97.Helen McLachlan, from WWF-UK, told us: “For the general health and well-being of our marine systems, it is really important that we are aware of what we remove.” Samuel Stone, from the Marine Conservation Society, explained: “Traditionally, fish that have been discarded have not been well recorded … Scientists do not know the proportion of discarding in a lot of fisheries. This kind of measure will help to get a handle on that.”
98.ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, in a paper on the landing obligation, gave a more detailed explanation: “Catch information forms the basis of stock assessments, which in turn underpin the setting of future fishing opportunities. If these are not accurate, there is a serious risk of overfishing some stocks and the risk of stock depletion, with the resulting environmental and socioeconomic impacts.”
“At present … we are forming our whole data framework program at ICES [International Council for the Exploration of the Sea] level, on very small amounts of data … The data being used in my opinion to achieve this is too limited and in some cases there is clear gaps in the data which is causing choke species within a fishery.”
100.By requiring all catches to be brought to shore, the landing obligation should increase understanding of the volume of different species caught. This will allow regulators to set catch limits that more accurately reflect the current health of fish stocks and so ensure fishers receive the most generous quota possible, while also protecting vulnerable stocks from overfishing.
101.The UK Seafood Industry Alliance told us: “If [the landing obligation is] implemented poorly the result will be unaccounted for mortality, which undermines fishery science and could lead to overfishing.” Helen McLachlan agreed:
“At the minute, there is wide acceptance that discard levels are occurring at similar and, in some circumstances, higher rates than previously. That is exceedingly dangerous for our stocks; it just means that in reality we have overfishing. We have done great things in recent years with positive trends—building stocks up again and decreasing fishing mortality, and we are about to reverse all that if we do not get this right.”
102.Quotas were previously calculated on an assumption that a proportion of fish caught would be discarded: if scientific advice was for a maximum of 100 fish to be caught, but fishers were thought likely to discard x, the quota would be set at 100−x. With discards now banned, fishers have received a ‘quota uplift’: additional quota to reflect the fact that it now covers everything caught, not just everything landed. If fishers continue to discard, however, this could result in overfishing. Mike Park, from the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, explained: “There is a threat that fishermen will land all of it to market and continue to discard, which means that more fish will be coming out of the sea than should be coming out.”
103.Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP accepted that the landing obligation could lead to overfishing if it is not effectively enforced: “That is a fair comment … If you are not able to enforce it, there is a danger that you give an uplift in the quota but still get discarding. The uplift is treated as an extra fishing opportunity, rather than as a way to mitigate a risk. Yes, that is a danger.”
104.Without effective monitoring, there will be no way of determining if discards are still occurring and consequently whether the catch limits that are set to prevent overfishing are being adhered to. This could be a particular problem now that quotas have been increased, based on an assumption that no discarding will take place: if fishers continue to discard and simultaneously land their increased quota, they will be catching greater volumes than they were before the landing obligation was introduced, potentially leading to overfishing and damage to fish stocks.
105.Non-compliance with the landing obligation could also lead to damage to the wider market for fish and fish products. Tesco told us:
“If the regulation is not strictly followed and there is no effective enforcement there will be Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing happening in UK waters and by UK vessels with illegally caught fish entering UK and other supply chains. This risk would ultimately sit with retailers and leave them exposed in the knowledge that IUU fish may be entering their supply chains.”
106.The UK Seafood Industry Alliance agreed: “Failure to implement the landing obligation carries a substantial reputational risk for the industry and damages the image of seafood as a sustainable product. We therefore have a need to assure that the fishermen that supply us are complying with the regulations.” ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF agreed: “Reversal in sustainability and widespread reports of unrecorded and illegal catches could severely damage consumer and business confidence in UK seafood.”
107.Mike Park explained that the Scottish White Fish Producers Association had worked hard to get a number of fish stocks certified by the Marine Stewardship Council:
“Once you start moving into the IUU … it brings under scrutiny the whole gold standard certification you have for your stocks, which puts you in jeopardy in the market. Fishermen are aware of that and are trying very hard to make sure that we do not get into that area. They understand the negatives of losing any of the marketplace.”
108.Individual fishers may want or need to demonstrate compliance with the landing obligation in order to meet retailers’ requirements. An insistence by a significant proportion of retailers, in the UK and across the EU, on demonstrable compliance could be a significant driver of behaviour change.
110.As explained in Box 2, the Regulation establishing the landing obligation 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 addition, the EU fisheries Control Regulation places an obligation on Member States to instigate a number of measures to monitor fishers’ compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy.
111.A report by WWF in 2015 explained that the traditional approach to monitoring compliance with fisheries regulations has included:
“Undertaking dockside compliance and fish market visits; using aircraft (including unmanned aircraft) to overfly fishing vessels; using patrol vessels to undertake at sea boardings or surveillance; using Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) that use satellite positional data to work out location and speed of vessel; sending observers to sea for the duration of a sea trip … and using self-reported data.”
The European Commission, however, has stated that “there is a consensus among relevant actors involved in fisheries control, that traditional means of control, such as inspections at sea and aerial surveillance, are not effective to monitor the LO [landing obligation]”. This view was shared by most of our witnesses.
112.First, as ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF stated in their paper published in November 2018, “discarding is a practice which occurs at sea and as such effective monitoring needs to include coverage of vessel activity at sea”. Moving the focus of monitoring activity from the quayside, where fish are landed, to the sea, where they are caught, will be, as Dr Tom Catchpole, from Cefas, told us, “a fundamental shift … getting accurate estimates of what is being caught at sea is very challenging.” Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, agreed: “You are asking the enforcement authorities to monitor the activity of many thousands of vessels right across the marine area, which is an enormous task.”
113.Second, patrol vessels/aircraft and observers can only monitor a small percentage of the fleet, for a small proportion of the time. ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF told us: “At present it is estimated that traditional monitoring covers less than 1% of at sea activities across UK fleets.” Allan Gibb, from Marine Scotland, explained some of the limitations: “The analogy I use is that, if it is an offence to litter and a police officer is walking behind you, you probably will not drop your Mars bar wrapper on the ground. When you board vessels, they tend not to discard in front of you.” He added: “You can have as many enforcement ships as you like, but you can only be aboard one fishing vessel at a time, and there are lots of them out there. You spend three or four hours aboard a vessel, and the fishermen will not do anything wrong when you are there, but then you go away.” Julian Roberts, from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), explained that fishers planning to break the rules were unlikely to agree to have observers on board: “Fishermen can decide whether or not to take out observers. If they do not have quota at a given point in time, they might be reluctant to do that.”
115.The European Commission has stated that closed-circuit television (CCTV) is “the only effective control tool to ensure control and enforcement of the LO [landing obligation] at sea and to provide a deterrent to illegal discarding”. Michael Coyle, from the MMO, agreed that without “some kind of onboard monitoring it is going to be very difficult”.
Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) systems typically combine:
Information can be sent to shore over satellite links, allowing near-live monitoring, or stored on hard drives.
116.Dr Catchpole explained that Remote Electronic Monitoring systems are now “readily available”:
“They have integrated sensors that determine where the vessel is, how fast it is moving and when its winches are operating so that you can assess when it is actually going through the fishing operation, as well as having a link to a series of CCTV cameras so that you can collect images. Basically, you can replay the entire fishing trip and generate information from that. That technology is widely used in many other parts of the world. It is very well established.”
117.A number of our witnesses strongly supported this approach. Helen McLachlan told us: “We have advocated the adoption of electronic monitoring for the over 10-metre fleet, which represents 94% of the catch in weight and 88% in value, so it addresses a lot of the quota catch.” Tesco told us: “The implementation of fully documented fisheries by electronic monitoring … would help provide retailers with the transparency and traceability their customers demand.” ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF issued a joint statement in which they stated:
“It is our view that the UK government and DAs [devolved administrations] need to roll out measures that will ensure that catches from all over 10m vessels (about 21% of all UK vessels) and selected under 10m vessels are fully documented and monitored—either by Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) with cameras or fisheries observers, supplemented by inspections at sea, or in some cases a combination of all of these.”
118.In terms of the cost involved in electronic monitoring, Helen McLachlan told us:
“We have looked at the costing for the over 10-metre fleet, and it is somewhere in the region of £5 million for all those vessels, which compares to an estimated annual running cost of current operation as usual of £20 million … You could have 100% observer data at a quarter of the cost.”
119.Some witnesses suggested that REM technology should, at least in the first instance, be used for monitoring rather than enforcement. Grant Course told us:
“CCTV should be installed on all over 10m vessels … [but] industry should not have to worry unduly about penalties for discarding for at least 3–5 years so that the scientists have an opportunity to gather correct and accurate data that can be used in stock assessments and to inform management decision making.”
David Stevens asked: “What is the point [in REM] if this is simply used as enforcement and not to first improve data collection which is at the heart of the problems we face?”
120.Allan Gibb, in contrast, warned that “you cannot not see something once you have seen it. The camera might be there for a scientific purpose, but if you see something else you cannot pretend you have not seen it.”
121.Witnesses differed over whether REM should or could be used on the under ten metre fleet. The South East Fishermen’s Protection Association said:
“CCTV monitoring of fishing vessels for LO [landing obligation] requirements, may be practical for vessels in excess of 24m in length … However smaller inshore vessels are cramped for space and many do not have the reliable infrastructure necessary for the support of such systems.”
122.Julian Roberts disagreed on the issue of practicality, but argued for a proportionate and risk-based approach to using the technology:
“It is practically possible to monitor small vessels … but the risk profile for compliance with the landing obligation shifts towards larger towed-gear vessels and the large towed-gear fisheries, the large-scale pelagic and demersal fisheries … Those are the kinds of fleets we would look to focus on first with electronic monitoring.”
Allan Gibb agreed: “We do not think it is proportionate or reasonable to put cameras on very small vessels … in a risk-based approach, why would you? Lots of vessels are contributing relatively little impact on the overall catch of demersal species.”
123.Helen McLachlan believed that REM should be installed throughout the fishing fleet:
“Camera systems can be applied to many vessel sizes; they are absolutely applicable, even to under 10-metre vessels … 80% of the fleet is under 10 metres. It is important that we understand what is being removed from a range of fisheries, so that we have an ecosystem-based approach to our fisheries management.”
124.While the Minister, and the enforcement agencies in England and Scotland all supported the use of REM, there are currently no plans to use it as either a monitoring or an enforcement tool. Julian Roberts explained:
“We are keen to make sure that, if we introduce camera monitoring on UK vessels, it is only right that a level playing field is established with foreign vessels … On that basis, we have been working with the European Fisheries Control Agency and other Member States to establish best practice guidelines for electronic monitoring … We were expecting that to be in place by now, but the problem is that monitoring the landing obligation is a Member State competence, so you have to establish agreement.”
125.Even though REM is not mandatory, vessels can choose to use the technology as a means of demonstrating compliance, and some witnesses suggested they should be incentivised to do so. Samuel Stone spoke about the possibility of using additional quota as an incentive: “We would like [quota] uplift applied to fleets that can demonstrate that they are genuinely trying to comply with the discard ban, by employing best practice selectivity measures, with cameras on board to help to demonstrate that.” DiscardLess made a similar suggestion: “EM [electronic monitoring] vessels could be relaxed from several technical rules and benefit from additional quota against the full documentation and monitoring of their catches, while non-EM vessels would not receive any additional quota.”
126.Julian Roberts told us such incentives had already been offered: “In the North Sea we have only allowed the English quota uplift for cod to be given to vessels that have cameras on board.”
128.Because of the desire to ensure a ‘level playing field’ with other EU countries, UK Governments will not require the use of REM until other Member States agree to require it of their vessels. It is extremely disappointing that this agreement has not been secured, six years after the landing obligation was agreed, and even though the obligation has now come fully into force.
129.Given the importance of ensuring compliance, and that REM is the only tool that can do this, we encourage Ministers to consider requiring the use of REM on at least those larger vessels responsible for the majority of the UK catch, regardless of the policies of other Member States.
130.The Government could use existing tools, such as the ability to allocate quota or financial support to cover equipment costs, to incentivise the use of REM and we would support this action in the short-term. This does not, however, remove the need for a comprehensive, mandatory roll-out that would enable REM to be used as an effective tool to monitor compliance with the landing obligation.
131.Witnesses expressed different views on how strictly the landing obligation should be enforced, at least initially. Samuel Stone told us: “Enforcement has to be fairly reasonable and focused on those who are deliberately abusing the rules.” Jeremy Percy, from the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, told us: “Enforcement needs to be very light touch, because it is clear … that fishermen do not understand the requirements at sea, on landing or ashore. The idea that we will have some sort of big-bang introduction with perhaps overenthusiastic enforcement is a very serious concern.”
132.The MMO, which is responsible for enforcement in England, expected to adopt a balanced approach. Michael Coyle said: “When we come across issues, whether it is a choke issue or unintended by-catch, we try to work with fishermen and the industry to see what can be done and what mitigations there are … In our decision-making we will be proportionate.” In written evidence, the MMO told us:
“There will be an education period, and the MMO will continue to have dialogue with industry representatives and individual fishers throughout next year, on key barriers preventing full compliance. This would include understanding what efforts have been made to avoid the catching of unwanted fish.”
133.Not all our witnesses supported a phased approach to enforcement. Marine biologist George Charalambides said: “Enforcement should be strict and ready in order to tackle any noncompliant behaviour.” And a coalition of environmental organisations stated in November 2018:
“The obligation to land all catches was agreed in 2013, and discussions leading to its adoption started several years earlier. The LO [landing obligation] was phased in over a period of 5 years to allow industry and Member States to adapt … Further postponing the full implementation of the LO will provide no additional incentive to change fisheries management or fishing practices.”
134.Other witnesses reminded us what a strict approach to enforcement would mean. Hazel Curtis, from Seafish, said: “If we had full compliance, we would also have choke and tiedup fleets.” And Mike Park told us that “the consequence [of strict enforcement] would be extreme harm to the fishing industry and communities”.
136.The dilemma posed by the landing obligation, however, is that effective enforcement could do serious economic damage to the fishing industry. If the Government believes that eliminating discarding is critical to protect the health of UK fish stocks, despite the choke issues that will arise, it may have to accept that not all current fishing businesses will survive.
137.ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF have expressed concern about the UK’s preparedness to enforce the landing obligation:
“It has long been anticipated that the LO [landing obligation] will require an increased focus on monitoring and control of catches at sea … However, we are extremely concerned that plans to make this transition have not been put in place or indeed will not be sufficiently in place by January 2019.”
Grant Course agreed: “There is no effective control and monitoring measures in place, despite having had 5 years to do this.” Similarly, Barrie Deas told us: “Based on my conversations with enforcement authorities, I do not think they have a silver bullet, and at the moment I cannot see that they have in their hands a solution to the problem of enforcing the regulation.”
138.We also heard evidence that authorities have been unable to enforce regulations in place before 1 January, weakening confidence in their ability to enforce the new rules. As outlined in Chapter 3, witnesses did not believe the ban on discards for stocks subject to the landing obligation since 2015 had been upheld. Several also referred to ‘high-grading’ (discarding low-value catches of a particular species in order to preserve quota for higher-value fish) which Grant Course told us “has been banned for nearly 20 years”. He continued: “High grading has been widespread despite this ban … it has been unenforceable because it required detection at sea.” Julian Roberts accepted this: “The prohibition on high grading, which is responsible for a large proportion of discards, has been in force for 15 years or so. It has always been the same issue: how do you monitor compliance?”
139.In response to such concerns, Michael Coyle told us: “We will have an expansion in monitoring resources … so that we can expand our checks and balances at the quayside and carry out at-sea monitoring.” The Minister said: “We have taken the decision to delay the decommissioning of the three current fisheries patrol vessels. In addition, four new ones are about to come on stream.” He also told us:
“In the absence of cameras, MMO [Marine Management Organisation] officers largely look at landing data from individual vessels. Because they know where those vessels have been fishing, they do a comparative analysis of a range of vessels; if one of them looks widely out of kilter, because something funny has been going on, it gives them the intelligence-based ability to pick up a problem. At the moment, my conclusion would be that they are largely enforcing it by looking at catch and landings data.”
140.As noted earlier in this chapter, however, current data on catches and discards are poor. Moreover, Julian Roberts told us: “You can evaluate the data for what you might think is a level of compliance or otherwise, but you cannot prove it.” Allan Gibb agreed: “To detect the offence you have to see it.”
141.On the eve of the landing obligation fully coming into force, the UK appeared entirely unprepared to monitor or enforce compliance. Having decided not to require remote electronic monitoring, enforcement agencies will be relying on a handful of patrol boats and attempting to make assessments about compliance based on the fish that are landed. This is clearly not an effective compliance tool, and the absence of an effective enforcement strategy indicates a disregard for the landing obligation and its objectives.
130 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
131 Written evidence from skipper David Stevens ()
132 Written evidence from Mr Grant Course ()
137 Written evidence from Tesco ()
139 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
141 Article 15 (13), Council Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy (, 28 December 2013)
142 Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy (, 22 December 2009. This amended and introduced a number of measures which the Member States were obliged to instigate in order to monitor fishers compliance with and the operation of the Common Fisheries Policy. These include: inspections; reports; surveillance; licences; criminal and administrative sanctions; and vessel monitoring and detecting systems. The Regulation also allowed for the imposition of financial sanctions against Member States that failed to comply with its obligations (see for example Article 103).
143 WWF, Electronic Monitoring in Fisheries Management (2015): [accessed 7 January 2019]
144 European Commission, Towards new SCIPs: Advisory Council Consultation: [accessed 24 December 2018]
145 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
148 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
152 European Commission, Towards new SCIPs: Advisory Council Consultation: [accessed 24 December 2018]
156 Written evidence from Tesco ()
157 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
159 Written evidence from Mr Grant Course ()
160 Written evidence from skipper David Stevens ()
162 Written evidence from South East Fishermens Protection Association ()
168 Written evidence from H2020 DiscardLess ()
173 Supplementary written evidence from the MMO ()
174 Written evidence from Charalambides et al ()
175 ClientEarth et al, Recovering fish stocks
178 ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF, Implementation of the landing obligation
179 Written evidence from Mr Grant Course ()
181 Written evidence from Mr Grant Course ()