Managing discards

Discards are those parts of the catch which are returned to the sea. Discarding is the practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea, either dead or alive.

Not all fisheries produce discards; some are completely 'clean', while others may even discard more fish than they retain. There are many reasons for discarding, including:

  • Market conditions. Fish may be discarded because they are of no economic value, low economic value, or damaged and therefore of a reduced value.
  • Management regulations. Fish may be discarded because they are below the legal minimum landing size (MLS), restricted by a quota, or non-marketable because of catch composition restrictions.

Both of these sets of conditions can change by the season or fishing area, even within one fishery. Assessing how much of a problem discarding poses, and to whom, can be complex. Discarding fish at sea was considered wasteful, even though  discarded fish were taken into account in estimates of stock sizes and allowable catch limits. Previously, it was illegal to land undersized fish and fish for which a vessel had no quota, and therefore these fish had to be discarded at sea.

There is no doubt that the discarding of fish wastes resources and there was an urgent need to implement measures to reduce the level of discards. Seafish, along with the fishing industry, has been developing new selective technologies and net-based fishing activities for many years to reduce unwanted bycatch. When the EU's Common Fisheries Policy was reformed in 2012, one of the main changes was to eliminate the practice of throwing unwanted catches overboard while at sea.

As a result the landing obligation (or discard ban as it is often referred to) was introduced at the beginning of 2015 for pelagic species. This means that all vessels catching pelagic species, such as mackerel and herring, have had to land all pelagic fish caught, as required in the relevant discard plan since 1 January 2015. The landing obligation was introduced for certain demersal  species (from 1 January 2016), starting with key species such as haddock, sole and plaice, depending on which sea area a vessel is fishing in and what type of fishing gear is used. By 2019 the obligation to land all catches of quota species will be fully implemented.

Seafish has gathered together a range of information, analyses and case studies, into this 'resource centre' to help those in the UK fleet and onshore sector to navigate the different facets of the landing obligation. You will also find links to guides and further information. To find out about the regulatory framework and what the European Commission, UK Government, Seafish and the fishing industry are doing to combat discards, view:

Landing obligation

How to effectively introduce the landing obligation is one of the most difficult issues facing the fishing industry under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy.

Selective gear technology

Seafish, along with the fishing industry, has been developing new selective technologies and net-based fishing activities for many years to reduce discarding. Gear Adaptation Technology is a proven method for reducing catches of unwanted fish and is helping the UK fishing fleet understand how adapting their gear could help them fish successfully under the terms of the landing obligation.

Economic analysis

The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) introduces a landing obligation to eliminate discarding. Seafish was asked to determine the potential economic implications of this discard ban on UK fleets.

Discards news and reports

This page contains various documents, notes and publications which offer news and further information on discards