On the eve of new EU fisheries legislation coming into force, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has raised grave concerns about both the impact this could have on the fishing industry and the UK’s ability to enforce the new rules.
After a four year phasing-in period, the full EU landing obligation comes into force on 1 January 2019. It is a fundamental change to fisheries legislation; where previously fishers discarded fish they caught in excess of their allocated quota, they will now be required to land it. Legislators hope that this will put an end to fish being wasted in this way, encourage fishers to be more selective about what they catch and improve knowledge of what fish are caught.
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has heard, however, that this could have a devastating impact on the UK fishing industry. Without being able to discard fish, fishers may reach their quotas much earlier in the year – particularly in ‘mixed fisheries’ where it will be hard to avoid catching a species for which there may be a very low quota.
The Committee heard that fishers could hit their quota for some species in some areas within a few weeks of the landing obligation coming into force, forcing them to choose between not fishing for the rest of the year and breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota. One estimate suggests £165 million worth of fish could remain uncaught in 2019 due to fishers having to stop fishing early.
The Committee also heard, however, that enforcement agencies lack the capability to be able to implement the landing obligation. Ensuring compliance with the new rules requires the ability to monitor fishers at sea, to observe if any discarding occurs. Patrol vessels are an expensive resource that can only ever cover a small percentage of the fishing fleet at any one time. On-board CCTV is largely held to be the most effective and efficient way to monitor activity at sea, but few boats in the UK currently have this installed and the UK Government will not mandate it unless other EU countries do the same, for fear of putting UK fishers at a disadvantage.
Lord Krebs, a member of the Committee, said: “Maintaining the health of our oceans by fishing at sustainable levels is critically important, and the landing obligation was introduced to help make sure this happens. So it is deeply concerning that so many people – fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves – do not think these new rules can be implemented from 1 January.”