Coming to terms with the discard ban…and choking

It has been described in political circles as essential to both safeguarding fish stocks and the profitability of fishing fleets, yet considerable uncertainty still surrounds the EU landing obligation, commonly referred to as the “discard ban,” particularly with regards to its potential impact on the broader seafood supply chain.

Though a ban has been in place for 12 months on discarding mid-water pelagic species such as blue whiting, herring and mackerel, the implementation a few weeks ago of the second phase – for European fishermen targeting certain demersal species such as haddock, sole and plaice, often caught in more complex mixed fisheries, has heightened concerns. It’s also widely expected that the full impacts of the regulation are unlikely to be seen until 2019 when all total allowable catch (TAC) species will be subject to the land-all rules.

With so many unknowns, it has been difficult for the industry to comfortably forecast any outcomes, but in order to bring some much-needed clarity, U.K. seafood industry authority Seafish has published a new report that looks at possible impacts of the landing obligation from economic, legal, operational, reputational and market viewpoints.

Produced by Tegen Mor Fisheries Consultants, the study pronounces the introduction of the new rules as “perhaps the most significant change in European fisheries policy since the introduction of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 1983.” Not surprisingly, it found there were wide-ranging views among stakeholders on the impact of the landing obligation, with some believing the industry was adaptive and flexible enough to take it in its stride, while others felt fleets and processors would be forced out of business and serious socio-economic consequences would ensue.

According to the study, the No. 1 concern relates to the potential impact that a “choked” fishery would have on the seafood supply chain. A choke situation can occur in mixed fisheries when fishermen have fully caught their allocated quota for one species before catching their entire quota for another in the same area. In some management regimes, this requires vessels to stop fishing in that area, as they can’t guarantee avoiding the species for which they have no quota left. According to Seafish, the rules are not yet clear regarding what must happen regarding fishing vessels that find themselves in such a situation.

“Depending on the timing of a fishery closure and the fisheries concerned, this could have a serious economic impact on parts of the seafood supply chain,” states the report. It adds that the most acutely affected would be those local processing businesses close to the supply chain source and heavily dependent on local landings. Indeed in its research, these businesses were concerned that further instability would reduce their competitiveness and potentially result in a loss of market share to greater imports, which, if extended over a long period, could lead to further consolidation in the sector. In turn, this could lead to reduced competition at port markets and lower quayside prices.

Taking in the perspectives of the catching sector, ports and harbors, logistics operators, processors, as well as foodservice and retail, the report’s authors believe the impacts of the landing obligation would become increasingly diluted as we look further along the supply chain.

This is because larger processors selling into retail markets in the United Kingdom and across Europe source raw materials globally in order meet demand. Therefore, in the event of a U.K. fishery closure, those products would be substituted through imports. Similarly, although U.K. retailers sell a diverse range of seafood products, sales volumes and values are dominated by farmed and imported species.

Furthermore, the fishmeal, bait and transport sectors all saw potential benefits under the new rules. For instance, the fishmeal sector is likely to be an important outlet for discards landed at larger ports where there are good transport links to fishmeal processing facilities at Aberdeen and Grimsby.

Consequently, according to the report, if the worst-case scenario of premature choking of fisheries could be avoided then the seafood supply chain could adapt to the new era of fisheries management with limited outside intervention. Therefore, it suggests prioritizing the use of national and EU grant assistance to assist ports and harbors in preparing for and handling discards through the transitional period.

It also felt the ability of supply chain partners to react and adapt to changing circumstances could be improved greatly through the co-ordination and dissemination of forward landings information from vessels to markets and onwards to processors, fishmeal producers, bait users and road hauliers.

In addition, the study recommends that the seafood supply chain can be further supported by establishing a network of regional discard management coordinators to working alongside supply chain stakeholders to develop and implement detailed discard handling plans for each port or harbor.

This important topic will be evaluated in much more depth at next month’s SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Malta, in a session called “The EU Landing Obligation – Impacts and Solutions.”


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