A seminar in Brussels, organised recently by the European Commission, was held to take stock of the EU landing obligation, which came fully into force for demersal species on 1st January 2019. Around 100 participants presented their views on how the landing obligation was being implemented, what problems remained and what lessons were being learned.
UK ministers have indicated that when the UK leaves the EU and therefore the CFP, it will retain the principle of a landing obligation, although changes are envisaged to ensure that it is workable. In the meantime, all CFP rules, including the landing obligation apply to UK fishing vessels.
The headline points emerging from the seminar were that:
- Progress in implementing the EU landing obligation had been made but the scale of the changes involved meant that it will take time to resolve the outstanding issues
- In many fisheries, unwanted catch had been significantly reduced, prior to and since the landing obligation came into force; solutions have been very varied, depending on the characteristics of each fishery
- Monitoring and controlling the landing obligation remains inherently difficult
- To date, serious chokes in mixed fisheries have been avoided by careful but significant mitigation measures
- High Survival and de minimis exemptions have been essential in reducing choke risks
- Only 20% of fishermen surveyed thought that the landing obligation was a good way to minimise discards
- The requirement to land undersized fish is proving to be an obstacle to reducing unwanted catch; the logic of incurring extra cost to land dead fish, which would then go for fishmeal, was not understood by the fishing industry, especially when a proportion would otherwise survive, depending on the species/gear
- Discards permitted under available exemptions were not being adequately recorded, which will make it more difficult to justify exemptions in the future
- There is a serious concern that the landing obligation has meant that scientists have lost confidence that they have a realistic understanding of total catches (fishing mortality), the fundamental parameter in stock assessment and fisheries management
- The Commission clings to the idea that remote electronic monitoring could be a panacea that could solve the problem of how to police the landing obligation, albeit within a risk-based approach; others in the meeting took the view that REM had a role to play in some fisheries but only after the fundamental management problems were resolved, and only with the willing cooperation of all those involved
- Positive and negative incentives, created consciously or inadvertently, would be central to the success, of the implementation of the landing obligation
There seemed to be broad agreement in the meeting that the landing obligation was not an objective in itself but a way of assuaging public concerns about high levels of discards, which were, in many cases, a side-effect of the management system in place. The landing obligation did create a strong incentive to reduce unwanted catch, but it was acknowledged that there was some way to go before the landing obligation could be said to be fully integrated into, and consistent with, other parts of the CFP.
In summing up, the Commission took the view that:
- The process of implementing the landing obligation is on-going. A lot has been done and solutions developed, specifically:
- By-catch TACs have been introduced to ensure continuity of fisheries and to provide quotas for member states without them
- By-catch reduction plans are being constructed to rebuild vulnerable stocks
- Selectivity improvements have been made, but there are no easy solutions
- Quota management changes are being made to facilitate the landing obligation and avoid chokes
- There is no silver bullet
- Significant changes take time
- Many initiatives are on-going at different levels (gear, management, markets, policy etc), but integration of different tools will be need for a more structured approach and tailor-made responses
- Regional specificities – sea basin and fleet differences should be taken into account.
- The importance of exemptions was underlined
- It is preferable to avoid unwanted catches through selectivity or avoidance rather than dealing with them on land
- Need to raise awareness – (1) there is a need to convince fishermen of the objective (to take ownership of the landing obligation), (2) find a way to translate sustainability efforts into market value (market incentives)
- Other solutions are needed for landed fish below MCRS
- There should be more sharing among stakeholders and member states of best practices, success stories (can northern solutions be applied in the Mediterranean?) and also failures
- We need to evaluate how different measures have performed to adjust our policies accordingly – an adaptive approach
This was a serious attempt to understand what effect the landing obligation is having. Few would now argue that article 15 of the Basic CFP has been the best possible approach to EU discard policy. Nevertheless, progress has been made in the reduction of unwanted catch. Many issues remain, however. It will take time and effort to resolve these but sharing information on best practice could help and a collaborative approach will help.