Minister: Chokes could tie up boats by mid-year

Lords warn of discards ban enforcement problems

UK fisheries minister George Eustice has acknowledged that the discards ban, which is now fully in force, could mean that some boats could be tied up halfway through the year, reports Tim Oliver

A parliamentary committee that is reporting on the discards ban told the minister that industry representatives had told them that choke species could mean boats could be tied up in February. They asked the minister if he envisaged this, and what steps would be taken to prevent this happening.

Main image: Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association chairman David Milne.

George Eustice told the committee: “Our expectation is that it would not present as early as February, but it is a very real problem, in that parts of the fleet could be choked and have to tie up halfway through the year.

“If the fishing industry has a particular stock in a particular sector of the fleet that it thinks might be affected, I would certainly look into that. It is a very real problem – I am not taking away from that – but I anticipate it being a problem that presents itself in the middle of the year rather than as early as February.”

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment subcommittee has been taking evidence from a wide range of industry and government representatives in an inquiry into the landing obligation/discards ban, and is due to produce its report in February.

But as the ban came fully into force for all quota species on 1 January, after a four-year phasing-in period, the committee expressed ‘grave concerns’ both about the impact it could have on the fishing industry, and about the UK’s ability to enforce the new rules.

Describing the landing obligation as ‘a fundamental change to fisheries legislation’, it said it had heard it could have ‘a devastating impact’ on the industry.

Being unable to legally discard over-quota fish, fishermen could hit their quota for some species within a few weeks. They would then have to choose between tying up for the rest of the year or breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota.

“One estimate suggests £165m-worth of fish could remain uncaught in 2019 due to fishers having to stop fishing early,” said the committee (Fishing News, 20 December, ‘Discards ban could cost industry £165m’).

“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”

The committee also heard that enforcement agencies lack the capability to be able to implement the landing obligation.

It said, “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.

“Onboard 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 the landing obligation had been introduced to help ensure sustainable fishing. It was therefore ‘deeply concerning’ that fishermen, environmental groups and even the enforcement agencies did not think the new rules could be implemented from 1 January.

He said: “It is obvious that the UK government does not have the resources in place to monitor compliance, nor has it used the opportunity of the phased introduction to make the changes to quota allocations, or promote the use of selective fishing practices, that might alleviate some of the risk to fishers’ livelihoods.

“The first of January should be the start of a new era of more sustainable, less wasteful fishing, but most people we spoke to thought nothing would change – fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim to none, and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them. When the fisheries minister is making his new year’s resolutions, I would urge him to put sorting this issue out at the top of his list.”

A leading figure in the Scottish fishing industry also warned of the problems the discards ban will bring. Davie Milne, chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, said that reductions in key quotas, aligned to full implementation of the ‘irrational’ landing obligation, will pose ‘the biggest challenge we have seen for a number of years’ (SWFPA chairman’s statement – see below).

Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association – chairman’s statement

Reduced quotas, full implementation of the landing obligation, increased international fishing effort in Scottish waters, and Brexit are highlighted by David Milne in his SWFPA chairman’s statement as some of the challenges and issues that need to be addressed by an industry in which enthusiasm continues to shine brightly, due to healthy and stable stocks

SWFPA chairman David Milne said: “2018 has been a successful year for a number of our members. Many have performed well, both in terms of volume of landings and also as a result of strong demand and firm prices. This has come about through a commitment to quality, sustainability and market awareness. It will be lost in a moment, however, if we become complacent and take our eyes off the longer-term goal of being able to pass healthy, stable stocks to the next generation.

“Many of us recall long periods of stock decline, and decommissioning schemes when a number of our colleagues lost their businesses and the ability to earn a living from fishing. My personal story of loss and hurt mirrors that of many.

“The period of transformation that followed very much shaped our industry of today. As an industry, we no longer held any appetite for operating outside of the law. The industry came of age and collectively embarked on a period of rebuilding our stocks. It is the spoils of that commitment and endeavor that we harvest today.

“With that in mind, we need to be fully aware of the pressures the coming year will bring. Reductions in quotas for key commercial stocks, aligned to full implementation of the landing obligation, will, I believe, pose the biggest challenge we have seen for a number of years.

“The irrationality of the landing obligation is not lost on me. Landing all catches of regulated species, and the early choking of fisheries and underutilised opportunities that such a situation may deliver, runs contrary to any sense of fairness or fair play. Ordinarily, complying with the law would be a safeguard against harm, not put you in financial harm’s way, as the landing obligation may well do to some. That said, we need to find a way to operate within the confines of the landing obligation, in order to protect the stocks from increased mortality and give confidence to the marketplace and the consumer.

“Enthusiasm within the industry continues to shine bright. The ongoing high level of investment in both new and second-hand vessels is good to see, but we have to be aware of the collective impact of improved efficiency. We need to be aware of this surge in technical creep, and the potential long-term impact it may have on the stocks if we choose to ignore it.

“While I believe it is important to be aware of our own capabilities, we also need to have clear sight of the activities of non-UK-registered vessels. I share the concerns of many of you in relation to the level of non-UK activity currently taking place to the west of Scotland and in the waters around the Orkney and Shetland islands, especially when a number of those vessels continue to ignore our unilateral measures to protect spawning cod. We will continue to highlight our concerns to the relevant authorities.

“Competition for space and gear conflict are now unwelcome regular features of fishing. With others, your association will seek to build a greater understanding of competing actors and their activities, and hopefully deliver some common understanding and a pathway to collaboration and co-existence.

“Brexit remains a key focus for your association, and with others we will continue to put pressure on our politicians, so that very soon we will be a coastal state entering into annual fisheries negotiations, with all the leverage we require to strike a better deal for our fishermen.

“Your association continues to be seen as a very respectable partner across a range of policy areas. We will continue to maintain those relationships, and work with others in order to deliver a profitable seafood sector, built on sensible and sustainable harvesting.

“I wish you all a safe and profitable 2019.”


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!