Fisheries: implementation and enforcement of the EU landing obligation Contents

Chapter 2: What is the landing obligation?

6.The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) seeks to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and that they provide a source of healthy food for EU citizens.5

7.In their 2013 reform of the CFP the European Parliament and Council stated: “Measures are needed to reduce the current high levels of unwanted catches and to gradually eliminate discards. Unwanted catches and discards constitute a substantial waste and negatively affect the sustainable exploitation of marine biological resources and marine ecosystems and the financial viability of fisheries.”6 Before the landing obligation was introduced, an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of fish and other marine animals were discarded in EU fisheries each year.7

8.There are a number of reasons for discarding fish at sea. Jeremy Percy, Director of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, told us: “The reasons for discarding are mainly that you do not have quota, you are catching undersize fish or it is of no economic value.”8 Marine biologist George Charalambides agreed that lack of quota and fish being undersized were two causes, and also mentioned ‘high-grading’ (discarding low-value catches of a particular species in order to preserve quota for higher-value fish).9

9.Discarding is generally seen as wasteful, as many of the fish will not survive and so have been killed for no purpose. It also conflicts with the EU’s efforts to ensure that fishing is undertaken at sustainable levels. The EU sets catch limits for most commercial fish stocks, based on scientific advice about the health of that stock. But without a discard ban, as Samuel Stone, Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Marine Conservation Society, explained, “There is nothing to stop fishermen catching fish outside their quota and throwing them away … A discard ban introduces a firm limit, because it means that you have to have quota for what you catch and you have to land that.”10

10.The landing obligation, therefore, was introduced to “reduce (unwanted) fishing mortality … improve fisheries management, fishing practices and ultimately the livelihood of fishing communities”.11 It was, as ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF told us, “strongly supported by the UK Government”12 as well as the by UK-based ‘Fish Fight’ campaign headed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.13

Box 2: The requirements of the landing obligation

The landing obligation was included in the 2013 reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. Article 15 of the Regulation14 states:

“All catches of species which are subject to catch limits and, in the Mediterranean, also catches of species which are subject to minimum sizes … shall be brought and retained on board the fishing vessels, recorded, landed and counted against the quotas.”

It provides for a phased implementation, with the requirements applied on a fishery-by-fishery basis, beginning on 1 January 2015, and applying to all relevant fisheries from 1 January 2019.

The Regulation allows for the following exemptions to the requirement to land all catches:

  • Species of which fishing is prohibited.
  • Species for which scientific evidence demonstrates high survival rates.
  • Catches falling under de minimis exemptions (up to 5 per cent of total annual catches of all species subject to the landing obligation can be discarded where scientific evidence indicates that increases in selectivity are very difficult to achieve, or to avoid disproportionate costs of handling unwanted catches).

The details of which fish stocks are covered by survivability and de minimis exemptions are set out in Delegated Regulations covering different sea areas. Known as discard plans, or multi-annual plans, these are based on joint recommendations by groups of Member States and evaluation by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, and are revised at least every three years.

The Regulation also includes a derogation that allows Member States to count catches of one species against their quota for another species (‘interspecies flexibility’), up to a total of 9 per cent of the quota, and allows Member States to exceed their yearly quota for a species by 10 per cent and count it against a future year’s quota.

Finally, the Regulation states:

“For the purpose of monitoring compliance with the landing obligation, Member States shall ensure detailed and accurate documentation of all fishing trips and adequate capacity and means, such as observers, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and others. In doing so, Member States shall respect the principle of efficiency and proportionality.”

Source: Council Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy (OJ L 354/22, 28 December 2013)

11.Witnesses were clear that the introduction of the landing obligation was a profound change for the industry. Samuel Stone told us: “It is a reversal of traditional fisheries management, turning it on its head. It is a very new approach, and it will take a lot of effort to bring people along. It is designed to be a very big change in fisheries management, but a very big change is what is needed.”15

12.The landing obligation was introduced to protect the health of fish stocks by stopping fishers from returning part of what they catch back into the ocean. It was agreed as part of the 2013 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, was applied to some fish stocks from 2015 and came into force in full on 1 January 2019. It is a significant and important change to fisheries policy and practice.

4 Based on 2016 figures. Spain had the largest total catch, and the largest fleet in terms of gross tonnage.

5 The current principles underpinning the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy were set out in Regulation 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy (OJ L 358/59, 31 December 2002)

6 Council Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy (OJ L 354/22, 28 December 2013)

7 ClientEarth et al, Joint NGO priorities on the revision of the EU Fisheries Control System (October 2018):–10-23-joint-ngo-priorities-on-the-revision-of-the-eu-fisheries-control-system-coll-en.pdf [accessed 27 December 2018]

9 Written evidence from Charalambides et al (IEL0011)

11 ClientEarth et al, Recovering fish stocks

12 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation in 2019: Urgent recommendations for the UK Government and Devolved Administrations (November 2018): [accessed 29 November 2018]

13 Written evidence from Charalambides et al (IEL0011)

14 Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy, amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1954/2003 and (EC) No 1224/2009 and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 2371/2002 and (EC) No 639/2004 and Council Decision 2004/584/EC

© Parliamentary copyright 2019