Research reveals commercial by-catch in millions of tonnes

ACCORDING to new research estimates, Australia’s commercial fishing industry catches millions of tonnes more than is officially reported, much of it made up of discarded by-catch.

According to an ABC report, a catch of more than 8 million tonnes has been reported for 1950-2010 to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre estimate that an extra 4 million tonnes of fish was caught in that period, although it was deemed to be “discards” or by-catch.

Discarding is the process of returning unwanted catches to the sea, dead or alive, either because they were too small, above the quota, or the wrong type.

UBC Professor Daniel Pauly said, without counting them, we are not getting a true picture of the state of our fisheries.

“Some of the underreporting is innocent,” Professor Pauly said.

“For example this count — fish that are discarded are not reported by any country — but it ought to be counted because in the long term or maybe in the medium term, discarding is going to be abolished.

“We cannot afford to throw away so much food.”

Researchers used statistics from five large trawl fisheries, combined with research on rates of by-catch to calculate discards.

Australia’s level of discards has declined by 90 per cent since the peak in 1990 because of new technologies being used by trawlers.

The European Union has legislated to ban the practice and Professor Pauly expects that the rest of the world will eventually follow suit.

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association chief executive Simon Boag said the focus should be on the future management of our fisheries — not the past.

“What we’ve done in Australia is we’ve been able to get our non-commercial catch of fish down and down, so our discard total has come down a lot,” he said.

“And that should be the focus — on where we’re currently at and how to continue to make it better.

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