Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, and a team of senior DEFRA officials used the Cornish…
NFFO Response: Defra Consultation on the Implementation of the EU landings Obligation
The EU landings obligation, enshrined in the CFP reform of June 2013, was the result of a toxic mix of political opportunism, misinformation, and cynical manipulation of legitimate public concern.
A decreasing problem
Large scale discarding in EU fisheries at the time of the reform had been a serious problem; but it was a problem that was well on its way to being eliminated; a point that our ministers, the Commission and the Fish Fight Campaign chose to ignore. By way of illustration, over the last 20 years discards in the North Sea roundfish fisheries have been reduced by 90%.
By the time that the landings obligation was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, steady progress had been made by fishermen, scientists, gear-technologists and fisheries managers, in finding ways to reduce unwanted catch. In some fisheries this task has been easier than in others - but there had been no halt in the search for solutions. Continuing the substantial progress that had already been made was - and remains - a priority for fisheries managers, fishing industry organisations and the (regional) advisory councils.
Oneof the principal remaining obstacles to minimising discards lies with regulatory discards – those discards resulting from management measures, such as catch composition rules, the TAC setting process in mixed fisheries, and in quota management arrangements. These rules require fishermen to return species caught above a certain fixed percentage, or quantitative limit, to the sea. There was, and is, widespread support within the fishing industry for an initiative to remove those rules which generate unnecessary discards. There was however absolutely no support or appetite within the fishing industry for yet another impetuous, poorly-considered, top-down, piece of European fisheries legislation, with minimal consideration given to implementation issues. Our difficulty is that the EU landings obligation amounts to exactly that.
Discards by Fishery
Further light is shone on the realities of the discard issue, by looking at the discard patterns for different species. ICES data indicates that in 2012, of the 121,000 tonnes of discarded fish in the North Sea fisheries, 91,000 tonnes were comprised of only two species (plaice and dab.) Plaice: The scientific assessment for NS plaice tells of a stock rapidly building to biomass levels above anything seen in the scientific historic record. This should caution against any simplistic correlation between discard rates and unsustainable fishing. Additionally, it is also significant that under the landings obligation, there is more than a likelihood that an exemption for plaice would be justified to permit the return of unwanted catches of this species to the sea because of the high survival rates observed in many plaice fisheries. This has to raise the question as to what purpose the EU landings obligation will serve in this fishery.
Dab: Dab is caught as an unavoidable bycatch in many fisheries but there is only a limited market for this species. Consumers to date have yet to be convinced to pay prices that would justify bringing catches to shore from an economic point of view. Against this background there is a valid question about whether dab should continue to be regarded as a regulated species and therefore subject to the landings obligation.
These two examples from high discard fisheries, illustrate some of the complexities of the discard issue which should have - but were not - at the forefront of the political debate during the CFP reform; and which raise important questions about the rational for the wide ranging legislation that fisheries managers and fishermen now have to deal with.
We find it difficult to agree with the Minister’s description of the landings obligation as “one of the key successes the UK Government secured in reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).”
The co-decision makers, for reasons best known to themselves but no doubt under successful lobbying pressure from the NGO community, went well beyond simply setting a requirement to minimise discards. Contrary to the spirit and stated intention of other parts of the CFP reform, in article 15 of the CFP Regulation, a prescriptive approach to the timetable for implementation and the form in which that timetable should be applied was adopted, albeit in highly ambiguous, wording. Despite the advent of regionalisation of the CFP, this has seriously undermined the scope for tailored regional seas solutions.
What was required to complete the task of minimising discards in EU fisheries, was absolutely not another grandiose, prescriptive, poorly-designed piece of European level legislation, with scant thought to how such measures might be implemented. There are potentially positive aspects to the CFP reform. The scope for a regional dimension to policy formation in the CFP, and the shift to a results-based management, in combination, offer the prospect of much more effective governance and therefore the prospect of delivering successful outcomes. In areas like the landings obligation and technical measures especially, identifying objectives but leaving the means flexible for different local adaptations, makes a great deal of sense.
The landings obligation will create a significant economic incentive to reduce unwanted catch of regulated species, through improved gear selectivity or by incorporating avoidance strategies into fishing patterns.
These potentially positive developments will however be constrained and undermined to the extent that residual top-down policies hold sway.
Discards and Fisheries Management
Managing/ limiting discarded fish is but one aspect within fisheries management. The overall level of fishing mortality is by far the most important indicator of a sound and sustainable fisheries policy. Across the North East Atlantic and across all the main species groups, fishing mortality has been very significantly reduced since 2000.
Similarly, the anarchic period of catch under-reporting, misreporting and in some cases over-reporting of the 1990s had been left behind and in recent years the authorities have reported high levels of compliance, leading to better catch information and stronger stock assessments. There are widespread fears within the fishing industry, and within the scientific and enforcement communities that the landings obligation, unless implemented very well, could undermine the important progress that has been made since 2000.
This is a concern that we too share.
Undoubtedly leading the industry’s concerns over the implementation of the landings obligation is the scope for choke stocks which in mixed fisheries have the potential to prevent vessels from catching their main economic species, with potentially catastrophic economic consequences.
The degree to which implementation of the landings obligation can avoid these pitfalls will hinge on:
1. The uplift in quota as we move to TACs based on catch rather than landings
2. The use made of the scope within Regulation to phase the implementation of the landings obligation between 2016 and 2019
3. The use made of the flexibilities provided in the legislation, including:
- Inter-annual quota flexibility
- Inter-species flexibility
- High survival exemptions
4. De Minimis exemptions
5. Whether TAC status is retained for all stocks currently listed ( or some kind of grouping of stocks)
6. The speed at which fishing businesses and fisheries management systems can adapt to the new regime, to reduce unwanted catch.
In turn, all of these will crucially hinge on the approach adopted to phasing the introduction of the landings obligation.
Landings Obligation and Regionalisation
Notwithstanding all of the above the above, we recognise that a political decision has been enshrined in law by the co-legislators in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. There is therefore a strong political and legal imperative that will mean that member states have no choice but to implement the landings obligation.
The NFFO is committed to working with the fisheries administrations, and through the advisory councils, to secure the best outcomes for fishermen and the management regime.
The principal failing of the Common Fisheries Policy was recognised in the CFP Green Paper leading up to the reform of 2013. An overly centralised, top-down, system repeatedly enacted prescriptive legislation which failed to deliver during the implementation phase, not least because of its application to many diverse fisheries operating in widely different conditions. This remoteness and rigidity can only be intensified by the arrival of the cumbersome co-decision process, in which fisheries legislation must be agreed jointly by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
Against this background a degree of regionalisation in CFP decision-making was therefore a very welcome first step towards a potentially more flexible and responsive decentralised approach. This is significant for the implementation of the discard ban as responsibility for the development of regional discard plans is expressly accorded to member states cooperating at regional seas level; with a default of a Commission delegated act if member states fail to agree. Member states are expected to work closely with the relevant advisory councils in the development of regional discard plans.
Specifically, the discard plans will include recommendations for phasing the introduction of the landings obligation between 2016 and 2019; and making recommending high survival and de Minimis exemptions.
Regionalisation however, can only work successfully if it is freed from overly prescriptive micro-management from the centre. The retention of a strong top-down command and control dimension to the landings obligation is its central weakness and reason why its implementation is likely to be difficult in the extreme.
At this stage, the most salient feature of the landings obligation, a matter of months away from its application to the demersal fisheries, is the uncertainty it has generated. Not knowing if, or to what extent, the flexibilities available to member states will be used, or the level of TAC uplift that will be available, and how this will be allocated, means that it is close to impossible for fishing businesses, large or small, to undertake any business planning. Strategic thinking about how to adapt to this radically new regime is all but ruled out. The level of clarity about the future of almost all aspects of the fisheries management regime is close to zero. We cannot think that this would be acceptable in any other area of productive activity.
The prospects for success in any human endeavour are likely to be enhanced by adequate preparation. This truth is no less valid for the landings obligation, which amounts to the biggest change to the Common fisheries Policy since its inception. In a formal sense, responsible regulation in the EU and at national levels take care of this through the preparation of regulatory impact assessments. The reality, however, is that impact assessments are box-ticking exercises, frequently superficial, inadequate, documents with form but no substance. This is no less true of the EU and UK impact assessments. In short, they do not provide a reliable or useful guide to the consequences of the implementation of the landings obligation.
The sense of moral panic generated by the Fish Fight Campaign subverted a necessary rational debate about the necessary preparations and necessary preconditions for the successful implementation of landings obligation.
This should have included:
• Precise information on the discard rates in each fishery leading to the removal of uncertainty on quota uplifts
• A comprehensive review and removal of all regulations currently on the statute books which are inconsistent with the landings obligation, including but not exclusively, the catch composition rules, effort control, and the one net rule
• The collation and evaluation of the science on high survival rates, where this is a potential basis for an exemption
• Clear guidance on how the introduction of the landings obligation is to be phased-in allowing for:
- Scenario planning for the purposes of quota management and onshore logistics
- Technical adaptations to reduce unwanted catch
- An evaluation of the implications of carriage to shore and separate storage on-board of fish previously discarded
- Evaluation of the conservation rationale for inclusion of all stocks currently on the regulated species list
- An economic evaluation on the operational economics of fishing for different fleets affected by the landings obligation
- Clarity on how the landings obligation will be monitored, controlled and enforced
As it is, all the signs these important considerations will be addressed on the hoof, as the new regime is agreed, adopted and applied within a ludicrously short timeframe, within a sub-optimal approach to phasing.
The single most important determinant of the success or failure of fisheries management measures is the mortality rate: the proportion of fish extracted from the biomass of and individual stock over the course of the year. Requiring all quota species to be landed will affect mortality rates but not in any simple or linear fashion. For some stocks like nephrops, the science suggests that the mortality rate under a landings obligation would increase because of predator/ prey relationships.
Having made considerable progress in reducing fishing mortality, we have no wish to go backwards a decade. We would therefore lay down a marker that all decisions taken to implement the landings obligation, including high survival and de minimis exemptions, should be based on an assessment of whether the decision will impact on fishing mortality. The benefit of the doubt should lie with the status quo if implementation means that fishing mortality would increase.
Unintended consequences have been a constant feature of the Common Fisheries Policy’s resource management measures since the CFP was established. In a change as profound and all-encompassing as the landings obligation, the scope for unintended consequences is huge. Maintaining fishing mortality at target levels and, where possible, improving exploitation patterns will depend on the way the landings obligation is implemented. The obvious initial task is to map out and address the potential consequences of the landings obligation, and address these as far as possible in the implementing measures. But we are reasonably certain that this exercise will not flush out all the possible outcomes, given that many hundreds of fishing businesses will be looking at the new regime to figure out a way of surviving it in ways that make sense to them.
In these circumstances, it will be important for the whole management regime, from individual member state, to regional groups, to the Commission and co-decision (where relevant) to understand the need to provide flexibility to adapt to address unintended consequences. The lesson learnt from the EU Cod Recovery Plan is that it is vital to build in, from the beginning, adequate scope to adapt as new knowledge becomes available.
Phasing the Introduction of the landings obligation between 2016 and 2019
Given the magnitude of the changes impelled by the landings obligation, the legislation makes provision for its phased introduction for demersal fisheries between 2016 and 2019, when all regulated species apart from those not expressly exempted, must be landed.
Phasing offers the prospect of allowing fishing businesses and fisheries management systems some (limited) time to adapt to the new regime in a step-wise fashion, identifying and avoiding the pitfalls along the way.
We support the North Sea AC’s proposal that the landings obligation should be phased in gradually by trialling with one or two species in the first year across all fisheries, adding others sequentially in years two and three, with full implementation in 2019. This would:
- Allow time for problems to be identified and for vessels and management systems to adapt
- Build on the Norwegian experience of introducing a discard ban
- Reduce uncertainties over full TAC uplifts
- Avoid the complications of having to define specific fisheries, given that there are an estimated 92 gear/area/target species permutations possible in the North sea
- Avoid the kind of fleet boundary issues which have plagued the Cod Management Plan
- Avoid perverse outcomes such as quota being traded from fleet segment not subject to the discard ban to a fleet segment which is
There are however, two main disadvantage of this approach. The first is that, depending on the species selected, it would pull some fleets into discard ban for some species earlier than the timetable indicated in the Regulation. The second is that there is a body of opinion that a species approach is incompatible with the prescriptive requirements within Article 15 on phasing. The first of these we are willing to accommodate. The second has the capacity to derail the most rational way to implement the landings obligation; with a high risk of chaotic outcomes.
Requiring all cod, haddock, whiting and saithe to be landed in 2016 would remove a large part of the advantage of a phased approach and would result in chaos for fishing businesses and for the administration of fisheries systems. On the other hand breaking down this cluster into its component parts will create a nightmare of complexity and boundary issues, with different vessels operation on the same grounds subject to different discard rules.
The NSAC has made plain that any departure from a phased species approach would to create a rod for our own backs. In turn, it has been made plain by the Schevengingen Group that a species approach would be incompatible with its interpretation of Article 15 of the CFP Basic Regulation.
This is not a good outcome.
North Western Waters
Given the constraints of Article 15, the NFFO has been working within the context of the NWWAC to find some accommodation with the fisheries approach and the phasing requirements in the Regulation. It seems to us that:
The actual fisheries in NW Waters do not align well with the definitions of “fisheries” used in Article 15
It would be wise for phasing to reflect to some degree western waters sub-areas: West of Scotland, Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Channel because of the variability in catch composition and fleets across the area.
The important milestone will be the point at which solutions are available rather than the date at which the landing obligation takes effect, for example in the availability of selectivity options.
The NWWAC has nominated a number of species for inclusion under the landings obligation in year 1. We support that approach.
Although we agree with avoiding a big bang approach, either in 2016 or 2019, the precise timetable on which additional species should be added to those included under the landings obligation from 2016 will depend to some degree on development work currently under way in the fleets
In the Celtic Sea, the ultra-mixed character of the demersal fisheries precludes simplistic notions of “target species”
In Western Waters the large number of area subdivisions, along with allocations made on the basis of relative stability, will certainly mean that there is significant scope for early and regular chokes. As this will represent the most serious challenge to the economic (and social) wellbeing of the fishing industry it will be of the utmost importance that potential chokes are dealt with at an early stage through:
• The actual fisheries in NW Waters do not align well with the definitions of “fisheries” used in Article 15
• It would be wise for phasing to reflect to some degree western waters sub-areas: West of Scotland, Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Channel because of the variability in catch composition and fleets across the area.
• The important milestone will be the point at which solutions are available rather than the date at which the landing obligation takes effect, for example in the availability of selectivity options.
• The NWWAC has nominated a number of species for inclusion under the landings obligation in year 1. We support that approach.
• Although we agree with avoiding a big bang approach, either in 2016 or 2019, the precise timetable on which additional species should be added to those included under the landings obligation from 2016 will depend to some degree on development work currently under way in the fleets
• In the Celtic Sea, the ultra-mixed character of the demersal fisheries precludes simplistic notions of “target species”
• In Western Waters the large number of area subdivisions, along with allocations made on the basis of relative stability, will certainly mean that there is significant scope for early and regular chokes. As this will represent the most serious challenge to the economic (and social) wellbeing of the fishing industry it will be of the utmost importance that potential chokes are dealt with at an early stage through:
- Appropriate quota uplift
- Appropriate exemptions
- Inter-annual and inter-species flexibility
- Removal or grouping of minor bycatch species (subject to monitoring and alternate remedial measures where necessary)
- Enhance and streamline the procedures for securing international swaps
- Force majeure preparations that would be used to prevent any choke leading to serious adverse repercussions
The Process and Criteria Used to Identify Vessels that are subject to the Landings Obligation
With multiple gear/area/ target catch permutations within fisheries that are essentially dynamic, defining meaningful fleet boundaries that make sense at both the regional seas and vessel level is a near impossible task. We know from our experience with the EU Cod Management Plan that creating fleet boundaries with different requirements on either side also creates incentives which shape fishermen’s behaviour as rational economic actors.
Although it will be necessary to define fisheries to which exemptions apply, it is not necessary to define fleets or fisheries if a species approach is adopted.
We acknowledge the legal/political obstacles to a species approach, but think that it may be possible to mitigate against the folly of an unalloyed fisheries approach through some kind of hybrid.
There are essentially three approaches to identifying which vessels will be subject to which rules during the phasing period of the landings obligation:
- Gear categories
- Historic catch record
- The master of the vessel elects which segment he will be fishing in before the start of fishing operations
Assessing the options:
- We already know that there are very many possible gear/ target species/ area permutations (92 in the case of the North Sea).
- We have the experience of the Cod Management Plan gear categories which generated perverse consequences; besides which, under a landings obligation that in part is about changing gear to reduce unwanted catch, is it sensible to use mesh sizes to determine which discard rules will apply to which vessel
- We recognise that in Western Waters a sub-area approach will be necessary to some degree
- We know that the disadvantage of using historic catch records is that they reflect historic, not current or future activity
- The advent of the electronic logbook and modern enforcement technology has changed the way an elective approach might be used.
All three approaches have disadvantages but we consider that on balance the elective approach avoids considerably more pitfalls than the others.
How to allocate any quota uplifts received as a consequence of moving from landing limits to catch limits and improving quota management arrangementsQuota Uplift
It is important that the quota uplifts associated with the landings obligation accurately reflect the actual discard rates in the fisheries. If they do not, the problem of chokes will be intensified.
Quota Uplifts will be dependent on the data on discard rates held by ICES. The level of completeness of this information is known to be highly variable fishery by fishery. The shortfall in quota uplift that this might lead to, and the consequence for intensifying the problem of chokes, is a matter of great concern.
We also harbour concerns about TACs which are based on estimates of partial mortality rates (partial F, where a mortality rate for part of a fleet exploiting a stock is estimated)
We had assumed that quota uplifts would be fed through as overall TAC recommendations from ICES and therefore allocated on the basis of relative stability allocation keys. However, if a partial F is used, will the part of the fleet continuing to discard receive its relative stability share? Or will an adjustment be made before allocation to the member states and if so on what basis?
It will be important to have clarity on this point before considering internal UK quota distribution of uplift.
Internal distribution of uplift
FQA Default: We have in the UK a system of fixed quota allocations that is well embedded and understood and reflects historic usage, along with past FQA transactions between different quota holders.
Despite frictions at the margins, there is a general view within the industry that this arrangement works well and should be the basis for the allocation of quotas in 2016 and beyond, including quota uplifts associated with the transition from TACs based on landings to TACs based on catches.
On the other hand, we are not insensible to the circumstances in which allocation on a FQA basis could leave a fleet component which previously discarded heavily, exposed to a choke stock with no quota uplift.
This is by no means straightforward, as using some kind of value judgement about allocating quota uplift to a high discarding component of the fleet, runs the risk of penalising those who in the past have done most to reduce their discards, and rewarding those who have done the least.
There is a further perspective which argues that whoever are the winners or losers’ if uplift quota is allocated on a FQA basis, the uplift increases the quota liquidity in the system overall.
Against this background, and potentially divisive issue, we consider that FQAs should be the default basis for uplift allocation but that there is scope for a departure from this approach on a case-by-case basis after extensive and detailed consultation with the industry.
Relative Stability and Quota Flexibility
The landings obligation will put great strain on the existing ways of managing quota in the UK as the flexibility provided by the ability to discard unwanted catch is removed. All quota species (unless a specific exemption applies) must be retained on board and fish above and below the minimum conservation reference sizes must be stored separately. Against this background, it will be important to maximise quota flexibility internationally and domestically. At EU level, whilst it will be important to respect relative stability, it will also be important to find ways to ensure optimal uptake of quotas at EU level. As the landings obligation is progressively applied it will be necessary to explore how this can be achieved. Given the seriousness of some potential chokes these discussions should be held sooner rather than later.
Domestically, it will be important to streamline the quota transfer arrangements to facilitate the movement of small quantities of quota and FQAs between groups and vessels.
It will also be necessary to examine how quota management through pool arrangement will have to change to be compatible with the landings obligation.
The consultation paper on the landings obligation says nothing with regard to the changes to the UK licensing arrangements that have been necessary to accommodate the landings obligation. This was dealt with in a separate consultation. Amalgamating licence categories A, B and C is necessary because vessels holding categories B and C licences are not allowed to retain on board a number of regulated species and are therefore obliged to land them. The issue here is that if these vessels are now obliged to land all catches of quota species, where will that quota come from. If these vessels by default find themselves in the non-sector, vessels currently operation in the non-sector will see their monthly allocations reduced.
Equally, we are at a loss to understand how licence capping could work within the context of a landing obligation. At present a vessel with a caped licence is obliged to discard species for which he holds no quota. Under landings obligation such a vessel would be choked at a very early stage. This was not the intention of capping but would be the unintended consequence.
It will be very important to have joined up government thinking here.
Whatever the undoubted downsides of discards, in terms of wasted resource and adverse public perceptions, discarding provided a degree of flexibility that enabled a system of TACs and quotas that is based on relative stability allocation keys, to function in the context of mixed, multi-species, fisheries. With the removal of this lubrication, we can expect that as the landings obligation is progressively implemented, frictions will appear in the form of choke stocks.
The Regulation provides some scope for quota flexibility to address this. However, we will not know until the landings obligation is in force whether, in aggregate, these flexibilities will be sufficient to deal with the scale of the problem. To enable the fleets to have any prospect of maintaining their viability within a landings obligation it will be necessary to maximise the flexibility without losing control of fishing mortality. This is likely to be a tricky balancing act.
Inter-annual banking and borrowing of quotas
We strongly support effective and proportionate borrowing and banking arrangements. The UK rules in this area have become opaque and should be refreshed prior to the implementation of the landings obligation. We advocate a Defra/MMO meeting to address these issues and bring clarity to the arrangements.
Whilst we would reiterate the need for quota flexibility, it is far from clear to us how inter-species flexibility would work in practice.
Clearly agreed exchange rates are going to be at the heart of the arrangements, but the implications of getting the inter-species flexibility wrong are serious. This is another area in which we think that clarity is required and is currently absent.
Fish that have survived return to the sea have the potential to contribute to the biomass of that species, which would otherwise be wasted if brought ashore. Unlike the gadoid species, flatfish, elasmobranches and nephrops all appear to have characteristics that would potentially allow survival after capture on return to the sea, depending on treatment of catch on individual vessels. These species in our view should therefore be considered candidate species for high survival exemptions.
It is clear that the pilots, trials and research work on this issue will not provide comprehensive, definitive data by the time discard plans must be submitted, although they will give important pointers.
It would be ludicrous to include a species under the landings obligation, with a consequent increase in mortality, creation of shore infrastructures, additional costs on industry, only to subsequently grant that species a high survival exemption. For this reason we consider that high survival exemptions should be granted if there are reasonable indications in the science that including them in the landings obligation will lead to an increase in mortality. The option remains to remove that exemption in the future if the science points in the opposite direction.
ICES has established a set of guidelines to inform how survival experiments should be undertaken to achieve robust and reliable results. The difficulty is that these guidelines have become available only when the landings obligation is imminent. Pragmatic decisions on high survival exemptions will therefore have to be made on the basis of “the best available science.”
Documentation of Catches; Monitoring and Enforcement
Clearly, under the landings obligation, documentation of catches will play a very important part in the future of fisheries management. ICES stock assessment for regulated species will be based on landings, plus estimates of discards under various exemptions. Obviously, the more comprehensive the data, the stronger will be the assessment.
On the other hand, documentation represents an administrative burden on masters and crews, during times when conditions on deck or in the wheelhouse may be difficult, and other preoccupations, like the safety of the vessel, may be uppermost.
It is clear also that there is a potential trade off to be made in which prescriptive micro-management can be reduced when the authorities are confident that the vessel is compliant with the rules – full documentation of catches is a way in which that confidence can be provided.
All this points to the need for two essential ingredients:
- Proportionality: Catch and discard monitoring should be robust but should not present the vessel with an unreasonable burden
- Cooperation: The provision of complete, accurate catch data is more likely to be forthcoming from vessels in which the fishermen understand its relevance and agree with the objectives
These are likely to be best achieved through a risk-based approach, through which reporting requirements, monitoring and enforcement assets are deployed where there is a risk of unrecorded discards on a scale that is significant. Nothing is to be achieved through an absolutist and rigid approach to documenting discards. Everything is to be gained through a pragmatic, workable, approach which earns the respect of skippers.
Ten years of Fisheries Science Partnerships should be enough to persuade any doubters of the benefits of mutual respect and cooperation; and we consider that this approach should be imported into the implementation of the landings obligation. The European co-legislators may have dealt the fishing industry a lousy hand but a spirit of cooperation and pragmatism had delivered a workable discard ban in Norway and we see no reason why it should not do the same in our waters.
On the mechanics of monitoring catch:
- The 50kg exemption for catches per trip for catches of any regulated species below that amount is an important de Minimis provision that makes sense and should be retained
- It is clear that what monitoring and enforcement regime is appropriate for one class of vessel may not be appropriate for another, whether that is based on the scale of the catch, the vulnerability of the stock, or the respective costs and earnings ratio
Finally, it is worth taking a look at the Norwegian discard ban in terms of striking a balance between enforcement and a workable, practical landings obligation.
Explicit provision has been made within the EMFF to help the fishing industry make the transition to the landings obligation. Our experience with accessing EFF funds makes us concerned about whether EMFF will perform the role assigned to it in implementing the landings obligation. It would be timely therefore for a fundamental review of the delivery mechanisms within the MMO to remove obstacles that could lead to sub-optimal outcomes.
Conclusion: Direction, Diversity and Delivery
Generally, there is no legislative silver bullet for multi-faceted problems which have ecological/biological, economic and social dimensions. Experience tells us that complex problems do not usually easily yield to blunt measures; the problem rather changes shape and reappears in a different form. Fisheries management in the Atlantic component of the CFP has been dominated for the last decade and a half by the EU Cod Recovery and Management Plans. Scientific evaluation in STECF and ICES) has confirmed that this suite of measures undermined selectivity measures, created perverse incentives, increased industry costs and generated very high discards of mature cod. We need to learn from that experience.
We have already explained that extensive progress had been made in reducing discards, as part of a suite of measures implemented from the mid to late 1990s, to reduce fishing mortality and put fishing in our waters on a sustainable footing. The UK fishing industry was moving in the right direction, steadily and progressively, reducing discards, fishery by fishery, whilst also maintaining steady progress in reducing fishing mortality across all the main species groups.
The EU landings obligation has the capacity to jeopardise that progress.
A further lesson learned over the last 20 years relates to the limitations of a top-down, command and control approach to European fisheries. The CFP Reform Green Paper fully recognised the need to decentralise policy formulation in European fisheries and move away from prescriptive micromanagement towards a focus on outcomes and results – leaving detailed implementation to those with a closer understanding of individual fisheries. It is ironic therefore that the CFP reform which gave legal form to at least some of those aspirations also adopted an unnecessary and ultimately highly damaging prescriptive approach to aspects the landings obligation.
There is no single solution. In the same way that the reasons for discarding are diverse, so the solutions fishery by fishery will be diverse – attempts to shoehorn them into management definitions will generate the same kind of perverse outcomes seen in the cod management plans.
The classic European error in fisheries has been to focus on the legislation and not the delivery. In a sense this is understandable because the Commission and European Parliament are not directly responsible for implementing the measures they propose and adopt. However, without effective delivery, legislative measures remain aspirational.