Fisheries monitoring regime for UK vessels post-Brexit is proposed by WWF

WWF News Release, 26th October 2017: WWF has launched a new report which reveals that the UK and devolved governments are not comprehensively monitoring UK fishing activities at sea.

A pioneering and far more cost effective alternative — Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) with cameras and sensors — is available however, that could make the UK a world leader in sustainable fishing as the UK leaves the EU.

The research shows that traditional methods (using port, vessel and aerial monitoring) are significantly more expensive and nowhere near as effective as REM. Moreover, scientific observers who go to sea to collect data for stock management — a job that could largely be done more effectively by cameras — have reported experiencing intimidation and abuse.

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU we must take the opportunity to become a world leader in sustainable fishing” says Helen McLachlan, WWF Fisheries Programme Manager.
“At the moment we simply do not know what’s happening on our fishing boats or how many fish are being taken out of our seas, and that’s putting jobs, fish stocks and the UK’s precious seas at risk.
“The discard ban, which aims to eliminate the wasteful practice of returning often dead or dying fish to the sea — while a ground-breaking piece of legislation — is not being monitored effectively.
“We’re calling on UK and devolved governments to demonstrate real leadership by introducing REM as a key component of any new post-Brexit fisheries policy, starting with the forthcoming Fisheries Bill. There’s a strong case for making REM a condition for all vessels over ten metres that fish with mobile gear in UK waters, not just UK vessels.”

REM is the most effective and value-for-money tool for monitoring fishing activities at sea. To record 100% of activity and review 10% of this for all UK vessels over 10 metres would cost around £5 million, a quarter of the money spent on traditional systems which monitor less than 1% of vessels.

REM also helps to prevent illegal discards and potential over-fishing, which is not just vital for fish stocks, but also to ensure consumer confidence.

This year the New Zealand Government adopted new legislation requiring all vessels in their fleet to carry cameras, citing the reduction of waste, improvement of information, more responsive decision making and strengthening international reputation as key reasons for their decision.

Yet, despite the clear advantages of REM, there has been little progress by UK fisheries in adopting it. Parliamentary questions tabled by WWF reveal that the proportion of fishing trips undertaken by English vessels using REM equipment was less than 1% between 2014 and 2016, and around 3.7% for Scottish vessels.

Since WWF’s initial assessment in 2015, the cost of the REM system has reduced by 22% from £4,694 to an estimated £3,785 per vessel per year between 2015 and 2017.

WWF’s new pdf report “Remote Electronic Monitoring — why camera technology is a cost effective and robust solution to improving UK fisheries management” is available to download here.


REM describes an on-board system that monitors all fishing activity using GPS, CCTV cameras and sensors. Footage is then analysed by experts to assess the quantities of fish being caught and whether or not fish are being discarded. It is by far the most affordable and effective means of delivering fully documented fisheries, a key component in ensuring consumers have access to sustainable fish.

Summary of benefits of REM systems:

  • 100% coverage of fishing activity can be recorded with varying levels of footage monitored according to the level of risk associated with the fishery.
  • 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 Landing Obligation, delivering a level playing field for the fishing industry and could in time lead the way in developing this across seas shared by other member states.
  • Data can be used for multiple purposes including contributing to, and improving confidence in, stock assessment, or to demonstrate best practice
  • It also offers an effective means of providing accountability for catch which is a key element in sustainable fisheries management and underpins consumer and retailer confidence.



  • The Landing Obligation (or discard ban):
    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 fishers 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 fishers 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.
  • Discards:
    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.


Source: WWF News Release 26 Oct 2017. For further details, see


Marinet observes: WWF is right. Monitoring of fishing vessels and their activity is essential to ensuring that those fisheries regulations which are designed to prevent over-fishing are observed. Without this monitoring, all talk of regulation is essentially meaningless.

Enforcement has long been the key failure of fisheries management. There has been no shortage of regulations, but there has been a substantial deficit in the enforcement of those regulations.

Parliament can pass a law to make an activity illegal. However without also establishing an effective police force, the law is meaningless.

The one weakness in the WWF proposals still lies in this question of enforcement — whether the monitoring will actually be watched by anyone and acted upon. It a positive step forward to film all the activity on a vessel. Yet it means nothing if no one ever watches the film and, even if they do, that they then take no action when a breach in the regulations is observed.

So, will Parliament also create the fisheries police force needed to make monitoring effective?

At present the EU has fishing funds (subsidies) available for fisheries management — not far short of £1 billion in funds overall per annum. However little seems to be spent on monitoring and enforcement.

So will the UK Parliament, following Brexit, display greater integrity of purpose and action?

That’s the question WWF and all of us will need to ask, and seek the answer to.


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