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Discards Ban Discussed at Fisheries Council Meeting

19 June 2014

EU - The Agriculture and Fisheries Council met 16-17 June 2014 to discuss a proposal for a regulation on the landing obligation and an update on the discards ban.

While generally supporting the Presidency compromise with a view to finalise the work before the end of this year, some Member States expressed diverging views about some key open issues, such as the elimination of minimum conservation reference sizes (MCRS) for the pelagic species in the North-East Atlantic or the introduction of exemptions for undersized marine organisms.

The Commission proposed the "Omnibus" regulation in order to facilitate the upcoming implementation of the discards ban, as agreed in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform context. 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 fisheries technical measures and control rules. The Council is preparing its position with a view to starting negotiations with the European Parliament in the second half of this year, aiming for 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 responds to public expectation to end the practice of throwing marketable fish back into the sea. 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. Therefore legislation is required to remove any legal and practical impediments to implementation on a transitional basis while this new framework is being developed.

As regards the technical measures regulations, several provisions contained in the current regulations contradict the landing obligation and oblige fishermen to discard, which 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 to ensure timely removal of legal obstacles to applying the landing obligation.

Implementation of the CFP: Discard Plans

The Commission provided to the Council a document updating on the state of play of the preparation of discard plans by Member States, with a view to the preparation of related delegated acts, which are to be adopted before the end of 2014 (10217/14). During this meeting ministers had an exchange of views on the current situation of the discards plans preparation to exchange experiences on best practices 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 (Baltic region, North Sea, Mediterranean, South Western Waters…). In most of cases, these plans are about to be forwarded to the Commission in the form of joint recommendations for the Commission to transform them into EU law by adopting a delegated act before the end of the year. Many delegations recognised a real added-value in the work performed at regional level which adapts to the specificity of fish stocks and involves professional operators. However some member states highlighted the need to adopt common approaches between the various regional recommendations to avoid discrepancies.

The delegations raised also some key issues which appeared during the preparation of the preparation of the discards plans such as:

– the need to determine if 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. PROVISIOAL VERSIO 16 and 17 June 2014

With the new CFP, the landing obligation is introduced gradually 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 provides for a series of provisions to facilitate the implementation of the landing obligation. There are generic 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 that need to be activated through multiannual plans, or in the absence of multiannual plans, in so-called discard plans (whose validity is limited to three years). These flexibility tools are:

– exemptions for species with demonstrated high survival rates when returned to the sea; – de minimis exemptions, under certain conditions, of up to five per cent of total annual catches (with possibility of a higher percentage in the first four years).

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