Lords fear new legislation’s impact on UK fishing industry

Published on
January 2, 2019

The U.K. House of Lords European Union Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has raised concerns about the damage that the European Union's landing obligation could have on the fishing industry, as well as the country’s ability to enforce the new rules.

Following a four-year phasing in period, the full E.U. landing obligation (also known as the “discard ban”) came into force on 1 January, 2019. It requires fishers to land all fish, regardless of whether they were caught in excess of the allocated quota, whereas previously they could discard it. 

Legislators hope the measure will put an end to fish being wasted, encourage fishers to be more selective about what they catch, and improve the knowledge of what fish are being caught.

However, the sub-committee heard that the new rules could have a devastating impact on the U.K. fishing industry. Without being able to discard fish, it believes that fishers could reach their quotas much earlier in the year, particularly in “mixed fisheries” where it will be hard to avoid catching a species for which there may be a very low quota.

The committee was informed that fishers could hit their quota for some species in some areas within a few weeks of the landing obligation coming into force, forcing them to choose between not fishing for the rest of the year and breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota. It cited one estimate that suggests GBP 165 million (USD 211.4 million, EUR 184.5 million) worth of fish could remain uncaught in 2019 due to fishers having to stop fishing early.

Furthermore, the committee was advised that enforcement agencies lack the capability to be able to implement the landing obligation. 

Ensuring compliance with the new rules requires the ability to monitor fishers at sea – to observe if any discarding occurs. Patrol vessels are an expensive resource that can only ever cover a small percentage of the fishing fleet at any one time. 

Onboard CCTV is largely held to be the most effective and efficient way to monitor activity at sea, but few boats in the United Kingdom currently have this installed and the U.K. government will not mandate it unless other E.U. countries do the same, for fear of putting U.K. fishers at a disadvantage.

“Maintaining the health of our oceans by fishing at sustainable levels is critically important, and the landing obligation was introduced to help make sure this happens,” Lord John Krebs, a member of the sub-committee, said on the eve of the new legislation coming into force. “So it is deeply concerning that so many people – fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves – do not think these new rules can be implemented from 1 January.”

Krebs said that the U.K. government does not have the resources in place to monitor compliance; nor have they used the opportunity of the phased introduction to make the changes to quota allocations or promoted the use of selective fishing practices that might alleviate some of the risk to fishers’ livelihoods. 

“January should be the start of a new era of more sustainable, less wasteful fishing, but most people we spoke to thought nothing would change – fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim-to-none and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them,” he said “When the fisheries minister is making his New Year’s resolutions, I would urge him to put sorting this issue out at the top of his list.”

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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