Original publication: April 2018
Authors: BIM, Ireland: Dominic RIHAN
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2IoxlUo
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Landing Obligation and Choke Species in Multispecies and Mixed Fisheries - The North Western Waters

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The obligation to land all species (i.e. “the landing obligation”) in all fisheries introduced by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which progressively bans discarding, has led Member States to revise their approach to fisheries management. This is especially the case in multispecies and mixed fisheries impacted by the landing obligation. This new scenario on the one hand creates an incentive to develop more selective gears and reduce unwanted catches; while on the other hand, the lack of quota for some species caught in mixed fisheries will force the early closure of some fisheries i.e., the “choke effect”.

The issue of choke species has been highlighted by Member States and the Advisory Councils as the biggest single problem in implementing the landing obligation. A number of analyses have been carried out by Member States and the Advisory Councils to identify potential choke species in the different sea basins and also to find possible solutions where existing tools and provisions available in the CFP are not sufficient to mitigate against the risk of fisheries being choked.

In the North Western waters (NWW), extensive work has been completed by the NWW Regional Group of Member States and the North Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC) on the solutions to choke species in this sea basin. This has involved identifying the potential chokes by Member State, preparing case studies to analysis the problems in specific fisheries or areas, as well as considering a range of tools outside of those available in the CFP to mitigate the problem. As an extension of this work, the NWWAC has developed a Choke Mitigation Tool (CMT) which potentially provides a tool for analysis of potential choke situations for key stocks in NWW.


The aim of this study is to describe and assess the real problem of multispecies and mixed fisheries at regional level, in the current situation and under new scenarios (e.g. EU 27 and a new CFP): Identify choke species that have the potential to limit catches; and finally assess whether the CFP contains effective and sufficient tools to deal with such issues and to allow implementation of the landing obligation. This reports looks at the issues within North Western Waters.


The report is structured into four major sections: Chapter 1 describes the fisheries in the North Western Waters. The NWW is split into four regions: Celtic Sea; Eastern and Western Channel; Irish Sea; and the West of Scotland and Rockall. The fisheries in the NWW are numerous and complex with many multiple species being caught in the same fisheries, making implementing the landing obligation extremely challenging. In the Celtic Sea (VIIb,c and f-k) the predominate gears are trawl (TR1 and TR2) and beam trawls (BT2). According to available catch data these fisheries have high discard rates of gadoid species (e.g. cod, haddock and whiting) as well as plaice. The fisheries in the Eastern and Western Channel (VIId and e) are equally complex, targeting a wide range of quota and non-quota species. The predominant gears used are trawl and beam trawls with mesh size of less than 100mm. Similar to the Celtic Sea, based on ICES and STECF data, these fisheries have high discard rates for a range of species (e.g. haddock, whiting and plaice). There are much fewer fisheries in the Irish Sea (VIIa) reflecting the decline in fishing effort that has been observed in recent years. The main fisheries are a trawl fishery for Nephrops and mixed demersal fisheries targeting haddock and skates and rays. Discarding of whiting is high in the Nephrops fishery. The other fisheries have much lower discards. The predominant fisheries in the West of Scotland are trawl and seine fisheries targeting mixed gadoids, mixed demersal species and Nephrops. Discards are much lower in the mixed gadoid and mixed demersal fisheries although there are significant discards of cod which is subject to a zero TAC at present. Discard rates for haddock and whiting are very high in the Nephrops fishery. In this sea basin there are also several fisheries centred around Rockall in Area VIb – directed trawl fisheries for haddock and also mixed demersal trawl fisheries targeting anglerfish, megrim and witch. Discard rates in these fisheries are relatively low.

Chapters two to seven describe the results of the choke species analysis carried out by the North Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC) and the NWW Regional Group of Members States using the Choke Mitigation tool (CMT). A total of thirty-five stocks were assessed using the CMT. Each stock was classified as a “high”, “moderate” or “low” risk taken as a whole across Member States. The main conclusions from the CMT analysis were:

  • The choke mitigation tool has proven extremely useful in identifying and evaluating the risk of choke species. It can be used to indicate fisheries in which the choke risk is relatively low and the available tools and measures can mitigate against the choke risk. It has also been used to identified stocks and fisheries in which the choke risk is high and without additional tools or measures over and above what is contained in the CFP and supporting legislation, these fisheries will be closed prematurely.
  • In using the CMT, the limitations of the available discard and landing data, and the different approach by ICES and STECF to raising discard estimates should be recognised. The analysis can only indicate qualitatively there are potential problems for specific stocks and the most relevant mitigation tools to reduce the choke risk for those stocks.
  • The choke species issue is complex and the exposure to the risk of choke species varies between stocks, fisheries and Member States. The NWW is characterised by many different stocks and fisheries that all interact. This dynamic system makes predicting choke situation challenging, and hence there is a need for further evaluation of the high risk stocks to identify which fisheries for those stocks are particularly problematic.
  • The analysis identified twelve stocks where there is a high risk of residual choke issues. For six of these stocks – whiting VIIb-k; sole and plaice VIIf,g; whiting VI, cod VIIa; plaice VIId,e – the available measures and tools will significantly reduce the choke risk provide they are used appropriately. For the other six stocks – haddock VIIb-k, skates and rays VI and VII, cod VIa, saithe VI, whiting VIIa and skates and rays VIId,e – additional measures or a different management approach is likely to be required to prevent multiple fisheries from being choked.
  • The analysis identified thirteen stocks where there is a moderate risk of residual choke issues for one or more Member States. The available tools and measures can significantly reduce this risk for these species. For at least five of these stocks the Member States impacted are reliant on
  • For ten stocks the risk of residual choke issues is low. There are further five stocks which were not assessed but where the risk is also deemed to be low based on current catch profiles.

Several other issues were also considered. The first of these involved situations where a particular Member State or a group of Member States have no quota. Twenty four such stocks were identified. While Spain are the most impacted, other Member States (e.g. Belgium, Ireland, France, Netherlands and the UK) are also affected. It is doubtful whether for all of these stocks  choke issues can be solved using the existing tools and measures and alternative solutions may need to be considered in specific cases.

The second issue considered was the bycatch of demersal stocks in pelagic fisheries which was identifed as potential choke problems by the Pelagic Advisory Council and the NWW Advisory Council. Specific examples include whiting bycatch in the Celtic Sea herring fishery and hake in the mackerel fishery. It was concluded that mitigation measures such as the use of inter-species flexibility, de minimis exemptions or swapping could potentially address these issues in most cases.

The third issue considered was the level of choke risk associated with six deep-sea stocks relevant to NWW. Due to  alack of accurate catch date it was not possible to determine whether they represent a risk as choke species or not. However, as there are relatively few directed fisheries for these stocks and primarily as a bycatch with relatively low reported discards, the choke risk would appear low.

The final issue was the case of spurdog or picked dogfish which is currently managed under a heavily restricted TAC and essentially treated as a prohibited species. When caught the current regulations require all spurdog to be returned immediately to the sea. This prohibition to land is effectively a derogation from the landing obligation and means this species is not a choke risk.  However, as with the deep-sea species it has the potential to become a choke species depending on how the stock evolves and the management strategy followed.

Chapter eight of the report looks at the effectiveness of the existing tools and measures within the CFP and associated Regulations to mitigate choke risks in the fisheries in NWW. Due to a lack of reporting and accurate catch data, implementation of the landing obligation is hard to assess and therefore measuring the effectiveness of the available tools and measures to mitigate choke risks is difficult in practice. However, a qualitative assessment was made of the range of available tools and measures – avoidance actions; selectivity measures; quota flexbility mechanisms; and exemptions.

The use of avoidance and tactical approaches has been limited in NWW and it is too early to say how effective such measures can be in reducing choke risks. Similarly despite a significant amount of work carried out to test selective gears and positive initiatives by Member States and the industry, improvements in selectivity have not been forthcoming since the introduction of the landing obligation in NWW fisheries. It would appear that both of these measures are being under utilised at present without clear incentives for fishermen to use them.This may change as the landing obligation is fully implemented in 2019, control and monitoring is tightened and the risk of choking increases.

Of the various quota flexbility mechanisms identified, several – TAC adjustments; inter-annual quota flexibility; and the use of combined “others” quotas – were assessed as having limited value in the short-term in reducing choke risks.

Inter-species flexibility and bycatch footnotes are both, potentially, tools to avoid choke situations and particularly to cover unavoidable bycatch. However, to date there is a reluctance by Member States to use these mechanisms given they have the potential to jeopardise MSY objectives and implications for relative stability.

Suppressing TACs was similarly identified as a potential means to remove choke risks for certain species caught as bycatch. However, this measure would seem very much a last resort and could only be contemplated if alternative measures can be identified that will control fishing mortality or where is minimal risk of fishing mortality increasing as a result of removing the TAC.

Of the remaining quota flexibilities and tools, quota swaps, which are already common practice between Member States in NWW will continue to have a major role in helping Member States to deal with choke situations. To date there is no evidence that swapping patterns have changed since the introduction of the landing obligation.

Finally FMSY ranges included in multi-annual plans are seen as another potential means to reduce choke risks particularly in complex mixed fishery situations as pertain in NWW.

The final set of tools considered were de minimis and high survivability exemptions. Both types of exemption have been utilised in the NWW. In the case of de minimis exemptions, these are seen as short-term partial solutions which will allow the continued discarding of small amounts of catch. High survivability exemptions are seen as longer-term solutions which will effectively remove any choke risk in the fisheries in which they are applied. The need for supporting scientific evidence to justify such exemptions has been a limiting factor in their more widespread use in NWW. It is important to note that reporting by Member States on the levels of unwanted catch discarded under these exemptions is currently quite limited and this needs to be improved to allow proper monitoring of the imapcts of these exemptions.

The last section of the report contained in Chapter 9 considers three scenarios – Fmsy for all stocks by 2020, BREXIT and Climate Change. The first is biological issue.  The second is a political issue that will impact directly on fisheries management. The other is a biological issue where management will have to adapt to ecological changes in the marine ecosystem caused by population shifts.

There are several stocks in NWW – cod in the West of Scotland and whiting in the Irish Sea – where meeting the Fmsy objective in the CFP post-2020 will be extremely challenging given the current state of the stocks. Based on current ICES advice, even limiting fishing mortality to extremely low levels or stopping fishing altogether, is unlikely to lead to the Fmsy objective being met  for these stocks by 2020 and in the following years. Without a solution, this will have serious economic consequences as Member States will have no close but  to close multiple fisheries with catches of these stocks, once any limited fishing opportunities are exhausted. In these case the existing tools available will not be sufficient to remove this choke risk.

There is considerable uncertainty at this point what post-BREXIT fisheries management policies will be in place; how quotas will be allocated; access arrangements; whether the UK will introduce a different discard ban involving differing technical and control rules; or  whether new fora for such negotiations will need to be established. Therefore assessing the likely impacts is extremely difficult. It is clear that once the UK leaves the EU, as a coastal state under UNCLOS, the UK will be required to manage fisheries and fishing activities within its EEZ in a sustainable way. It is also evident that access and quota sharing have been the main focus of discussions to date. It is clear that any changes to the current quota allocations or access arrangements will have impacts for the landing obligation and additional choke risks may arise. The priority for the remaining Member States must be ensure to sustainability of fish stocks within Union waters and to avoid increased fishing pressure and large scale effort displacement if access is restricted within UK waters. There are some indications that the UK may look at specific arrangements to move in a different direction from the current landing obligation, with different rules. This may create difficulties for Union fishermen, particularly fishermen operating in fisheries which transverse EU and UK waters.

Regarding climate change, all indications are that due to rising temperatures in most seas and oceans around the globe there will be significant shifts in fish population distributions. Such distribution shifts have implications for future fisheries management within Union and non-Union waters and by design also for the implementation of the landing obligation. Distributional shifts without corresponding adjustments to TAC and quota allocation have the potential to create new high risk choke stocks. In order to react to such changes it is likely that the EU will need to implement more ‘precautionary’ regulations than has previously been the case, to ensure that fish stocks are maintained at sustainable levels.


Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-472

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