Enforcement of the Landings Obligation

29th June 2015 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The NFFO recently participated in a major seminar in Roskilde, Denmark, organised by the European Fisheries Control Agency, on how the EU landings obligation, which will be phased into effect for demersal species from 1st January 2016, will be monitored and controlled. The NFFO’s contribution to the conference, both directly and through the advisory councils, was based on the following paper:

Enforcement of the Landings Obligation

Culture of Compliance

The most significant feature of a fully effective monitoring and control regime is the degree to which a culture of compliance has been established. In other words, where and when fishermen perceive the rules and management arrangements to be broadly fair, rational and proportionate, there is a much higher probability that those rules will be respected; whether those are quota limits, technical measures or monitoring requirements.

In the context of our fisheries (multiple and varied units operating on the basis of complex spatial and temporal patterns, over a wide geographical area, under multiple jurisdictions, in an ever-changing marine environment) the degree to which the management rules are considered reasonable and legitimate is of critical significance.

The experience of the CFP over the last 20 years has shown us the limitations of a top-down, command and control approach to managing our fisheries. It has also offered however, glimpses of what can be achieved through a collaborative, results-based approach, through which management objectives are achieved by delegating responsibility to the fishing industry, within an overall framework of supervision.

The EU landings obligation can be considered both a hybrid and a transitional approach. It contains unhelpful elements of prescriptive micro-management but also scope for a significant degree of delegated responsibility to regional member states and potentially, to fishing vessel operators and their organisations.

This is the context within which we, collectively, must design a control regime that can deliver the objectives of the new CFP.

Landings Obligation: control at the point of landing to control at sea

The landings obligation involves a shift from control principally at the point of landing, to monitoring and control at sea, where operational enforcement will be infinitely more challenging. Apart from the shift in location at which enforcement will take place, there will be complex set of rules about what must be retained on board and what must be returned to the sea. This change is of fundamental importance and it is of utmost significance that it is handled well.

In this period of financial stress, it is not insignificant that enforcement at sea will be considerably more resource hungry than a control regime focused on the point of landing.

Although there remain a few black spots, on the whole, the period after 2000 has seen a major shift in fisheries management, in which non-compliance has been pushed to the margins. This contrasts with the period before 2000 which was more or less anarchic in many of our fisheries. In some respects, this disregard for the management controls was a response to, and consequence of, a dysfunctional management system in which overcapacity and chronic absence of profitability fed evasion, circumvention of blunt and poorly designed rules, and in some cases outright illegality.

We have no wish for the industry to return to this dystopia, not least for the significance that it holds for reversing positive trends in the key indices of fishing mortality and biomass.

Control is not a stand-alone preoccupation. It takes place within a matrix of management decisions, economic political, biological and physical realities. For that reason, to deal with the challenges of the landings obligation, it will have to be both adaptable and responsive and avoid the silo mentality that control issues have tended to be dealt with in the past.

Elements of a Successful Regime

An absolutist approach to enforcement of the landings obligation has the potential to set us back decades. We should learn lessons from other countries where workable discard bans are in place. The keys to an effective monitoring and control regime are:

  • Clarity in the legal requirements
  • Pragmatism
  • Dialogue where problems arise
  • Coherence between the different elements of the management system
  • Proportionality and a risk-based approach
  • Securing a positive industry mind-set
  • An adaptive approach that applies lessons learnt


Technology, especially new kinds of information technology, will have its place to play but it will not be a panacea. Technological developments, especially in remote sensing, will be of most utility when they are seen by fishermen as an easier and more cost effective way to demonstrate compliance than the alternatives. Ways should be sought to significantly lift administrative and cost burdens in return for commitments to fully documented fisheries. Technology provides us with opportunities to trial new cost-effective approaches such as the use of reference fleets.

Crew welfare

The landings obligation is going to significantly increase the cost of fishing and the amount of work on deck, in the fishroom, and in the wheelhouse. It will take time to develop solutions to reduce unwanted catch. In some fisheries this will be easier than in others. Increased workload can have implications for crew welfare. It can also lead to diluted income with lower crew shares. In addition, in some fisheries and classes of vessel, space, stability and logistical problems arising from retention of unwanted catch will be real. It is of the utmost importance that these issues are treated with seriousness and empathy by the control authorities.


The landings obligation, as it is progressively implemented, will amount to the most significant change to the fisheries management regime in the experience of most fishermen working today. The CFP has an unenviable record of launching grandiose, eye-catching, initiatives that deliver much less that is anticipated or desired; or even create perverse outcomes. If the landings obligation is to avoid this fate, it will require fisheries managers, fisheries scientists, and fisheries control authorities to work closely with the fisheries stakeholders to develop workable systems that are fit for purpose.