Original publication: April 2018
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Landing Obligation and Choke Species in Multispecies and Mixed Fisheries -The South Western Waters

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The common fisheries policy (CFP) basic Regulation (EU, 2013) establishes a phased introduction of a landing obligation (also known as the discard ban). It has become a central element on the CFP. In the article 15 of this regulation it is explained under which circumstances landing obligation becomes applicable. A summary will be that by the year 2019 all the species that are subject to total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas and or minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) in the Mediterranean, must be retained and landed.

There is a general feeling that landing obligation is a positive forward step in the rationalization of the fisheries in the European Union (EU). More “green” fisheries are necessary to conduct a sectorial policy that has been accused from being “dirty” and furthermore besmirched by public money spent on it. Nevertheless, the landing obligation has a difficulty in terms of how it should be implemented.

The landing obligation generates the so-called choke effect (the smallest quota species in a multi-species fishery: when the quota of such choke species is exhausted, the whole fishing activity must stop). This is one important landing obligation implementation difficulty. When landing obligation is combined with rules used for determining annual fish catch quotas seeking a single-point estimate of maximum sustainable yield (i.e. FMSY[1]), the final fishing mortalities will be below the FMSY. According to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) criteria, this constitutes a loss of fishing opportunities, and therefore it may compromise the economic performance of some fishing fleets. Therefore, identification of the likely choke species becomes a relevant issue to be studied.


The study addresses three key aspects of the landing obligation implementation in the Atlantic South Western Waters (SWW) fisheries.

  • Identify, using publicly available data sources, stocks that can be considered choke under the implementation of the landing obligation;
  • Investigate fleets, tools and management actions appropriate for each stock/fishery to reduce the deficit between catch and quota, considering also external factors such as climate change and the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (“Brexit”).
  • Determine stocks of high-risk of being choke species after using (or exploring their use) all the alleviating tools (flexibilities and exemptions) already anticipated in the article 15 of the CFP or any other different management action.

The methodology comprised a twofold approach as displayed in Figure 1 of the main report. Across the relevant Member States with fisheries in SWW, the first stage was to provide an indication of the likely surplus or deficit between catches and adapted quota of SWW stocks. Based on this, potential choke situations were identified and categorised following a three categories division system.

This preliminary list of stocks was used as basis to identify the adequate mitigation tools, coming from the CFP provisions and to propose other solutions outside of it. On this basis, stocks were classified as high, moderate and low choke risk stocks. On top of this classification, external elements such as climate change and Brexit were evaluated to determine if this classification could potentially change in the future.


Results show that from the 51 stocks regulated using a total allowable catch (TAC) system in the SWW region, 23 were identified as potentially problematic (Table 11 in the main report). For 14 of them there is insufficient quota at EU level (red cells in the Overall column of Table 11 in the main report).

For France and Spain 14 stocks were identified for which their individual adapted quota seemed insufficient. For France 8 of these stocks there was insufficient quota at EU level, the same number as in Spain, even for different stocks.

All the 3 stocks for which Portugal has insufficient quota faced this problem at EU level. Finally, for Belgium 7 stocks with insufficient quota were identified. For 4 of them there was insufficient quota at EU level, in 2016.

After evaluating each mitigation tool, coming from the CFP provisions and the external pressures coming from climate change and Brexit, the risk of being a choke stock was assessed. Results are displayed in Table 14 in the main report.

It was found that there are 3 potential stocks with high risk of causing choke difficulties, considering the mitigation tools coming from the CFP provisions and the external factors: whiting (WHG/08) in the Bay of Biscay, horse mackerel (JAX/2A-14) as widely distributed and alfonsinos (ALF/3X14) as a deep-sea stock. When analysed by Member State, France and Spain are those most likely to be affected.

In Atlantic Iberian waters there is moderate risk for megrims (LEX/8C3411), hake (HKE/8CD3411) and anchovy (ANE/9/3411), affecting specially Spain and Portuguese fisheries. For the first two, choke risk is heavily dependent on how the quota uplift is shared among Member States. For anchovy the existing high survivability exemption was considered as key for lowering the risk.

In the Bay of Biscay, megrims (LEZ/8ABDE), nephrops (NEP/8ABDE), skates and rays (SRX/89-C) and pollack (POL/8ABDE) can also be considered as moderate risk stocks. The risk of megrim can be lowered given that the special condition of the use of a 5 % of the quota of LEZ/07 in ICES Divisions 8abde, is likely to change (allowing up to a 25% use of the quota of LEZ/07). For nephrops, this risk will be reduced if the high survivability exemption is confirmed. Finally, for skates and rays, evidences on high survivability can also lower this risk. The case of pollack is related on how recreational catches are treated.

In terms of widely distributed stocks, Boarfish (BOR/678) is a moderate risk stock, especially because IQF is unlikely to be applied to this stock. France and Spain can be affected by their boarfish zero-quota condition. Finally, for cod (COD/7XAD34) and haddock (HAD/7XAD34), overall catches in SWW are low compared to the total distribution, although the zero-quota condition of several Member States implies that choke risk can also be considered as moderate.


Not all the likely choke stock problems can be solved through the existing mitigation toolbox, although they can be alleviated for most of the stocks in SWW fisheries. Those stocks for which insufficient available quota exists or for which relevant Member States have zero quota, are those more likely to be affected by the landing obligation from the choke issue point of view.

The existing toolbox requires a flexible application, furthermore, those tools outside the provisions of the article 15 of the CFP are likely to be explored. Swaps have been demonstrated as powerful mechanism to quota-fishing possibilities adaptation at Member State level and they should be further used in the context of the landing obligation. However, the complexity of defining a unique exchange currency, especially in the context of multi-species fisheries of SWW, could complicate their use. Other flexibility mechanisms such as inter species quota flexibility have not been used in SWW yet. This is probably due to the flexibility they are providing is not worth for the problems faced by SWW fisheries and the Member States involved. Other tools outside the “box” are further to be explored. Target ranges (within the MSY objective), combined de minimis for non-directed stocks, or more technological elements such as real time information sharing are also promising.

Finally, the discrepancies found on the data from diverse sources was the main limitation of the study.

[1] Fishing mortality consistent with achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-473

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