Letter to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall regarding Fish Discard Ban


I have been corresponding with the Chef and Broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall regarding a vote in the European Parliament today on the Fish Discard Ban (Landings Obligation). You can follow our dialogue on Hugh's Blog but here is the text of my latest letter.


Dear Hugh,

Many thanks for your reply and it's a pity we were unable to speak on the phone.

The adoption of discard ban legislation impacts significantly on a range of technical regulations already on the statute books.  The Landings Obligation proposal seeks to offer legal clarity to fishermen, by amending or repealing those laws which conflict with the ban.  Whilst this may seem straightforward, I’m afraid it is not.

As you know, the discard ban will be progressively implemented from 1st January 2014 starting with pelagic species (notably mackerel and herring). The pelagic fishery is considered a ‘clean’ fishery (by-catch is not a factor). Indeed until Iceland and the Faroes set their own unilateral catch quotas, the mackerel fishery was accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.  The principal challenge facing pelagic fishermen centres round the issue of the retention of juvenile fish (those below minimum landing size), primarily as a result of the manner in which the fish are caught, stowed and trans-shipped. Resolution of these issues should be straightforward and the Landings Obligation, as it impacts upon pelagic species, could be quickly addressed.

The challenge of course is where it has always been, with the mixed white fishery of the North Sea.  Here the rule changes are more complicated, since they are inextricably linked to catch composition rules.  The catch composition regulations themselves are further interlinked with other provisions such as mesh size ranges and conditions for the use of certain combinations of mesh sizes.  They are also linked to detailed rules concerning stowage, the sorting of catches on board vessels and separate provision of stowage for non-quota, juvenile and over-quota fish. 

In certain areas there are also multiple by-catch provisions which are gear specific, and which compel discards over given limits. 

Finally, the amendments to the Community Control System are also important, since they concern changes to fishing authorisations, the recording of data on all catches (particularly those below minimum conservation reference sizes), transshipment, tolerance margins, rules concerning electronic monitoring (about which there is no common EU position) and separate on-board stowage rules.

Upon these issues, fishermen do require legal certainty.  As you know fishing is already the single most regulated industry in the EU.  Getting these technical matters right will make the success of the discard ban all the more certain and all the more sure.  And the important thing is we have time to do justice to the challenges and the concerns, since the discard ban affecting these fineries does not come in to force until 1 January 2016.

However, the longer it takes to address the more tangled demersal challenges, the longer the pelagic industry will be without the legal certainty and guidance provided by the Landings Obligation.  Unless we can progress this matter urgently then the pelagic industry will be without the certainty that the Landings Obligation is designed to address.

It is for this reason that I believe speedy progress could be made with pelagic fisheries and still leave adequate time to resolve the outstanding demersal issues. This is the approach I have pursued in the European Parliament and I firmly advocate that this is the direction my colleagues on the Fisheries Committee should pursue at this afternoon’s vote.

I can’t stress enough the importance of the Landings Obligation to the fishing industry. It is imperative that we not only do it quickly but also do it correctly.

Kind regards,

Ian Duncan MEP