regulations require the retention of most fish specimens for which there are TACs or species for which a market value exists. There are however provisions within the legal framework for exceptions to me made. For instance it is a requirement that live cod less than 50 cm long be released, haddock caught by hook and line and less than 45 cm must be released and diseased or damaged fish can be discarded. In addition species for which there is no quota system and have no commercial value may be discarded. Since it is compulsory to land smaller fish but the government does not wish to encourage it’s capture, there are upper limits on the percentage weight of fish that can be landed below minimum landing size and any cod, saithe, haddock or redfish which is landed is counted against the individual quota at 50% of its weight. (G Valdimarsson Pers comm.). Fish kept on board under these no-discard rules may be marketed.

The Icelandic ban on discarding has been coupled with the establishment and running of a "bycatch bank" for a number of years from 1989. The primary aim of the bank was to demonstrate to fishermen and the fish trade that there were markets for unusual species of fish caught as bycatch and where necessary introduce and promote those new species to consumers. This was done by such activities as "strange fish weeks" in restaurants, manuals which assist in identification of new species and recipe booklets. The bank organised to purchase blocks of frozen fish of normally non-commercial species from fishing boats, arranged taste panels, promotion schemes and sales to restaurants etc. As a result fish such as megrim, witch/pole dab and rough dab are the subject of specific fisheries in Iceland and a number of others such as starry ray (Raja radiata), great silver melt (Argentina silus), grenadiers (Macrouridae) and piked dogfish (Squalus acanthias) are caught and traded through normal channels, with other species such as Portuguese shark (Centroscymnus coelolepis) showing potential for market expansion. (Thorsteinsson and Valdimarsson 1994 and J G Helgason Pers comm.)

Both Greenland and the Faroe Islands have introduced rules requiring landing of some potential discards. The illegal fish thus landed may be freely marketed by fishermen.

11.1.4 New Zealand

The quota management system instituted in New Zealand makes discarding or dumping of most species illegal, but it is still known to occur. In the multi-species inshore trawl fishery particularly the capture of non-quota fish or fish for which the quota has been exhausted is often encountered. The ITQ system in New Zealand is a complex system where quota to cover overrun fish can be bought from another quota holder after it has been landed or the value of the overrun catch be surrendered to the state for instance. However, it seems that in many cases the fishermen find it easier to discard the fish at sea than go through the complex system of landing the fish and then making it legal. In addition the New Zealand system allows a quota to be overshot by 10% in one season, however this over-quota landing can be deducted from the next season’s quota. The fact that discarding does still occur is illustrated by the fact that vessels carrying observers have reported larger quantities of non-target species than vessels fishing in the same area not carrying observers. (Annala 1996).

Grafton (1996) suggests that with the introduction of the ITQ system in the New Zealand fishery there was an increase in discarding at sea although the fishermen could receive 10% of the market price for fish landed outside quota. In an attempt to discourage discarding the percentage of market price was increased to 50%. There obviously has to be a balance between these incentives to land and the disincentive to catch fish over or outside quota limits so the percentage revenue that can be gained from catching and landing fish which are outside specification has to be very carefully balanced.

11.1.5 The European Union

Whilst not eliminating discards altogether banning them does overcome the anomaly which seems to exist in a policy which professes to conserve resources but which at the same time requires that fishermen should discard unwanted catch. The EU legislation for instance says that there are total allowable catches for each species which are divided between countries with in the Union. The individual countries generally use this as a basis for quota allocation. The quota rules however require that any fish which is caught outside quota allowances or outside regulatory sizes etc. be discarded and that it basically an offence for a fishing vessel to be carrying on board any fish for which it does not have a valid quota or which is outside regulated size limits.

A study was published in 1992 (CEC 1992) which reviewed the state of knowledge regarding the discards in the EU fisheries and looked at the various options for a strategy for reduction of discards. One of the options (following the example of Norway) discussed was the introduction, of a ban on discarding. The fact that EU fishing vessels fish in Norwegian waters and vice versa has created the anomalous condition where north of latitude 62oN it is illegal to discard fish into the sea and south of that line it is compulsory to immediately discard the same fish. Interim measures are in place to overcome this anomaly but at the time of that report the conclusion suggested that a discards ban in EU waters was not feasible.

However the report of the Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on the Integration of Fisheries and Environmental Issues - 13/14 March 1997 (Anon 1997) suggests that ministers at that meeting including EU representation would like to consider the implications of a discard ban further. To quote:

The Ministers AGREE that measures should be taken to protect juvenile fish, crustaceans and molluscs so that the biomass of both juveniles and ensuing adults is increased. The Ministers therefore INVITE the competent authorities to consider within appropriate fora means of strengthening protection through:

8.1 as a matter of urgency, searching for all possible effective means, including the possibility of a ban, to minimise discards;......

In spite of this wording, however, it appears that the all EU partners feel that on conservation grounds a discard ban is not appropriate and that other measures such as greater gear and fishing practices selectivity are more appropriate. The European Commission proposal laying down certain technical measures for the conservation of fishery resources (CEC 1996) contains the practical proposals for implementation within EU waters of measures to reduce discards. These include proposals concerning net types, minimum landing sizes for fish more closely allied to mesh sizes of nets, minimum percentages for target species. Existing regulations require immediate discarding of fish which contravene these percentages, however these newer proposals allow discarding at any time prior to return to port so that percentage catches can be adjusted accordingly for a particular trip rather than on an individual fishing operation basis. All these measures are designed for discard reduction.

11.2 Charitable disposal of fish that would be discarded

A ban on discarding of major groundfish species with a limit on the percentage of catch that is not used for products for human consumption has also been considered in a range of measures for managing of bycatch in the Alaska groundfish fisheries. These measures would be part of a whole range of measures designed to reduce/monitor and control bycatch. One measure already in place is a voluntary programme that facilities the retention of bycatch salmon for food banks.

The need to be able to record and monitor all catch, not just targeted catch, is a prerequisite for accurate statistics and from this an ability to manage the fishery with confidence based on realistic estimates of fishing mortality. For this reason it is a legal requirement in some fisheries, notably in the United States of America, that all fish impacted by the fishery be recorded. In the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fishery for instance there are a number of prohibited species, such as Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, halibut, Pacific herring, king and tanner crabs the rules for which say that ground fish vessels "must return all prohibited species or parts thereof to the sea immediately, with the minimum of injury, regardless of condition, after allowing for sampling by an observer, if an observer is aboard." (NOAA 1997) In the Bering Sea Aleutian Island trawl fishery, however, this regulation, which requires immediate return to the sea, has been amended by the need for all salmon taken as bycatch in this fishery to be recorded by official observers, even when one is not onboard the capture vessel. This means that, when an observer is not on board the vessel the fish has to be preserved by chilling or freezing, until landing so that the required information can be gathered. This obviously results in the fish not being alive at subsequent disposal and the main ecological reason for immediate release of the salmon is lost. To allow, however for some benefit to be gained from the capture a system known as the "Salmon Donation Programme" has been authorised under the same legislation. This allows the establishment of mechanisms for bycatch salmon to be disposed of into the human food chain through hunger relief agencies. This has enabled the establishment of private, non-profit organisations which access surplus or unmarketable fish from seafood companies for distribution to food needy Americans through national food bank networks. The charities form a link between sea food producers and food banks, whereby the producers do not get paid for the fish but the food banks benefit. (T. Donnelly Pers Comm.).

The International Pacific Halibut Commission proposed a regulatory change to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which would allow a similar scheme for bycatch halibut to be started probably at the beginning of 1998. Industry activists are also seeking to amend management plans for trawl fisheries of Washington, Oregon and California states to allow similar charitable donation schemes to operate in these states. Salmon taken as bycatch in the whiting trawl fishery off the Oregon coast which cannot be sorted at sea are landed, sorted, enumerated at the dock side. Rather than dispose of the fish at sea it will be frozen for collection by the local food bank. No payment is made to either fishermen or processor.

The recently revised Magnuson-Stevens Act (USA 1996) provides for a study of giving bycatch to charity in America and reads as follows:


(a) STUDY- The Secretary of Commerce shall conduct a study of the contribution of bycatch to charitable organizations by commercial fishermen. The study shall include determinations of:

(1)the amount of bycatch that is contributed each year to charitable organizations by commercial fishermen;

(2)the economic benefits to commercial fishermen from those contributions; and

(3)the impact on fisheries of the availability of those benefits.

(b) REPORT- Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Commerce shall submit to the Congress a report containing determinations made in the study under subsection (a).

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has also been considering the issue of whether to institute a discards ban so that all catch could be counted. All fish would be brought ashore for enumeration and fishermen would be paid for fish up to their trip limit. Payment by processors for excess fish would be made into a special fund which might be used for research. The fish itself would then enter the normal marketing channels and the profit or loss from onward sales accrue to the purchaser.

Previous pageTop of PageNext Page