The EU fisheries landing obligation: six months on Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The impact of the landing obligation

1.The landing obligation, which to a large extent prohibits the previously common practice of discarding fish at sea, is both a significant change and a significant challenge for the fishing industry. Despite this, the new rules seem to have had little impact since they came into force in full six months ago. (Paragraph 8)

2.Given the widespread expectation that the landing obligation would result in vessels having to stop fishing within the first few months of this year, we were surprised to note that there appear to have been no instances of such ‘choke’ to-date. (Paragraph 13)

3.The consensus among witnesses was that swapping and trading quota, both within the UK and between Member States, will be key to preventing chokes occurring later in the year. (Paragraph 19)

4.There are concerns, however, that there is a greater reluctance to swap quota this year, causing the value of quota to rise and increasing the risk that it will be unobtainable by those who need it. (Paragraph 20)

5.We therefore restate the recommendation of our previous report that the Government should 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. This should include specific consideration of the constraints experienced by the under ten metre fleet. (Paragraph 21)

6.The landing obligation was expected to result in an increased volume of undersized fish being brought to shore. This has not happened, but it is unclear whether this is due to improvements in fishing gear that allow fishers to avoid catching these fish, or whether fishers are ignoring the landing obligation and continuing to discard them.(Paragraph 30)

7.We welcome the improvement in selective gear technology, and would strongly encourage its continued development and take-up. Given the importance of more selective fishing, the Government and devolved administrations must urgently consider how they can track the extent of selectivity improvements in the UK fleet, including monitoring the sales of selective fishing gear, and work with other Member States to develop an EU-wide indicator (Paragraph 31)

8.The lack of historic data on discards means the UK has no baseline against which to judge the impact of the landing obligation. The UK Government and devolved administrations should urgently consider how they will improve catch data, to enable them to monitor future progress. (Paragraph 32)

9.Given the important ecological reasons for the introduction of the landing obligation, it is concerning both that the Government believes illegal discarding is still taking place and that it does not know the extent of compliance. (Paragraph 38)

10.The Government and devolved administrations must urgently take steps to put robust mechanisms in place to monitor and enforce compliance. We also urge the Government to seek to persuade the Commission and Member States to agree measures to improve monitoring and compliance across the EU. (Paragraph 39)

Monitoring and enforcement

11.Enforcement agencies are taking a range of actions in an attempt to monitor compliance with the landing obligation. None of the currently used mechanisms, however, are sufficient to determine levels of non-compliance or to provide sufficient evidence for enforcement action. This challenge is compounded by a lack of data. (Paragraph 47)

12.Monitoring at sea was a known challenge of the landing obligation and, as we stated in our previous report, it is extremely disappointing that effective monitoring mechanisms were not in place from ‘day one’ of the rules coming fully into force, given that the Regulation was agreed six years ago. (Paragraph 48)

13.We remain of the view that remote electronic monitoring is the only way to monitor compliance with the landing obligation, and restate our disappointment that Member States did not use the lengthy phasing-in of the landing obligation to agree on its use across the EU. (Paragraph 54)

14.It may be contentious for the UK to insist on the universal use of remote electronic monitoring as a condition of fishing in its waters post-Brexit. Nevertheless, we believe that the UK should commit to mandating the use of remote electronic monitoring on all vessels fishing in UK waters after it leaves the EU. (Paragraph 56)

15.The fishing industry does not, as yet, seem to have come under pressure from their buyers to prove compliance with the landing obligation. If and when this happens, however, it could provide a driver for fishers to adopt remote electronic monitoring voluntarily. (Paragraph 58)

16.We are concerned that many of our witnesses, including the Minister, feel the fishing industry will need to be given incentives in order to comply with the landing obligation. While we would support a communication campaign that emphasises to fishers the benefits of compliance, it is a legal requirement that fish stocks subject to the landing obligation are not discarded. Incentivising fishers by offering rewards to those that comply could lead to the inappropriate conclusion that compliance is voluntary. (Paragraph 61)

The risk of overfishing

17.Limits are set on the amount of each type of fish that fishers can catch, to ensure the health of fish stocks for future years. The EU’s limits are now set on an assumption of 100% compliance with the landing obligation, making the need for an effective mechanism to monitor compliance even more pressing. (Paragraph 68)

18.It is critical that the catch limits set reflect any exemptions that allow for continued discarding, and that information about how limits are calculated is easily, publicly available to allow for sufficient scrutiny. We urge the Government to raise these concerns with the European Commission. (Paragraph 69)

19.The aim of the landing obligation is to eliminate discarding. Although we recognise that exemptions have helped reduce the risk of choke, we remain concerned that their scale undermines this overriding aim, and we therefore urge the Government to work with other Member States to continually challenge and reduce the use of exemptions. (Paragraph 75)

20.Allocating a small amount of quota to cover accidental bycatch of stocks that would otherwise have a zero catch limit may be a necessary measure. But given the imperative that the catch of these stocks be kept to an absolute minimum, we share the disappointment expressed by some of our witnesses that robust bycatch reduction plans were not in place before the landing obligation came fully into force. (Paragraph 81)

21.The Government should work with other Member States and the European Commission to ensure bycatch reduction plans are implemented as quickly as possible. These plans should include a requirement for remote electronic monitoring and the use of more selective fishing gears on vessels allocated the bycatch quota, to ensure strict compliance with the quota limits and whatever bycatch reduction measures are agreed.(Paragraph 82)

22.This Committee wishes to see fishers and fishing communities flourish. If fishing is permitted above the maximum level that scientific advice states is sustainable, however, the long-term damage to fish stocks could pose a serious threat to the fishing industry. (Paragraph 86)

23.We therefore restate our position that catch limits, and exemptions to the landing obligation, should be set in line with scientific advice and urge the Government to work with other Member States to accelerate progress in this area. (Paragraph 87)

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