Westcountry fishing leaders warned a trial suggesting more selective fishing could be the key to ditching discards was too small to be representative of the industry.
According to research conducted by the Marine Management Organisation, carefully controlled fishing methods reduced the number of discards to virtually zero.
But Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation and chairman of the UK Association of Fish Producers, urged caution. He said the trial involved just seven Westcountry boats – an insufficient sample on which to build pillars of the new Common Fisheries Policy currently being hammered out in Brussels.
"This is too small a piece of information on which to base a big piece of legislation," he said. "We need to be very careful before applying this very small trial to a very big fishing industry."
The discard policy, which forces crews to throw away immature fish or species caught when a quota has been reached – regardless of whether the fish is dead or alive – is loathed as wasteful by both fishermen and conservationists.
However, the MMO reported discards of important stocks such as sole, cod, plaice, megrim and anglerfish were drastically reduced in the trials, which involved seven vessels from the Westcountry and 12 from the North Sea.
According to its research, in the Western Channel, a discard rate of 28% of sole caught was reduced to 0.1%, while a discard rate of megrim was reduced from 12% to 1.3%.
The MMO said the methods used could be an alternative way of managing the industry.
The boats taking part were barred from throwing away any of the species in the trials, including those below the minimum size. All had their quota limit raised for the duration of the trial and had to land all fish of these species that they caught, so they all counted against the quota. On-board monitoring equipment, including CCTV, was used to ensure the rules were obeyed.
Mr Portus said: "The results are good and they are worth considering. But what I do not want to see is a 'one size fits all' policy.
"Yes, we can have a trial of seven vessels but the reality is there is a myriad of different fishing vessels and fisheries out there.
"I am really worried that we will be taking a snapshot of a small part of the fishing industry. The results are good for seven vessels, but that does not mean to say they are good for 700 vessels or 7,000 vessels."
Andrew Pillar, fleet manager at Plymouth-based Interfish, which had three boats in the trial, said: "It's important that these trials have involved fishermen from the start to see how practical measures can improve selectivity and reduce discards."
He added: "We want to continue testing this concept with more species to see if it can make a long-term difference."