EU discard ban official, fisheries' reactions mixed
The landing obligation, also known as Europe's discard ban, came into force on 1 January 2015 for EU fishermen targeting pelagic quota species such as herring and mackerel, and is the first phase of a wider discard ban. It will be extended to demersal fisheries in 2016, and be fully implemented across all TAC and quota species by 2019.
With few exceptions, all catches of pelagic and industrial quota species have to be landed and counted against quota, along with accidental or undersized catches of demersal species such as cod and haddock. Undersized fish can be used for purposes other than for direct human consumption, including bait, fishmeal, fish oil, pet food, food additives, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Introduced under EU legislation as part of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the landing obligation aims to end the practice by fishermen of throwing non-target and undersized species back overboard.
Discarding can damage the environment through increased mortality, particularly to juvenile species, and alter food webs by supplying increased levels of food to scavenging organisms on the sea floor, and to sea birds
It is estimated that up to one million metric tons has been discarded each year and while the practice was discouraged by EU Member States, a ban was not formalized until the U.K. took the lead in securing major reforms to the CFP.
At the same time, increasing pressure was being put on the European Commission by environmental groups, especially celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Fish Fight,” resulting in a misconception by the public that this campaign alone was responsible for the introduction of the discards ban.
Barry Deas, CEO of the U.K.’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, is unhappy that credit for this and other changes often goes to celebrity campaigns rather than to the long-term initiatives undertaken by the industry itself.
“A reduction in fleet size and collaborative work with scientists means that fishermen have seen discards reduce dramatically in some places, but this is the sort of fact that goes unreported and leaves the general public with the completely wrong view of our industry,” he said.
To help overcome this, the NFFO has created an infographic that tackles the top ten misconceptions, and hopes that it will give the fish-eating public and the media a clearer idea of the work that has gone into fisheries improvements to ensure future sustainability.
As the pelagic ban came into force, U.K. Fisheries Minister George Eustice said: “The long fight to reform the broken Common Fisheries Policy has been won and today marks a significant milestone in our commitment to fish more sustainably by ending the shameful practice of discarding perfectly good fish.
“But our work is not over. While it’s widely recognized that pelagic fishing operations have relatively low discard rates, we will continue to work with fishermen to help them adjust to the new reforms and make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, whose members are the most widely affected by the new regulations, explained that as the pelagic fleet has only just started fishing under the new regime, time is needed to ascertain the impact it will have on their operations.
“It is essential that the control legislation for the landing obligation is implemented in a way that provides confidence that all member states and third country vessels fishing in EU waters are operating under the same rules, and we have yet to be convinced that this will happen. We will certainly not accept a situation where our fleet is bound by stringent control and monitoring measures whilst other nations are exempted,” he said.
Pelagic fisheries which target single species are the “cleanest” fisheries, due to the extensive shoaling nature of the fish, but it will be harder for fishermen targeting mixed fisheries to cope with the ban.
Over the past few years, fisheries managers have sought to reduce the level of discards, by using more selective gears to avoid the capture of untargeted and undersized species. Scotland was at the forefront of such efforts, which have greatly reduced the occurrence of fish discarding by Scottish fishermen. In the North Sea roundfish fishery for example, discards have reduced by 90 percent since 1994. Efforts are now being stepped up in advance of the 2016 landing obligation for demersal species to reduce these still further.
Barry Deas, believes that its introduction will be the most dramatic change the European fishing industry has seen for 30 years, but in common with Ian Gatt, he believes that much work remains to be done by the commission and EU Member States, to ensure the new regulations will be workable.
For restaurants, retailers and consumers, the discards ban is good news, and means that seafood caught in the EU is taking another major leap towards sustainability. Whether it removes any moral barriers to consumption, remains to be seen.