1.The EU Common Fisheries Policy is a set of rules designed for managing EU fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks. The latest reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, agreed in 2013, included “an obligation to land all catches … of species which are subject to catch limits”. This is known as the landing obligation, or discard ban. In the words of a coalition of conservation groups: “The aim was to eliminate the wasteful practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea and to reduce the impacts that this has on the marine ecosystem and on the viability of fishing activities.”
2.The landing obligation has been implemented gradually since 2015 and came into force in full on 1 January 2019. It is a significant change in fisheries policy, requiring commensurate fundamental change in fishing practice. The Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, Barrie Deas, described it as “the biggest change to the Common Fisheries Policy since its inception”.
The UK fishing fleet is made up of approximately 6,000 vessels. Just under 80 per cent of these are small vessels, 10 metres or less in length. There are, however, significant variations in the compositions of fleets in each of the four UK nations:
Despite the UK fleet being composed mainly of smaller vessels, the under 10 metre fleet accounts for only six per cent of fish landed.
The total number of fishers employed in the UK has fallen from just under 50,000 in the 1930s to less than 12,000 in 2016. 52 per cent are based in England and Wales, 41 per cent in Scotland and seven per cent in Northern Ireland.
The UK fleet has the second-largest total catch (in terms of landed weight) and the second-largest fleet size (by weight) in the EU.
3.In this report, we examine the challenges this change poses in the UK to both the fishing industry and to the agencies responsible for implementing and enforcing the landing obligation. We consider what has happened during the four-year phasing-in period and, now that the policy has fully come into force, we review how prepared the UK was for full implementation.
4.The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1, met in November and December 2018 to take evidence for this inquiry. We are grateful to those who gave oral evidence and to those who responded to our request for written contributions, all of whom are listed in Appendix 2.
5.We make this report to the House for debate.