Original publication: September 2015
Authors: Ocean Governance Consulting: Christopher Hedley; Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science: Tom Catchpole, Ana Ribeiro Santos
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The Landing Obligation and its Implications on the Control of Fisheries

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The ‘new CFP basic Regulation’ (European Parliament and Council Reg. No.1380/2013) establishes a phased introduction of a landing obligation (also known as the discard ban) under which catches of regulated species (principally fish which are subject to catch limits, or in the Mediterranean, minimum sizes) must be landed and counted against quotas of each Member State. The landing obligation starts on 1 January 2015 for pelagic fisheries, and introduces other fisheries through to 1 January 2019. The introduction of the landing obligation to land all catches was one of the most significant reform elements in the new CFP, and represents a fundamental shift in the management approach to EU fisheries as quotas now control what is caught at sea, rather than what is landed onshore.

Under Article 15(11) of the new CFP basic Regulation, which deals with the landing obligation, use is restricted to purposes other than direct human consumption, including fish meal, fish oil, pet food, food additives, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The expectation is that the landing requirement combined with the restriction to non-human consumption purposes will encourage fishers to internalise the costs of catching unwanted fish and motivate them to avoid unwanted catch, for example by altering their fishing practices. However, these measures can only go so far and unwanted catches will inevitably continue to occur. Consequently, Member States need to address the problem of how to manage these unwanted catches and how to control them once they have arrived in port.


The study addresses two key aspects of the landing obligation. The first focuses on problems generated by the new rules on ports related to the landing of juvenile fish not intended for human consumption. The second focuses on the control and enforcement side of this new rule regarding the landing obligation.

Problems related to landing obligation of juveniles

The study aims to estimate, by revising existing scientific data and studies on landing obligation, the volume of unwanted catches produced by the main fisheries and to assess which ports are likely to be affected. It will also analyse the potential final destinations of these catches and the needs for Member States to adapt to potential new markets for non-human consumption. It will analyse how this new provision can encourage fishermen to direct their fishing operations for immature fish for those potential new markets, and how to avoid unwanted fisheries targeting immature fish.

Control of the landing obligation:

The second part of the study focuses on what changes might be needed to adapt the existing regulations on control and technical measures (taking account also of the adaptations proposed in the so-called “Omnibus Regulation”). It will review the potential approaches and measures that Member States might use to improve control of the landing obligation. It will identify new methods and technologies which can play a positive role in the implementation of the reform in terms of ensuring simplification and resource maximization, taking stock of innovative control measures already in place around the world.

Based on these analyses, the study seeks to make substantiated recommendations on the way the European Parliament can help Member States and the Commission move forward on the implementation of the landing obligation.

Main elements of the study
  1. High-levels of discards have been considered an issue in European and global fisheries for many years. Although discards globally are recognised to be substantial, there are no recent reliable estimates. They have previously been estimated to be as much as 33% of global marine catch in commercial fisheries. Discards vary throughout EU fisheries – in some cases representing more than 60% of the catch, while in other cases – including pelagic fisheries – being very low.
  2. The need to reduce discards in European fisheries has long been recognised, and the elimination of discarding and unwanted catches was identified as one of the main objectives under the 2012 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. In the new CFP basic Regulation (adopted in 2013), the EU introduced new rules on discards including:
    – a “landing obligation” under which all catches of regulated species must be landed and counted against quotas of each Member State; and

    – a requirement that catch of species subject to the landing obligation below a minimum conservation reference size be restricted to purposes other than direct human consumption.
  3. The new obligation was introduced on 1 January 2015 for small and large pelagic and industrial fisheries and some Baltic Sea fisheries and will be introduced for various other fisheries according to a specific schedule ending on 1 January 2019.
  4. A preliminary question underlying the impact of the landing obligation and the related requirements concerns estimation of the volume of unwanted catches produced by the fisheries affected by the new rules. Under the rules, only bycatch [or: formerly discarded fish] under the minimum landing size will have to come ashore and put to the non-human consumption market; there will be no unwanted over-quota fish. Existing catch data sources do not provide the proportion of undersized fish in the discarded component of the catch, so a specific methodology was therefore developed in order to develop the estimates required.
  5. The overall discard rates (based on all regulated species and including over-quota (large fish) and under minimum landing size discards (uMLS) (small fish) varied between 1% in gears such as pots and traps, dredges and longlines and 60%-70% for beam and otter trawlers. The gears with highest mean discard rates were the beam and the otter trawlers, with 34% and 25% discard rates across all countries.
  6. Estimations indicated that 11% (around 44,000 tonnes) of the total catches (excluding pelagic species) were of fish under minimum landing size, across all the countries from which data were available. These estimations assume that there are no changes in fishing behaviour and gear selectivity and full compliance with the landing obligation. Data showed that the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France and Belgium are the countries that potentially will be most affected with landings for non-human markets, while the gears with the highest catches of under sized fish were the beam and the otter trawlers, with 15% and 10% of catches were undersized, respectively.
  7. Based on a demersal landing estimation (1.4 million tonnes/year) and on the proportion of undersized fish (4%), the total volume of undersized fish being landed in the European ports could be estimated at 56,000 tonnes.
  8. The introduction of the landing obligation generates a number of specific practical considerations for ports, and it is helpful to develop an assessment of the key ports likely to be affected by the new regulations, and reviews their readiness (in terms of infrastructure and services) to handle the new landings. Among the challenges to be addressed by ports are the need to ensure that the equipment, infrastructure and logistics are sufficient to deal not only with an increase in landings, but also landings subject to separate regulatory conditions and destined for separate markets
  9. Based on the proportion of historical landings, the landings of undersized fish for the non- human consumption market will be concentrated in a few main ports. There will also be many small ports where small quantities will be landed, however, collectively these ports could also receive large quantities of undersized discards. In larger ports, there are some existing arrangements for onshore processing of non-human consumption fish (predominantly the collection of fish by-products for fishmeal production) but for the collection of shellfish by-products, these facilities currently appear much more limited. There is little evidence available on the ability for smaller ports to handle fish for the non-human consumption market. It is assumed that there is currently little infrastructure at these ports to support the landing of this material.
  10. Potentially one of the most challenging impacts of the landing obligation is the need to find uses for the unwanted catches. The combined effect of the requirements to land fish and to restrict use for non-human consumption is to increase the supply of fish (of different species) for the non-human consumption market. There are already some market opportunities for these catches, but it is clear that new markets will need to be developed if the supply is to be fully utilized. This presents some market opportunities and some market challenges.
  11. While there are potential new uses, potential new markets and potential for existing market expansion for the newly landed fish (and evidence of commercial and investment interest in these opportunities) there are some challenges for commercial development. For example, the onward infrastructure and logistics to handle this material onshore may not exist in every location or might be ineffectively or inefficiently set up towards using these fish. There may need to be adaptations both in port and in business organisation. Most significantly, however, the commercial / investment environment is difficult. Currently, it is difficult to estimate both the level of supply of these fish (and the location of that supply) and the demand (since some of the markets are new). Moreover, since the overriding objective of the new discard rules is to reduce unwanted catches as far as possible, and since it is anticipated that unwanted catches will be reduced – for example through enhancements in fishing gear selectivity and changing fishing patterns and behaviour – the supply of this fish has the potential to decrease over time.
  12. One of the key challenges implicit in the landing obligation is the need to consider and develop regulatory and enforcement adaptations. The implementation, monitoring and control of the landing obligation each generate new challenges. In particular, the focus of monitoring and control shifts from landing to activities at sea.
  13. In this context, there is much focus on electronic technologies (electronic reporting and electronic monitoring systems) which represent a potentially cost-effective means to widen observation of activities at sea, and several countries have begin to develop and implement EM systems.
  14. European trials of REM technologies in pelagic fisheries illustrate both (1) very strong potential to use CCTV-based REM to monitor fishing vessels and (2) potential cost savings in the long-term for both fishing vessels and public administration (although initial set-up costs are high). There is more doubt, however, about the capacities of REM to monitor more complex fisheries effectively. Trials in a mixed bottom-trawl fishery exposed limitations, for example in the ability to distinguish small numbers of cod in catches.
  15. In addition to REM, consideration must be given to adapting other aspects of the regulatory and enforcement approach. Complementary enforcement measures such as using catch composition comparisons based on a reference fleet are demonstrating advantages in supplementing scientific, management and MCS data. Existing MCS methodologies, such as VMS and on-board observer programmes, will continue to be needed but will need to be adapted to integrate with any new regulatory and enforcement measures.
  16. Attention must also be given to adapting and developing technical measures. Key technical measures to avoid bycatch and discarding include spatio-temporal management and flexible development of more effective gear technologies and methods.
  17. Social and behavioural impacts are often under-estimated in fisheries management, and frequently inadequately addressed. It is anticipated the new discard rules will influence the decisions made by fishers about where, when and how to fish and that they will be motivated to avoid catching low value fish.
  18. The motivation to change selectivity is based on three assumptions: (1) there is an economic advantage to avoid small and juvenile fish; (2) fishers have the ability to change selectivity; and (3) there is effective enforcement and control. Regarding (1), the relatively low value of fish for non-human consumption markets means it is unlikely that there will be incentive for fishers to target more of the fish currently discarded, meaning in turn that there will be an economic advantage to avoid small and juvenile fish. Regarding (2), it is recognized that fishers in general do have the ability to change selectivity and trials in European fisheries are generating positive results. Regarding (3), instrumental incentives including economic gains and deterrence are crucial for the behaviour of fishers. Fishers’ acceptance of regulations is influenced by whether the implementation effects are considered fair, whether the imposed regulations are perceived as meaningful and whether there is compatibility between the regulation and the traditional fishing patterns and practices.
  19. There is a risk that the measures will stimulate new black market trade, given that catches could reach higher prices on human consumption black markets than non-human consumption markets. It is also recognised that the landing obligation may facilitate illegal trade because it will be usual to transport undersized specimens in the hold (whereas previously, such fish had to be discarded and could not be brought to land with risk of detection at sea).

Recommendation 1 (Remote electronic monitoring trials). Remote electronic monitoring is demonstrating sufficient potential to be pursued more extensively. In the short-term, further trials should be developed and implemented and analysis made of outstanding technical and governance issues. These should continue to be industry-led and reward based. Proposals at the regional level should be developed for other reward-based schemes. Funding in support of these initiatives should be made available through the EMFF.

Recommendation 2 (Remote electronic monitoring Regulation). Without displacing the option to develop specific REM plans at the regional or fishery level, the European Commission should develop a proposal for a Regulation on a governance and legal framework for REM. The Regulation should clarify the distribution of responsibilities between the scientific and control institutions to ensure adequate quality proofing and use of the data (including, for example, storage and access to data, legal obligation to delete videos, choice of hauls to be monitored, estimation methods, coupling of FDF data with e-log information, etc.) and the role and use of REM data in enforcement processes.

Recommendation 3 (Reference fleet). Using reference fleet (catch composition comparisons) could supplement remote electronic monitory systems, as well as provide additional data for scientific assessment and management decision-making. European level rules would need to be developed concerning matters such as harmonised management approaches and enforcement and legal implications of comparisons in individual cases, but specific fishery schemes could be developed at the regional level.

Recommendation 4 (Data needs). Data needs in support of the landing obligation need to be fully assessed. A specific short to medium term strategy is needed to permit the full use of control and monitoring tools applicable to the enforcement of the landing obligation, taking into account the development and compilation of data necessary for their implementation, capacity building for industry and administrations in the use of new technologies and the development of the technical infrastructure.

Recommendation 5 (Accompanying measures). Industry needs to play a leading role in developing and trialling new technical and management measures to accompany enforcement efforts, and this needs to be facilitated though co-management approaches. Industry schemes to reward vessels that are successful in increasing selectivity should be developed.

Recommendation 6 (Gear selectivity). The development and implementation of technical measures needs to accommodate a culture shift, based on a flexible framework designed to ensure better management, rewarding good practices and relying less on detailed and prescriptive technical rules. Fishing gear and method adaptations should be developed within the regional framework, in close cooperation with industry. Thus, while basic or default requirements can be set at European level, there should be the option to override these at regional and specific fishery level.

Recommendation 7 (Spatio-temporal closures). Wider use should be used of spatio-temporal closures and a technical measure. There is scope to develop a Europe-wide regulation setting out basic requirements to change the fishing ground (move-on) when the fishing operation begins to contravene the regulations, for example whenever bycatch limits or the permitted intermixture of undersized fish have been exceeded. At the same time, regional planning and regional schemes could be developed which determine the practical modalities of the scheme and create information sharing platforms that would enable move-on decisions to be made and communicated quickly.

Recommendation 8 (Quota and discarding flexibilities). In the medium to long-term, strategies and proposals should be developed to utilise the quota and discarding flexibilities in Article 15 of the CFP. In the short-term, the focus should be on further research and on developing pilot projects (e.g. pilot projects aimed at increasing the survival rates).

Recommendation 9 (Utilisation of landed bycatch). In the short-term, close cooperation between industry and the public sector is needed to minimise uncertainties that act as a constraint to investment. Governments and sector leaders need to encourage the necessary parties to initiate collaborative pilot projects relating to logistics and marketing opportunities, including supporting feasibility studies and pilot projects where there is a need. Financial support (including through the EMFF) should be provided to such schemes.

Recommendation 10 (Utilisation of landed bycatch). The long-term efficacy of the marketing rules needs to be kept under close scrutiny. The possibility should also exist in future evaluations, for incentive-based systems to be developed at the regional level and for different schemes to be developed in different regions, or even within the same region but for different fisheries/products – this would enable successful markets to continue, but provide alternatives where the measure was not working.

Recommendation 11 (Adapting the regulatory approach). Guidelines (and, if necessary, regulatory requirements or inter-institutional agreements) need to be introduced on the consultation process and requirements for regional discard plans.

Recommendation 12 (Adapting the regulatory approach). In the longer-term, more extensive regional co-management needs to be developed. This needs to be set out in a specific Regulation, dealing with the distribution and delegation of roles, responsibilities and decision-making authority and the oversight mechanism for the European Commission.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563-381

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