By-catch provisions in closed areas
Landing obligation in practice
Discarding is the practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea, either dead or alive, because they are undersized, due to market demand, the fisherman has no quota or because catch composition rules impose this. The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of 2013 aims at gradually eliminating the wasteful practice of discarding through the introduction of the landing obligation. This radical change in fisheries management aims to improve fishing behaviour through improvements in selectivity.
The CFP seeks to phase in the implementation of the landing obligation from 2015 through to 2019 for all commercial fisheries (species under TACs, or under minimum sizes) in European waters and for European vessels fishing in the high seas. This gradual approach is to support the fishing industry in its adaptation to significant changes in fisheries management and practices (e.g. from a system recording only the landed fraction of the catch to a system recording the entire catch).
The landing obligation requires all catches of regulated commercial species on-board to be landed and counted against quota. These are species under TAC (Total Allowance Catch, and so called quotas) or, in the Mediterranean, species which have a MLS (minimum landing size such as mackerel which is regulated by quotas; and gilt-head sea-bream regulated by size). Undersized fish cannot be marketed for direct human consumption purposes whilst prohibited species (e.g. basking shark) cannot be retained on board and must be returned to the sea. The discarding of prohibited species should be recorded in the logbook and forms an important part of the science base for the monitoring of these species.
From 2015 to 2019, the landing obligation was phased in across fisheries and species. By 2019 all species subject to TAC limits and Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes in the Mediterranean are subject to the landing obligation. The phasing in provisions as well as a number of exemptions are based on Joint recommendations from regional groups of member states. Following evaluation by the STECF, and provided that the assessment is positive, the joint recommendations are transformed into temporary discard plans by means of delegated act. The plans detail the species covered, provisions on catch documentation, minimum conservation reference sizes, and exemptions (for fish that may survive after returning them to the sea, and a specific de minimis discard allowance under certain conditions). The plans have a maximum duration of 3 years and eventually the provisions of the landing obligation will eventually become incorporated into Multi Annual Plans.
Since October 2014 the Commission has adopted several discard plans (through so-called delegated acts) in preparation of the implementation of the landing obligation:
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/2377 of 14 October 2016 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) No 1394/2014 establishing a discard plan for certain pelagic fisheries in South-Western waters
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/86 of 20 October 2016 establishing a discard plan for certain demersal fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/153 of 23 October 2017 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/86 establishing a discard plan for certain demersal fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/211 of 21 November 2017 establishing a discard plan as regards salmon in the Baltic Sea
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/188 of 21 November 2017 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) No 1394/2014 establishing a discard plan for certain pelagic fisheries in South-Western waters
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/189 of 23 November 2017 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) No 1395/2014 establishing a discard plan for certain small pelagic fisheries and fisheries for industrial purposes in the North Sea
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/190 of 24 November 2017 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) No 1393/2014 establishing a discard plan for certain pelagic fisheries in North-Western waters.
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/2036 of 18 October 2018 amending Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/86 establishing a discard plan for certain demersal fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2237 of 1 October 2019 specifying details of the landing obligation for certain demersal fisheries in South-Western waters for the period 2020-2021
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2238 of 1 October 2019 specifying details of implementation of the landing obligation for certain demersal fisheries in the North Sea for the period 2020-2021
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2239 of 1 October 2019 specifying details of the landing obligation for certain demersal fisheries in North-Western waters for the period 2020-2021
There are some exemptions to the landing obligation. Catches, from regulated species by TACs or by MLS of regulated commercial species 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) or damaged fish (by predators, disease or any other potential contamination). 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 Sea and Mediterranean Sea. There are no exemptions for pelagic fisheries targeting sprat in the Black Sea.
High-grading is a practice that is no longer possible in the context of the 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).
Some fisheries in non-EU waters subject to Regional Fisheries Management Organizations competence where there is a legal obligation to discard are also exempted from the application of the landing obligation by the delegated acts adopted on the basis of Article 15(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013.
Fisheries in the waters of third countries where the law of the third country applies (e.g. the Seychelles) do not fall under the landing obligation.
Where closed area affects a fishery falling under the landing obligation, all by-catch must be landed and counted against quotas. 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. Catches of prohibited species (e.g. basking shark) cannot be retained on board and must be returned into the sea.
The existing minimum landing sizes (MLS) are changed into minimum conservation reference sizes (MCRS), but they will remain largely the same. Baltic cod and anchovy in the South-Western waters are an exception and more recently the clams in the Adriatic Sea and Nephrops in Skagerrak and Kattegat: new minimum conservation reference sizes have been established in regional discard plans.
In order to avoid waste, undersized catches can be sold, but not for direct human consumption. Producer organisations have among their tasks the duty to help their members find adequate outlets for these catches, without promoting the creation of a market for undersized fish. On the other hand, Member States also have the obligation to assist fishermen by facilitating storage of undersize fish and finding possible outlets. Once landed, the undersized fish has to be handled in line with ABP (animal by-products) rules and processors must be able to distinguish these catches from fish destined for direct human consumption.
All catches of each species above 50 kg per trip (all species, including undersized fish) must be registered in the log-book and the landing declaration. All catches (including undersized fish) must also be registered in the transhipment 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.
All discards allowed under exemptions (such as the de minimis) of the landing obligation must be registered in the log-book.
From 1 January 2017 Member States have to apply the points system for illegal discarding.
Examples of the landing obligation in other (outside the European Union) fisheries can be found in Chile www.subpesca.gov.cl, Iceland www.iceland.is, New Zealand www.fish.govt.nz or Norway www.fisheries.no, for example.
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