Policy actions  4 of 5

Landing obligation and discarding

Advice and guidance on discards

The landing obligation and discarding

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.

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

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

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.

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.

Demersal and Nephrops Landing Obligation From 2018

The landing obligation means that no commercial fishing vessel can return any quota species of any size to the sea once caught. This includes slipping or discarding the catch. Once caught, all quota species must be landed and counted against quota.

Under the landing obligation Minimum Landing Sizes (MLS) are being abolished. Instead a Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) for each species will be introduced. Fish below the MCRS may be sold but cannot go for human consumption.

  • Species not subject to the landing obligation such as non-quota species can be returned to the sea
  • Prohibited species (Basking shark, Porbeagle, Angel shark, Common skate, Undulate ray etc.) must be returned to the sea
  • Debris caught in the net (rocks, tree branches, seaweed) can also be returned to the sea
  • Processing at sea, tailing Nephrops or gutting fish, can continue

2016

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 2016. These plans have been agreed by the European Commission and form the basis of the delegated regulations for the North Sea and North West Waters.

  • In the North Sea in 2016: vessels using gear of 100 mm or more will 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 from a combination of Cod, Haddock, Whiting and Saithe will have to land Haddock. Vessels where 30% or more of their landings in 2013 and 2014 were Nephrops will have to land all Nephrops. Vessels which meet both conditions will have to land both Haddock and Nephrops. All long-line vessels will need to land Hake. Marine Scotland is in contact with vessels to confirm which category they belong to.

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-targeting 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.

2018

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 2018. These plans were accepted by the European Commission and form the basis of the delegated acts.

  • In the North Sea in 2018: vessels using gear of 100 mm or more will need to land all catches of Cod, Sole, Haddock, Plaice, Saithe, Northern prawn, Nephrops and Whiting
  • Vessels using gear of 80-99 mm will need to land all catches of Cod, Sole, Haddock, Saithe, Northern prawn and Nephrops
  • Long-line vessels will need to land all catches of Cod, Sole, Haddock, Hake, Plaice, Saithe, Northern prawn, Nephrops and Whiting
  • In the North West Waters in 2018: vessels where 5% or more of their total landings in 2015 and 2016 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 2015 and 2016 were Nephrops will have to land all Nephrops and Haddock, Sole, Megrim and Plaice
  • 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.

From 2019 all vessels will need to land all catches of all quota species unless an exemption applies.

De minimis and high survivability exemptions

For both the North Sea and North West Waters, a de minimis exemption to allow vessels to discard a limited amount of Nephrops below MCRS has been agreed by Member States and the Commission. In both the North Sea and North West Waters, Member States and the Commission have also agreed a high survivability exemption for Nephrops caught with pots, traps and creels which will allow those Nephrops to be returned to the sea as they are highly likely to survive the capture process. 

Control and enforcement of the landing obligation

Marine Scotland’s marine patrol vessels and surveillance aircraft will be used to detect, as well as deter, discarding. We will use the intelligence and evidence gathered by these vessels and aircraft to ascertain species and the size of fish being landed, which will identify any vessels which continue to discard. We will also use enhanced profiling of catches to identify any irregularities.

Marine Scotland will continue to develop other tools to aid control and enforcement through its involvement in European Union discussions with other Member States, and work to deliver a consistent and fair approach to enforcement across the Member States.

Marine Scotland will be pragmatic in its enforcement, recognising that there needs to be a period of learning and adjustment when the ban takes effect.

Demersal discard atlases

Discard atlases for pelagic and demersal fisheries in the North Sea and North West Waters are available. The atlases attempt to quantify the level of discarding by both species and fishery in these sea areas:

Interim recording of discarded fish and/or fish landed below Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS)

Engaging with others

The landing obligation will require significant change to the existing system of fisheries management and fleet behaviour. The Scottish Government has opted to work jointly with industry and other stakeholders to implement an effective and workable landing obligation that maintains a viable Scottish fishing fleet whilst progressing towards sustainable fishing. Scottish Government officials meet and work with stakeholders on a regular basis in several different capacities.

The Scottish Discard Steering Group (SDSG)

The remit of the SDSG is to advise the Scottish Government on developing policy with regard to the implementation of the landing obligation. It provides a forum for policy makers, scientists, economists, industry and other stakeholders to meet on a quarterly basis. Active skippers are encouraged to attend the meetings.

 The SDSG comprises attendees from:

  • Marine Scotland Policy
  • Marine Scotland Science
  • Marine Scotland Compliance
  • The Scottish Fishermen's Federation
  • The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association
  • The Scottish Whitefish Producers' Organisation
  • The Shetland Fishermen's Association
  • Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association
  • The Scottish Association of Fisheries Producers' Organisations
  • The Scottish Fishermen's Organisation
  • The Scottish Seafood Association
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

More information:

Future catching policy

Implementation of the landing obligation

The Scottish Government is committed to sustainable fishing and minimising waste, including the discarding of fish at sea.   

We remain committed to the principles behind the landing obligation, introduced as part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform in 2013. The landing obligation was intended to put in place a discards ban for all quota stocks by 2019, but there are difficulties with its implementation, in particular the threat of so-called ‘choke species’.

We will continue to work with other Member States, the advisory councils and the Commission to develop new approaches which can resolve the problems of choke species to the purpose of sensible and practicable implementation, without either undermining the sustainable management of stocks or rendering the landing obligation unenforceable.

Developing Scotland’s future catching policy

We also need to take stock and move forward. 

We have started a process with our stakeholders (both industry and environmental groups) through the Scottish Discards Steering Group (SDSG), to consider how to manage discards in the future and how we can avoid a situation where our stocks are over-exploited or our fleets are unnecessarily tied up. 

It is right that we consider discards in the context of an overall future ‘catching policy’, which considers all of the rules and regulations governing activities at sea and helps to shape a sensible and workable structure which means fishermen can continue to put food on our tables and that our fish stocks are secured for future generations.

This will form a key element of a wider strategic consideration of future fisheries management arrangements.  

Emerging thoughts

Increasingly we are moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach which has caused difficulties when applied to the varied fishing fleets which Scotland enjoys – from the small boats targeting crab and lobster in inshore waters, to the large pelagic vessels which harvest our Mackerel and Herring. We are considering more bespoke arrangements for managing and controlling catches by the different fleets.

We understand that accountability is important and that the Scottish public wants to have confidence in the seafood that our fishermen produce. We will be working with the SDSG to agree how we can deliver a high-degree of confidence so that our products continue to be held in the highest regard worldwide.

Transitional arrangements

We understand that it can be difficult to understand how the rules might change in the future and what steps we will need to take to transition to our future catching policy. There may not always be ready answers to questions that might be asked during this period of uncertainty. However we believe that by working constructively with you we will be in a better position to develop policies which will maintain stock sustainability and fleet profitability.

In the meantime, whilst we remain part of the European Union, CFP rules and regulations continue to apply and we will continue to abide by them. 

Interaction at a UK level

Fisheries is a devolved matter, and that is appropriate given the significant differences in fisheries across the UK and the need for management arrangements to be tailored to Scottish circumstances. There are undoubtedly areas where a common approach across the UK is desirable and mutually beneficial, but any such approach must be achieved through agreement and where legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament has been given. 

The imposition of a future UK framework would undermine the existing devolved settlement, as well as damage the bespoke management arrangements which have been developed to meet particular Scottish needs and circumstances. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to fisheries would not be appropriate.

Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group (GITAG)

Established in August 2015, GITAG is an industry-based body with Marine Scotland participation, and is hosted by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF). As we move to full implementation of the Landing Obligation in 2019, GITAG will foster flexible working partnerships between active fishermen, industry and public bodies, gear technologists and science; aimed at scoping and contracting projects, trialling innovations to existing gear categories, piloting new gear configurations and types with associated data collection and appropriate scientific analysis. The Group will also be responsible for the industry-wide dissemination of project-related knowledge, research results and best practice, recommending a suite of evaluated gear.

Gear trial proposals are welcome from all sectors of the industry and should be forwarded through the GITAG Project Manager or Malcolm Morrison at the SFF.

Jennifer Mouat (industry consultant) has been appointed Project Manager and can be contacted by email.

Marine Scotland GITAG representation and advisers:

  • Gordon Hart

  • Barry O'Neill

  • Rob Kynoch

  • Jim Drewery

Background information

This industry group will stimulate innovation in the development of fishing gear technology aimed at trialling and proving new processes and techniques. These will assist the Scottish fishing industry's transition to the operational requirements of the phasing in of the Landing Obligation, whilst protecting economic viability.

The group will advertise and promote the project to the widest possible audience and encourage applications from all sectors of the industry.

The group is expected to remain operational until 31 December 2019, and will operate in line with the Scottish Government’s policies on sustainability, diversity and equality.

Aims

GITAG will foster flexible working partnerships between active fishermen, industry and public bodies, gear technologists and science, aimed at scoping and contracting targeted projects trialling innovations to existing gear categories, piloting new gear configurations and types with associated data collection and appropriate scientific analysis. The group will also be responsible for the industry-wide dissemination of project-related knowledge, research results and best practice, recommending a suite of gear which will form the list of evaluated gear options from which operators can choose.

Structure

Membership of GITAG will consist of representatives from industry, comprising the SFF and other industry representatives with a direct interest in this work, and officials from Marine Scotland's Policy and Science units. Individual fishermen may also be seconded onto the group as and when required, as determined by the needs of individual projects.

Budget

GITAG is 100% grant funded under the EMFF programme. The funding structure will be appropriate to the EMFF regulatory requirements for the programme measure in that it will require match funding to be provided by Marine Scotland.

  • Phase 1 (August 2015 to May 2016) establishment of GITAG, appointment of Project Manager and initial tranche of projects. Total budget £111K

  • Phase 2 (June 2016 to December 2019) running of 3 year programme and commissioning gear trials. Total budget £1.083m

Projects

Details of individual projects supported by GITAG can be found on the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation website.

Historical catches of below minimum landing size fish

North Sea: data on stocks subject to the landing oligation in 2016

Haddock in the North Sea: for vessels using TR1 gear in the North Sea in 2013, it is estimated that 5% of total haddock catches were discarded (1,688 tonnes) – 5% of the discarded element of the catch was estimated to be below the MLS (85 tonnes).

No data is available for below MLS discards of Sole and Plaice in the North Sea.

Nephrops in the North Sea Functional Units in 2014

Functional Unit

Total Catch (Tonnes)

Discards (Tonnes)

% of Catch Discarded

% of Discards Below MLS

Below MLS Fish Discarded(Tonnes)

MLS Fish Discarded as % of Total Catch

Fladdens

4,453

37

0.8

43

16

0.4

Firth of Forth 

2,826

353

12.5

21

74

2.6

Moray Firth

1,336

87

6.5

21.6

18.7

1.3

On account of the expected de minimis exemption for below MCRS Nephrops it is expected that minimal landings of below MCRS Nephrops will occur in 2016.

Data on stocks likely to be subject to the landing obligation in the North Sea in 2017

It is likely that in 2017 vessels deploying TR1 gear in the North Sea will have to land all their cod and whiting. In 2013, TR1 vessels discarded 29% of their total cod catch (4,792 tonnes) – of this  5% was below the MLS (239 tonnes). In 2013 TR1 vessels discarded 9% (852 tonnes) of their total whiting catch – of this 4% (34 tonnes) was below the MLS.

it is likely that in 2017 vessels deploying TR2 gear in the North Sea will have to land all haddock and whiting. In 2013 this fleet discarded 6% of its total haddock catch (65 tonnes) – of the discarded catch 16% was below MLS (10.4 tonnes). In 2013 this fleet discarded 41% (676 tonnes) of its total whiting catch – of this 24% (162 tonnes) was below the MLS.

Data on stocks likely to be subject to the landing obligation in the North Sea in 2018

In 2018 vessels deploying TR1 and TR2 gear in the North Sea may have to land all their saithe. No data is available for below MLS saithe catches.

In 2018 vessels deploying TR2 gear in the North Sea may have to land all cod. In 2013 this fleet discarded 81% (330 tonnes ) of its total cod catch – of this 16% (52 tonnes) was below MLS.

The landing obligation in 2019

In 2019 all catches of quota species will have to be landed and counted against quota. No additional data is held on below MLS catches of additional species.   

North West Waters: data on stocks subject to the landing obligation in 2016

West of Scotland haddock:

For vessels using TR1 gear in the West of Scotland in 2013, it is estimated that 4% of total haddock catches were discarded – 26% of the discarded catch were estimated to be below the MLS (38 tonnes).

For vessels using TR2 gear in the West of Scotland in 2013, it is estimated that 89% of haddock catches were discarded (820 tonnes). Of this it is estimated that 39% of TR2 discarded haddock was below the MLS (320 tonnes).

In 2016 in the west of Scotland it will largely be traditional TR1 vessels that will need to land all haddock catches. On account of this, minimal volumes of below MCRS can be expected.

Nephrops in the West of Scotland Functional Units in 2014

Functional Unit

Total Catch (Tonnes)

Discards (Tonnes)

% of Catch Discarded

% of Discards Below MLS

Below MLS Fish Discarded(Tonnes)

MLS fish Discarded as % of Total Catch

Clyde Area

6,822

696

10.2

12

83.5

1.2

North Minch

3,288

76.7

2.3

5

3.8

 

South Minch

 

 

 

 

 

 

On account of the expected de minimis exemption for below MCRS Nephrops it is expected that minimal landings of below MCRS Nephrops will occur in 2016.

The landing obligation in 2017 and 2018

The North West Waters Regional Group is yet to identify the order in which species will be introduced under the Landing Obligation in the west of Scotland in 2017 and 2018. This will be considered by the Group during 2016 and any pipeline created will represent a route map as opposed to a fixed agreement.

Remaining species likely to be introduced in the West of Scotland before 2019 include cod, whiting, saithe, plaice and sole. Data on historical catches of below MLS cod and whiting are available.

Marine Scotland science data on historical catches of cod below MLS

Discards of cod in the west Coast have been influenced by the zero TAC set for the stock. In 2013 vessels using TR1 gear discarded an estimated 856 tonnes. Of this, 4% was estimated to be below the MLS (39 tonnes). On average over the period 2011-13, 1% of the total catch was estimated to be below MLS (12 tonnes).

For vessels deploying TR2 gear the average catch of cod below MLS is estimated to be 32% of the total catch or 462 tonnes.

Marine Scotland science data on historical catches of whiting below MLS

In 2013 vessels deploying TR1 gear discarded an estimated 64 tonnes of whiting, of which 5% or approximately 3 tonnes was below MLS. Whiting discard rates for vessels using TR2 in the west of Scotland were higher at an estimated 831 tonnes in 2013, of which 45% or 374 tonnes was below MLS. 

The landing obligation in 2019

In 2019 all catches of quota species will have to be landed and counted against quota. No additional data is held on below MLS catches of additional species.

Pelagic landing obligation from 2015

From 01 January 2015 vessels targeting pelagic fisheries will be subject to the Landing Obligation.

The fisheries affected are:

  • Pelagic bottom and mid-water trawl fisheries targeting herring, mackerel, horse mackerel, blue whiting, sprat, boarfish and argentine
  • Purse seine vessels targeting herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting
  • Handliners targeting mackerel

It will be illegal for these vessels to discard catches of all species subject to catch limits. It will remain illegal to slip catches.

The Pelagic Discard Plans for Regional Groups have now been adopted as delegated acts by the European Commission. The acts can be accessed on the EU website.

Marine Scotland has produced a Guidance Note for the pelagic industry which will give an overview of how the pelagic Landing Obligation will operate for the Scottish fleet. This will include information on permitted exemptions and flexibilities, force majeure, control and the Omnibus.

Discards advice and guidance