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Friday, 20 June 2014

FISHERIES: Proposal for a regulation on the landing obligation

Latest news from Brussels regarding the implementation of the 'discards ban'.

Landing obligation and discards ban 

Ministers took stock of the preparations for the adoption by the Council of its position regarding a proposal for a regulation on the landing obligation. In addition, the Member States gave an update on the state of play of the preparation of discard plans at the regional level in line with the preparation of the implementation of the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This allowed Member States to exchange opinions, experiences and information.


Proposal for a regulation on the landing obligation

The ministers took stock of the preparations for the adoption of the Council position regarding a proposal for a regulation on the landing obligation (or "Omnibus" regulation) (18021/13). While generally supporting the Presidency compromise with a view to finalising the work before the end of this year, some Member States expressed diverging views about some key open issues,including the elimination of minimum conservation reference sizes (MCRS) for the pelagic speciesin the North-East Atlantic and the introduction of exemptions for undersized marine organisms.

The Commission proposed the "Omnibus" regulation in order to help the future implementation of the discards ban, as agreed in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform. This proposal represents a temporary and urgently needed solution, which needs to be adopted by the end of this year. It consists of a series of amendments to a number of regulations establishing technical measures and control rules for the fisheries sector. The Council is preparing its position with a view to starting negotiations with the European Parliament in the second half of this year. The aim is the adoption of the regulation by the end of 2014.

One of the central objectives of the reform of the current CFP is the progressive elimination of discards in all EU fisheries through the introduction of a landing obligation (Article 15 of regulation 1380/20131). This is designed to make better use of the available resources, and to meet public expectation that the practice of throwing marketable fish back into the sea will be ended. High levels of discards are identified as an important factor behind the lack of environmental sustainability of the CFP.

The European Parliament and the Council agreed on the gradual introduction of the landing obligation with 1 January 2015 as the starting date for implementation. In order to make the landing obligation operational certain provisions within the current regulations on technical measures, management measures and control that run contrary to the landing obligation and oblige fishermen to discard fish must be removed or amended. However, this new framework certainly cannot be in place in time for the first group of fisheries to be covered under the landing obligation. Legislation is therefore needed so as to remove any legal and practical impediments to implementation on a transitional basis while this new framework is being developed.

As regards technical measures, several provisions contained in the current regulations contradict the landing obligation and oblige fishermen to discard. This means that minimum landing sizes, catch composition rules and by-catch provisions have to be amended. The EU control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the CFP also needs to be aligned with the landing obligation.

As the first group of fisheries will be subject to the landing obligation in 2015, the relevant provisions of the regulations on technical measures, management measures and control measures should be amended by this regulation in order to ensure the timely removal of legal obstacles to applying the landing obligation.

Implementation of the CFP: discard Plans

The Commission provided the Council with a document updating on the state of play of the preparation of discard plans by Member States. This concerns the preparation of related delegated acts, which are to be adopted before the end of 2014 (10217/14). During this meeting ministers expressed views on the current discard plans preparation so as to exchange experience on best practice and share information on key issues and concerns (10872/14).

Ministers from Member States currently chairing regional groups welcomed the preparation of discards plan agreed at sea basin levels (for instance: Baltic region, North Sea, Mediterranean, South Western Waters). In most of cases, these plans are to be forwarded to the Commission in the near future. They set out joint recommendations that the Commission convert into EU through the adoption of a delegated act before the end of the year. Many delegations recognised the added-value in the work carried out at regional level which addresses the specific issues relating to fish stocks and involves professional operators. However, some Member States highlighted the need to adopt common approaches on the various regional recommendations with a view to avoiding discrepancies.

The delegations also raised some key issues which had emerged during the preparation of the discard plans. These includes:

– the need to determine whether technical measures may be included in the regional discard plans; 

– the need to clarify and harmonise the interpretation of the de minimis rule included in the Basic Regulation; 

– solutions for handling damaged fish.

With the new CFP, there is a gradual introduction of a landing obligation for all fisheries (see previous point). On 1 January 2015 the following fisheries (in EU waters) will be subject to the landing obligation: small pelagic fisheries, large pelagic fisheries, industrial fisheries, fisheries for salmon and fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

The new CFP contains a number of provisions designed to facilitate the implementation of the landing obligation. These includes general flexibility provisions which can be applied by Member States in the context of the annual management of their national quotas. In addition, the new CFP

provides for specific flexibility tools used in multiannual plans, or in the absence of multiannual plans, in so-called discard plans (the validity of the plans is limited to 3 years). 

These flexibility tools are: 
– exemptions for species that have high survival rates when returned to the sea; 
– de minimis exemptions, under certain conditions, of up to 5 % of total annual catches (with a possibility of a higher percentage in the first four years).