Discarded cod in Europe

Once again, there is a big stink in the media about cod. This time, it is prompted by a report that between 40 and 60% of the cod caught in the North Sea are caught inadvertently and must be discarded, dead, in order to comply with EU quotas. Apparently, 117 million of the 186 million fish caught in UK waters last year were thus discarded. Some people are calling for the quotas to be raised, so that fishers can keep the fish rather than discarding them. Of course, that would encourage more ‘accidental’ catches.

The real solution is to create and enforce a tax on by-catch. If killing a bunch of cod neither makes money for fishers nor costs them anything, they will essentially be indifferent to doing it. If they needed to pay for what they killed, they would be more careful about choosing where to fish and what sort of gear to use. Even fish that do not have commercial value in the way that cod do have ecological value as part of marine ecosystems. Killing them in unlimited numbers is not compatible with sustainability.

Producing sustainable fisheries requires limiting by-catch, which in turn requires effective measures. A by-catch tax could play such a role. Of course, the fishers would protest any such move, citing threats to their economic livelihood. In the end, however, natural resources, including fish, do not belong to whoever grabs them; they belong to everyone in trust. As a consequence, nobody has the right to loot or destroy a resource, even if the economics of their present way of life require it.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Discarded cod in Europe”

  1. Placing a cost on by-catch seems one option, but how high a cost? Presumably the cost would need to vary to reflect changes in other seafood prices (since the incentives would vary)? Would the by-catch prcie depend on the particular fish one caught, and if so how would one predict in advance whether the location would be viable or not?
    As an alternative, perhaps one could combine a prohibition on by-catch (ie. you must land and report everything you catch) with rules stipulating that once your quota for a fish type is exceeded, you couldn’t fish in any location that the fish type might be caught (in effect, you’ve exceeded the quota for Fish A so you’re now barred from all these locations).
    I hear that the environmental groups have been pushing for another option, that of declaring wide stretches of ocean as places where one can’t fish for anything – a sort of ‘marine park’. The intent is to force people not to fish for anything in areas where there vulnerable fish stocks (like cod) are concentrated.

  2. Apparently, 117 million of the 186 million fish caught in UK waters last year were thus discarded.

    That is just apalling. The ocean is being stripped bare for no reason.

  3. Sea you later
    Bycatch is the ugliest thing you never see in the fish market

    Commercial fishing creates a mind-boggling amount of waste, at least 7.3 million tons (PDF) annually of discarded fish (“bycatch”) which are either unwanted, illegal to keep, or mangled in the gear. And this number from 2004 is a conservative estimate, not fully accounting for several major fishing countries.

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