Between 2002 and 2012 the English fleet reduced its discards by around 50%. This figure illustrates the point that substantial progress was already being made to reduce discards in many fleets across the EU before the political clamour for a “discard ban” led to the current EU landings obligation.
This evidence did not appear in the Fish Fight campaign and NFFO advised Hugh on BBC Newsnight to show that discards in our fisheries were not a static or growing problem but were in fact, being steadily reduced.
Nonetheless, the landings obligation is a political and legal reality and, despite misgivings, the fishing industry, fisheries managers, fisheries scientists, and control authorities, have little option but to find ways to meet the new requirements.
There is no doubt, however, that we face a difficult transitional period.
Fishing vessels have to be primarily concerned about the economic viability of their operations under the new regime. The industry, managers and scientists are all concerned to ensure that the ban will not lead to losing the remarkable progress that has been made in reducing fishing mortality and rebuilding fish stocks over the last decade.
The dominant feature in current discussions is one of uncertainty about how the landings obligation will work in practice. This uncertainty extends to:
- How quickly and how completely EU rules which currently require vessels to discard will be removed
- The sequence and extent of quota uplifts to cover landings that would previously have been discarded
- How exemptions for species with high survival rates will be applied
- The way in which inter-annual and inter-species quota flexibility will work
- For joint stocks, the attitude of Norway to the EU discard ban which contrasts dramatically with the incremental and pragmatic regime operated by the Norwegians
- How discard plans and the de minimis will work in practice
- The role of regional cooperation in implementing management plans or discard plans
- The extent that the Commission will still seek to exert control from the centre, despite commitments to end top-down management
- How a discard ban can be monitored and controlled in a reasonable and proportionate way
There is little doubt that the shift to require vessels to land all quantities of quota species (which are then counted against their quotas) marks a huge change to the way that the Common Fisheries Policy has been applied to date and its repercussions will be widely felt.
The NFFO (and the Advisory Councils) are already heavily involved in working to shape the incoming regime to take account the practical realities faced by fishermen and fisheries managers. Time will tell whether after a difficult transitional period, our efforts will deliver a reasonable and workable system; or whether the rush to meet an ill-considered political imperative will have led to an unholy mess.
NFFO Chief Executive Barrie Deas debating the discard ban with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on Newsnight