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Reducing discards and by-catches

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Reducing discards and by-catches

The Commission is committed to drawing up a long-term policy to encourage the reduction of by-catches and the elimination of discards in European fisheries. It is a major change of direction seeking to determine the solutions, behaviour, technology and applicable instruments that can be used in practice to bring about the desired results.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 28 March 2007 on a policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European fisheries [COM (2007) 136 final - not published in the Official Journal].


By-catches * and discards * are a serious problem in European fisheries. Two main reasons for discards of marine organisms into the sea are highlighted.

The first is economic. Fish are sold at very different prices depending on their size, quality and species. There are therefore strong economic incentives to discard fish, as the storage space onboard is used for high-value organisms.

The second reason is associated with certain existing regulatory instruments in the fisheries sector. This applies to the use of minimum landing sizes and also to total allowable catches (TACs).

Extent of discards

According to the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), the level of by-catch discards is, depending on the seas, fisheries and trawls, between 20 and 60 percent of the catch weight for the period 2003-05.

Consequences of discards

By-catches and their associated discards have serious consequences such as:

  • a waste of societal resources;
  • lower future catch opportunities with catching of juvenile species;
  • immediate reduction in the spawning biomass if mature individuals are caught;
  • negative impact on the marine ecosystem and on biodiversity.

In most cases, the fish or crustaceans caught and discarded into the sea will already be dead or have very little chance of survival.

Instruments and measures

A combination of instruments and measures to be adapted to each individual fishery is needed to reduce by-catches and gradually eliminate discards. The introduction of a discard ban puts the onus on fisheries by guiding them in the right direction. The practical and economic realities of the fisheries also need to be taken into account. The instruments of this new policy consist of:

  • incentives to improve selectivity of fishing gear;
  • real-time closure of high risk locations for by-catches;
  • flexibility in the use of quotas;
  • levying charges on by-catches and expropriating them;
  • preferential access to fisheries granted on the basis of by-catch track records;
  • introduction of information systems informing fleets where the by-catch risk is lowest.

In parallel, the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations will play an essential role in the implementation of additional measures to eliminate discards. Certain measures may benefit from the potential support of the European Fisheries Fund.


Despite the obvious difficulty in enforcing the discard ban and putting an end to illegal discards, it is vital for the Commission to enforce the rules to guarantee effective implementation.

Monitoring programmes play an important role and must be part of a general system involving:

  • quantified and systematic analysis of catch and landing figures;
  • the use of electronic logbooks for real-time reporting of catch composition;
  • monitoring and control of fishing gear;
  • stakeholder involvement and cooperation.

Furthermore, landed catches that cannot be sold should be carefully monitored to prevent them bringing illicit profits for fishing vessels. Data for all fleets should be compiled and analysed so that the necessary steps can be taken in the event of infringement of the rules.

Socio-economic repercussions

Generally speaking, implementation could result in net short-term cost increases and losses of income. Other repercussions may be linked to the closure of certain fishing areas forcing vessels to go elsewhere or travel further to fish.

Nevertheless, in the longer term, various economic benefits are to be expected, associated with larger and healthier stocks.


This communication discusses the problem of discards into the sea as a priority and outlines the main measures to be implemented to reduce by-catches and eliminate discards into the sea. From 2008, regulations will be drawn up to cover all Community fisheries.

Key terms used in the act

  • By-catch: The accidental catching of non-target species or species that do not meet certain criteria for fisheries, including marine mammals, birds, turtles and other marine species.
  • Discards: The proportion of catches representing the total organic matter of animal origin that is thrown or emptied into the sea for whatever reason. Plant matter and post-harvest waste, such as offal, are not included. Discarded animals may be dead or alive.

Last updated: 18.10.2011