EU proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

4  Discards

56.  The discarding of unwanted fish at sea is the most controversial issue facing this round of CFP reform. In European fisheries about 1.7 million tonnes of fish are discarded annually, corresponding to 23% of total catches.[118] However, in some fisheries, discard rates can be up to 90% of catches.[119]

57.  The current CFP regulation obliges fishermen to discard fish that they have caught in excess of their quota allocations or that are below the minimum landing size. These 'regulatory discards' are particularly a problem in mixed fisheries if the allocation of quota does not match the proportion of species in the catch. Paul Joy, an small-scale fisherman from Hastings, explained that:

We are now told we cannot catch cod, even though the stock is more abundant, and effectively I must go and catch sole, which means going out with smaller mesh nets and catching more cod than I would necessarily have seen before. It also means that I must discard all I have caught in trying to pursue a separate species.[120]

When we visited Denmark, we heard about their online quota-trading market. This innovative tool enables fishers to buy enough quota to match their actual catch on their way back to harbour, and so reduces the need to discard fish that they have caught for which they have no quota. However, about half of all English and Welsh discards occur because there is a weak or absent market for that species, not because of regulations.[121] Discarding can also occur when fisherman discard less valuable species in order to make space for more valuable ones ('high-grading'), although the UK theoretically operates a ban on high-grading.[122]

58.  The Commission intends to introduce a landing obligation, effectively a ban on discards, on over 30 commercial species by 2016.[123] A discard ban on commercial species has already been introduced in some fisheries in Norway, Iceland, Canada and New Zealand. The Commission warns that these examples generally relate to single-species fisheries that do not encounter the same problems with bycatch in mixed fisheries that the EU faces.[124]

59.  As a result of the discard ban, fishers will be required to count all their catch against their quotas, rather than just count the fish that is landed on shore. Minimum marketing sizes will replace minimum landing sizes so that fishers can land fish that are below the minimum size, but only sell them for industrial processing.[125] To enforce the discard ban, the Commission proposes the mandatory introduction of 'fully-documented fisheries' for vessels over 12 m, for example through CCTV on board vessels.[126] Funding will be available through the EMFF for measures to facilitate the introduction of the discard ban. These include supporting the development and installation of more selective gear; investments on board to make the best use of unwanted fish caught; investments at ports and landing sites to make the best use of unwanted catches of commercial stocks.[127]

60.  We received mixed views on the Commission's proposal for a landing obligation. There was widespread recognition that measures were needed to reduce discarding rates. ClientEarth supported the proposed landing obligation and argued that it should be extended to all fish and shellfish without proven survival after discarding.[128] The RSPB supported an incremental discard ban and the proposal to count all catches against quotas.[129]

61.  Many witnesses criticised the Commission for merely responding to media pressure for a discard ban, rather than seeking to find workable solutions for the underlying cause of discards. Dr Mireille Thom of the WWF explained that in order to prevent the damage caused by discards, "you must not catch the [unwanted fish] in the first place, because a selection must operate not on the deck but in the sea".[130] Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation argued that:

In response to media revelations, Mrs Damanaki should have said in the first place, "I know about this; the industry knows about this; it is a work in progress. It is abhorrent, but we are trying to do something about it" instead of saying, "This is preposterous. I thump the table with my fist and ban it". There was confusion between the political objective, which is a valid one, and the practical solution.[131]

62.  The Commission proposes to mitigate the economic impacts of a discard ban by allowing undersized fish to be sold for fishmeal and providing financial support to facilitate processing. However, the Chief Executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation (SWFPO) questioned the viability of this option:

…you are probably thinking about fishmealing [unwanted fish]. That might be another alternative, but the nearest fishmeal plant to south Devon is in Grimsby—enormous expense travelling it up through the motorway network. Who would pay the costs?[132]

Peter Hajipieris, Chief Technical, Sustainability & External Affairs Officer at Iglo Foods Group, pointed out that the industrial processing industry would not necessarily want undersized or odd-sized fish.[133] The Commissioner also suggested that unwanted fish could be given to the poor,[134] however we question the practicality of this approach. The New Economics Foundation and the RSPB also argued that any compensatory measures risk removing the incentive for fishermen to avoid catching undersized or unwanted fish in the first place.[135] We conclude that there is a substantial risk that the landing obligation will merely shift a problem of unwanted fish in the sea to a problem of unwanted fish on land.

63.  There is also a risk that a discard ban could have perverse environmental consequences. SWFPO argued that a high proportion of discarded fish that are released promptly back into the seas survive.[136] For example, one study found that cod survival rate after discarding is up to 75%.[137] However, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) explained that survival trials had not been carried out on all the species covered by the discard ban, and that survival rates are highly variable depending on the species and the fishing method.[138] Seafish also argued that "the impact of removing so much biomass" had not been considered,[139] for example, some seabird species may have benefitted from discards.[140] If discarded fish show high survival rates, it may be preferable to discard them rather than bring them on land where they have limited economic value. Defra should request that survival trials for all the species covered by the proposed discard ban are carried out before the ban is implemented and use this information to determine whether the proposed range of species is correct.

64.  The Commission's inflexible species by species approach was also criticised by several witnesses.[141] A study of the effectiveness of discard bans in Nordic countries also emphasised that:

…a strong and rigid control and enforcement regime can undermine the legitimacy of the system and be counterproductive in regard to reducing discard […] in additional to technical and regulatory measures, an increase in the fishers' participation and responsibilities in fisheries management is necessary if institutional change shall take place and succeed.[142]

For this reason, we believe that measures to tackle discards will not be successful unless the fishing industry is involved in their design from the outset.

65.  We are also concerned by the economic impact of a discard ban on fishing businesses, many of which are already struggling. The Northern Ireland Assembly felt that "the cost and disruption caused by having to land and dispose of unwanted fish will be significant" and "will lead to fishing becoming uneconomic".[143] The economic efficiency of the Norwegian catching industry fell by 40% during the first two years after the ban was introduced.

66.  We strongly support the Commission's desire to minimise discarding rates. However, we are concerned that by deciding to implement a ban so swiftly and with so little scope for stakeholder engagement, the Commission risks creating a scheme that will be unworkable and will be flouted, or worse, will merely shift unwanted fish in the sea to unwanted fish on land. We suggest it might be advisable to delay the discard ban until 2020 to give time to do the groundwork for its successful implementation. This is not an excuse to ignore the discard problem—effective and proactive measures must be put in place in the mean time to incentivise more selective fishing.

67.  The Project 50% trials in Devon demonstrated that discard rates of juvenile fish could be reduced by half through using modified gear.[144] The New Economics Foundation questioned why these new gear designs were not being used more widely across the fleet.[145] Jim Portus of the SWFPO, which had vessels involved in the trial, explained that the cost of new gear was not a problem per se, however "it was all about risk; it was about trialling something that might have been economically suicidal. The fishermen were not going to go out and do it without that support [from the Government]".[146]

68.  Encouraging fishers to use more selective gear is a critical part of addressing the discards problem. While the Commission proposes to fund investment in more selective gear, we think that proactive economic incentives will be need to overcome fishermen's risk aversion. Defra should ensure that the future European Maritime and Fisheries Fund can support measures that provide additional economic incentives to fishers that adopt more selective gear, as well as covering the cost of investing in the new gear.

69.  A key problem caused by discards is that unrecorded discarding prevents accurate estimation of fish mortality, and so hampers the scientific assessment of stocks. It is important that delaying the imposition of a discard ban does not exacerbate this. However, it is not necessary to physically land all catches to improve the accuracy of recording: replacing the current system of landing quotas with catch quotas would achieve a similar end.[147] Moving to catch quotas would provide a key incentive for fishers to fish more selectively to avoid their quota being used up by undersized or over-quota fish that they can only sell for industrial processing, which fetches a lower price. Catches can be monitored reliably using tools such as CCTV,[148] and electronic log-books. Moving to catch quotas will further benefit the industry as the quota that scientists currently set aside to account for discards can instead be allocated to vessels. This factor has proven successful in incentivising fishers to join pilot catch quota schemes.[149] Defra should support a rapid shift from counting the fish landed against quotas to counting the fish caught against quotas. This will address the problem of inaccurate reporting of fish mortality due to unrecorded discards in the period before the discard ban is implemented.

118   SEC(2011) 891, p 11 Back

119   Jahn Petter Johnsen and Søren Eliasen, "Solving complex fisheries management problems: What the EU can learn from the Nordic experiences of reduction of discards", Marine Policy vol 35 (2011), pp 130-139 Back

120   Q 424 Back

121   EFRA Committee, Implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy: Domestic Fisheries Management, 3 June 2011,Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, para 42 Back

122 Back

123   COM(2011) 425, Article 15 Back

124   European Commission Communication, A policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European fisheries, COM(2007) 136 final, March 2007, p 4 Back

125   European Commission non-paper, CFP reform-Discards, December 2011 Back

126   COM(2011) 425, p 9 Back

127   COM(2011) 804, Articles 36, 37, 40, 41 Back

128   Ev w3 Back

129   Ev 121 Back

130   Q 295 Back

131   Q 99 Back

132   Q 326 Back

133   Q 273 Back

134   Q 148 Back

135   Q 41, Ev 121 Back

136   Ev 127 Back

137   ICES Working Group on Quantifying all Fishing Mortality, 2009 Back

138   For example, different studies on plaice quoted survival rates ranging from less than 10% to over 50% (Ev w32-33) Back

139   Ev 136 Back

140   Stephen C. Votier et al., "Changes in fisheries discard rates and seabirds communities", Nature, vol 427 (2004), pp727-730 Back

141   Scottish Government (Ev 119), Seafish (Ev 136), SWFPO (Q 323), NFFO (Q 78) Back

142   Jahn Petter Johnsen and Søren Eliasen, "Solving complex fisheries management problems: What the EU can learn from the Nordic experiences of reduction of discards", Marine Policy vol 35 (2011), pp 130-139 Back

143   Ev w16 Back

144   CEFAS, Project 50% Final Report, autumn 2010 Back

145   Q 41 Back

146   Q 337 Back

147   Professor Frid (Ev w18), SWFPO (Q 326), SWFPA (Ev w15) Back

148   Marine Management Organisation, Catch Quota Trials 2011 Interim report, November 2011, p 1 Back

149   NFFO (Ev 107), Marine Management Organisation, Catch Quota Trials 2011 Interim Report, November 2011, pp 14 Back

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Prepared 24 February 2012