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INSEPARABLE - Eat, Buy and Sell Sustainable FishINSEPARABLE - Eat, Buy and Sell Sustainable FishINSEPARABLE - Eat, Buy and Sell Sustainable FishINSEPARABLE - Eat, Buy and Sell Sustainable Fish

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The European Commission's yearly proposal for the 2017 fishing opportunities has now been supplemented with figures for the Baltic Sea cod stocks, an item that did not feature in previous versions of this year's Commission's proposals.
A meeting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in Rome drew to a successful close on 23 September. This meeting was devoted to the implementation of the medium-term strategy for the sustainability of Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries: the assembly agreed on timeframe and prioritisation of actions, funding and quantifiable goals.
The European Commission has adopted two regulations that will facilitate two Member States to comply with European environmental legislation to protect natural environments. In particular the regulations will help the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework and the Habitats and Birds Directives.

1 January 2015: the landing obligation

From 1 January 2015 onwards fishermen in certain parts of the EU must land all the fish they catch. By 2019 all fishermen will have the same obligation. In order to give full legal clarity for all fishermen affected by this landing obligation, the European Commission has issued guidance on what the changes mean and how they will be applied and enforced. The relevant legal provisions will be adjusted shortly, the formal procedure for their entering into force is underway.

Who is affected by the landing obligation on 1 January 2015?

In 2015 the pelagic and industrial fisheries, and in the Baltic the salmon fisheries and fisheries for cod fall under the landing obligation. For all other fisheries, there is no change in 2015. In the fisheries that are not under the landing obligation from 1 January 2015, all catches of undersized fish, not covered by quota, or in excess of catch composition and by-catch rules, must continue to be returned to the sea.

Which catches must be landed as of 1 January 2015 in the fisheries under the landing obligation?

In the fisheries under the landing obligation, all catches of all species (regardless of whether they are pelagic or demersal) that are managed through TACs and quotas, and in the Mediterranean catches subject to minimum sizes, must be landed. For example, a vessel fishing in the Atlantic for mackerel should also land accidental catches of demersal species, e.g. cod.

Catches of prohibited species (e.g. basking shark) cannot be retained on board and must be returned into the sea.

Are there exemptions to the landing obligation?  

Yes. Catches can still be returned to the sea even after 1 January 2015 if they are covered by exemptions such as de minimis and high survivability (defined in the discard plans) and predator-damaged fish. These catches are not counted against the quota, but they must be documented in the logbook. 

Regional discard plans with such exemptions cover the Western waters, North Sea, Baltic, and Mediterranean. There are no exemptions for pelagic fisheries for sprat in the Black Sea.

How do I handle fish with a risk of contamination, such as seal-damaged salmons?

Fish damaged by predators, and suspected of being contaminated by diseases that are communicable to humans, pets and other fish, are exempted from the landing obligation, and should be returned to the sea immediately.

Does the ban on high-grading still apply?

High-grading is a practice that is no longer possible in the context of a landing obligation. Of course, the high-grading ban will continue to apply to the fisheries that are not yet subject to the landing obligation, but it will not apply in cases of exemptions under the landing obligation (e.g. de minimis).

Are fisheries in non-EU waters exempted from the landing obligation?  

No. Pelagic fisheries in international waters are also subject to the landing obligation from 1 January 2015. There are two exceptions:

a) fisheries in non-EU waters where there is a legal obligation to discard in an international agreement (e.g. ICCAT rules relating to Bluefin tuna).  

b) fisheries in the waters of third countries where the law of the third country applies (e.g. the Seychelles).

Catch composition rules

What happens with catch composition rules and mesh size rules under the landing obligation as of 1 January 2015?

From 1 January 2015, for fisheries under the landing obligation, catches that exceed a certain catch composition rule must be landed and counted against the quota.

What happens to catch composition rules in fisheries where the landing obligation does not apply yet?

The current catch composition rules continue to apply.  

If I am under the landing obligation can I land catches in excess of catch composition rules?

Yes, you can land such catches if you have sufficient quota to cover these catches.

What happens to catches in excess of catch composition rules for which I do not have quota?

A fisherman would either have to try to obtain additional quota from the fishery management authority, or to rent or buy quota from another fisherman.

Do the existing mesh sizes still apply?


By-catch provisions in closed areas

What happens to the by-catch restrictions included in closed or restricted areas (e.g. closed areas to protect herring)?

Where the closed area affects a fishery falling under the landing obligation, all by-catch must be landed and counted against quotas.

Do the closures still apply?

Yes, the closure or restrictions will still apply, and targeted fishing of the species that is protected will still be prohibited.  The details of the closures remain unaltered.

Minimum sizes

How are minimum landing sizes dealt with under the landing obligation as of 1 January 2015?

The existing minimum landing sizes are changed into minimum conservation reference sizes, but they will remain largely the same, except for Baltic cod and anchovy in the South-Western waters, where new minimum conservation reference sizes have been established in regional discard plans.

What happens to fish below the minimum conservation reference size that are caught in fisheries covered by the landing obligation?

Catches of fish below the minimum conservation reference size (undersized fish) in the fisheries under the landing obligation must be landed and counted against quotas.

Must I keep undersized fish stowed separately?

Undersized fish has to be stowed separate from fish over the minimum conservation reference size but does not have to be sorted by species. This does not apply for specific cases in industrial and pelagic fisheries.

What happens to undersized fish once it is landed? Can I sell it?

As a general rule these catches can be sold, but not for direct human consumption.


What happens to landings of catches below the minimum conservation reference sizes?

Once landed, the undersized fish has to be treated in such a way that they are distinguished from fish destined for direct human consumption.

Will any illegal discarding action be classified as a serious infringement?

Not until 1 January 2017. This is also the date when the Member States have to start applying the point system for illegal discarding.

Do I need to equip myself with CCTV equipment?


Do I have to record and register undersized fish?

All catches (including undersized fish) above 50 kg must be registered in the log-book and the landing declaration, broken down by species. All catches (including undersized fish) must also be registered in the transshipment declaration, the transport and take-over documents and the sales note.

For traceability purposes the label has to include specific information on undersized fish where applicable.

Do I have to register catches if I am allowed to discard them under the exemptions set out in the discard plans?

All discards allowed under exemptions (such as the de minimis) of the landing obligation must be registered in the log-book.  

More information

Discarding and the landing obligation      


This information has been prepared by the Commission services. On the basis of the applicable EU law, it provides technical guidance for the attention of public authorities and stakeholders, on how to apply the EU rules in this area. The aim of this information is to provide Commission services' explanations and interpretations of the said rules in order to facilitate the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy and to encourage good practice(s). However this note is without prejudice to the interpretation of the Court of Justice and the General Court or decisions of the Commission.