13.As explained in the previous chapter, the landing obligation was applied to some fish stocks from 2015, and each subsequent year more stocks have been added. Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP explained how this had affected the UK:
“In year one, in 2015 in the North Sea, we had mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, blue whiting, boarfish, sprats, swordfish and bigeye tuna … The following year, we added haddock, hake, nephrops, northern prawn, plaice, saithe and sole. Once we got to 2017 … we added cod and whiting.”
As a number of our witnesses explained, the approach was to begin with the stocks to which it would be easiest to apply the landing obligation (such as stock in areas with only a few different types of fish, where it is easiest to avoid unwanted catches), with the more challenging stocks left for 2019.
14.Most witnesses reported that the landing obligation had little effect during the phasing-in stage. Communities Inshore Fisheries said that “there has been no noticeable impact to date”; Jeremy Percy from the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association told us “it has had a limited impact on our members”; and fisheries researcher Grant Course stated that “to date there has been no impact”.
15.Many witnesses also told us, however, that this limited impact was because the requirements of the landing obligation were not being complied with. Graham Doswell, a fisher from Eastbourne, told us: “People have not landed undersize fish; they just discard them and carry on.” Marine biologist George Charalambides said: “The initial phases of the LO [landing obligation] suggest that discarding is continuing as there is scarcely any undersized fish (now subject to the LO) being landed despite the fact previously reported discards were high.” Research consortium DiscardLess stated: “According to the 2017 data reported to ICES [International Council for the Exploration of the Sea], discards have remained high and landings of undersized fish … have remained negligible, even for the fish stocks already fully covered by the landing obligation that year.”
16.This situation does not appear to be unique to the UK. Jeremy Percy told us: “The landing obligation has been in force in the Baltic, for example, since 2015. To put it politely, very largely a blind eye has been turned by officialdom to fishing activities. There is still widespread discarding of a number of species in the Baltic by large-scale fleets.” According to Samuel Stone from the Marine Conservation Society: “There is consensus among Member States, the European Fisheries Control Agency and various other agencies and stakeholders that there has been widespread non-compliance to date.”
17.Witnesses attributed this lack of compliance to the landing obligation not being enforced. Graham Doswell said: “I have seen no enforcement at all yet at sea.” Samuel Stone agreed: “To be blunt, it does not seem that it is being enforced to date.” George Charalambides told us: “Given the low levels of at sea monitoring at present it appears the industry has largely been left to adhere to the LO [landing obligation] on a voluntary basis.”
18.DiscardLess highlighted that “there have been very few confirmed infringements of the LO [landing obligation] by conventional inspections”, even though illegal discarding is thought to be widespread. This appears to be borne out by evidence from the Minister who told us:
“In England, since the landing obligation was implemented in 2015, there have been 8 verbal re-briefs issued to masters for issues relating to non-compliance. Penalties in the form of quota deduction were also awarded to four vessels … In Scotland, a single fixed penalty notice was issued for breach of the landing obligation in 2016. … There have been no recorded incidents of non-compliance in Wales and Northern Ireland.”
19.Although the landing obligation has applied to a number of UK fish stocks since 2015, we heard no evidence that fishers have been complying with it. Little attempt appears to have been made to enforce the landing obligation’s requirements thus far, allowing the discarding of fish to continue.
20.The phasing-in of the landing obligation, beginning with the simplest fisheries, should have allowed Member States to prepare for the challenges of full implementation. Michael Coyle, Head of Compliance and Control at the Marine Management Organisation, told us: “The phased implementation … has allowed the industry to start thinking more about selectivity and how to avoid unwanted catch. It has allowed us to undertake trials of cameras and on-board monitoring. In each year, we have provided guidance to the industry and tried to give people clarity.”
21.This positive view was not shared by many witnesses. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations told us:
“Phasing the introduction of the landing obligation has not been a success. Difficult issues have been deferred, rather than resolved and it is likely therefore that the 1st of January 2019 will be that Big Bang that we have sought to avoid, with many unresolved problems still confronting the fishing industry.”
Helen McLachlan, Programme Manager at WWF-UK, said:
“We are disappointed. We have had five years from the point of announcing the landing obligation and it coming into the legislature … I am afraid that we do not feel that planning and preparation have been done to good effect, to the point where we are now looking at a landing obligation that is not being effectively implemented or monitored.”
Samuel Stone, appearing before the Committee less than one month before the landing obligation would fully come into force, agreed: “There has been a lack of visibility of any firm plans for monitoring and rolling out the discard ban.”
22.Samuel Stone told us that, despite the phasing-in period, “even in the Member States, a lot of questions have remained unanswered for several years, and we are only just seeing some firm and concrete answers a few weeks before full implementation.” One such question, raised by several witnesses, was the significance of the landing obligation for fisheries that have one or more species with a zero total allowable catch (TAC). Jeremy Percy told us: “The scientific advice for the south-west of England next year is a zero cod catch … If you ask fishermen about the implications, they will say they do not know.” Strikingly, the Fisheries Minister was unable to offer any clarity: “By definition a zero TAC is incompatible with a discard ban. You are not allowed to land any fish, but you are not allowed to throw it back either.” Speaking on 12 December 2018, Allan Gibb, Head of Sea Fisheries Division at Marine Scotland, told us: “The regional group I attend, along with my UK colleague, is meeting again tomorrow in Brussels to try to resolve those issues … [it] may be the area of clarification that is most urgent before 1 January.”
23.The Minister subsequently told us that, at a meeting of EU fisheries ministers on 17 and 18 December, the European Commission “proposed bycatch TACs for these stocks and an approach to managing these bycatch quotas through a pool system was agreed.” At the time of writing, it is unclear how this will work in practice or whether it will address witnesses’ concerns.
24.Witnesses had different views as to why more had not been done to prepare for full implementation. George Charalambides suggested that “the scale of the discard problem has been underestimated by the legislators and regulatory bodies (notably the Marine Management Organisation—MMO)”. Samuel Stone agreed: “There may have been a very large underestimation of the volume of work, effort and resources needed properly to do this, and they [Government officials and Ministers] are realising that it may be a case of too little, too late.” Helen McLachlan suggested the lack of preparation could be because “with Brexit, there has been a possibility that the UK will think that perhaps it will not be implemented”.
25.The Fisheries Minister, however, blamed a lack of commitment from other Member States that had led to delays in EU-wide decision making:
“It is fair to say that we did not make as much progress through the regional working groups as quickly as we would have liked and hoped. We were pressing for earlier decisions, but trying to get a consensus with many other countries, some of which were less enthusiastic, has proved difficult … the low-hanging fruit—the easy things to get on to a discard ban—were done early, so we are left at the end of the process with the most difficult and intractable of problems.”
26.The landing obligation’s four-year phasing-in period should have allowed Member States, the fishing industry and other stakeholders to work together and plan for how the new rules could be successfully applied to all fisheries from 1 January 2019. This did not happen.
27.With only a few weeks until it came into force in full, some fundamental questions about how the landing obligation would operate remained unanswered. Fishers in areas where one or more species has a zero total allowable catch, for example, did not know how the landing obligation would be applied to their catches.
28.Giving evidence in November and December 2018, in the weeks leading up to the landing obligation coming fully into force, witnesses were virtually unanimous in their view that the UK was not ready to implement the requirements from 1 January 2019. Jeremy Percy said that “it is becoming nonsensical to expect this to be implemented on 1 January”; Samuel Stone told us: “I am not confident at all that it will be fully implemented in a few weeks’ time”; Communities Inshore Fisheries were also “not confident the UK is anywhere near ready to fully implement the Landing Obligation”; and George Charalambides said that “the current challenges suggest that the LO [landing obligation] will not be effectively implemented by January 2019”.
29.The UK agencies responsible for implementation did not disagree. When asked directly if they were confident the landing obligation could be fully implemented from 1 January, Michael Coyle told us: “We can endeavour to implement it, and get across the rules and change our enforcement practices, but it will not be fully compliant.” Allan Gibb stated simply: “To be frank, I am not fully confident.”
17 Written evidence from Charalambides et al (), and
18 Written evidence from Communities Inshore Fisheries ()
20 Written evidence from Grant Course ()
22 Written evidence from Charalambides et al ()
23 Written evidence from H2020 DiscardLess ()
28 Written evidence from Charalambides et al ()
29 Written evidence from H2020 DiscardLess ()
30 Written evidence from George Eustice MP ()
32 Written evidence from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations ()
39 Written evidence from George Eustice MP ()
40 Written evidence from Charalambides et al ()
46 Written evidence from Communities Inshore Fisheries ()
47 Written evidence from Charalambides et al ()