Reducing fish waste

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A major European project intends to make the fishing industry more sustainable.

Taking herrings out of the net. Two men working hard after a great catch in the Baltic, Denmark

Every day, all over the world, millions of fish are thrown back over ships’ railings because they are either too small or belong to the wrong species. This naturally has huge consequences for the fishermen’s financial situation, fish populations, and the environment and means that fisheries policy has been something of a political hot potato for many years.

The ambitious ‘DiscardLess’ project has now been launched with the objective of finding solutions that can help minimize the volume of fish wasted—known as ‘discard’ in the trade.

The project involves no fewer than 55 researchers from more than 30 institutions and universities in Europe and the United States. At the helm stands 40-year-old Professor Clara Ulrich from DTU Aqua, who has been appointed to lead the work and coordinate the various initiatives.

“Society is changing, with an increase in demands for more ethically responsible fishing, and this is sure to turn things upside down in relation to the current situation. Fishermen will have to think along completely new lines, and a big part of the assignment will therefore be not only to develop new methods, but also to collate the fishermen’s own experience.”

Even though this is a major project and a high-profile position, Clara Ulrich is refreshingly relaxed about taking it on:

“Generally speaking, Denmark has been way ahead of the field in projects of this kind. We have a lot of knowledge and a great deal to contribute when it comes to discard. Personally, I have done a lot of work in this area and have a good overview of the issue, so it feels natural for me to take the lead in this project. I had the impression that I enjoyed good backing from all over Europe when I applied for the position,” she says.

Tougher EU requirements

The actual work commenced on 1 January this year, and over the coming five years the project is to produce tried and tested methods for reducing discard. The background for the project is that the EU is making increasingly stringent demands on fishermen to reduce wastage at sea. Much more knowledge is therefore required about what happens to the fish that are thrown back overboard, and about how to minimize the amount of these fish.

“First and foremost, it’s a policy project. We cannot force the fishermen to do anything, but when the EU introduces a new policy, we can transform it into tools that will benefit both the fishing industry and the environment,” explains Professor Ulrich.

“Society is changing, with an increase in demands for more ethically responsible fishing, and this is sure to turn things upside down in relation to the current situation. Fishermen will have to think along completely new lines, and a big part of the assignment will therefore be not only to develop new methods, but also to collate the fishermen’s own experience.”

Clara Ulrich will take a broad approach to the whole issue of discard rather than focusing on an individual aspect of it. That is why so many researchers and institutes are involved in the project.

“A part of it involves changing the fishermen’s tools, as well as finding different places to fish or changing the speed at which they operate. We will likewise be taking a look at whether there are different ways to make use of the fish they would otherwise throw away,”

Frustrating regulations

The Danish Fishermen’s Association, which represents the commercial fishermen who are affected by the discard regulations, welcomes with open arms any and all new initiatives with the potential to make life on board a little easier.

The issue of discard is hugely intrusive into the everyday working life of the fishermen, and has major consequences for their business. At the same time, dialogue with the ‘corridors of power’ at the EU does not always run equally smoothly, as Henrik S. Lund, Biologist with the Danish Fishermen’s Association, explains:

“We are often faced with almost impenetrable rules and regulations laid down by the EU. For example, we know that a discard prohibition is set to be introduced in the North Sea and Skagerrak in 2016, and that it already applies in the Baltic Sea. But we haven’t seen the actual wording of the regulations yet. It’s really frustrating,” he says.

This is precisely why the fishing industry expects great things to come of improved insight into ways to reduce discard.

On account of the European politicians’ ongoing work to regulate fishery, the underlying conditions for Clara Ulrich’s are similarly likely to change continuously. But she is not overly worried.

“The politicians are currently discussing what the ultimate goals should be. This is something they will decide. What we are trying to do is to find different solutions to provide a smooth path to these goals,” she concludes.

Adapted from article by Bertel Henning Jensen in DTU Avisen

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