Friday, November 26, 2010

Europe's bycatch mess--throwing away dead fish

Catch a fish and keep it--catch the next one and throw it away dead.


It's called bycatch and it's a waste. Worse, it's a sin. Click here for a video to see it an example of a fishing boat dumping tons of dead fish overboard.

What do you think? Is this a good way to fish? No, of course not. So why do we allow it?

Some fishermen (and fish lovers) would say the goverment makes them do it. They're WRONG. It's happening because fishermen can't be bothered to fish selectively. It's caused by sloppy fishing.

These days the big fight about throwing away fish is happening in Europe. The Common Fisheries Policy is Europe's main fishing law and it sets limits on how many fish can be caught. Limits on fishing lead to waste because fishermen can't control what they catch, and they run afoul of the limits. Does this mean that it's bad to have limits?

Sloppy fishing that catches unwanted fish is called "by-catch" in the fishy world. Bycatch means catching something you don't want while you're busy catching what you do want. Fish or other ocean animals can be caught as bycatch.

Europe's fishing rules set limits for some types of valuable fish. Fishermen are allowed to go out and try to catch fish. If they exceed the limits for any one of several fish, they're in trouble. So what happens then? Fishermen throw away the fish they catch which are over the limits. Throw it away, and they can't be punished for catching the fish over the limits. The real solution is that they should be prevented from ever catching the fish. The rules only limit what fish they're allowed to bring home and sell.

How does this play out on a fishing trip?Fishermen go out fishing with unselective gear, catch their limit of one fish (say cod) but then instead of stopping, they keep fishing for other fish (maybe haddock). Who's surprised when they catch excess cod and and then throw it away? Nobody should be surprised.

Who's responsible for the waste? The rules that set limits on fish? or the sloppy fishing that can't control what is caught?

Some politicians and fishermen say the rules are at fault. I say the sloppy fishing is responsible for the waste, and sloppy fishermen shouldn't whine about the rules. Instead, they should learn how to fish selectively and catch only what they are allowed to keep.

The rules are designed to protect fish. Science-based limits on cod can't be increased just because they're inconvenient, otherwise cod will disappear totally.

The problem can be solved. One easy solution is for fishermen to stop fishing when they hit their first limit. This is similar to how the problem is handled in the US (the land of enlightenment compared to this European mess).

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