At the end of February, the Fisheries Council – co-legislator for the Common Fisheries Policy reform – adopted its final general approach on the proposal for a regulation on the CFP. This final agreement builds on the first general approach agreed in June 2012 and specifies the Council position on the implementation of the obligation to land all catches – the discards ban – and the possibility of by-catch quotas.
Dates for implementing the discard ban have been agreed: the tuna and small pelagic fisheries will be the first to have a discard ban implemented from January 2014. A discard ban for fisheries taking place in non-EU waters should be in place by the beginning 2017.
Taking a different view from the European Parliament which refused weakening the discard ban, exemptions have been introduced to help the fishing industry adapt to this obligation, which allows some percentage of discarding under strict conditions. Some NGOs have described these exemptions as potential loopholes in the legislation. A transition period of three years will be offered to the fleets to gradually comply with the discard ban. Spain, which together with other Mediterranean countries opposed the discard ban, was relatively satisfied with the result, particularly because it secured a commitment by the Fisheries Commissioner to support financially those vessels that will be the most seriously affected by the changes.
Spanish Minister Arias Cañete declared that the agreed measures: ‘will allow time for the Spanish fleet to improve the selectivity of its gear, to make changes to the vessels and adapt to the changing mindset that implies fishing in a different way.’
Commissioner Maria Damanaki put the emphasis on the need to fish more selectively: ‘This is the most important element of the whole policy.’ She confirmed that accompanying measures would facilitate changes and that there would be enough money to instigate them, in particular technological changes such as fishing net designs. She suggested that boats should be fitted with ‘smart’ nets to filter out fish that would otherwise be discarded as too small or above quota. In a BBC article, she is quoted as saying to a fisherman that ‘she hopes to subsidise the cost of new technology for small boats by 85%.’ She also wants more on-board cameras to ensure that crews cannot cheat on fishing rules.
The first discard ban will be for pelagics such as tuna, and may be implemented as early as January 2014. Activities covered by RFMO rules that allow discards will take precedence over the EU discard ban; otherwise the discard ban will apply. It is unclear how this discard ban will apply for activities that are not covered by RFMOs, including EU pelagic fishing in ACP exclusive economic zones (EEZ). As the Commissioner emphasised, the most important part of this policy commitment to ban discards is to make it an incentive for improving fishing selectivity. For the tuna sector, efforts have already been made by some segments (purse seiners) in recent years to improve fishing selectivity, and this will help to reduce discards. It is less clear for other fleets, such as those fishing for small pelagics in West Africa, whether the discard ban will be an incentive to fish more selectively, as a lot of their important (by volume) by-catch is kept because it is of high commercial value.