Although we are still in a transitional period, the ban on discards is now a fact in all European Union waters and for many different fisheries. In 2015, the landing obligation began to cover small and large pelagic species, industrial fisheries and the main fisheries in the Baltic. In 2016, it was extended to demersal fisheries for the North Sea and the Atlantic. This year even more species will be covered in the Atlantic, while species from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea are included for the first time.
Since 2014, the European Commission has supported the roll-out of the landing obligation by adopting several discard plans for the Baltic, the North Sea and the Atlantic, based on recommendations by Member States. Since 1 January 2017, additional discard plans are in place for certain demersal fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea, including hake, red mullet and some bivalves.
Another novelty in 2017 is that Member States must start applying a points system for illegal discarding. They will also need to send additional data to the Scientific Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), so that scientists can advise the Commission on updating the discard plans if necessary.
Over the past few years, Member States, scientists, fishermen and others have been testing solutions to ensure a smooth transition to the full landing obligation by the 2019 deadline. The European Commission has co-financed pilot projects such as DisCatch, which focuses on demersal and small pelagic trawl fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition, European funds like the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund can support projects looking to tackle the specific problems of each fishery. This includes making gears more selective, developing new IT tools for fishermen, finding ways to store fish on vessels or on land, and increasing the value of by-products from landed catches.
The European Commission's department for maritime and fisheries lists some of those projects on its website, with regular updates that take new developments into account. A source of inspiration for fishermen, fisheries managers and other interested parties alike!