Small-scale fleets will be hit hard, warns LIFE

MEPs and the EU Commission expressed polar opposite views on the landing obligation (LO) and choke species last month, reports Tim Oliver

EU fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella was uncompromising on the fact that the total discards ban on all quota species must come into force next year. He told MEPs in the EU parliament’s fisheries committee: “The rules are clear – as of 1 January, 2019, the landing obligation will apply to all catches of species subject to catch limits. These are the rules of the CFP, agreed by all, and well-known to everybody for more than four years now. Rules cannot be changed half-time [sic] through a match… It would undermine the reformed CFP, and it would damage our credibility.”

But according to Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE), none of the nine MEPs who spoke at a workshop in the EU parliament the previous day defended the landing obligation. And following a presentation and discussion of three case studies from the North-Western Waters, the North Sea, and the South-Western Waters, Alain Cadec, chairman of the fisheries committee, said: “The diagnosis is very clear – uncertainty, difficulty, complexity… I don’t regret voting against the landing obligation.”

“One of the MEPs highlighted that no solutions had been offered by the scientists, and that the LO was not implementable on 1 January, 2019,” said LIFE’s Brian O’Riordan.

“Another talked about confusion and problems, and called for a longer transition period and more flexibility. Yet another stated that the LO was not compatible with a TAC/quota system, and was difficult to square with mixed fisheries. There was even a call for a Plan B.”

He said the Commission representative at the workshop – which discussed ‘The landing obligation and choke species in multi-species and mixed fisheries’ – agreed that there was insecurity and chaos, but said that the LO ‘toolbox’ (quota swaps/flexibility, de minimis provisions, TAC increases, exemptions, etc) was not being used sufficiently.

The representative also said scientists cannot give a full picture of the choke problem since ‘chokes are not choking because the LO is not yet fully implemented’. Owing to the LO being implemented gradually, more time was needed to see how things evolve.

A French scientist who made a presentation on the North Sea highlighted the complexity of the mixed-species fisheries. She said that fishing mortality in the North Sea is rising again, and that past gains may be lost.

She also noted that choke issues will only become a problem if the LO is strictly implemented. Currently, choke problems have not been observed or reported to the Commission’s scientific and technical committee (STECF).

The workshop also highlighted that the small-scale passive-gear fleet has little access to quota, because the fleet lacks the catch history to qualify for quota. This made quota management, and thus the LO, unfairly discriminatory against smaller vessels.

Scots fears

A question on behalf of Scottish demersal trawler operators, who will be heavily impacted by chokes, asked which ‘pillar’ of the CFP should be sacrificed – MSY fishing levels, the implementation of the LO, or the fishermen.

The North-Western Waters presenter, an Irish scientist, replied that if vessels did not fish sustainably, it was not a matter of giving up on fishermen, but rather that fishermen would lose their markets due to consumer pressures. That was the choice, he felt – either comply with the LO or lose your markets.

The North Sea presenter said that accurately documenting discards at sea was of higher priority to achieving sustainability than the obligation to land all fish caught. As regards small-scale fisheries (SSF), she felt that a lot of research had been done, and that the issue of SSF discards could be encapsulated by the maxim that ‘small boats = small problems, big boats = big problems’.

Brian O’Riordan said such a view did not reflect the different realities that the different fleets have to deal with, especially the restricted location and seasonal nature of small-scale fishing, compared to the highly mobile and year-round activity of larger-scale operations.

He said: “Whether large or small in scale, LIFE considers that for all fleet segments, the threat of imminent bankruptcy is a big problem, irrespective of the size of the vessel.”
LIFE’s view was that the LO will have a disproportionate impact on under-12m vessels using non-towed gears.

“In the main, these operations are highly selective, with very low rates of discarding compared to trawling and other towed gears. Just because there is less discarding in the SSF doesn’t mean that they are impacted less by the LO,” he said.

“The LO has surely been designed with the large-scale mobile-gear sector in mind, not the low-impact passive-gear sector. This is reflected in the fact that in the past few decades, 3,924 scientific papers have been published relating to the discard issues; 3,760 have focused on large-scale operations, and only 164 have considered the implications for SSF.

“The lack of access of small-scale fishing operators to the quota necessary to remain viable when the LO is fully implemented in 2019 makes them highly vulnerable to ‘choking’, and being forced either to tie up and go bankrupt, or to break the law and face the consequences. LIFE fears that the zero-discard policy could well become a zero-fishing, zero-income policy for the small-scale fleets.”

He said LIFE advocates a two-pronged approach to the landing obligation for small-scale fleets. First, they need a fair quota allocation, so that they can plan and manage their operations. This should involve some pooling of the quota, which can be drawn on as needed to deal with the choke problem as it arises.

Secondly, for the inshore segment of the SSF fleet, a move towards effort management could provide a fairer and more effective way to deal with the problems of both access and discarding.


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