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Science, Technology, and Society Initiative to minimize Unwanted Catches in European Fisheries

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - MINOUW (Science, Technology, and Society Initiative to minimize Unwanted Catches in European Fisheries)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-02-28

Sustainable fisheries are a key contributor to the rational exploitation of European marine natural resources and to Europe’s bioeconomy. Progress towards sustainable fisheries includes the best use of fisheries catches, minimizing waste and reducing impact on marine ecosystems.. Among the regulations enshrined in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (EU Reg. 1380/2013), article 15 established the progressive obligation to land all catches of regulated species in different phases in the period 2015-2019 (“Landing Obligation”). The ultimate objective of this regulation is to eliminate discarding in European fisheries because discarding of unwanted fish produced during the normal capture process is a wasteful practice. The MINOUW project (“Science, technology and society initiative to minimize unwanted catches in European fisheries”) is a Research and Innovation Action of the H2020 programme that addresses the complexity of the problem of implementing the Landing Obligation from the scientific, technical, economic and societal perspectives. The strategy followed is based on a multi-actor approach, whereby scientists, fisheries technologists, fish producers and NGOs (as representatives of civil society) worked collaboratively to provide the scientific and technical basis to achieve the gradual elimination of discards in European marine fisheries. The project’s overall objective is the minimization of unwanted catches by incentivising the adoption of fishing technologies and practices that reduce pre-harvest mortality and post-harvest discards, while avoiding damage to sensitive marine species and habitats.
The review of existing knowledge on the production of unwanted catches and discarding practices showed that catches of unwanted fractions of target fisheries species can be large in demersal fisheries, particularly those using bottom trawl, but the magnitude varies according to season of the year, depth and specific fishery practiced. In periods of high abundance of recruits, bottom trawling on fish nursery areas can generate large amounts of unwanted catches, that are usually discarded for legal reasons (undersize specimens or catches over quota). The project carried out field tests of fishing technologies aiming at the reduction of unwanted by-catch, jointly developed with fishers, and trialled them in real commercial conditions. The results showed that it is possible to decrease the production of unwanted by-catch through implementing changes in fishing procedures. For example in purse seine fishing simple modifications to the procedure of handling the catch while still in the water led to an important reduction in the mortality of sardine. More selective nets, fitted with selective devices in bottom trawl were also trialled. For example, new types of sorting grids specifically designed for Mediterranean trawls proved effective in decreasing the by-catch of hake or rose shrimp juveniles. Also substituting part of the trawl with a new type of mesh, called T90, helped increase the selectivity of hake. In small scale fisheries, it was demonstrated that a guarding net fitted to the footrope of the trammel net can reduce unwanted by-catch, as well as operational costs. In surface longline fisheries targeting swordfish, an important reduction in the catch rates of undersize swordfish was demonstrated by adopting circle hooks instead of the traditional “J” hooks. In addition to technological solutions, the project has progressed in the field of IT to avoid unwanted catches: the project developed a GIS tool by combining maps of potential high discards with ‘fisheries footprint’ spatial information that can assist in marine spatial planning to exclude fishing from certain areas with high potential of production of unwanted catches. Early detection of undersize fish by using the remotely operated DeepVision system fitted to a trawl is a technology that has been trialed successfully in the project, after modifying the original design, and that could have potential application in pre-catch detection when the difficulties in automatic species recognition are solved.
The post-release survival of unwanted catches has been researched in different commercial species and types of fishing, by way of experiments following standard methodologies. Demonstrated high survival of discards can be used to justify an exemption to the Landings Obligation for specific regulated species and therefore this type of research is of high interest for the policy implementation aspects.
Several project results can be exploited directly by the fishing industry to increase fisheries selectivity to facilitate compliance with the regulation, such as the juvenile sorting grids, the T90 mesh panel or the guarding net. Other project results can be exploited by scientists to continue research on topics related to the discard ban. For instance, the project designed a prototype to assess automatically the vitality of very small fishes. The project also produced a system to control the properties of artificial light that can be used in selectivity devices using artificial light stimuli.
All project results were communicated to the industry, policy makers, fisheries managers and other relevant stakeholders by means of key communication actions. Communication activities included the organization of joint meetings with fisheries Regional Advisory Committee MEDAC (representing the fishing industry in the Mediterranean sea), the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, organizing fishermen’s exchanges to promote the horizontal communication of results between peers and producing 22 short video films highlighting the project’s result to wider audiences. A dedicated web-site serves as repository for all the written and video material produced for the project.
The results of our bioeconomic analyses and ecosystem models showed that the full implementation of the discards ban will have relatively little ecological or economic impact on the systems modelled. Conversely, avoiding the capture of unwanted fractions of these species would have a large positive economic impact in the mid to long term, as well as contributing significantly to decrease the fishing mortality. Avoiding the catch of juveniles is clearly the best strategy to minimize the production of unwanted catches. Solutions based on improved selectivity of fishing gear are a step forward in the objective of minimization unwanted by-catch, but establishing spatial/temporal bans to fishing in certain areas is likely to be more effective to reduce fishing mortality, minimize unwanted by-catch and improve the economic efficiency of European fisheries.

The analysis of the potential impact of unwanted catches brought to land for the processing industry showed that although the quantity of biomass for processing (under traditional uses, such as conversion to fishmeal) would be non-negligible, the relatively low price of the primary product makes former discards from Mediterranean fisheries not competitive. Further research in alternative, niche markets will be necessary to maximize the use of any unwanted catches brought to land for high-end products such for the health / care industries as a way to add value to a formerly discarded product that cannot be marketed for direct human consumption.