The fisheries of the North Sea and adjacent areas are highly complex, involving vessels from at least seven coastal Member States, as well as Norway, using a wide variety of different fishing gears to target a wide range of different fish and shellfish species. A key issue is that many of the most important demersal stocks (i.e. those that live on or near the bottom of the sea) are caught in mixed fisheries. In practice, this means that each time a vessel retrieves its fishing gear, its catch will consist of a mix of different species. The composition of that mixture will change depending on the type of fishing gear in use, and on when and where it is used.
With the introduction of the landing obligation by Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013, it becomes illegal to discard any catches in excess of the quota, once fully implemented. Accordingly, vessels might have to stop fishing early in the year once their quota for the most limiting stock is exhausted. In this case the most limiting stock would become what is known as a "choke species" because, once the quota for that stock is exhausted, it would block the opportunities to continue fishing for other stocks.
Currently, North Sea demersal fisheries are regulated with two management plans that are not compatible with the new Common Fisheries Policy. This has inflicted burdensome rules on demersal fishermen in the North Sea (predominantly SMEs and micro-businesses). Affected Member States and stakeholders have been asking for a new management framework since 2011.
In order to address the problems identified above, this initiative: (i) reduces the risk of underfishing, (ii) establishes target fishing mortality ranges at the level of maximum sustainable yield, (iii) establishes biomass safeguards in order to build on the precautionary approach, (iv) facilitates the application of the landing obligation, (v) establishes the framework necessary for the implementation of regionalisation within the North Sea area and (vi) removes the days-at-sea regime.
Relevant EESC opinions
- NAT/521 Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy
- NAT/597 Compliance with the rules of the CFP
- NAT/631 Landing obligation
The Committee welcomes the moves proposed by the Commission, many of which are suggested in the 2016 WGNSSK report.
 Report of the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak, convened in Hamburg, Germany, from 26 April to 5 May 2016.