Widespread illegal and unreported fish discards by EU fleet exacerbates overfishing 


Cod discards

Threat to EU positioning on responsible ocean governance 

Brussels, Thursday 13 February:- Reacting to reports published by the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), which document a high level of illegal and unreported discarding of fish by EU fleets in the North Sea and North East Atlantic, Our Fish today called for Members of the European Parliament and Member State governments to support EFCA’s call for Remote Electronic Monitoring systems onboard EU vessels to improve data collection and ensure compliance at sea [1].

“The EFCA reports expose widespread illegal and unreported catches in EU waters. It is unacceptable that this be allowed to continue by EU member states because it exacerbates overfishing, undermines scientific data and fisheries management, and threatens the EU’s international reputation for responsible ocean governance,” said Rebecca Hubbard, Our Fish Programme Director. “The EU must introduce Remote Electronic Monitoring systems, including cameras onboard vessels, through the revision of the Control Regulation to ensure all catches are accurately reported and to curtail widespread illegal behaviour in EU waters”.

The Control Regulation is the EU’s system for ensuring that the rules of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy are complied with. The Commission has proposed a revision of the Control Regulation, which is currently being considered by the European Parliament and EU Member States [2]. Among other things, the revision seeks to improve the EU’s ability to monitor illegal discarding beyond traditional methods (e.g. aerial surveillance, inspections at sea or at landing) by using on board Remote Electronic Monitoring technology (REM) incorporating closed-circuit television (CCTV) to deter illegal discarding [3].

“The ongoing failure to report all catches and discards by EU fleets increases the likelihood of overfishing, and for key fish populations such as North Sea cod that are already vulnerable and overfished, their plight is further exacerbated,” said Hubbard. “EFCA, as an independent agency, works for an even playing field across Europe, and they have clearly concluded that Remote Electronic Monitoring systems and onboard CCTV is needed to improve fisheries catch data and ensure compliance at sea”.

“The EU takes a strong public stance against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing internationally, yet allowing EU Member State fleets to continue to act outside the law without sanction undermines both the EU’s reputation and global ambitions.”

“The EU cannot claim to address the biodiversity and climate crisis while illegal and unreported fishing continues to devastate our marine ecosystems. In light of the environmental crisis we are facing, parts of the fishing industry can no longer act with impunity. EU governments must prioritise European funds for improving monitoring and enforcement of the rules designed to sustain our fisheries, protect our ocean ecosystems and deliver natural climate solutions.”



Our Fish Communications Advisor, Dave Walsh dave@our.fish, +34 691 826 764


EFCA – the EU agency whose mission is to promote the highest common standards for control, inspection and surveillance under the Common Fisheries Policy – carried out three evaluations of compliance with the Landing Obligation in the North Sea (for demersal fisheries) and North Western Waters (NWW – for mackerel, and other species) over the period 2015 to 2017. These reports, published on 30 January, found that:

    • Compliance evaluations were complicated by the lack of data and the complexities of the provisions under the discard plans exemptions;
    • There were very few infringements given, which is not surprising given that in the absence of continuous monitoring, any discarding behaviour may take place unobserved at sea;
    • Traditional control tools have proven to be inefficient in control and monitoring of the Landing Obligation, so the introduction of Remote Electronic Monitoring systems could be instrumental both for collection of reference data and for efficient control and enforcement of the LO;
  • For mackerel fisheries in North Western Waters (NWW) for 2015-2017, high discard rates have been identified, suggesting a high level of non-compliance in these fleet segments, in particular pelagic trawlers; interviewees stated that the average size of the lowest commercial grade had dropped to ‘unacceptable’ levels [for the consumer market], which creates a huge market incentive to discard lower value fish and reserve space for the higher-priced grades of fish; and most Member State control experts assisting EFCA indicated that compliance in this fishery is in their view even lower than the study found.
  • For cod, common sole and plaice in the North Sea for 2016-2017, results indicate that for certain towed gears used in certain areas, non-compliance with the LO appears to have been widespread. In addition to the discarding of Below Minimum Size fish, there was evidence of significant high-grading of cod, according to the CCTV trials data from 2016.
  • For hake, haddock and whiting in the NWW for 2016-2017, results indicate that for certain towed gears used in certain areas, non-compliance with the LO appears to have been widespread during the evaluation period.



[1] EFCA: Evaluation suggests non-compliance with the Landing Obligations in certain fisheries in the North Sea and North Western Waters


[2] Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009, and amending Council Regulations (EC) No 768/2005, (EC) No 1967/2006, (EC) No 1005/2008, and Regulation (EU) No 2016/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards fisheries control. COM/2018/368 final


[3] Questions and answers – revision of the EU fisheries control system


About Our Fish

Our Fish works to ensure European member states implement the Common Fisheries Policy and achieve sustainable fish stocks in European waters.

Our Fish works with organisations and individuals across Europe to deliver a powerful and unwavering message: overfishing must be stopped, and solutions put in place that ensure Europe’s waters are fished sustainably. Our Fish demands that the Common Fisheries Policy be properly enforced, and Europe’s fisheries effectively governed.

Our Fish calls on all EU Member States to set annual fishing limits at sustainable limits based on scientific advice, and to ensure that their fishing fleets prove that they are fishing sustainably, through monitoring and full documentation of their catch.

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