Press release: October 2019

Reports show EU countries have not enforced fish discard ban

Three major European countries have not enforced the EU ban on fish discards, threatening the sustainability of European fish stocks.

Environmental lawyers from ClientEarth have released three reports today showing that France, Denmark and Spain have not adequately controlled the application of the ‘landing obligation’ and not punished its violations.

The obligation to land all catches was introduced in 2013 to prevent the wasteful discard of unwanted fish at sea and to push operators to put in place more selective fishing techniques.

An estimated 1.7 million tonnes of fish and other marine animals are being thrown back into the sea each year.

ClientEarth Fisheries lawyer Elisabeth Druel said: “As long as discarding continues, we will not know how many fish are being killed at sea. Without this data, scientists cannot make the right estimates to protect our fish stocks.

“Discarding can result in the unnecessary death of millions of tonnes of fish every year. This is disastrous for fish stocks, our ocean ecosystem and the fishing industry.”

After a phasing-in period starting in 2015, the landing obligation became compulsory for all EU countries in January 2019.

But today’s reports show that Denmark, France and Spain have neither adopted the necessary control measures nor mechanisms that account for all catches including discards.

The lack of sanctions in the three countries in 2017 and 2018 also indicates that the discard ban is not being properly enforced. In that period:

  • Spain reported no infringements;
  • The Danish Fisheries agency detected only three infringements; and,
  • French authorities applied no sanctions.

Druel added: “Some very concrete solutions exist to ensure that no fish is discarded, including equipping fishing vessels with remote electronic monitoring system like CCTV or net sensors. We encourage all public authorities to adopt these tools and apply sanctions to stop fish discards.”

In 2017, according to the latest available data, Spain represented 21% of the overall EU fleet in terms of capacity (gross tonnage), while France accounted for 11%. Denmark, which is also one of the biggest fishing nations in Europe, is currently facing an EU infringement procedure for failing to properly control fishing practices, and illegal misreporting of catches.


Notes to editors:

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) places a clear obligation on member states and fishers to account for and land all catches. With some exemptions, the ‘landing obligation’ (LO) applies to all fish stocks subject to catch limits and to Minimum conservation Reference Size (MCRS) requirements.

Key findings of the reports show that:

  • Reporting obligations for French fishers with respect to the LO were not fully implemented until 2019, after more than four years of delays, and no infringement of the LO was sanctioned by French authorities. A pilot project to use remote electronic monitoring to control the LO is being planned for 2020.
  • No infringement of the LO was sanctioned in Spain for 2017 and 2018, and the country reports very low catches and landings of fish below the minimum conservation size. Resistance towards the LO from the fishing industry and lack of transparency make the implementation difficult, but the authorities are making efforts to improve the selectivity of fishing gears.
  • Danish authorities reported only three infringements of the LO each in 2017 and 2018 and less than 1% of the catches in the important cod fishery are subject to inspection at sea. In 2018, 382 tonnes of fish were discarded legally, due to exemptions to the LO decided by the authorities.
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.