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Government blames Danish fishing industry for landing obligation failure

Published on October 3, 2017

Already in 2009 the Danish government shouldered the responsibility of eradicating discards in the Baltic Sea through a flagship project under the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, EUSBSR. Eight years later Denmark is blaming its own fishing industry for the failure to stop the continued discards, a practice that has been illegal since 2015.

At the latest Expert Group on Fisheries Control meeting, the EU Commission stated that “there was significant concern that in general, effective control and enforcement [of the landing obligation] is lacking in Member States”. However, according to Danish representatives, it is “not that MS were not compliant with the need to implement the LO, and are doing all they can, but that it is simply that the industry is non-compliant”.

A Commission audit has been initiated across Member States, to identify levels of implementation of the Landing Obligation. It is now an increasing priority of the Commission to ensure the discard ban is effectively managed. They presented findings, based on meetings with regional high level groups and European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) that they have “credibly identified a lack of compliance [with the landing obligation] in certain fisheries and sea-basins”.

German representatives “agreed that there were significant indications of non-compliance in the Baltic Sea….and [a need to] establish effective means of enforcement”, a statement reiterated by Sweden. Under the EMFF 2014-2020, 580 million euros was ear-marked to control “but only a small proportion is so far selected for support”, so Member States do have possibilities to increase their investments in control and enforcement.

The Commission found that the last haul initiative, initiated by EFCA, was ““highly commendable” for monitoring discard rates in certain fisheries. However, despite strong indications of non-compliance, inspections are “mostly unable to confirm infringements and ensure enforcement”.

In the Baltic, evidence of illegal discarding is widespread. Over 11 million eastern Baltic cod were illegally discarded last year according to ICES, estimated at 20% of the total cod caught. However, official logbook landings from the fishing industry document less than 2% of their catch as juvenile cod. EFCA last haul inspections have shown undersized catches as high as 45% of the total catch. Moreover, according to ICES, Danish trawlers targeting cod may discard 100% of their catch of plaice.[1] Despite this evidence, Member States have proved unable to control and enforce the landing obligation.

Denmark was responsible for the Flagship Project “Eradicating discards in the Baltic Sea” under the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The project was concluded at the end of 2011, but no suggestions for improvements to control and enforcement were made and discards have yet to be eradicated in the region.

At present, a Special Inspection and Control Programme (SPIC) forms the basis for Member States and EFCA to collaborate on fisheries controls. This facilitates the coordinator of joint deployments and controls at sea. For the Baltic and North Seas these programmes have been in place since mid-2013 and are due to expire at the end of 2018.

In discussions concerning renewing the SPIC mandate, the Danish representative proposed that a “SPIC is not necessary for all quota species”. This would likely result in even less control of the landing obligation. Given the current situation in the Baltic, any efforts to water down existing agreements would be a backward step.

[1] WBGFAS 2017, p.358