WWF UK Blog  

Fish, Cameras, Action!


In the pursuit of sustainable fisheries management, throwing away perfectly healthy fish is never a good idea. That’s why we were pleased this week to officially launch a new WWF report ‘Remote Electronic Monitoring in Fisheries Management’ which presents a technological solution we believe is necessary for the successful implementation of Europe’s new fish ‘discard ban’.

The ban was introduced by the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and applied to many UK and European vessels in January this year requiring boats to bring all fish of certain species to land, so they can be fully documented and counted against fishing quotas.

The scale of discarding varies across European waters and in different gear types but to give an idea of the scale of the problem, in the North Sea between 2010-12 on average 40% (148,765 tonnes) of demersal (bottom dwelling) fish such as cod, haddock, plaice, caught in the North Sea were discarded.  During this period, 43% of whiting and plaice, 25% of hake and up to 91% of dab ended up back in the sea.

The ban represents one of the biggest operational shifts in European fishing practices so it’s clearly going to be challenging to get it right and there will be a need for flexibility in the phasing process.

Fishing boats © naturepl.com / Toby Roxburgh / WWF-CanonFishing boats © naturepl.com / Toby Roxburgh / WWF-Canon

If it’s successful it can bring social, economic and environmental benefits –  more fish in the sea, a more resilient, profitable industry and greater food security in future years.

However, poor implementation carries the risk of illicit discarding at sea going unrecorded, potentially weakening scientific knowledge on fish stocks, which could mean the wrong quotas being set in future.

That’s why it’s important to be able to document where real problems exist, for fishermen to be able to demonstrate that despite best efforts to fish in the most selective way problems remain with certain species.  Such information can then be used to inform management in order to maximise sustainable fishing opportunities.

The report, ‘Remote Electronic Monitoring in Fisheries Management’ looks at how Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) technology, using a combination of onboard cameras and sensors, can monitor what is happening at sea and compares it with traditional monitoring methods, such as aerial and boat surveillance, onboard observers, and dockside checks.  It reveals that REM offers a far more efficient and cost effective way of monitoring fishing activity and improving information on fish stocks.  It also looks at where this technology has been trialled and how it is being used successfully elsewhere in the world.  It identifies that monitoring with cameras provides much needed data that can aid stock assessment, help fishermen demonstrate best practice but also importantly allow fishermen to demonstrate where real problems exist.  If adopted widely across regions such as the North Sea it can also deliver the much needed level playing field that is currently lacking in European fisheries, where application of some measures can be vary between countries.

Buyers standing around crates of freshly caught fish at Newlyn Harbour fish auction, Cornwal © naturepl.com / Toby Roxburgh / WWF-CanonBuyers standing around crates of freshly caught fish at Newlyn Harbour fish auction, Cornwal © naturepl.com / Toby Roxburgh / WWF-Canon

There are some misconceptions around the use of cameras, for example, people believe they would be too expensive. In actual fact it’s estimated that installing the equipment, and reviewing 10% of data could cost as little as £4,697 per vessel annually, this includes the salary costs for the officers who will look at the data. To equip and install all 10 metre plus fishing vessels in the UK fleet with REM camera systems, and to undertake a review of 8% of the footage shot could cost less than is currently spent on traditional monitoring options in the UK – which account for an estimated 0.1% of the hours fished by the fleet.  This means that to look at 10% coverage on all 10 metre plus vessels across Europe it would cost somewhere in the region of €122 million.

With the launch of the new €6.4 billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) now available across Europe to help implement the new CFP, of which the landings obligation is a key element, this money could be made available to fishermen and administrations across the EU.

So, the technology is there, the money is there, European Member States have an obligation to demonstrate that they are effectively monitoring compliance with the landing obligation.  We find it difficult to understand how Member States can claim they are doing this without having good knowledge of what is happening at sea and we believe camera technology is the best way to achieve this.  We hope that Member States and fishermen will embrace this new technology across European waters.  We’ll keep you updated.

What do you think of the discard issue?  Let us know.

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