First global guidelines on reducing fishing discards

Posted by Josette Dunn on 24th January 2011

The first global guidelines for bycatch management and reduction of fishing discards were released recently by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. They now go to the Committee on Fisheries for endorsement when it meets in Rome at the end of the month. The guidelines were agreed by fisheries experts from 35 countries who met at FAO last month.


The guidelines cover all types of bycatch including discards, that is, fish that are caught accidently and then thrown back into the sea either dead or dying. Unmanaged bycatch and discards threaten the long term sustainability of many fisheries and adversely affect the livelihoods of millions of fishers and fishworkers.

Bycatch may also include endangered species, juvenile fish, turtles, seabirds, dolphins and so on. Depending on the definition used, current bycatch may be in excess of 20 million tonnes a year. In some countries, bycatch has an economic value and is consumed, making it hard to estimate the scale of the wastage.

“These are the first guidelines to cover all species encountering fishing gear,” said FAO fishing technology expert Frank Chopin. “The guidelines extend the principles of fishery management to all species and all areas of concern. Although the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries refers to bycatch and discards, these guidelines elaborate more clearly how countries should address bycatch and discard problems in practice”. He noted that the bycatch guidelines had been requested by the countries themselves and are another important step towards applying an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

The guidelines cover bycatch management planning, improvement of fishing gear, fisheries closures, economic incentives to facilitate uptake of measures, monitoring, research and development, building the capacity of states to follow the guidelines and other relevant issues.

Chopin said care had been taken so that the guidelines would not place an undue burden on poor artisanal fishers and on developing states. “The guidelines emphasize doing an assessment of the situation first to see if there is a problem. The social, economic and biological impacts of applying these guidelines need to be studied in each case,” he said.