Fewer fish are being discarded by the world’s fishing fleets – but they are still tossing back 10 million tons of fish every year – 10 percent of global catches.
The discards are fish that may be too small, damaged, inedible, out of season or of little market value.
Prior to the year 2000, discards comprised up to 20 percent of the world catches, reaching a peak of 19 million tons in 1989. The discard levels have been dropping steadily ever since.
Those are some conclusions in a new University of British Columbia catch reconstruction project that derived discards estimates for all major fisheries in the world going back to the 1950s.
High discards result from poor fishing practices and inadequate management, the report says. The biggest reason discards are declining likely reflects lower global fish catches. Fishing operations are catching less fish, so there’s less for them to throw away.
From 1950 through 1996, world catches rose from 28 million to 130 million tons per year; since then catches have declined by 1.2 million tons a year.
Better fisheries management in some areas also has played a role in reducing discards, including strict rules on reducing waste and forbidding discards in Norway and parts of Europe.
The location of fish discards has shifted over the decades. From the 1950s to the 1980s, discarding mostly happened in northern Atlantic waters near the U.S., Canada and Europe.
In the Pacific Ocean, discards hit a high of more than nine million tons in 1990 and have declined since to under five million tons per year.
Pacific fish discards are happening mostly off the coasts of Russia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Russian fishing fleets have accounted for more than half of the discards in recent decades.
In Alaska, much of the fish taken as bycatch is not discarded but instead is donated to food banks.