UK unprepared for new fisheries conservation rules

08 February 2019

The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee publishes its report on the implementation and enforcement of the EU landing obligation.


The EU landing obligation aims to put an end to the practice of discarding fish. 1.7 million tonnes of fish were being thrown back into the sea each year, because fishers were catching species they did not want or weren’t allowed to keep. Spurred on by a public petition (championed by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) that attracted 870,000 signatures, the EU agreed to legislation in 2013 that would require fishers to land everything they caught. The rules have been slowly phased in since 2015, and came into force in full on 1 January 2019.

Key findings

Despite the long lead-in time, when the Committee examined the issue in November and December 2018 they found little evidence of the landing obligation being followed to date and an almost unanimous view that the UK was not ready for full implementation.

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 (which would have serious financial implications for them) and breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota.

Ensuring compliance with the new rules requires the ability to monitor fishers at sea, to observe if any discarding occurs, and the only effective way to do this is by installing cameras and other monitoring devices on vessels. 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. The Committee concluded, therefore, that the UK is in a position where the only tools it has in place to monitor compliance are likely to be largely ineffectual.

Committee’s comments

Lord Krebs, one of the members of the Committee, said:

"Although the landing obligation has applied to a number of UK fish stocks since 2015, we heard no evidence that fishers have been complying with it or that any serious attempts have been made to enforce it.

"We recognise that the landing obligation requires significant changes in fishing practices and in how compliance is monitored. But these rules were agreed in 2013. Action could have been taken years ago to change how fishing quota is managed and distributed, to improve take-up of technology that can help fishers be more selective in what they catch, and to reach agreement with other Member States about the use of cameras to monitor compliance. Instead, we are entering 2019 with the most likely scenario being that discarding will continue, leaving the environmental concerns that prompted the introduction of the new rules unaddressed."

Further information

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