LEAVING THE SMALLER FISH TO BREED
New initiative Ten local crews have now volunteered to take part in a new initiative called Project Fifty-Percent, which aims to reduce the level of juvenile fish discarded (i.e. thrown back overboard) by half. The first trials, using modified net designs, began early in 2009 and will come to an end in December this year.
Beam trawler nets tend to have a mesh size of at least 80mm, which catches a high degree of benthos (typically larger starfish, decaying matter, shells, plants and debris). The benthos is ecologically important but has no commercial value, so it is an unwelcome component of the catches. There are also substantial catches of juvenile and non-commercial fish, for which there is no market, or landing and sale is forbidden by legislation. There is some debate about whether many of these smaller fish live to grow bigger after discarding or die as a result of being landed on deck. Either way, discards can make up almost half of the total catch.
Seeing the benefits
To address this issue, South West trawlermen are working in close partnership with expert scientists from Cefas to understand the best gear modifications needed in order to achieve a reduction of discards by 50%. These modifications include bigger mesh sizes on nets to let juvenile fish escape. The two large 'beams' on the boats are ideal for trials as one side can be fitted with a standard net and used as a control, while the other side is fitted with the new net design. Catches can be directly compared, including the amount of benthos on deck and the number of juvenile fish discarded. Results so far show a clear reduction of over 50% in juvenile discards, surpassing the target set by those involved. This is a positive development in the drive to cut discards, and most of the crews are keen to continue using the nets after the trials have finished. Dr Andy Revill of Cefas, who is leading the project, comments: "This is stunning progress so far, in an innovative partnership project We have worked closely with fishermen, who voluntarily want to help minimise the number of juvenile fish caught. We are keen to ensure the nets continue to be used and that other fishermen plainly see the benefits -not just to them but for the sustainability of the industry and the fishing grounds, too."
A promising future
UK Fisheries Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, has been following the progress of the trial. He said: "The problem of discards has long been an issue for the industry. Projects such as this could help us reduce the amount of fish that are thrown back. I'd like to thank all those that are taking part in this valuable project. The results are promising and I look forward to seeing the final analysis of the figures in December."