New FAO Data Show Sizeable Drop in Numbers of Wasted Fish

Are Better Fishing Practices Responsible for Decrease, or are There Just Fewer Fish to Waste?
September 15, 2004

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- New FAO analysis of global data for the last decade shows that on average, some 7.3 million metric tons of fish are being thrown back to sea unused each year -- a decrease of about 12 million tons from FAO's previous estimate.

In 1996 the UN agency estimated that average annual global fish discards were around 20 million metric tons.

In many places fish production has reached maximum sustainable levels, and for some fisheries discard levels and analysis of fish catch compositions can offer insights into the well-being of remaining stocks.

"Is the decline in discard levels good news or bad news? Perhaps a bit of both," FAO's Fisheries Department said in a statement today.

Why the change?

According to FAO, a number of factors underline the shift in discard numbers.

"In some fisheries, countries have implemented measures that aim at reducing incidental by-catch. These include initiatives which improve fishing selectivity to limit catches to only desired species as well as the increased use of by-catch excluder devices or anti-discard regulations," FAO's statement said.

"In effect, these measures have prompted fishing boats to get much better at not catching unwanted species in the first place," FAO explained.

The Organization also noted that fish that in the past would have been thrown away as "trash fish" are today increasingly being kept on-board and used.

"What is difficult is to know just how much of the approximately 12 million metric tons no longer being discarded is due to greater selectivity, versus how much of it comes from the fact that processing has improved and a larger proportion of catches are being effectively used," said FAO. "Or do we simply now have much better data on selectivity and discards than before?"

Where have all the discards gone?

With fewer fish being wasted and being used instead, one could expect the overall level of fish landings to have increased -- but this hasn't happened. In general, global fish landings have been stable in recent years, FAO figures show.

"The fact that we are seeing less waste is good news. But is this good news about discards masking some bad news too? Has increased use of previously discarded fish masked a decline in captures of conventional stocks? And how do natural fluctuations in fish abundance due to climatic conditions and natural lifecycles of fish populations play in? There are still a great many unknowns," FAO's statement said.

As the lead global agency charged with collecting and studying world fisheries statistics, FAO will continue to monitor and analyze the capture production and use data that it receives from governments around the world.

"But improved national monitoring of catches and more detailed reporting of catch composition and fish utilization is needed to get an accurate picture of the situation," said FAO.

The UN agency also urged all countries to apply the standards and principles contained in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in order to reduce waste in fisheries.


FAO Fisheries Department

Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries