What is a choke species? And how could North Sea hake become one? Dorleta Garcia of the Working Group for the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Waters Ecoregion (WGBIE) explains: 'A choke species is a term used to describe a species with a low quota that can cause a vessel to stop fishing even if they still have quota for other species.
Today, some European commercial species are beginning to recover from depletion and others are increasing in abundance and expanding into new areas. A remarkable example of such a stock is the European hake. Since 2006 the abundance of the stock has been multiplied by six; this has caused an expansion of the stock towards areas where its presence over the past two decades was low: mainly in the North Sea and off Norway. Due the relative stability principal which allocates to each Member States a fixed share of fishing opportunities that reflects their historical levels of fishing, the mixed demersal fisheries in these areas do not have enough quotas to cover their current catches, and as a consequence, once the quota is reached, the hake catches are discarded.
The new EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) does away with discarding through the landing obligation. Discarding is the practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea, either dead or alive, because they are the wrong size, the fisherman has no quota, or due to the fisheries catch composition rules. Under the landing obligation all catches have to be kept on board, landed and counted against the quotas.
These changes in fish populations and fisheries policy have implications for the management of hake and for fisheries that catch hake on purpose or by accident. Most notably, the expanding hake stock could become a choke species for the mixed demersal fishery in the North Sea, if the fishery is unable to avoid catches of hake while targeting other species for which it still has quotas. '