European Impasse Generates Technical Conservation Fears

30th October 2017 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

There are deep concerns within the fishing industry that an impasse between the European member states and EU Parliament over technical conservation rules, will leave fishermen in the wheelhouse, or on the deck, in an impossible position of having to obey two conflicting rules. This is potentially important for our fleets in the UK, because constraints on Parliamentary time in Westminster could mean that EU technical conservation rules retained from the CFP could be with us for some time after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

European Impasse Generates Technical Conservation Fears

The Commission has proposed the replacement of the old technical rules (EC 850/98) with a framework that provides for member states to develop their own technical rules through regional policies (e.g. North Sea or Western Waters), with baselines round about the present levels as a baseline safeguard.

Apart from being an example of the discredited top-down prescriptive approach to fisheries legislation, regulation 850/98 had once central flaw which made change absolutely necessary: its catch composition rules made it obligatory for fishermen to discard fish caught outside predefined catch composition percentages (e.g. 5% cod). This approach was and is therefore completely incompatible with the landings obligation, where all quota species must be landed.

In going through the co-decision process, the Commission’s proposal was amended by the Council of Ministers to reintroduce some elements of the catch composition rules; and it is this version that is now under consideration by the European Parliament. Some 733 amendments have been proposed by MEPs, most of whom would not be able to tell a cod-end from a tethered sheep.

It seems increasingly likely that that the European Parliament will follow the Council approach and reintroduce catch composition rules. This would leave the fishing industry facing a continuation of the complex mesh size and catch composition rules and there will be no real change from the current mess. In other words, the vessel’s master would be legally obliged to both discard and retain fish caught outside the catch composition percentages.


Leaving fishing vessels caught between two contradictory rules is clearly unacceptable. The possible solutions are:

  • Revert to the Commission’s proposal which had quantitative targets for species but not catch composition rules at vessel level; they applied rather at the fishery level
  • Leave the question of how to define smaller mesh sizes entirely to the member states at regional level, thus avoiding requiring catch compositions in the European level legislation.

Whatever solution is chosen, we are adamant: skippers must not be placed in the situation of having to meet contradictory legal requirements.