Will the landing obligation change EU fisheries?

Published on
December 23, 2015

The introduction of the EU landing obligation is a ‘game changer’ and arguably the most significant change to the fishing industry since the introduction of quotas in 1983, according to a new report prepared for Seafish by Tegen Mor Fisheries Consultants.

The landing obligation, also known as the discard ban, comes into force on 1 January 2016 for EU fishermen targeting demersal species, and is the second phase of a wider discard ban, which will be fully implemented across all TAC and quota species by 2019. It has been in operation for pelagic species since the start of 2015.

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. In theory, they must now land everything they catch.

It is estimated that up to one million tonnes has been discarded each year and whilst the practice was discouraged by EU Member States, a ban was not formalised until the UK took the lead in securing major reforms to the CFP.

According to Mike Park, chief executive of Scotland’s biggest fishing association, the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, a tremendous amount of work has been undertaken over the past year to ensure the least possible impact of the new regulation on day 1.

“Working through the regional advisory councils, we have taken the regulation and shaped it so that only the best fit species such as haddock will be introduced in the first year, with others introduced gradually up to 2019. This will give the system a chance to bed in, and allow time to generate the positive social response needed from fishermen to enable it to work,” he said.

This means that in terms of landing activity, nothing much will change in the beginning, but the fishermen, markets, processors, retailers and food service sector need to work hard to turn fish that was previously discarded, into an asset. These may be undersized fish or species not popular with consumers.

To help fishermen maintain their income, they have been given an uplift in quota, but this also leaves them with a moral dilemma. Do they land everything they catch, and potentially sell a boat full of small fish that will earn them little, or do they continue to discard, unseen by the authorities, and increase their income by using the increased quota to land the biggest and best fish?

“It is very difficult to police, and we are relying on the honesty of the fishermen,” admitted Park.

He sees a secondary downside to the regulations, in that the quality and amount of information coming from the boats will diminish initially.

“If boats do discard, then they certainly won’t record it as they have done in the past, and they won’t be keen to work with scientists, so valuable data about the fisheries will be lost,” he said.

However, over time he expects better catch profiling to become the order of the day which will help fishermen to avoid unwanted catches.

The Seafish report, “Impacts of the Landing Obligation - a study of impacts on the UK supply chain”, takes a wider look at the likely ‘sea-to-plate’ supply chain effects of the legislation.

The report set out to understand the possible economic, legal, operational, reputational and market effects, and to explore the range of potential changes in behaviour of one sector in response to changed behaviours of others.

“There are still too many unknowns about how the landing obligation will work, which makes accurate predictions very difficult,” said the report’s author Nathan de Rozarieux.

Having travelled the length and breadth of the UK interviewing operators throughout the supply chain, he found that the perception of the severity of potential impacts and risks appeared to decrease as it got closer to the consumer. “Will they even notice?” he asked.

“The seafood supply chain is dynamic, flexible and adaptive, and with some short term solutions to handling and storing additional landings, it will cope,” he said.

In Brixham, the largest port in England, Chief Auctioneer Barry Young is “expecting the unexpected,” but hopes that the recent uplift in quota for flatfish species, which the port is famous for, will ease the situation.

“The boats have just been given a 100 percent increase in quota for plaice, so we are busy talking to buyers to ensure that we don’t have an oversupply problem in the New Year, which could depress prices,” explained Young.

“It’s all about managing what you have, but if anyone wants some plaice, do please get in touch!” he said.

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