The issue of discarding – the dumping of un-wanted catches – has cast a long shadow over the fishing industry since the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ‘Fish Fight’ campaign of 2010. The causes are often numerous and therefore it is un-surprising that neither is the solution ‘one size fits all’.
The fisheries of South West England are ‘ultra mixed’, so-called as the vessels can catch over forty different species fish and shellfish each time their haul their nets. These fish literally come in all different shapes and sizes so changing the mesh sizes to allow the juveniles of one type of fish to escape could result in the whole catch of another type of fish escaping. Clearly, this would make fishing un-economic for the fishermen so the answer is much more complicated and requires an element of ‘smart fishing’ where the behaviour of the fish and fisheries are also taken into consideration.
Rising to the challenge of the ‘Fish Fight’ campaign, and the legislative pressures of a ‘discard ban’ that it created, the South West fishing industry has been engaged with fisheries, scientists and gear technologists to reduce catches of un-wanted species.
This work has focussed on demersal trawlers fishing for Haddock where fishermen are keen to protect increasing numbers of juveniles and beam trawlers fishing for Dover Sole. In both fisheries fishermen have changed their behaviours – avoiding areas where they know juvenile fish will congregate and avoiding catching fish when the prices are very low. The nets too have been adapted and fitted with sections (or panels) of square mesh netting instead of the traditional diamond mesh in order to improve selectivity and enable more small fish to escape. The positioning of the square mesh section and the colour of the netting used have also been studied and trialled in order to minimise the economic loss of marketable catches. Although there is still work to be down so far results are very encouraging demonstrating that smart fishing can be a win:win for fish stocks and fishermen alike.