Sunday, 16 December 2018


The December Council of Ministers will not only be the last in which the UK participates but one of the most complex. A perfect storm of conflicting regulations means that ministers face a number of unpalatable choices and trade-offs. These conflicts include:

⦁ Full implementation of the EU landing obligation (discard ban) from 1st January

⦁ Setting total allowable catches consistent with achieving the MSY objective by 2020 for all harvested stocks

⦁ Avoiding serious choke risks

⦁ Meeting the EU objective of managing fisheries in a way that is consistent with long term sustainability and generating social and economic and employment benefits

⦁ Basing TAC decisions on the most recent scientific advice, including advice for zero catch in specific fisheries

It is clear that not all these objectives can be achieved simultaneously, and so ministers must find a way through to the most reasonable trade-offs.

Chokes could emerge with almost any stock, depending on changing scientific advice, whether TACs have been set at the right level or the rate of quota uptake. The stocks in which these conflicts are at their most acute, however, are:

⦁ North Sea cod

⦁ Celtic Sea haddock

⦁ Irish Sea whiting

North Sea Cod

After more than a decade in which low fishing mortality (pressure) has led to steady increases in the spawning stock biomass, lower than average recruitment and a change in the scientific perception of the stock has led to ICES advice for a 47% cut in the TAC. If fully implemented this reduction would make cod an acute choke risk for haddock, saithe and whiting and other economically important species. As a jointly managed stock, the EU and Norway will probably set the TAC with a lower level of reduction, possibly -33%. This will still present fisheries managers and the fishing industry with a choke risk during 2019.

The TACs for North Sea joint stocks, were agreed at the EU/Norway negotiations held in Bergen and London which concluded on 7th December. The agreed TACs are as follows:


⦁ Whiting: -22% reduction (MSY Approach).

⦁ Cod: -33% (FMSY).

⦁ Haddock: -31% (MSY approach).

⦁ Saithe: +18% (MSY approach).

⦁ Plaice: +11% (MSY approach).

⦁ Herring: -35.9% (Fpa). The block between Denmark and Norway’s positions on cuts to the industrial bycatch fleet was eventually resolved with a smaller reduction being accepted and a working group established to discuss this further next year. The stock will be stepped back to MSY in 2020 instead of taking the full cut advised by ICES (-51%).

There is an outstanding issue on whiting, relating to the scale of deduction relating to a de minimis exemption for part of the fleet. The magnitude of the Commission’s calculations are being challenged.

Celtic Sea Haddock/Cod

Haddock in the Celtic sea is caught along with cod and whiting and a range of other species. Zero catch advice for cod means, if acted upon in management decisions, vessels would be immediately choked and have to cease fishing in the Celtic Sea. One solution that has been proposed is the introduction of a “Union quota” for cod in which bycatch quota is pooled for use of those who need it to avoid chokes. To date, however, there has been no consensus on how such a system should operate. Discussions continue on how to resolve this dilemma.

The choke risk for haddock lies with the UK’s low quota share and a reduced TAC. The UK share of Celtic Sea haddock quota is 10%. The French share is 66% (although the bulk of the catch is made in UK waters). Industry has been working with scientists on enhanced selectivity but this multi-faceted problem will not be solved without a TAC set at a realistic level.

Irish Sea Whiting

Historically there have been very high discards of whiting caught in the nephrop fishery because small whiting has a very low market value. There has been significant progress in introducing more selective fishing gear but whiting remains as a stubborn choke risk. This is a fishery in which the TAC serves no purpose and does not constrain fishing mortality. Against this background, the only solution appears to be the removal of TAC status or listing whiting as a prohibited species. Whichever of these options is taken, whiting will be returned to the sea in 2019.

Scientific Advice and Management Decisions

It is important to understand the distinction between scientific advice, and management decisions, not least because there are individuals and organisations in the NGO community, who routinely suggest that any difference results from irresponsible ministers and industry pressures.

In fact, ICES scientific advice is the basis for all TAC decisions but catch advice generally includes a range of options for managers to consider. Managers (in this case fisheries ministers) have a responsibility to balance this advice with a range of other responsibilities, including:

⦁ Discard reduction and implementation of the landing obligation, including mitigation of choke risks

⦁ The management of mixed fisheries, where a number of species are caught together and a TAC decision on one species has implications for others

⦁ Socio-economic impacts (a staged approach to TAC reductions, where these are necessary, is a frequently used approach)

⦁ Building stocks to deliver high average yields (usually understood in terms of maximum sustainable yield)

It is important that these management responsibilities and the trade-offs that they necessarily entail and properly understood.

The general stocks picture, across all species groups in the North East Atlantic, is best captured in the following statement:

"Over the last ten to fifteen years, we have seen a general decline in fishing mortality in the Northeast Atlantic* and the Baltic Sea. The stocks have reacted positively to the reduced exploitation and we're observing growing trends in stock sizes for most of the commercially important stocks. For the majority of stocks, it has been observed that fishing mortality has decreased to a level consistent with Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) – meaning levels that are not only sustainable but will also deliver high long term yields.” (Our emphasis)

Eskild Kirkegaard,

Chair of the Advisory Committee,

International Council for Exploration of the Seas

*Includes the North Sea

Landing Obligation

In the last two weeks, Fisheries Minister George Eustice has described the problem of choke risks as “intractable”. During the same period, a senior CEFAS scientist told a parliamentary committee that the consequence of fully enforced landing obligation would be chokes. Finally, a senior fisheries regulator recently described the landing obligation as “unenforceable”. These comments provide an idea of the scale of the challenge presented by the implementation of the landing obligation. Against this background the NFFO has entered into urgent discussions with the Marine Management Organisation and Defra to prepare for the full implementation of the new regime in the New Year.

Statement of Intent by the the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations


The EU landings obligation comes fully into force on 1st January 2019 and will then apply to all quota species, unless a specific de minimis or high survival exemption applies.

The full implementation of the landing obligation presents a number of challenges for the fishing industry, fisheries managers, and enforcement authorities, on a scale of magnitude not seen before. The problem of chokes in mixed fisheries, and the challenge of monitoring and controlling fishing activities in diverse fleets across a vast marine environment are at the top of the list of those challenges.

The regulatory regime underpinning the landings obligation is still in a period of adjustment, with important decisions still to be made at the December Council and beyond which will have a direct bearing on choke risks in specific fisheries.

There is a recognition that the year ahead could carry a number of serious risks to the economic wellbeing of the fleets and the integrity of the management regime.

Against this background, the Marine Management Organisation, Defra and the NFFO met in London on 4th December to discuss how to deal with this complex of issues in the coming year.

Draft Statement

Dealing with Chokes in 2019

1. We are entering a difficult period of adjustment in which a pathway to compliance is not yet clear

2. 2019 will be challenging in terms of:

⦁ Choke risks

⦁ Potentially low levels of compliance with the landing obligation in some fisheries

3. The fishing industry and fisheries regulators should have a common objective in achieving a workable landing obligation and a high level of compliance

4. There is a need to prepare to deal with contingencies that may arise during 2019

5. Within a collaborative approach, a forum is required to bring together the insight and experience of vessel operators, producer organisations, the MMO and Defra, to deal with implementation issues as they arise. As well as responding to specific current issues, the forum could also provide a space in which new methods of monitoring and control, such as reference fleets and remote electronic monitoring, could be discussed.

6. The overarching principle guiding the group should be that achieving a workable landing obligation and high levels of compliance, is a joint endeavour, with shared responsibility on vessel operators, producer organisations, fisheries managers, enforcement, control authorities and Defra policy officials. All affected parts of the fleet would be invited to participate in the work of the group.

7. It will be important to send a public statement that the group has been formed and is focussed on developing solutions to outstanding problems

NFFO December 2018