The Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union was reformed in 2013 to improve the conservation of marine biological resources and the viability of the fishing sector and reduce unsustainable fishing practices (European Union 2013). One of the cornerstones of the reform is Article 15 (termed the Landing Obligation, LO), stipulating the obligation to bring to land all catches of quota- or size-regulated species with the overall aim to gradually eliminate discards.
The shift of focus from landed catches to all catches (i.e. including discards) in the current CFP has had a number of wide-ranging implications on the scientific ecological knowledge and on the ways the scientific community is providing advice on fishing opportunities.
- Article 15, paragraph 2(b), of the CFP describes an exemption from the Landing Obligation for “species for which scientific evidence demonstrates high survival rates, taking into account the characteristics of the gear, of the fishing practices and of the ecosystem”. This provision has sparked a high interest in discard survival assessments and mobilised Member States and fishing industry representative organisations. The STECF a well as the dedicated ICES group WKMEDS have been heavily involved in providing guidance and developing protocols on how to quantify discard survival robustly in the early stages. Spanning from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, more than 20 studies have been carried out all over Europe between 2013 and 2018 and assessed by the STECF. Generating robust evidence on discard survival estimates that is representative of a fishery still remains challenging. Defining what “high survival” means has also been challenging.
- The Landing Obligation has rendered the provision of scientific advice more complex to perform and quality-check, and more difficult to formulate. Since 2015, two main changes have been triggered in the ICES process, involving the way catch data are collected and the way forecasts are performed and presented.
- Changes in catch data have emerged from the need to quantify and use new categories, i.e. Landings below minimum conservation reference size and Logbook Registered Discard). Conceptual decisions must be made on how to sample, monitor and include these catch components in the stock assessment. Until now however, the data sent to ICES for these new categories have remained negligible.
- In theory, the landing obligation would ensure that all catches would be landed, and a single catch advice would suffice. In practice, this poses a number of quantitative challenges, linked to the facts that: i) discarding still takes place and cannot be ignored; and ii) legal provisions (e.g. high survivability, de minimis and predator damage fish) in article 15 mean that the landing obligation is only partially applicable.
- Finally, the phased implementation together with incomplete discard data have made the calculation of TAC uplift particularly challenging.
On the management side, TACs have been adjusted to facilitate the implementation of the LO, although overall, discarding practices have little changed in Europe to date. This may well lead to counterproductive increases in fishing mortality.
The final section summarises the situation in the DiscardLess case studies, providing updated discard plans. No significant changes have been observed over the 2015-2018 period due to the implementation of the the LO, in the discarding patterns and volumes. An exception to that would be in the North Sea and west of Scotland, haddock, and to a lesser extent North Sea cod and Saithe (in the west of Scotland only) for which discard volumes have decreased.