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The Landing Obligation & Discarding

What are discards?

Discards are those fish, often dead or dying, that are returned to the sea during commercial fishing operations. Discarded fish do not currently count towards a fisherman’s quota.

Why is discarding a problem?

Discarding can damage the environment in two ways:

  • through increased mortality to target and non-target species, particularly at juvenile life-history stages
  • through alteration of food webs by supplying increased levels of food to scavenging organisms on the sea floor, and to sea birds

Why do discards happen?

Discarding happens for a variety of reasons including:

  • catching fish below the Minimum Landing Size (MLS) - the MLS exists to prevent markets in small fish (which have not yet had the chance to reproduce) from developing, as this would have a detrimental effect on the long-term sustainability of the stock
  • catch composition rules - these rules exist to prevent vessels from using inappropriate gear to target fish (normally because the gear is unselective and would catch a lot of fish below MLS). The rules specify the maximum (or minimum) percentage of the catch by gear type which a species may be. Catches above (or below) this percentage must be discarded.
  • 'high grading' - given limited fish quotas fishermen may attempt to maximise their return by only keeping the fish which will sell for the highest price and discard the rest, and
  • lack of quota - it is currently illegal to land fish without sufficient quota coverage and a vessel may have exhausted its quota for a particular species

What is the ‘discard ban’?

As part of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) it has been agreed that catches of quota fish may no longer be discarded. Instead, all of the catch must be landed and counted against quota. The discard ban, or Landing Obligation, only applies to species subject to catch limits and those subject to minimum size limits in the Mediterranean. The discard ban is being phased in over a number years, starting in 2015 with pelagic fisheries, extending to demersal fisheries in 2016, and being fully implemented across all TAC species by 2019.

What is Scotland doing to prepare for the discard ban?

The Scottish Government and industry are working in several capacities to implement the discard ban in an effective and proportionate manner.

The Landing Obligation is being implemented by the new European process of regionalisation in which Member States in the sea basin areas (Baltic Sea, North Sea, North Western Waters, South Western Waters and Mediterranean Seas) work together to jointly-agreed discard plans. Scotland, working as part of the UK, has been involved in producing the discard plans for the North Sea and North Western Waters. Scottish representatives attend all meetings of these groups.

Marine Scotland understands the importance of engaging with industry to develop solutions to the discard ban. We know that changes in behaviour and business practices are likely to be needed at vessel level to adjust to the landing obligation. We also know that radical thinking is needed at national level to develop solutions.

Implementation in the North Sea and North West Waters Regions in 2016 

Member States agreed plans for which species need to be landed by vessels in the North Sea and North West Waters in 2016. These plans were accepted by the European Commission and form the basis of the delegated regulations for the North Sea and the North West Waters.

  • In the North Sea in 2016: vessels using gear of 100 mm or more need to land haddock, plaice and northern prawn, and vessels using gear of 80-99 mm will need to land nephrops, common sole and northern prawn. All long line vessels will need to land hake.
  • In the North West Waters in 2016: vessels where 10% or more of their total landings in 2013 and 2014 were any combination of cod, haddock, whiting and saithe have to land haddock. Vessels where 30% or more of their landings in 2013 and 2014 were nephrops have to land all nephrops. Vessels which meet both conditions have to land both haddock and nephrops. All long line vessels need to land hake. Marine Scotland has contacted POs and vessels to confirm which category they belong to.

Implementation in the North Sea and North West Waters Regions for 2017  

Member States have drawn up plans for which species will need to be landed by vessels in the North Sea and North West Waters in 2017. These plans were accepted by the European Commission and form the basis of published delegated acts for the North Sea (and annex) and North Westeren Waters (and annex).

  • In the North Sea in 2017: vessels using gear of 100 mm or more will need to land all catches of saithe (if caught by a saithe-targetting vessel), plaice, haddock, whiting, cod, northern prawn, sole and nephrops
  • Vessels using gear of 80-99 mm will need to land all catches of nephrops, haddock, sole and northern prawn
  • Long line vessels will need to land all catches of hake, northern prawn, nephrops, sole, haddock whiting and cod*
  • In the North West Waters in 2017: vessels where 5% or more of their total landings in 2014 and 2015 were from a combination of cod, haddock, whiting and saithe will have to land haddock, sole, plaice and megrim 
  • Vessels where 20% or more of their landings in 2014 and 2015 were nephrops will have to land all nephrops and haddock
  • All long line vessels will need to land hake

Vessels which meet both conditions will have to land both haddock, sole, plaice, megrim and nephrops. Marine Scotland is in contact with vessels and Producer Organisations to confirm which, if any, category they belong to.

Further species will be introduced in 2018 to avoid the sudden addition of a large number of species in 2019.

The Pelagic, North Sea and North West Waters Advisory Groups

Scottish interests are represented within the Pelagic, North Sea and the North West Waters Advisory Councils (ACs). The ACs bring together representatives from the catching and processing sectors alongside environmental NGOs, consumers' representatives, recreational anglers and civil society. Scottish representatives to the ACs work alongside those from other Member States to submit advice, recommendations and suggestions regarding EU fisheries policy.

The Scottish Government has been working alongside the Scottish fishing industry and environmental stakeholders in preparation for the implementation of the Landing Obligation in Scotland. Details of these processes can be found in the sections on Engaging With Others.