Fishing Fleets Threw Away 10 Percent of Their Catch Over the Past Decade

By Carl Engelking | June 27, 2017 11:09 am


“Waste not, want not.”

The origin of this proverb traces back centuries, but time has hardly tarnished its relevance. It’s a warning every generation would do well to heed: Mismanaging precious commodities today will lead to an impoverished future. It’s so simple. It’s so true. It’s so often ignored.

Case-in-point: global industrial fishing operations. Over the past decade, fishing fleets simply threw away more than 10 percent—enough to fill 4,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools—of the world’s total catch, according to a decade-long study conducted by the “Sea Around Us” initiative. And although survival rates vary depending on species, it’s often the case that perfectly marketable fish are dying or already dead by the time they are discarded. Every year, researchers estimate, 10 million tons of fish are wasted.

The practice is particularly egregious given 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are now being pushed beyond their biological limits, and the very survival of several important commercial fish populations, such as Atlantic Bluefin tuna, are now threatened.

All the while, more and more people on this planet rely on these very same fisheries for sustenance.

The Trouble

The dire mathematics is based on the work of 300 scientists led by the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Australia, and is the first global review of discards since 2005. In the current study, researchers reconstructed the marine fisheries catches for every country around the world, combining official data with estimates about unreported discards. The technical reports used in the study are all publicly available.

Industrial fishing fleets discard portions of their catch for a number of reasons: the fish are too injured, a particular species is out of season, the fish are too small, or they’ve already met their quota.

“Discards also happen because of a nasty practice known as high-grading where fishers continue fishing even after they’ve caught fish that they can sell,” said Dirk Zeller, a lead author of the study and professor at UWA. “If they catch bigger fish, they throw away the smaller ones; they usually can’t keep both loads because they run out of freezer space or go over their quota.”

Bottom trawling, one of the most widespread commercial fishing techniques, produces the highest level of discarding of any practice. Several countries have entirely banned it, while others have implemented discard bans. But many of these regulations are irrelevant once fishing operations push beyond territorial seas, outside the reach of enforcement.


The Bright Side?

The study tracked discard volume back to the 1950s, when just 5 million tons of fish were thrown away annually. The total peaked in the 1980s when 18 million tons of fish were discarded. Over the past decade, that level has fallen to roughly 10 million tons per year. Better population management and regulations have helped lower waste.

However, the reduction might also be an indication that fish stocks are depleted—total catches, after all, have been declining at a rate of 1.2 million tons annually for over a decade.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    In 1960 Fisheries Canada decided to make Maritime Provinces’ fishing productive. Huge Ottawa fishing vessel subsidies raised the catch from 250,000 tonnes/year to 800,000 tonnes/year in 1970. In 1980 the fishery collapsed to 150,000 tonnes/year. More subsidies! In 1987, 250,000 tonnes/year. In 1992 it was ZERO, and stayed there. The Grand Banks were vacuumed clean of cod.

    Reality cannot be legislated. Reality gets rather snippy when ordered about by corrupt morons..


    • Erik Bosma

      That was a pretty embarrassing moment in Canadian history. The cod fishery collapsed after hundreds of years. And then it was cancelled and still is except for some very limited cod fishing. It will still take many more years (decades) before it returns to ‘normal’. Of course you also need to remember that European trawlers still fish the Grand Banks and observe no limits. By the time our Coast Guard gets out there they’re gone.
      And then we also have our West Coast fishery – mainly salmon. Some of our Sockeye runs lately have been so small they have had to cancel seasons even including the native part of the salmon fishery. Luckily we do strictly manage our salmon fishery but with some runs (salmon live on a 4 year cycle, so if a run is small the same run in 4 years will also need watching) it may be too little, too late already.
      It’s a sad state of affairs that some humans are so greedy (stupid). Although we called the natives ‘savages’ they sure were years and years ahead of us in wildlife management, even including whole forests (check out the Eastern Canadian deciduous forest history – all planted and managed by natives 100’s of years before Europeans arrived).

      • Uncle Al

        A bacterium doubles its numbers every hour. At the end of the 40th hour, 2^40 individuals, it exhausts its environment and everybody suddenly dies. When will it be half-way to extinction? At the start of the 40th hour.

        Humanity is ticking away its last minutes for being ever more efficiently stupid – for the Officially nicest of reasons.

        • Erik Bosma

          Yeah, we like to go on and on and on about how intelligent we are. Perhaps when we start realizing that there exists an intelligence much greater than our limited brain power, we’ll also start to respect it. I’m talking about Earth and ALL her children of course. As I have begun to get older I have stopped to smell the roses more. Animals and plants all have an intelligence that we seem to lack. It’s about the symbiotic relationship we have with all other life and the planet (and sun) that provided it. Probably a large part of it is to put a stop to this rampant capitalism that encourages infinite growth (which really means continued growth until I die and screw the rest of you). Also, this idea we seem to embrace that revolves around everything being either black or white. Maybe the Neanderthals were the smart ones.


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