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Between 2010-12, on average 40% (148,765 tonnes) of demersal (bottom dwelling) fish such as cod, haddock, plaice, caught in the North Sea were discarded with certain species being particularly affected - during this period, 43% of whiting and plaice, 25% of hake and up to 91% of dab ended up back in the sea[ii]. The landing obligation[iii] was created to end the wasteful practice of discarding, by requiring boats to bring all fish caught from certain species to land, so they can be fully documented and counted against fishing quotas.

The ban represents one of the biggest ever operational shifts in European fishing practices and will be challenging but if implemented effectively it can bring social, economic and environmental benefits -  more fish in the sea, a more resilient, profitable industry and greater food security in future years. However for it to work, effective monitoring will be vital.  Poor implementation carries the risk of illicit discarding at sea going unrecorded, potentially weakening scientific knowledge on fish stocks, which could mean the wrong quotas being set in future.

WWF's report, 'Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) in Fisheries Management', compares REM to traditional monitoring methods[iv], such as aerial and boat surveillance, onboard observers, and dockside checks. It reveals that REM could offer a far more efficient and cost effective way of monitoring fishing activity and improving information on fish stocks. It also identifies where this technology has been trialled and how it is being used successfully elsewhere in the world.

The cameras, which would be used in conjunction with GPS and electronic sensors, can record continuous video during fishing. While 100% of fishing activity is recorded, usually around 10% is looked at - providing a snap shot of what is happening onboard a vessel.  The video data is brought ashore using portable hard drives and reviewed to quantify the catches which can be compared against the fishermen's logbooks to confirm that the landing obligation is being implemented effectively.

It is estimated that installing the equipment, and reviewing 10% of data could cost as little as £4,697 per vessel. Moreover, to equip and install all 10-metre plus fishing vessels in the UK fleet with REM camera systems, and to undertake a review of 8% of the footage shot could cost less than is currently spent on traditional monitoring options in the UK (which account for an estimated 0.1% of the hours fished by the fleet).
Key benefits of REM systems include:

  • 100% coverage of fishing activity can be recorded with varying levels of footage monitored according to the level of risk associated with the fishery[v][1].
  • REM offers a continuous monitoring presence, in comparison to traditional methods, which are only effective during the presence of the monitoring vessel, onboard observer or aircraft
  • If undertaken by all EU fishing vessels, the system would help to ensure parity of compliance with the LO, delivering a level playing field for the fishing industry across all Member States.
  • Data can be used for multiple purposes including contributing to and improving confidence in, stock assessment,  or to demonstrate best practice

The report shows that all 10-metre plus EU fishing vessels could be monitored for 10% of the time they are at sea, for a cost of around €122 million. Given the announcement of a new €6.4 billion fund of money available across Europe to help implement the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), of which  the landings obligation is a key element this money could easily be made available to fishermen and administrations across the EU.

Member States have an obligation to demonstrate that they are effectively monitoring compliance with the landing obligation," says Helen McLachlan, Fisheries Governance Manager at WWF-UK.  "It is difficult to see how they can do this without having good knowledge of what is happening at sea.  Cameras offer by far the most effective means of doing this 100% of the time for a fraction of the cost of traditional methods."

Contact Details:

For more information or interviews with Helen McLachlan, Fisheries Governance Manager at WWF-UK, please contact:

Jo Sargent, Advocacy Media Specialist, WWF-UK
Mob: 07867697519

Notes to Editors:

The full report is available to download as a pdf here.

The report was commissioned by WWF-UK and written by independent marine consultants, Seascope Fisheries Research. 


The Landing Obligation:
A reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was agreed between European Member States in December 2013 and entered into force in January 2014. Within this reform package was the introduction of a ban on discarding of fish at sea. This is referred to as the Landing Obligation under Article 15 of the CFP basic regulation (Council Regulation No 1380/2013). The landing obligation will require fishermen to bring all catches of the specified species ashore and the total catch will count against their quota, rather than just the marketable landed proportion of the catch as has previously been the case. The aim of this management strategy is to gradually eliminate the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea, to fully document all fishing mortality and to improve the data going into the scientific stock assessments. It will also encourage fishermen to fish more selectively so that their quota is not being used to account for fish they cannot sell i.e. fish that are caught and landed but are below the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) as these cannot be sold for human consumption. It is being phased in 2015-2019.

The EU definition of discards is catches that are returned to the sea. This includes any fish returned after being brought on board a vessel or any release of catch from fishing gear whilst it is still in the water (sometimes described as "slipping"). In addition the landing obligation will also apply to non-Union waters which are not subject to a third countries' jurisdiction, in other words Union vessels operating in international waters.
About WWF:
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.  WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.


i The Seminar on the Landings Obligation is being hosted by the European Commission (DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) on February 24th and will be attended by Member States, observers from the European Parliament, Advisory Councils and other stakeholders including WWF

ii Discard Atlas of North Sea Fisheries, 2014,

iii The Common Fisheries Policy came into force in January 2014, and included a ban on discarding fish at sea called the landing obligation. For more info see notes to editors

iv The traditional approach to monitoring includes undertaking dockside compliance and fish market visits; using aircraft (including unmanned aircraft) to overfly fishing vessels; using patrol vessels to undertake at sea boardings or surveillance; using Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) that use satellite positional data to work out location and speed of vessel; sending observers to sea for the duration of a sea trip to collect scientific data or evidence gathering for compliance; and using self-reported data (E-log, paper logbooks, sale notes, landing declarations).

v Discard Atlases - see footnote 2 - have been compiled for each sea area affected by the discard ban.  These identify levels of discards associated with different gear types and the degree of confidence in the data.  All of this can be used to inform management measures and where higher or lower levels of monitoring may be required.

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