Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Ansen Ward

Discards and Bycatch

Unwanted fish discarded by commercial fishing operations are a loss in terms of a rich source of dietary protein as well as the stocks of those species that, even if they have low market value, may nonetheless be vital components of the marine ecosystem.

An FAO study estimated that the annual discards from global marine capture fisheries between 2010 and 2014 was 9.1 million tonnes (95% CI: 6.7 – 16.1 million tonnes) which represent 10.8% (10.1% –11.5%) of the annual average catch of 2010 to 2014. About 46 percent (4.2 million tonnes) of total annual discards were from bottom trawls that included otter trawls, shrimp trawls, pair bottom trawls, twin otter trawls and beam trawls.

Bycatch is a generic term referring to catch that is incidental to the target species. It is often associated with trawl fisheries but can be a feature of other fisheries.  The term is sometimes used interchangeably for the unwanted portion of the catch that is discarded and can refer to the less desirable fish that are landed (e.g. low value/trash fish).

Some management measures also limit how much can be landed in a day or in a trip for a species. Total allowable catches (TACs) are designed to limit the quantity of fish to be harvested, usually on an annual basis. This can result in undesirable outcomes, such as high-grading – or the selection of more valuable fish for sale – and increased discarding.

Discarding of fish can be caused by multiple reasons, including:

  • Fish are undersize
  • Low value of fish caught
  • Lack of market demand
  • High grading whereby the most valuable species or sizes are graded and kept for sale
  • Limited storage space on board the vessel
  • Quota system that determines the quantities of certain species that can be landed

Explore Ways to Reduce Loss and Waste

  • Supportive Policy Environment
  • Application of Appropriate Technology
  • Skills and Knowledge
  • Services and Infrastructure
  • Regulatory Environment
  • Social and Gender Equity
  • Markets

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Key Publications

A Third Assessment of Global Marine Fisheries Discards

Included is publicly available discard data in the last 20 years to establish a baseline of a time series of global marine fisheries discards, which is essential for monitoring the status of discard management.


Asian fisheries today: The production and use of low value/trash fish from marine fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region

The importance of low value/trash fish in the Asia-Pacific is reviewed, including challenges in production and use.

Discards in the world’s marine fisheries – an update

This study provides an update of the quantity of discards in the world’s marine fisheries based on a fishery-by-fishery approach.  Evidence is presented for a substantial reduction in discards in recent years, and policy issues are discussed.


More Resources

More Resources

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