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September - December 2017

  • Various activities took place at a regional level to discuss the landing obligation and suitable responses to choke species. This included a North Sea High Level Group meeting on 8 November, a seminar hosted by the European Commission on 15 November, and an AOB item at the December Council.

  • During the AOB at December Council the UK stressed the severity of the situation with regard to choke risks and the need for urgent solutions. Other Member States echoed these concerns. The Commission responded by stressing it continues to believe there is scope for improving selectivity and reducing the choke risk by means of existing tools and encouraged Member States to use them. The Commission also underlined that, although postponing implementation of the landing obligation was not an option, flexibility could be considered if there was evidence that the available technical tools still could not reduce the choke risk. We will undertake discussions with the Regional Groups and the Commission during meetings early in 2018.

  • The Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, spoke at the SFF annual dinner on 1 November. In his speech he confirmed that he remains committed to the principles underpinning the landing obligation, but that a new approach to discards may be required post-Brexit and this will be explored by the Future Catching Policy Development (FCDP) work. He also confirmed that he will not accept a situation in 2019 which sees the Scottish fleet unnecessarily tied to the quayside because the right solutions to landing obligation choke species have not been put in place.

  • Guidance for implementation of the landing obligation in 2018 was issued in December 2017. Skippers are reminded that additional species were introduced from 1 January 2018, with different rules in the North Sea and North Western Waters.

  • GITAG has made an approved modification to its EMFF funding package and SFF Services subsequently advertised to recruit a dedicated GITAG Observer resource. This new resource will ensure momentum is maintained in assessing approved gear trials and the drawdown of grant funding. When not on GITAG assignment the new Observer will supplement the standing SFF On-board Observer Team.

  • The FCPD sub-group met on 10 January to discuss options for a future catching policy in more detail. We anticipate having a meeting of the SDSG in February 2018 to progress this work further.

  • The North Sea technical group will meet on 15-16 January and the North Western Waters (NWW) technical group will meet on 31 January. Items on the agenda include preparation and drafting of the anticipated Joint Recommendation for 2019, which will cover exemptions and derogations such as de minimis and high survivability, and which are also likely to address issues with choke risks. It is also likely that control and enforcement of the landing obligation will be discussed further by the Regional Groups, in particular to respond to recent concerns raised by the Commission.

  • We are working with the rest of the UK to flesh out our position on choke species for the Regional Groups. We will have discussions with the Scottish Discards Steering Group (SDSG) and other Scottish stakeholders as part of this process.

  • We are seeking early indications from stakeholders about proposals for de minimis or high survivability exemptions for 2019. Please contact Paul McCarthy if you would like to discuss. Marine Scotland already plans to seek a high survivability exemption for whitefish by-catch in pots, traps and creels on the West Coast - this will mirror a similar exemption already in place for the North Sea.

  • We have also written to the SDSG to seek views on whether, when fish are discarded because they are damaged, diseased or contaminated, vessels should be forced to move on and/or a closure of an area for a period of time or both should be applied. This issue is being discussed as part of the Regional Groups.