Both sides of the Christmas break have seen intense activity at Westminster as the Fisheries…
Demersal Landings Obligation applies from 1st January
The EU landings obligation will come into force on 1st January 2016.
Defra/MMO guidance notes have been published here
The NFFO amongst others, has successfully argued for a phased approach to the implementation of the discard ban, given the ramifications of this major change to the way our fisheries are managed. If applied within a sensible and pragmatic approach to enforcing the ban, phasing should limit the adverse effects of the landings obligation during 2016. The Federation will participate in the preparation of advice on the further phasing of the landings obligation in 2017 and 2018. From 1st January 2019, all regulated species will come under the landings obligation unless a specific exemption applies.
We have made no secret of our view that:
- The landings obligation was a misconceived reaction to a misleading public campaign
- The top-down form that the landings obligation has been put into legislation is a major obstacle to its translation into effective regional seas discard plans
- The most damaging aspect of the landings obligation is its potential to choke fisheries; in other words where exhaustion of one quota in a mixed fishery prevents the vessel, fleet, member state or fishery from catching its main economic species
It is clear that if the landings obligation is not to result in major and potentially catastrophic chokes, much will have to be done to adapt the management regime to the landings obligation. As a contribution to finding a way forward, the Federation has prepared the following note in advance of discussions in the early part of next year.
- Under the landings obligation chokes can occur in mixed fisheries in circumstances where exhaustion of one quota prevents a vessel, fleet, or member state(s)from catching their main economic quotas
- Chokes could potentially be caused by every stock in mixed fisheries, major or minor, depending on circumstances.
- Chokes will vary over time, although some chokes can be expected to persist over time unless the issue is addressed
- There will be different types of chokes, which will demand different management responses. Examples of different types of choke will include:
- Divergent TACs in a mixed fishery
- Poor correlation between TAC and fish abundance experienced on the grounds
- Weak correspondence between quota uplift and actual discard levels (uplifts are allocated according to relative stability keys which may not reflect discard rates)
- Unutilised quota not released by swap or transfer in a sufficiently timely manner (swap liquidity and political obstacles)
- Finite technical or economic limits to selectivity/avoidance in specific fisheries
- Misdirected quota uplift
- Zero or very low TACs
The seriousness of the choke may be mitigated by:
- The extent to which gear adaptations or avoidance strategies can be employed
- Whether high survival or de minimis exemptions are in force
- The extent to which quota flexibilities can be deployed
- The extent to which international and domestic quota swaps and transfers can shift unutilised quota to where it is required to cover catches
- The extent to which divergent TAC trajectories for different stocks in a mixed fishery can be managed in the TAC setting process (F ranges)
- Other management measures, such as “grouping” quotas
- Fewer TACs
UK fisheries in the North Sea and Western Waters could face chokes for all of the above reasons. Examples of specific identifiable chokes include:
- Bycatch stocks such as witch/lemon sole, turbot/ brill/lemon sole, dab/flounder
- Stocks for which the UK receives an inadequate relative stability share relative to catches in the mixed fishery (NS saithe, NS hake, NS whiting, Channel Cod)
- Data poor stocks for which precautionary TACs have been set (skates and rays)
- Where the current assessment of incoming year classes are out of alignment with actual abundance
- Stocks for which a zero TAC has been applied (spurdog)
- Stocks where selectivity is problematic (monkfish, whiting) or the catch is low value bulk (dab)
- Stocks where a de minimis exemption is inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem (dab and plaice)
During the transitional phase, whilst the landings obligation beds in, we can expect serious turbulence in the sphere of fisheries management, quota management, monitoring control and enforcement. Phasing is helpful but limited when measured against the scale of the problem of applying the landings obligation to a system of TACs and quotas that are allocated to member states on relative stability keys; during this period the precision of stock assessments can be expected to decline because time-series and assessment models will be less accurate reflection of fishing dynamics.
It will be important that:
- An adaptive and responsive approach is applied in the member states
- Every assistance is given to vessels to adapt their fishing operations to the new regime
- Member states prepare to respond quickly to chokes before or as they arise, utilising all the relevant available tools from the toolbox
- As far as possible the closure of choked fisheries are avoided and used as an absolute last resort
- Management authorities seek the active involvement of those affected by chokes in the development of solutions
- Member states cooperating at the regional sea-basin level develop innovative ways to fully utilise EU quotas through an enhanced system of swaps and transfers, respecting the principle of relative stability but shifting quota to deal with choke situations on a temporary or semi-permanent basis.
- Explore how the EU system of quota penalties and compensation could be adapted to reflect the new realities of the landings obligation
- All TACs are examined for their conservation justification and consistent with a fully functioning landings obligation
- The potential of grouping of TACs to reduce scope for chokes should be explored
- Enforcement of the landings obligation should be pragmatic and applied in the context of wider fisheries management objectives rather than a stand-alone absolute requirement.