Original publication: November 2018
Authors: COISPA: Maria Teresa SPEDICATO, Isabella BITETTO, Giuseppe LEMBO
With acknowledged contributions to: CIBM: Paolo SARTOR (section 3.2); NISEA: Paolo ACCADIA (sections 3.1.2 and 5.1)
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2B348cw
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PECH workshop on 22 November 2018 from 9:00 to 10h30: Discard ban, landing obligation and MSY in the Western Mediterranean Sea

Further reading: Discard ban, landing obligation and MSY in the Western Mediterranean Sea – the Spanish case

Discard ban, landing obligation and MSY in the Western Mediterranean Sea - the Italian case

Download the Study

The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (EU Regulation 1380/2013, CFP) sets the strategic objective of maintaining populations of harvested stocks above levels that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) within a reasonable time-frame (2020 at latest), taking into

account the marine ecosystem. Further CFP objective is to gradually eliminate discards, by 1st January 2019, at the latest (Landing Obligation, LO) in all the European seas. In the Mediterranean LO applies only for the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) of the species in the Annex III of the EU Reg. 1967/2006.

The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) has established a mid-term strategy to improve, by 2020, the sustainability of Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries.

The European Commission has recently proposed a multi-annual plan for fish stocks in the western Mediterranean Sea (COM(2018) 115 final). It concerns mainly France, Italy and Spain. The proposal has been thereinafter submitted to the European Parliament and the Council.

CFP sets the stage for fishery managers and stakeholders to take the initiative and responsibility to complement and implement plans for managing fisheries within their region. To facilitate management by those parties relevant knowledge needs to be developed, assessed and deployed in a regional context.

The study area (geographical sub-areas 9, 10 and 11) is located in the Tyrrhenian sea from the north (Ligurian sea) to the south, encompassing the Sardinia seas; it is part of the western Mediterranean ecosystem and exploited by the Italian fleets. Continental shelf is narrow and ecological features very heterogeneous with a variety of habitats and biological communities. Productivity of the area is differentiated among the geographical sub-areas (GSAs). Essential Fish Habitats (nursery and spawning areas) of demersal species are widespread with hot spots of the different species geographically localized. Fisheries are mixed characterized by different “métiers” and gear interaction, especially as regards the European hake. Small-scale fisheries – with vessels dispersed in many ports and landing sites – characterize the area with overall landings and revenues similar to trawlers. The dependency of landings and revenues on the pool of the assessed/target species is more marked for the fleets targeting European hake, red mullet and crustaceans.


The primary aim of the study is to describe, in summary, the impact of the discard ban and the landing obligation on the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), taking into account the European Commission proposal on a multiannual plan for demersal fish stocks in the Italian regions of the western Mediterranean Sea.

Main findings

Extensive stock assessments are required to define stock status, this process is quite recent in the Mediterranean; it started about 10-15 years ago, thanks to the advent of the Data Collection Framework (DCF) and it is nowadays regularly ongoing.

Most of the demersal and small pelagics assessed stocks are overexploited, in some situations chronically overexploited, with the exception, in more recent years, of deep-water rose shrimp and striped mullet in GSA9 and red mullet in GSA10.

Considering the mixed nature of fisheries, with vessels targeting at the same time species with highly different life history traits, it is necessary to introduce flexibility in the fishery management, for example through the use of FMSY ranges.

In the area, source of uncertainty are linked to identification of stock unit and stock-recruitment relationships, the latter given the short length of time series.

In the Mediterranean, management is based on input control. Management Strategy Evaluation has evidenced that effort management may suffer of hyper-stability, while TACs rely more on stock assessment, that can be a problem considering its instability.

Worked examples simulating different management scenarios for the stock of European hake in the GSAa9-11 have been conducted in this study under simplified assumptions. Scenarios were: i) maintain the status quo (SQ); ii) apply LO only; iii) change the exploitation pattern; iv) reduce effort to reach FMSY or Fupper (reduction of 80 and 68% respectively). Results indicated a stock rebuilding (increase of SSB) in the short/medium term (from 3 to 5 years), depending on the scenario; landings of European hake would improve, after a shrinkage lasting approximately 2 years; however economic performance would result in a higher impact, in the short term, especially for the more affected fleets, which might recover in a medium term. Fupper scenario would also allow to reduce underutilization of the stock less exploited compared to European hake. However, fleets which are moderately dependent on the stocks considered, and simultaneously are large employers, may require monitoring of social conditions.

An important source of uncertainty anyhow is how the sector would react to a severe activity reduction.

In the worked examples, reducing exclusively the fishing days of trawlers or of all the fleet would cause losses of fishing opportunities, at least in the short and medium term, but will not reverse the situation of the juvenile exploitation when the stocks will rebuilt, for example as a result of the MAP implementation. Thus, actions are desirable to ensure a change (improve) of the exploitation pattern, with more sustainable fishing practices adopted and durability of the results maintained when the stock rebuilt. Management measures need to be complemented and the involvement of the fishing sector is necessary for improving measures’ understanding and compliance.

Landing obligation. There have not been major consequences of the LO regulation for fishers in the western Mediterranean so far, mainly because of the use of the “high survivability” and “de minimis” exemptions. Possible drawbacks of the LO are linked to the increase of the work on board and possibly in the increase of number of employees; in addition, there is a lack of an appropriate governance process to handle the unwanted catches once landed.

The regulation is still in its transitional period therefore data are still not sufficient for an evaluation of its economic and social impacts. In the Mediterranean, LO can be interpreted as a deterrent against the unselective fishing, to trigger incentives and to avoid unwanted catch through improved selectivity, gear technology, and changing of fleet behavior as primary focus. Consequently, discard mitigation can be achieved through innovative technologies and fishing practices, monitoring and gathering data through direct sampling techniques.

The LO alone is expected to have a negative short-term effect on the economic performance on the affected fleets/fisheries, not contributing to the achievement of FMSY in the current input control of the fishery, though LO can trigger the objective of improving the fishing pattern. There could be consumers’ reservation price for a sustainable and selective fishery incentivized by the LO, but it need a different approach to the market.

The ecosystem. Short and medium term effects of reducing discards on ecosystem remain uncertain, as well as the associated economic and social impacts. Top predators may be affected by changes in their prey populations, which may lead to changes in the predation pressure exerted on the different trophic groups. Ecosystem Model of Intermediate Complexity (MICE) found that a ban on discarding does not appear to significantly affect predators or prey in the central Mediterranean (Adriatic sea). Also in other applications of ecosystem models LO seemed pointless for the sustainability; in contrast, a decline in fishing effort seemed to favour cetaceans, and highly exploited fish groups.

Avoiding the catch of non-commercial species, mainly invertebrates (thus reducing the impact on certain areas) would prevent the deterioration of benthic communities.

Development and implementation. Considering the CFP tools it is worth highlight that management decisions relating to MSY in mixed fisheries should take into account the difficulty of fishing all stocks at MSY at the same time. Scientific base for fisheries management is a pillar. Provisions of the CFP allow to accommodate different actions to fulfil the management objectives: discard mitigation measures tailored to each particular fishery, or even to species within a fishery. Avoidance of unwanted catches can be incentivized through: information sharing; selectivity improvements, closures of specific areas or depth range or time closure. Actions based on art 15 of the CFP are already implemented through exemptions, though motivation might change in the near future.

Improving the fishing pattern, avoiding hot spots associated with high discarding (e.g. the nursery areas of key species) or improving gear selectivity, may contribute twofold to the CFP objectives: moving towards MSY and reducing the wasteful practice of discarding.

Avoidance of discard hot spots requires, in turn, a special effort to control the fleet displacement.

Enforcement and compliance cannot be disjoined and compliance cannot be disjoined by increased awareness. Promote awareness and bottom up processes at local level and self-decision within small groups of fishers is an important issue, as well as the increase of mutual trust between fishermen and researchers by partnerships and collaborative research, thus improving also data quality, identifying solutions and best practices.

Increase the awareness of consumers towards products that are fished sustainably can help to move a step forward.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-178

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Workshop: Discard ban, landing obligation and MSY in the Western Mediterranean Sea – Research4Committees · December 6, 2018 at 11:40 am

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