Aquaculture for all

Europe’s Small-Scale Fisheries and the ‘Landing Obligation’

Sustainability Economics Politics +2 more

EU - The European Unions Common Fisheries Policy Landing Obligation aims to tackle fishery discards, which presents issues for sustainable management. Although introduced in 2015, questions over its implementation and impacts on the various fishing sectors remain.

by Marine biologist
Samantha Andrews thumbnail

Europe’s small-scale fisheries are typically coastal vessels, averaging 5 meters – 7 meters in length, often utilizing a relatively low-level of technology compared to larger industrial fisheries.

Contributing some 25 per cent of all EU fisheries revenue, small-scale fisheries employs 40 per cent of EU fishers, and provides valuable income for coastal communities. Despite the EU recognising the importance of small-scale fisheries, little has been done to assess the implications of the Landing Obligation for this sector. Consulting with a range of “experts”, including fishery scientists, industry representatives, and NGOs, Dr Sebastian Villasante (University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain) and colleagues explore what the Landing Obligation could mean for this diverse fishery sector.

The consultation revealed broad agreement that Europe’s small-scale fishery discards are typically low, except when quota limits are reached. As a result, with the exception of NGOs, many of the experts did not feel that implementing the Landing Obligation in small-scale fisheries offered any huge advantages. Whilst discard rates are likely to be much lower than for industrial fisheries, a literature review by the authors revealed that data on discard rates in small-scale fisheries is largely lacking. They also noted that high discard rates have previously been recorded in Mediterranean small-scale fisheries.

Experts also differed in opinion on the willingness of small-scale fishers to comply with the Landing Obligation. Industry representatives, academics, and administrators generally expected willingness to be low, whilst NGOs and public research institutes remained optimistic that small-scale fishers would be willing to comply. Even with a willingness to comply, the ability of small-scale fishers to comply could be problematic. Generally the experts felt that small-scale fisheries did not have the capacity to hold the extra catch on board their vessel as required under the Landing Obligation, nor the financial ability to adapt vessels to allow them to increase on-board handling and storage capacity.

The economic impacts of the Landing Obligation remains difficult to estimate, though it has been suggested that losses of 10 per cent – 15 per cent per annum could occur, representing a significant financial loss for small-scale fishers. One estimate for small-scale fisheries in Galicia, Northwest Spain, suggested annual direct and indirect losses of some €30 - €50 million, resulting in some 7,000 job losses in the sector. Fishery representatives also suggested that other sectors which provide goods and services to, and use the products of, small-scale fisheries could also see economic losses.

Despite these difficulties, a number of incentives to reduce discards in small-scale fisheries were identified in the consultation. Most experts identified the seafood market as a major player in reducing discards. Changes to market demand, through the promotion and creation of demand for underutilized species could change what is currently considered low-value, previously discarded catch, into one with value. The promotion of local seafood products and public awareness campaigns on the importance of discard reductions may also prove useful in creating market demand. However, the creation of any market for new species needs to be done carefully so not to increase stress on marine ecosystems, and create new, unsustainable fisheries. Introducing management systems based on fishing effort control rather than ‘Total Allowable Catch’ (TAC), and increasing enforcement efforts were also highlighted as having potential to reduce small-scale fishery discards.

Other methods were more divisive. Introducing technical measures to reduce discards was seen as advantageous by industry representatives and NGOs, whilst academics, public research institutes, and administrators, thought such measures were less beneficial. Increasing fisher education through courses, workshops, etc. was seen as useful by experts, though less so by industry representatives, whilst increasing the number of “de minimis” exemptions received strong support from the industry, but mixed support from the other experts.