Landings Obligation - European Council leave fishermen in no man’s land


Talks between the Parliament and the European Council on the Landings Obligation have just broken down. The Council is the body that represents the heads of EU governments. Bad news for Scotland’s fishermen.

As it stands, it means that when the Discard Ban for pelagic species comes into force on 1 January 2015, there will be no legal certainty to underpin their work.  Fishermen will go to sea without the confidence that they are fishing within the law.  There is the possibility of another meeting between the Parliament and Council next week in Strasbourg, but time is running out to reach an agreement.

The European Commission determined that the Discard Ban (the practice of throwing caught fish back to sea) would be phased in over several years.  First up would be the pelagic fisheries (such as Herring and Mackerel), followed by the demersal stocks (such as Cod and Haddock). A sensible approach, since the proposed change in fishing culture was significant and the required adjustments to fishing practice both challenging and often costly.

The Discard Ban represents such a fundamental change that it requires wholesale reform of a wealth of existing fisheries regulations.  A sensible approach would, therefore, have been to reform these rules in line with the phased introduction of the discard ban, allowing the adjustment of each subsequent fishery to benefit from the lessons learned from the previous.Sensible perhaps, but not for the Commission, which deemed it preferable to reform all the affected regulations for each and every EU fishery in the one go.This was daft.  Equally daft was to introduce the reform proposal in June 2014, and expect it to complete its legislative journey in only six months.  If the Commission had phased the introduction, and tailored the proposals to pelagics (a clean fishery - see my earlier blog on this issue for a full discussion of clean v. mixed fisheries),there was every chance that the legislation would have passed through all thenecessary stages and be ready for the 1 January next year, when it will be desperately needed.

Trying to address the challenges represented by the North Sea mixed fisheries (and similar mixed fisheries elsewhere) in the same timescale as the pelagics was a big ask, but here is the important part: the mixed demersal fisheries will not be subject to the discard ban until 1 January 2016, a full 12 months later. Plenty of time to learn from pelagics and address the specific challenges of a complex mixed fishery. Why force through the rule change now for a fishery not affected for another 12 months, when you can take the time to get it right?

Which brings us bang up to date. Today talks on the Landings Obligaiton broke down.  Despite a clear commitment from the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee for an early introduction of the legislation as it affects pelagics in time for 1 January 2015 - and a further commitment to devote the next 12 months to get the demersal Landings Obligation on the statute books in time for 1 January 2016 - the Council were not for budging.  We will now have to return to this issue in January and all the while Pelagic fishermen at the pier head rub their chin and wonder what is going on in Brussels.  Wonder how it can be that they are expected to go to sea in the New Year without the legal certainty they deserve. It’s not good enough.  Scotland’s fishermen, indeed the fishermen of Europe,deserve better.  The lawmakers have let them down, and not for the first time.