Fish Discard Ban - Pelagic Fisheries First


On the 6th February 2013, the European Parliament rightly voted to end the practice of discarding edible fish.  It was quite a vote. You probably read about it in the papers.  Receiving less coverage, perhaps until yesterday anyway, were the deliberations of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee on the ‘landings obligation’, which would give legal certainty to the discard ban.

Fisheries is the single most regulated industry in the EU, so it should come as no surprise that to enact a discard ban, a plethora of earlier regulations must be amended or repealed.  The Fisheries Committee conducted a hearing on the issue in April 2014, before the Commission proposals were published.  At the hearing, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation delivered a prophetic statement, ‘there has been a lack of drafting consultation, and there is a risk that the tight timetable will create a legal trap for the industry.’  It is perhaps no surprise that when the Commission proposal was finally published in June 2014 there were indeed a number of issues, not the least of which were the ‘tight timetable' and the 'legal trap’.  Remember the discard ban for pelagics comes into force on 1 January 2015. 

In seeking to amend the regulations covering every fishery affected by the discard ban, the Commission created greater challenges for everyone.  The pelagic fisheries affected from the 1 January 2015, are ‘clean’ fisheries - until the intervention of the Icelandic and Faroese fleets, the Mackerel fishery was accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.  Tailoring the existing legislation to address the needs of the pelagic fleet is relatively straightforward.  That is exactly what we did at the Fisheries Committee on 3 December. We sought to get the law ready for the 1st January 2015, when it will be needed by pelagic fishermen. 

If we had not acted as we did, we would have spent the better part of next year wrestling with the serious challenges of tailoring the discard ban for the mixed demersal fishery, leaving pelagic fishermen without the certainty the landings obligation was intended to provide. Neither the pelagic or demersal fisheries would have been compliant with the new rules. There never was time to get the landings obligations ready for demersal fisheries by 1st January 2015. At least this way the pelagic fisheries have a fighting chance of being equipped for January. 

Now we have a full year to tailor the legislation for the next affected fishery, the far more challenging demersal fishery- including the white fish fishery of the North Sea (haddock, whiting, saithe, etc) - affected from 1 January 2016.  Twelve months to get it right.  Twelve months to learn the lessons from the ban as it affects pelagic fisheries.  Twelve months to address the detailed rules concerning stowage, the sorting of catches on board vessels and separate provision of stowage for non-quota, juvenile and over-quota fish. Twelve months to address the changes required to the Community Control System such as fishing authorisations, fish data recording, tolerance margins and rules concerning CCTV (about which there is no common EU position).  Twelve months to get it right.

I was surprised to read a statement from  Labour MEP Richard Corbett that alleged the members of the Fisheries Committee are ‘doing their best to undermine this tidying up exercise and have unleashed an arsenal of amendments aimed at delaying and weakening the reform's implementation’.  He goes on to say,  ‘If many of these amendments were to carry, this would not only create massive uncertainty and delays for fishers across Europe, but the legal confusion could potentially lead to many inadvertently breaking the law’.

For the avoidance of doubt, our work on the Committee will ensure that the pelagic fishery has a good chance of legal certainty when the discard ban comes in to place.  Again for the avoidance of doubt, our work seeks to speed the introduction of the law for the affected fisheries.  And finally, our work will ensure that the mixed fishery - where the serious challenges are to be found - receives the focus required to get it right in time for the implementation on 1 January 2016. 

Let's also remember that the landings obligation was only ever meant to be temporary, until the fully fledged technical regulation was in place.  The Commission has assured the Fisheries Committee that this new technical regulation will be ready in 2015.  So, if we can take the Commission at its word then the demersal fisheries will be fully equipped for the discard ban regardless. 

Let me close by stressing that no one wants to throw good fish back into the sea. The vital action taken by the Fisheries Committee this week will help to make this a reality.