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Discharging an obligation: New rules enforcing fishermen to land their entire catch is seeing push back from fisheries that believe the practical aspects of the legislation need more flexibility

Words: Namrata Nadkarni Illustration: Richard Gleed G

rowing environmental awareness is resulting in greater governmental regulation on the safekeeping of the oceans and their

resources. In the world of fisheries, the most recent manifestation is the European Union’s discard ban, which ‘does away with the wasteful practice of discarding through the introduction of a landing obligation’. The legislation, which is being phased

in for different fish types between 2015 to 2019 and applies to all commercial fisheries in European waters, states that fishermen must keep all their catches on board to be landed and counted against quotas. Thus they will no longer be able to dispose of live or dead fish that are deemed unsuitable due to size, type or catch composition. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) estimates that close to a million tonnes of fish were being discarded annually in European waters. The discard ban is expected to result

in more selective and sustainable fishing that will prevent the increased mortality of target and non-target species (particularly juveniles) and also generate more reliable data about catches in regional waters. It is also hoped that the landing obligation will

prevent the non-natural supply of food to scavenging seafloor organisms and sea birds, which is considered an alteration of food webs. At the start of this year the landing

obligation was applied to pelagic fisheries (which catch species such as mackerel and herring), industrial fisheries in all EU waters, and fisheries for cod in the Baltic. From January 2016, it will extend to demersal fisheries (for fish such as cod, hake, whiting, sole, plaice and saithe) and by 2019, it will apply to all total allowable catch (TAC) species.

Points of dispute

While discard rates for pelagic fishing operations are comparatively low, questions concerning practical imple- mentation have been raised, not the least of which concern so-called ‘choke species’. “This is a potentially disastrous situation whereby a lack of quota for one particular species may prevent you from putting to sea and fishing in case you catch that species,” warn representatives from Seafish, a non-departmental public body that aims to improve efficiency and standards across the seafood industry. They stress that these fisheries may have to close shop for the season despite having plenty of quota for other species in their TAC. This could be a devastating scenario

for small fisheries as they may hit a quota early in the season – but also has wider implications. “The fear is choke species will have socio-economic impacts both directly on the fishermen and the communities they support, as well as the markets these vessel supply. Buyers will go elsewhere – potentially international markets. And that could also have a consequence on pricing,” the represent- atives add. A particularly worrying aspect of

choke species is if fish stocks recover and expand into areas where these fish were previously deemed as being in need of protection, then the the probability of catching that species – and thus hitting the quota – increases. One fish that has been identified as likely to transition into a choke species for the mixed demersal fishery in the North Sea is hake. Its population has grown sixfold since 2006, according to the Denmark-based International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES). Various stakeholders have put

forward suggestions to combat ‘choking’ a fishery, including scientifically justified exemptions that would allow certain fish to be returned to the sea if they have a high chance of survival or practical uses for previously discarded fish. The concept of de-minimis exemptions has also been mooted. This would permit a


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