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Fisheries Brief No. 2: Discards continue despite ban

The most recent fisheries debate has been about the waste of resources that is still happening in the Baltic Sea. Millions of cod are thrown overboard in the Baltic Sea each year, despite the discard ban that has been in place since 2015.

Fish are often thrown overboard because they are too small to be sold or because they lack economic value. The ban, or “landing obligation”, was introduced for the Baltic Sea back in 2015. The ban had broad-based public and political support, and Sweden’s deputy prime minister Isabella Lövin (GP) pursued the issue aggressively during her years as EU parliamentarian.

Text in illustration: 
11.5 million Baltic Sea cod were thrown overboard in 2016
Trawling is estimated to account for 97% of total discards

In late February, the media in Denmark (Only in Danish) and Sweden (Only in Swedish) reported on a study from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) showing that Danish Baltic Sea fishermen discarded ten per cent of all cod caught in 2016. BalticSea2020 also reported that trawlers account for 97% of cod discards in the Baltic Sea: (Only in Swedish).

The DTU study found that Danish fishing vessels discarded approximately 1,300 tonnes of cod during 2016. This can be compared with the entire 2017 Swedish quota for the western stock: 870 tonnes.

The chairman of the Danish Fishermen’s Association admits that not all fishermen follow the rules. He argues that it takes time to adapt fishing methods to a new regulatory framework, and that this is not a contributory factor to overfishing. But the Danish Social Democratic fisheries policy spokesperson does not agree, stating that it is completely unsustainable that discards are continuing to such a great extent.

While small cod continue to be discarded overboard, Baltic Sea cod catches are at historically low levels. In direct contrast to the reasoning behind the landing obligation, millions of cod are still being thrown overboard each year. Essentially all discards are done from trawlers in the eastern Baltic Sea. Monitoring of discards is best done at sea – but even so, controls at sea have not increased and no EU member state has introduced camera surveillance on fishing vessels.

The monitoring of discards and collection of research data in the Baltic Sea are further complicated by fishermen’s refusal to allow researchers on board their vessels. This problem has worsened among Swedish vessels following the introduction of the landing obligation.

Since most fish die when thrown overboard, discards are a huge waste of resources. Due to the failed implementation of the landing obligation, cod are illegally discarded in the Baltic Sea on a daily basis and the fishing industry continues to openly violate the law. This threatens not only the cod stock, but also the balance of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem.

Click here to read Fisheries Brief No. 1: How big is the fishing industry?