Fishermen not only catch what they are interested in or authorised to fish. The unwanted part of their catches is discarded back at sea, often dead. This is seen by many as an unacceptable waste of resources.
The importance of discards varies but in some fisheries, it can be very large. Discarding practices at sea are difficult to monitor. Reducing discards implies avoiding the catching of unwanted fish in the first place.
Under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), fishermen are prohibited from keeping fish of commercial stocks caught in contravention to some rules (notably fish which are too small or for which fishermen have no quota). In 2011, the Commission proposed a U-turn on this policy of discard-inducing rules. As part of reforming the CFP, it is envisaged to require fishermen to land all their catches of dozens of commercial stocks.
There is general consensus on the need to address discards, but the practicalities of a wide discard ban triggers debate, notably in view of the diversity of EU fisheries. Requiring the landing of all fish caught also needs consideration of other fisheries measures, notably the use of landed fish, the ways to limit catches, and controls.
The European Parliament and the Council have to decide on how to address the discard problem throughout the reformed CFP.