Original publication: April 2018
Author: DTU Aqua, Denmark : Prof. Clara ULRICH
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2IwbmHj


The European Parliament’s Committee on PECH wishes to commission a research study on Landing obligation and choke species in multispecies and mixed fisheries. The topic is linked to three geographical areas: the South Western Waters, the North Western Waters and the North Sea. One of the study is: “Landing obligation and choke species in multispecies and choke species- the North Sea”

A key objective of the 2013 Common Fisheries Policy is to gradually eliminate discards, by 1st January 2019 at the latest.


The obligation to land all species in all fisheries introduced by the CFP, and hence progressively banning discarding, has led Member States to revise their approach to fisheries management according to their national allocations of quota. It 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 landing all fish caught; while on the other hand, reducing the effect of the lack of quota for some species that will force the early closure of some fisheries i.e. , the “choke effect”.

Since 2014 progress has been made. This progress can be summarized in three phases:

First phase: renewal of fishing

  1. Take advantage of all species inevitably captured: looking for other commercial outlets including those for non-direct human consumption;
  1. Reduce discards through the establishment of temporary EU regional discards plans. To date, 15 of them have been adopted;
  1. Investigating and adapting fishing gear to improve selectivity and reduce unwanted catches;
  1. Reorienting the productive strategy of mixed fisheries, moving from single species to multispecies (spatial-temporal closures ….)

Second Phase: remedial measures

  1. Using the tools provided for in the CFP to alleviate the lack of quotas for some species and reduce the risk of choke species: the high survivability exemption; the de minimis-exemption; adjustments of TACs: TAC top-ups, redistribution of national quotas, including a by-catch quota for choke species,inter-species and inter annual flexibility.
  1. Carrying out quota exchanges (swaps of the same or distinct species) among countries for this purpose

Third phase: remaining problems and solutions

  1. Assessing the feasibility of the available tools within the CFP and evaluating the effects of choke species, from a biological, economic and social point of view;
  1. Find solutions: assess the current distribution of quota against catches and possible adjustments that could be made to re-balance this.
  1. The role of regionalisation and the identification of responsible for implementation, follow-up and control of viable solutions.
Objectives and content

a) overall objective

Considering the background , 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. EU27 and a new CFP):identify choke species that have the potential to limit catches. Finally, assess whether the CFP contains effective and sufficient tools to deal with such issues and to allow implementation of the landing obligation.

b) Research objectives

In the North Sea:

  1. Describe multispecies / mixed fisheries: the biology and ecology of the species concerned and the fishery itself;
  2. Using representative fisheries case studies in each region, identify the species acting as choke, describing and assessing the use of all the CFP tools to mitigate the risks of these species choking fisheries; the community and international quota swaps and the productive and commercial strategies; identifying EU underutilized quotas of species acting as choke; and assessing whether traditional swaps help to reduce any deficits between catches and quotas;
  3. to assess whether the tools in the CFP are technically adequate and sufficient to implement the landing obligation and the reasons why some are being currently underutilised;
  4. Considering future scenarios after 2019 following full implementation of the landing obligation and the future of the EU with 27 Members States or any other likely scenario (i.e. Climate change), make predictions about the impact of the problems both biological, economic and social and the efficiency / sufficiency of EU actions and instruments to mitigate effects of the landing obligation. Identify alternative solutions: (e.g. redistribution of quotas underused; adjustments to the TAC and quota system; or any other viable solutions).

It is emphasised that this study deals exclusively with the landing obligation and choke species in demersal fisheries in the North Sea, and does not address the issues in the pelagic and industrial fisheries. The main findings are:

Regarding Objective A. Describe multispecies / mixed fisheries: the biology and ecology of the species concerned and the fishery itself, the chapter 2 starts with a brief theoretical and historical perspective on the fundamental methodological challenges linked to accurately defining fisheries, because of the diversity in individual fishing strategies resulting in great variability in fishing patterns and catch composition. Depending on the question asked, on the aggregation criteria and scale chosen, and on the dataset used, different categorisations of fisheries might be defined. In the recent years though, a consensus on a standardised way to describe global North Sea demersal fisheries has emerged in the aftermath of the cod recovery plan in 2008, and has also been the cornerstone of the fisheries-based gradual phasing-in of the landing obligation between 2016 and 2019. Some general description on these various fisheries is provided, together with information on the stocks they exploit either as target or as bycatch. The state of the stocks has on average significantly improved in the North Sea during the last

decade, largely related to better fisheries management and a decrease in fishing effort rather than to an increase of biological productivity.

Regarding Objective B, identify the species acting as choke, the chapter 3 reviews a number of studies that have been performed on the topic, which has received particularly strong focus in 2017 in various fora. Real choke issues have not been really observed yet in the North Sea, so analyses are only able to address potential risks if and when the landing obligation is fully and strictly enforced. The landing obligation has triggered the need to characterise the various potential choke situations and assess the factors causing them, in order to identify the most appropriate mitigation strategies. Importantly, different choke categories apply to various North Sea stocks, and different situations may be experienced at EU, Member State, Fleet and Individual vessel levels, depending on access to quota and market. The most serious potential risks of choke situations for the main commercial stocks are estimated to be with Northern hake in trawl fisheries and with North Sea plaice in small-meshed beam trawl fisheries, but for very different reasons. For hake, this is linked to changes in the stock distribution, with increasing abundance in the North Sea while Member States, and UK in particular, have low quota share. The issue is thus linked to the historical relative stability key not being aligned with biological changes in the ecosystem, not least in relation to climate change. For plaice, this is linked to the large catches of undersized plaice in the sole fisheries.

Regarding Objective C, assess whether the tools in the CFP are technically adequate and sufficient to implement the landing obligation, Chapter 4 reviews the various policy changes that have occurred since 2015 in the aftermath of the landing obligation. In the North Sea, the landing obligation has been phased in on a fishery-by-fishery basis. Several major stocks and fisheries were phased in in 2017, but the resulting outcomes in terms of estimated discards were not yet available at the time of writing this study. Beyond the discard plan foreseen by the CFP, a number of other policy changes were implemented, includes TAC removals, reductions in minimum landing size and changes in prohibited species among others. No major implementation issues have yet been reported by Member States, indicating that these CFP tools have until now been sufficient to allow the fisheries to continue operating under the landing obligation. However, it is also reported that the landing obligation has so far had no significant impact on the way fishing is conducted, and the objective of reducing unwanted catches has not yet been met. By providing more flexibility, the policy changes may thus have also reduced the incentives to improve selectivity. It is suggested that better management actions need to be catalysed, for example in the form of a top-down process whereby failure to effectively implement at least some measures incentivising discard reduction would preclude MS from being able to apply for the use of other policy tools.

Regarding Objective D, the future scenarios after 2019, Chapter 5 builds on most of the conclusions reached in chapters 3 and 4. In 2019, all regulated species will have to be phased-in, including the difficult cases mentioned in Chapter 3. Some reflections are given on the possible options for undersized plaice catches in the sole fishery. The current state of knowledge does not point to easy selectivity or avoidance options, and survival, while significant, is likely not “very high”. Considering the high biomass and sustainable state of the stock, some level of flexibility might thus be considered against e.g. provision for fully documented fisheries and sustained efforts to increase selectivity. For hake and other species showing distributional changes in relation to climate change, the success of the landing obligation is highly dependent on Member States’ voluntary quota swaps. Stable political solutions should be sought to address this issue on a more permanent and long-term oriented basis, especially in the context of Brexit. Considerations are also given on management issues for sharks and rays, which combine specific characteristics of being sensitive but valuable bycatches, and for which no simple management option seem to offer an adequate balance between exploitation and conservation in the landing obligation scheme. Secondly, alternative approaches to incentivise discard reductions are discussed. The landing obligation as it now appears like a system that has “neither a stick nor a carrot”. An effective implementation of a ban on discarding requires high levels of at-sea monitoring and effective control, and/or strong incentives to fish more selectively, neither of which currently apply. Fully Documented Fisheries with Remote Electronic Monitoring, together with a smarter use of TAC top-ups can be the fundament of a results-based management system focusing on impact and controllability, where fishers are fully accountable of their catch.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-471

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PECH Workshop: Landing Obligation and Choke Species in Multispecies and Mixed Fisheries – Research4Committees · May 28, 2018 at 8:00 am

[…] Landing Obligation and Choke Species in Multispecies and Mixed Fisheries – The North Sea […]

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