fishing boat

Without being able to discard fish, boats would reach their quotas much earlier in the year, peers warned

This year’s EU fishing quotas – the first when the practice of discards is completely banned – could cost UK fishing boats up to £165m worth of uncaught fish, a committee of peers has warned.

The EU’s landing obligation would have a “devastating impact” on the sector, according to the Lords’ EU Energy & Environment sub-committee, which will publish a report into the implications of the new rules next month.

Without being able to discard fish, boats would reach their quotas much earlier in the year, particularly in mixed fisheries, peers warned, while enforcement agencies lacked the capability to police the new rules.

“Fishers could hit their quota for some species in some areas within a few weeks of the landing obligation coming into force, forcing them to choose between not fishing for the rest of the year and breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything caught over quota,” the committee said.

“One estimate suggests £165m worth of fish could remain uncaught in 2019 due to fishers having to stop fishing early,” it added.

‘Mixed bag’ as 2019 EU fishing quotas are agreed

The legislation, which came into force on 1 January after a four-year transition, is ultimately designed to end the wasteful practice where boat crews throw unwanted catches back into the sea to protect their quotas, and to encourage them to be more selective about what they catch and improve knowledge of what fish are caught.

However, the sector was ill-prepared for the new regulations, said the committee.

And while on-board CCTV was largely held to be the most effective and efficient way to monitor activity at sea, few boats in the UK currently had the technology installed. Peers said the UK government would not mandate compulsory CCTV on boats unless other EU countries did the same, for fear of putting UK crews at a disadvantage.

“Maintaining the health of our oceans by fishing at sustainable levels is critically important, and the landing obligation was introduced to help make sure this happens,” said committee member Lord Krebs. “It is deeply concerning that so many people – fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves – do not think these new rules can be implemented from 1 January.”

He added it was “obvious the UK government does not have the resources in place to monitor compliance; nor have they used the opportunity of the phased introduction to make the changes to quota allocations or promoted the use of selective fishing practices that might alleviate some of the risk to fishers’ livelihoods”.

”The new year was meant to be the start of a “new era of more sustainable, less wasteful fishing, but most people we spoke to thought nothing would change”, he warned.

“Fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim to none and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them. When the fisheries minister is making his new year’s resolutions, I would urge him to put sorting this issue out at the top of his list.”

Tipping point: fish category report