This obligation follows three years of hard-fought negotiations led by the UK government in Europe and is the first phase of the introduction of the wider ‘discard ban’.
Previously fishermen had been required to discard some of their catch before they landed at ports, leading to up to a million tonnes being thrown back into European waters. While the practice was discouraged a ban was never formally agreed by Member States until the UK took the lead to secure significant reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy in Europe, including:
- a ban on discarding fish
- a legally binding commitment to fishing at sustainable levels
- decentralised decision making, allowing Member States to agree the measures appropriate to their fisheries.
The ban will first apply to pelagic species including blue whiting, boarfish, herring, horse mackerel, mackerel, Norway pout, sandeel and sprat. It will also include by-catch of quota species, such as cod and whiting, and any quota fish that are below the minimum landing size (MLS).
Commenting on the start of the pelagic discard ban, Fisheries Minister George Eustice said: “The long fight to reform the broken Common Fisheries Policy has been won and today marks a significant milestone in our commitment to fish more sustainably by ending the shameful practice of discarding perfectly good fish.
“But our work is not over. While it’s widely recognised pelagic fishing operations have relatively low discard rates we will continue to work with fishermen to help them adjust to the new reforms and make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Looking ahead to the implementation of the demersal discard ban in January 2016, for fish such as cod and hake, the UK government has successfully resisted further reductions to the amount of days fishermen can spend at sea at this year’s EU Council.
This will provide fishermen with the time they need to fish more selectively, help them avoid discarding and allow them to catch their full quotas. In addition we also secured a commitment from the European Commission to undertake research to improve quota flexibility, allowing fishermen to use quotas across different regions in light of the need for increased selectivity.
The government is also examining whether it can secure scientifically justified exemptions to allow fish to be returned to the sea where they have a high chance of survival and ‘de-minimis’ exemptions allowing a very low level of discarding where the cost of landing fish would be disproportionately expensive to fishermen. Research is also underway to identify viable uses for previously discarded fish, such as pot bait.
The Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO) guidance for fishermen is available here. This outlines which fish come under the new landing obligation, what fishermen have to do with them on board, and which can be sold for human consumption. The European Commission’s guidance is available here.
A ban on the discarding of demersal fish (e.g. plaice, cod and hake) will be introduced between 2016 and 2019.