Path clear to remove quotas for Dab and Flounder: Only a first step says the NFFO

13th March 2017 in TACs and Quotas

ICES has replied to a special request from the European Commission asking its opinion on whether it would be safe to remove the TAC for North Sea Dab and Flounder.

Path clear to remove quotas for Dab and Flounder: Only a first step says the NFFO

ICES advises that the risk of having no catch limits for the dab and flounder stocks is currently considered to be low and not inconsistent with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The advice is valid as long as dab and flounder remain largely bycatch species, with the main fleets catching dab and flounder continuing to fish the target species (plaice and sole) sustainably within the FMSY ranges provided by ICES.

ICES has now indicated that as the TAC does not constrain mortality on these two species, and fishing mortality on the main target species (plaice and sole) is already low, and within safe prescribed biological limits, the TAC could be safely removed without contravening the CFP’s self-imposed rules on TAC setting.

It must now be highly likely that this TAC will not appear in the Commission’s proposal for TACs and Quotas in 2018. This is an important development and should be the start of a shift to removing TACs from other stocks where they serve no purpose but clog up the advisory system and make implementing the landings obligation all but impossible.

The NFFO has argued that streamlining the TAC system and removing those TACs on secondary species that serve no purpose, should be an urgent priority as we move towards the full implementation of the landings obligation. Removing TAC status does not mean abrogating responsibility for the safe management of species of secondary commercial importance. They will continue to be monitored in regular surveys and there is an option to escalate monitoring and apply targeted remedial measures if negative signals from the stock are detected. But with this piece of scientific advice and the consequences that follow, the era of blindly applying TACs that serve no purpose is now on notice to quit. This is part of a ground clearing exercise that, logically, should have been undertaken before the start of phased implementation of the landing obligation began.

CFP Requirements and the Landing Obligation

Removing the TAC for dab and flounder will be a very welcome and necessary step. But it won't be enough. We are sleepwalking into a crisis in 2019 in the mixed fisheries when the landing obligation is extended to all regulated species. It is increasingly obvious to the member states concerned, as well as the advisory councils and the Commission, that that existing tool box provided in the legislation will be inadequate to mitigate against numerous and serious chokes that are expected to arise. The removal of the TAC for dab and flounder in 2018 will be the first decisive step to avoid the economic chaos and social dislocation that will accompany multiple chokes# and therefore premature fisheries closures. This first step is very welcome but in itself it will not be nearly enough. Many more steps are required.

This Federation has already drawn attention to the many legislative obstacles that remain within the CFP to the full implementation of the landings obligation in 2019. The bald fact is that the necessary groundwork has yet to be done to accommodate the landings obligation and to reconcile those EU requirements which pull in different directions. This mess is a direct result of the way that the landings obligation was legislated for in the middle of a full-scale and wholly artificial moral panic in 2013. Thank you, Hugh and Maria.

A few examples:

  • The technical conservation regulation is currently under revision and about to enter the tortuous co-decision process; but it remains to be seen whether once all the co-legislators have had their say, it will be compatible with the landing obligation. The flexibility for vessels to reduce unwanted catch by adapting their gear is seriously constrained under the existing technical rules.
  • The timetable towards MSY for all stocks by 2020 is not consistent with implementing the landings obligation on a small but not insignificant number of stocks
  • Zero TACs are incompatible with the full implementation of the landings obligation; no satisfactory solution has yet been found for this problem. Vessels can't be prohibited from both discarding and retaining fish caught in their nets.
  • Relative Stability quota shares provide a major obstacle to the implementation of the landings obligation and it is unlikely that the system of international quota swaps will be capable of moving quota to where it is needed to cover urgent quota shortages
  • Flexible TAC setting rules within multi-annual plans that would help to ease the implementation of the landings obligation, are not yet in place for the North Sea or North Western waters

The bottom line is that it is fundamentally unreasonable to oblige fishing vessels to meet requirements that pull in opposite directions. Of course, all this should have been sorted out before parachuting the landings obligation into European legislation but it wasn't. But that is another story…

Brexit and the Discard Ban

One of the few concrete indications that UK ministers have given about the shape of the management regime that will apply in UK waters after Britain leaves the EU, is that the principle that landings obligation should be retained. In light of this it would be short-sighted for us in the UK to relax back in the belief that none of this will apply to us. By shedding the yoke of centralised EU control, there should be opportunities to do things differently within the UK fisheries management regime; but we would be deluding ourselves if we think that our ministers would abandon policies that they have publicly argued for whilst the UK was part of the EU. Solutions for chokes will therefore be required in the UK fisheries as well as the residual EU waters.

Sign of things to come

The removal of the TAC for Dab and Flounder is therefore of great significance, not just as a belated attempt by the EU to accommodate the landings obligation but as a part of a shift towards a workable discard ban and a generally more flexible and rational system of fisheries management. The critical question is whether all the necessary changes will be made in time.


It has not escaped notice that Norway, which has operated a reasonably successful discard ban since the mid-80s, does so on the basis of many fewer individual TACs than the EU. Other aspects in the Norwegian regime have also been adapted to make their approach a workable one. Not everything the Norwegians do will be relevant for our generally more complex fisheries but where there are lessons they should be learnt.

# Chokes occur when fishing vessels are legally obliged to land all quota species and where the exhaustion of quota of one species in a mixed fishery of up to 25 species will oblige that vessel, or whole fleet, to tie up for the rest of the year.