143.At the time of writing, it is not known whether the proposed UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement, which includes provision for a transition period until 31 December 2020, will be ratified. If it is, EU law will continue to apply in the UK until the end of that transition period. This includes the landing obligation.
144.At the end of the transition period, or from 29 March 2019 if a deal is not agreed, the UK Government could choose to alter or revoke the landing obligation.
145.The majority of our witnesses supported the retention of some form of ‘discard ban’. Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, told us: “There is recognition that we will have a landing obligation or discard ban in some form … We realise that it would be unrealistic to go back to a situation where there was no landing obligation, and we would not want to, but we have to make it workable.” Jeremy Percy, from the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, agreed: “We recognise that we should be encouraged and supported to reduce our discard rate as much as humanly possible.”
146.Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP told us that he thought “the discard ban and the landing obligation … are right as a point of principle”. Indeed, the Government’s Fisheries Bill, currently before the House of Commons, includes the same objective to eliminate discards as the Common Fisheries Policy.
147.Fisheries researcher Grant Course told us that Brexit, and the fact that the UK would resume control of its national waters, gave the Government an opportunity to improve how it implements the landing obligation. Referring to the current reluctance to enforce the landing obligation with remote electronic monitoring, he said:
“This is understandable when the UK is part of the EU and it would have required an EU approach to provide all fishermen with a level playing field. However now that we are leaving the EU, we can have our own rules and standards and ensure that any visiting vessels abide by these. There is an opportunity to set the bar high, monitor this effectively and stop other nations continuing to fish without effective monitoring.”
148.The Minister explained that this option was included in the Fisheries Bill: “[It] makes provision for us to do a number of things, including making it a requirement of a vessel licence, whether a British or a foreign vessel, to have certain equipment. It could require cameras on vessels as the price of access to our waters.”
149.The Fisheries Bill also includes provision for a ‘discard prevention charge’ in England. Wildlife Trusts told us: “The proposal aims to provide a cushion when quota limits for potential choke species in mixed fisheries are approached, allowing over-quota landings to enable fishing to continue, while providing a financial disincentive to drive increased selectivity.” The Minister explained:
“[It] will give vessels the option to pay a charge to land catch in excess of quota. This charge will be priced in such a way that it is financially preferable to adopt more sustainable practices and avoidance measures to reduce unwanted bycatch. If vessels choose to pay the charge, they will be able to sell their over quota fish … but will not be subject to further enforcement action.”
150.Barrie Deas told us that, although the details still had to be worked out, “it is those sorts of things, and creative thinking, embedded in a collaborative approach, that will take us through”. Jeremy Percy was more sceptical:
“If you are over quota, as far as our understanding goes, you will now be able to sell it on the market for human consumption, but you will be charged an amount of money to ensure that you do not profit from it. That is supposed to provide a disincentive for fishermen to catch more than their quota. Unfortunately, that is not the way fishing works. Very often, you cannot determine how much fish is in your net before you dump it on deck. … The larger-scale and financially well-off boats will just write that into their business plan, so they will still be able to land more fish than they have quota for, but they will be able to pay the charges. It lacks disincentive for them and discriminates between large and small vessels.”
152.Leaving the EU will give the UK Government and devolved administrations the power to place requirements on foreign vessels in UK waters. This gives Governments an opportunity to require remote electronic monitoring (REM) on all vessels, UK and non-UK, fishing in UK waters, thus removing any potential disadvantage to UK fishers. We urge Ministers to mandate the use of REM as soon as they are able to set their own rules for vessels operating in UK waters.
153.The Government has signalled its intention to introduce a ‘discard prevention charge’ in England. While we welcome further measures to incentivise improved selectivity, it is important that quotas and catch limits are not undermined. It would not be acceptable for fishers to be able to catch and land unlimited quantities of fish in return for simply paying a fine.
189 Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community as endorsed by leaders at a special meeting of the European Council on 25 November 2018 (25 November 2018): [accessed 2 January 2019]
193 , Clause 1 [Bill 278 (2017–19)]
194 The Committee examined the implications of the UK becoming an independent coastal state in its report (8th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 78)
195 Written evidence from Mr Grant Course ()
197 , Clause 23 [Bill 278 (2017–19)]
198 Written evidence from the Wildlife Trusts ()
199 Written evidence from George Eustice MP ()