ITALIAN PROJECTS FINDS OUTLETS FOR NON-TARGET FISH CATCHES
Fishing always comes with a certain degree of unpredictability and uncertainty. This is equally true for professional fishers as it is for enthusiasts. When they cast their nets or fishing lines, they never know if and what they might catch.
For professional fishers, the problem of unwanted catches, or bycatch, poses both an ethical and an economic problem. What is to be done with fish that is too small? Or fish that is damaged? Or just not sellable?
Back in the days, fishers often resorted to the practice of discarding – simply throwing unwanted catches back into the sea. This practice was wasteful and unsustainable, and the EU introduced the landing obligation. This set of rules regulates unwanted catches, which now must be brought to shore and properly logged along with the desired catch. The new rules also stipulate that adequate outlets should be found for unwanted catches. The Non Scarto ma Incarto project found exactly that outlet.
In the Campania region of Italy, many coastal fishers find non-target and unwanted catches in their nets. These unwanted catches are a mix of species with low or no commercial value, specimens damaged during fishing operations, and species without a quota. Unwanted catches put marine resources and ecosystems under pressure, and they also harm the fishers economically.
Then, the project ”Non Scarto ma Incarto” came about. The UNCI Alimentare NGO teamed up with the Academic Centre for Innovation and Development of the Food Industry (CAISIAL) of the University of Naples “Federico II” to turn unwanted catches into innovative products: food suitable for human consumption or ingredients for the feed, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
The first part of the project was a study to assess the proportions of the problem: seven fishing vessels (five trawlers and two demersal gillnetters) fishing in the Campania region of Italy were the testbed to determine the quantity of unwanted catches. Trawlers represent the less selective fishing activities, with a rather high quota of discards compared to landings. Demersal gillnetters, on the other hand, are one of the lower-impact fishing methods.
Then, samples of by-catches were provided each month to the laboratory of the CAISIAL Centre. Here, species-specific nutritional profiles were analysed to establish the best product options.
The second part of the project focused mainly on product development, as the team developed ready-to-eat foods. Fish became fish paste, ingredients for nutraceutical products or fish sausages, meatballs, fish spreads and a ready-to-use fish sauce. Some unwanted catches were used as a source of components with high biological value: oil rich in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA and DHA), and high-protein cake for animal feed.
The project has a potentially very significant impact: along the coasts of the Campania region, fishers involved in both small trawl and gillnets fishing have been experiencing socio-economic difficulties for years. With the EU-funded ”Non Scarto ma Incarto” project, fish caught as bycatch that would have formerly been discarded find a sustainable use, entering into a value chain that benefits both fishers and the community, that creates new businesses and, as a consequence, jobs. The results of the project were publicised with the objective of creating new companies interested in this value chain.
As an added bonus in addition to innovative fish products and extraction of functional ingredients, this project has also yielded an interesting collection of by-catch data. This additional knowledge could help reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment and improve knowledge sharing between scientists and the fishing industry.