Fisheries: implementation and enforcement of the EU landing obligation Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

What is the landing obligation?

1.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. (Paragraph 12)

The impact of the landing obligation to date

2.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. (Paragraph 19)

3.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. (Paragraph 26)

4.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. (Paragraph 27)

5.With only a few weeks until it was due to come into force, witnesses to this inquiry did not believe the UK was in a position to implement the landing obligation. (Paragraph 30)

The challenge of ‘choke’ species

6.The obligation to land all catches could result in quotas for some species being met very quickly. This would result in vessels operating in mixed fisheries having to cease fishing, despite having quota available for other species, because they cannot guarantee they can avoid catching any more of the ‘choke’ species. (Paragraph 33)

7.It was shocking to hear, on the eve of the new rules coming into force, that the industry, researchers and the Government all thought the landing obligation could result in some of the UK fishing fleet being required to stop fishing part way through the year. (Paragraph 39)

8.There is a clear risk that the economic impact of chokes on fishers provides a strong, perhaps irresistible, incentive to break the law by continuing to discard fish caught over quota. (Paragraph 40)

9.Using different types of equipment could enable some fishers to fish more selectively, thus avoiding species for which they have little or no quota and so reducing the risk of chokes. (Paragraph 49)

10.However, the extent to which selectivity can reduce choke risks depends on the fishery, and some fishers are already highly selective. (Paragraph 50)

11.Although a number of trials have been conducted, the landing obligation does not yet appear to have incentivised fishers to adopt more selective gear. The extent to which this may change now the landing obligation applies to all fisheries may depend on how badly fishers are affected by chokes and how strictly the ban on discards is enforced. (Paragraph 51)

12.Technology increasingly makes it possible for fishers and the authorities to share information on their catches in real time. This presents an opportunity to reduce unwanted catches and chokes. (Paragraph 56)

13.We strongly encourage Government and industry to work together to create an effective, comprehensive system for real time notifications that is useful to, and trusted by, fishers. (Paragraph 57)

14.Swapping and leasing quota between vessels, between Producer Organisations and between Member States is already a well-established practice and has the potential to mitigate some of the choke risks posed by the landing obligation. (Paragraph 64)

15.There is no requirement, however, to move quota to where it is needed. It is therefore entirely possible that vessels will be choked and forced to stop fishing when sufficient quota exists, either elsewhere in the UK or elsewhere in the EU, that would have allowed them to continue. Fishers’ livelihoods should not be threatened in this way. (Paragraph 65)

16.We urge the Government to work with the devolved administrations to put formal mechanisms in place to avoid vessels choking where there is sufficient quota available elsewhere in the UK, and to make the case to the European Commission for a similar mechanism at EU level. (Paragraph 66)

17.Work to address this known risk could have been undertaken during the four-year phasing-in of the landing obligation. It is disappointing that this opportunity has been wasted. (Paragraph 67)

18.We are concerned that the under ten metre fleet do not have the same ability to mitigate choke risks as larger vessels that are members of Producer Organisations, because of the way quota is allocated and the restrictions on cross-booking and retrospective leasing. We are disappointed that the phased introduction of the landing obligation was not used as an opportunity to resolve this imbalance. We urge the Government to address it as a matter of urgency, to ensure under ten metre fleet vessels have the same quota flexibilities as the rest of the fleet. (Paragraph 71)

19.The more species that are exempt from the landing obligation, the fewer problems it will cause fishers. Where a proposed exemption can be supported by scientific evidence (such as a where a species is found to survive discarding well) this is to be welcomed. We are concerned, however, at the number of exemptions being granted, which may undermine the objectives of the landing obligation. (Paragraph 78)

20.Adhering to catch limits that have been set in line with scientific advice is a key mechanism to maintain healthy fish stocks. We would be deeply concerned if the challenges of implementing the landing obligation resulted in the removal of total allowable catch limits or the routine use of ‘interspecies flexibility’ to count the catch of one species against the quota of another. (Paragraph 79)

The challenge of landing unwanted catches

21.With fishing vessels unable to discard unwanted fish, a proportion of their storage capacity will in future be taken up with fish of little or no market value. There is an obvious economic impact for fishers from this change. (Paragraph 88)

22.Fish caught below minimum conservation reference size must now be landed. It is currently unknown what volumes will be landed or what markets there might be for these fish, which cannot be sold for human consumption. There are concerns that the port infrastructure and supply chains needed to receive, store and sell or dispose of these fish are not in place. Despite the Minister’s confidence that this issue had been resolved, the strong evidence heard in this inquiry suggests that those concerns remain valid. (Paragraph 89)

23.Indeed, the fact that such concerns have not yet given rise to major problems during the phasing-in of the landing obligation may mean only that fishers are continuing to discard undersized fish. If the ban on discards is properly enforced, the volumes landed should rise significantly and additional facilities for storing and potentially disposing of these fish may well be needed. (Paragraph 90)

24.We urge the Government to monitor this situation closely, and to work with the fishing industry and ports to obtain a clear picture of the volumes of undersized fish landed, the markets available and the quantities for which no market is found, which therefore have to be disposed of. (Paragraph 91)

The challenge of communication

25.Weeks before it was due to come into force in full, fishers told us that they and their colleagues did not feel they had sufficient knowledge of how the landing obligation was going to operate. (Paragraph 95)

26.The Government should work with enforcement agencies and industry bodies to ensure effective communication with fishers continues throughout 2019, to give fishers the best possible chance of understanding what they need to do to comply. (Paragraph 96)

The challenge of enforcement

27.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. (Paragraph 100)

28.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. (Paragraph 104)

29.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. (Paragraph 108)

30.There is a threat to the UK fishing industry as a whole if failure to comply with the landing obligation results in a reputation for illegal fishing. (Paragraph 109)

31.Traditional methods of monitoring compliance with fisheries regulations will not be sufficient to ensure fishers are not discarding at sea. (Paragraph 114)

32.Remote electronic monitoring (REM) is the only practical and effective way to monitor compliance with the landing obligation. (Paragraph 127)

33.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. (Paragraph 128)

34.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. (Paragraph 129)

35.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. (Paragraph 130)

36.The landing obligation was introduced for important conservation reasons and, like any legislation, its objectives will not be achieved unless the rules are effectively enforced. (Paragraph 135)

37.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. (Paragraph 136)

38.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. (Paragraph 141)

39.The Government should reconsider its approach and set out a clear plan for monitoring compliance that will satisfy the industry, the EU, retailers and the general public. (Paragraph 142)

Leaving the European Union

40.It seems likely that the UK Government will retain the principle of the landing obligation when the UK leaves the EU. We welcome this. (Paragraph 151)

41.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. (Paragraph 152)

42.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. (Paragraph 153)

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