The Best Way to Reduce Discards Is by Not Catching Them!
Under the Landing Obligation (LO) fishers will need to reduce or land fish that were previously discarded. In this chapter we look at how they might be able to do that by summarising a number of studies conducted in various European regions. We start by describing a series of “challenge” trials where fishers tried to reduce their discards by whatever (legal) means they thought best. In some cases, they were able to reduce unwanted catches, in others they were less successful. We also interviewed fishers not involved in the trials to ask them what they thought they could do. We explore their approaches which generally fell into three categories: more selective gear; tactical and strategic changes; and management changes. Scientific data (surveys, landings, and observers data) can also be valuable to help fishers to decide where and when to fish to best avoid unwanted catches and maximise opportunities to catch their quotas. We provide some examples of this type of approach, and also how these can be adapted for use as interactive online apps that fishers can use in planning or whilst at sea.
KeywordsChallenge trials Decision support tools Discard avoidance Fine scale mapping Fish distribution Fishers Fishing strategies Hot-spot maps
Under the Landing Obligation (LO) fishers will need to reduce or land fish that were previously discarded. In this context, understanding how fisheries operate is central to understand how to manage them (Hilborn 2007; Eliasen et al. 2014). An obvious way by which fishers can reduce discards is via improved gear selectivity (O’Neill et al., this volume). Beyond that, the tactical choices made by fishers on “where, when and how to fish” can play a central role in reducing discards (Rijnsdorp et al. 2012; Dunn et al. 2011). This can be implemented in terms of top down control (e.g. closed areas). However, the need for management to provide bottom-up incentives to reduce discards is also well established (Rochet et al. 2014; Condie et al. 2014; Little et al. 2015; Pascoe et al. 2010).
In parallel, the ongoing improvements in data availability open for new and more precise knowledge. Analysis of discard observers’ information (e.g. Anon 2011; Viana et al. 2011) provides a better understanding of spatio-temporal patterns of discarding. Catch locations and landings per unit of effort can be determined at fine spatial scales from Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and logbook data (e.g. Gerritsen and Lordan 2011), and increasingly from Electronic Monitoring (EM) data (Plet-Hansen et al. 2017). Bottom trawl surveys can be used to map the locations of species (Fraser et al. 2008), spawning aggregations (Nash et al. 2012) and size structure (Shephard et al. 2011). This information can help fishers to decide where and when to fish to avoid having to catch unwanted fish.
In this chapter we look at how fishers themselves may be able to change the way they operate in order to reduce discards, based on a series of recent studies performed in several European fisheries in the frame of the EU research project DiscardLess (www.discardless.eu). We start by describing a series of ‘challenge’ trials where several individual fishers tried to reduce their discards by whatever (legal) means they thought best. We also interviewed other fishers not involved in the trials to ask them what they thought they could do. Their approaches generally fell into three categories: more selective gear; tactical and strategic changes; and management changes (Reid 2017). After a description of the trials and their results, we look at other tools to help fishers decide where and when to fish to best avoid unwanted catches, and maximise their opportunities to catch their quotas. At the time of writing this summary, a number of the individual studies presented here were still ongoing and/or unpublished, but a more detailed description of the methods used and preliminary results has been reported in Reid and Fauconnet (2018).
Management changes are beyond the scope of this chapter but are addressed in other chapters of this book.
13.2 What Can Fishers Themselves Do to Reduce Their Discards?
In a series of “challenge experiments”, individual vessels and crew were challenged to reduce their discards by whatever legal means available. Intuitively, this could be by (for example) changing the fishing gear, or by changing their fishing tactics, perhaps by shifting areas or seasons. Each vessel fished first with their normal approach (control) and then with the modified approach (test) with the aim of minimising discards over a predetermined period (challenge trial). They reported the adjustments they made and why. Skippers were asked to set themselves a target for discard reduction between the test and the control trips, and this was the core of the “challenge”. The targets could have been in terms of reducing discards of TAC species in general, or of those that represent the major ‘choke’ species in their fishery, i.e. the species for which the available quota is exhausted (long) before the quotas are exhausted of (some of) the other species that are caught together in a (mixed) fishery (Zimmermann et al. 2015). Scientists were sometimes placed on-board to collect catch data, and also to train crews in self-sampling. The catch data were then analysed by scientists to determine the degree of success at reaching these targets.
Ireland – one demersal trawl vessel targeting whitefish (cod, haddock and whiting) and one targeting Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) with additional catches of the same fish species (Calderwood et al. 2016).
Denmark – 12 demersal trawl vessels mainly fishing cod and saithe, with three vessels targeting Norway lobster. The vessels towed a mix of single and twin trawl rigs, and were distributed between the North Sea, the Skagerrak, and the Baltic Sea. (Mortensen et al. 2017).
France – three vessels targeting a mix of species including cod, whiting, squid, cuttlefish and some pelagic species. The vessels were all demersal trawlers, two < 18 m, and one > 18 m in length (Balazuc et al. 2016).
In Denmark, the main option explored by fishers was gear modification, and the data were mostly collected by the fishers themselves, supplemented with Fully Documented Fishery (FDF) methods (including Electronic Monitoring (EM) with cameras). In Ireland and France, the approaches included both gear and tactical modifications, with full observer coverage.
13.2.1 Gear Based Changes Used in the “Challenge Trials”
Changing mesh size in the codend of the net, usually to a larger mesh size, but in the Baltic Sea some vessels trialled reduced mesh sizes
Inserting escape panels or separator panels into the net (with two codends for fish going above or below the panel)
Topless trawl or modified mesh in an escape panel
The inclusion of a larger mesh cylinder in the extension (CMC)
Separator panels with two codends
Increased mesh size in the codend and extension, and T90 mesh
The only gear change in the Irish example was that one of the Irish vessels (the Nephrops targeting vessel) used a quad rig Nephrops net, with large mesh square mesh panels (SMP) in all four extensions.
In the French trials, there was insufficient time after making the gear changes to collect sufficient data to analyse their performance. However, the vessel using the mesh cylinder (CMC) approach reported little loss of commercial catch volume, and in some cases reductions in discard volume. The separator panel with two codends could not be evaluated, but the skipper was still very positive and felt it had value. In general, the fishers did not feel that the changes in codend meshes achieved the results they had hoped for small fish, and there were concomitant losses in commercial sized fish (Balazuc et al. 2016).
13.2.2 Tactical and Strategic Changes Used in the Challenge Trials
The use of modified gears to improve selectivity and reduce the scale of discarding showed some promise during the challenge trials. In all three cases, the use of added panels, changes in codend mesh size and configuration, modifications to the extension, and the use of separator panels with twin codends showed some improvements. However, it should be noted that these improvements were often quite small and would probably not solve all the problems fishers would face under a full implementation of the LO. Additionally, these were the fishers’ own trials, and could not always be fully substantiated in a scientific context. One positive approach that could be taken, would be to enhance the institutional paths for a “fast-tracking” of such bottom-up initiatives (O’Neill et al., this volume).
The challenge trials showed that there was some scope for the use of both more selective gear and changes in behaviour, both locally, and in moving between management units, to reduce discards, and mitigate the impacts of the LO on fishing viability. Fishers in all the trials did believe that these changes could make some difference, even if they did not work as well as expected in the limited context of the challenges. It should be noted though, that even when the trials were able to reduce discarding or the impact of choke species, the improvements were generally quite small. So, while such changes may help fishers comply with the LO by reducing discards, they are still not sufficient to avoid significant impacts on economic viability. Notwithstanding this, we consider it desirable to continue working with fishers on both gear and behavioural based responses to the challenges implicit in the LO. The trials were all successful in terms of the level of collaboration and in some of the outcomes, so such approaches should continue.
13.3 Where and When to Fish to Avoid Unwanted Catches – How the Scientists Can Help
Based on the challenge trials and interviews with fishers (Reid 2017), it was clear that tactical changes could help avoid unwanted catches, and we believe that more information would help fishers achieve this. We then looked for ways to provide the detailed knowledge that can come from using scientific data to illustrate the spatial and temporal distributions of the fish, catches and discards.
Fisheries institutions have access to a range of data. These include research vessel surveys showing abundance distributions, observer data showing detailed catch (landings plus discards) by commercial vessels, landings and vessel monitoring system (VMS) data showing where and when catches are made, and Fully Documented Fisheries pilot studies showing full details of complete fishing operations. We set out to use this information to develop the potential to assist fishers in making strategic choices to avoid discard. This included fine-scale, real-time mapping of catches and activity data, discards hotspots, juvenile surveys, etc. One aim was to provide Decision Support Tools (DST) to assess the role of “choke” species at the local scale. The role of the scientist here is as an advisor to fishers, about where and when they might fish to reduce choke problems and avoid unwanted catches.
No single approach was possible across all the examples shown below, and indeed was probably not desirable, as each had its own specific issues and context. These arose from a combination of how fish were distributed i.e. in discrete areas, or widely spread, and on the nature of LO requirements, e.g. avoidance of particular species or size classes, and the limitations in fishing imposed by geography and other legislation drivers.
DST can take many forms. At their simplest, these can be maps of where fish are found (from surveys), caught and discarded (from observers). However, more detailed analyses can be used to analyse spatial patterns and their variation, how discards and catches of numbers of species co-occur in space and time, or not. The information can also be represented in an interactive form using web-based apps. But the DST process can also simply be the provision of understanding discarding and its drivers, e.g. quota management rules, or about the interaction of economic profitability with discarding – is it economically better not to discard? We present examples of all these types of Decision Support information. These cover case studies from the North Sea, through North East Atlantic (European western waters) to the Mediterranean Sea. They cover many different metiers and fleets, from single to multi-species, using a wide variety of fishing gears.
13.3.1 Decision Support Tools Using Survey Data
13.3.2 Decision Support Tools Using Observer Data
Observer data come from on-board observers on commercial fishing vessels, and, like surveys, similar coverage is carried out across the EU. Their primary task is to record discards, but they also record fish that go to landings. Thus they represent very detailed information on catches, landed and discarded. It is only possible to deploy observers on a small proportion of all fishing trips, but we were able to combine observer data from France, Ireland and the UK for the Celtic Sea to provide a larger dataset to work on, and some of the results are shown here. Two different approaches are presented as examples of what information can be produced.
220.127.116.11 Where Are Discards Clustered Together?
18.104.22.168 Mapping Catch Hot Spots to Avoid Unwanted Catches
22.214.171.124 Detailed Haul-by-Haul Mapping Using Electronic Monitoring Data
126.96.36.199 Combining Surveys and Commercial Catch Data to Provide Year-Round Abundance Distributions
13.4 Web-Based Apps to Help Fishers Plan Where and When to Fish to Avoid Unwanted Catches
In many of the analyses in this chapter, the scientists concerned have been able to produce information, usually in map form, that has the potential to help fishers target their activity to avoid unwanted catches. To make this practically useful, and useable, scientists have started developing a range of web-based apps both to present the information, but critically, to allow the fishers to work with it in their own way. In three of the examples given in the above descriptions, such apps have been developed and are, or will be, refined with fishers to make them as useful as possible.
The original idea we stated in the title was “The best way to reduce discards is by not catching them!” The work presented in this chapter shows some of the ways that this could be achieved.
Gear based changes in selectivity remain the most common, default, way to do this, and we present here some of the broad range of such approaches available. Many of these have been developed by gear technologists, but many also by working fishers or netmakers. In many of our studies, we found that fishers remain innovative and willing to explore the use of different gears to reduce unwanted catches.
Behavioural changes by fishers, i.e. tactical changes in where and when to fish, are a second route to avoiding unwanted catches that have attracted less attention than gear-based approaches. In the challenge trials described here, fishers attempted both gear and behavioural changes in their fishing practices. In some cases, these changes reduced unwanted catches but not in all. One of the reasons for this advanced by several fishers involved in the work was that they lacked the information needed to help them choose where and when to fish to minimise the unwanted component.
It is beyond doubt that fishers know their own fishing activity far better than any scientists could. They are, after all, observing it on a daily basis over many years. But, equally, scientists have information that fills in the wider picture on distributions and abundances of fish, both wanted and unwanted. Taken together, fishers’ and scientists’ “knowhow” can give the working fisher the best chance to reduce, or possibly eliminate, unwanted catches. We have shown here how surveys, observers’ information, landings data, etc. can provide useful information on where the fishers are likely to encounter a given species or size class of that species, as well as those fish commonly encountered together. It needs to be emphasised that this information should be seen as providing a probability of encounter or not, rather than a certainty. The take-home message from this is that there is more chance of approaching the objectives of the landing obligation by combining fishers’ and scientists’ knowledge than by working apart.
Another key message is that we can identify several different approaches that could help reduce discarding, but they all tend to be specific to local conditions. It should be possible to export the approaches to other fisheries, but only in broad terms. Essentially, the causes of discarding are common, but the solutions tend to be local and specific.
This work has received funding from the Horizon 2020 Programme under grant agreement DiscardLess number 633680. This support is gratefully acknowledged.
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