Introduced under EU legislation as part of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the landing obligation – also known as Europe’s discard ban – came into force on 1 January 2015 for those fishermen that target pelagic quota species such as herring and mackerel.
Its implementation was the first phase of a wider discard ban that will be duly rolled out to the bloc’s demersal fisheries in 2016, with a view to being fully implemented across all total allowable catch (TAC) and quota species by 2019.
With few exceptions, all catches of pelagic and industrial quota species now have to be landed and counted against quota, along with accidental or undersized catches of demersal species such as cod and haddock. Undersized fish can be used for purposes other than for direct human consumption, including bait, fishmeal, fish oil, pet food, food additives, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
The European Commission believes the landing obligation will lead to more reliable data on fish stocks, support better management and improve resource efficiency.
After more than three years of protracted negotiations, the new CFP was approved in December 2013 and took effect on 1 January 2014. The policy is primarily tasked with returning European fish stocks to sustainable levels and putting an end to wasteful fishing practices, including discarding unwanted fish at sea.
To help achieve this, the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) – the main financial instrument to achieve the CFP reforms – will support investments in more selective fishing gear and equipment to facilitate handling, landing and storage of unwanted catches.
The EMFF was approved by the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission last year.
Several EU fishing leaders and key stakeholders have hailed the new regulations as the most dramatic change that Europe’s fishing industry has seen in decades. The rules have also been welcomed by restaurants, retailers and consumers throughout Europe as it means that EU-caught seafood is taking another important step towards sustainability.
While most European fishermen have long voiced their discomfort at having to discard perfectly good fishery products, they were compelled to do so or face serious penalties under the rules of the previous and much maligned CFP.
The Commission estimates that under the previous CFP, as much as 23 per cent of the total wild catch was being discarded each year. But in addition to the waste of valuable protein, particularly of juvenile fish, it is also widely accepted that discarding alters food webs by supplying increased levels of food to scavenging organisms on the sea floor, and to sea birds.
Not surprisingly, the fishing industry is a strong supporter of the new obligation, and recognises that compliance is good for its future and for the overall sustainability and viability of the sector. However, there is a common belief there is a number of important issues that need to be addressed before it can be implemented industry-wide. In particular, it is expected to be considerably harder for those fishermen that target mixed fisheries to cope with the rules than it is in the pelagic sector. This is because pelagic fishing operations have relatively low discard rates due to the extensive shoaling nature of the fish.
While careful steps have been made by fisheries managers to reduce the level of discards in the demersal sector over the past few years, including using more selective gears to avoid the capture of untargeted and undersized species, the industry is calling on the rule makers to ensure that when determining the sector’s much-awaited guidelines for 2016 and beyond, that the realities of the fishing businesses are taken fully into account and that the new regulations will be workable for all.