Up to a Third of Catch Discarded, Drone Surveillance Reveals Skip to content
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Photo: Golli. Lumpfish being caught in East Iceland.

Up to a Third of Catch Discarded, Drone Surveillance Reveals

With the help of drone surveillance, Iceland’s Directorate of Fisheries has discovered ten times as many discard cases in the fishing industry in 2021 than in 2020. So far this year, the Directorate has processed at least 120 cases involving fishing companies, both large and small, that have discarded catch back into the ocean. Some of the cases involved the discard of two or more fish per minute and up to one third of a vessel’s total catch. Kjarninn reported first.

Ten times more discard cases discovered with drones

Until 2021, the Directorate of Fisheries recorded around 10 cases of discard annually. Since introducing drone surveillance at the beginning of this year, that number has increased more than tenfold. The vast majority of these cases concluded with a written letter from the Directorate of Fisheries stating that catch should not be thrown back into the sea, while one case resulted in the temporary suspension of a fishing licence and three with formal warnings.

The drone surveillance is mostly carried out from land, and as a consequence, the cases mostly involve smaller or medium-sized vessels that fish closer to the shore. Some drone surveillance was carried out from ships last spring, however. Four of this year’s cases involve bottom trawlers of the largest size. Elín Björg Ragnarsdóttir, head of the Directorate of Fisheries’ surveillance department, told RÚV that the spike in cases likely does not reflect an increase in the practice of discarding catch, rather simply that more instances are being discovered, though this cannot be confirmed.

An international problem

Discards constitute the portion of a catch of fish that is thrown back into the ocean and not retained on board a fishing vessel. The percentage of such fish that survives the process varies by species. Fish may be discarded due to being an unmarketable species, being below minimum landing size, or being fish that cannot be landed due to quota restrictions. Discard in the North Sea, for example, has been estimated at nearly 1 million tonnes annually, one-third of the total weight landed each year.

Discarding catch at sea is illegal according to Icelandic law. Icelandic regulations require fishing vessels to retain most fish for which quotas have been set or species for which a market exists.

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