In an industry that has experienced many momentous years and critical turning points, 2020 stands to be one of the most pivotal in our history.
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The NFFO Team attend the the UK's Last December Council
After three rounds of talks with Norway, probably two more than necessary, during which the Commission stuck doggedly to its view that there should be a 61% reduction in the TAC for cod, a settlement was reached in Brussels, on the Friday before the December Council, at a 50% reduction. The TAC will be 17,669 tonnes and further talks will be held in January and February over a range of additional supporting measures designed to aid recovery of the stock.
The election of a Conservative government, with a solid majority, means that the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament seems guaranteed; meaning that the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020. The provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement spell out that, from that date, the UK will be an independent coastal state, with regulatory autonomy over fishing within its exclusive economic zone, albeit subject to a transition period to the end of 2020, during which the UK would still be subject to the Common Fisheries Policy.
A final meeting with senior Defra officials, before government and industry delegations head for Brussels for the Council of Ministers, was held in London this week. The Council which will set total allowable catches and quotas for 2020, will be held on 16th and 17th December 2019. The NFFO has been working with fisheries scientists and administrators throughout the year but naturally, the engagement intensifies as the critical decisions approach.
North Sea cod is regarded by many as an iconic stock. After the gadoid outburst* in the 1960s and 1970s, when a huge increase in abundance of cod-related species was observed, cod recruitment returned to more average levels by the 1980 and 1990s. By that time the stock also faced fleet overcapacity after a subsidised building boom leading to a high fishing mortality and a chaotic management system. Fleet decommissioning in the late 1990s right-sized the fleets and from 2005 or thereabouts (leaving aside the blind alley of effort control) more sensitive (and effective) management measures were adopted. From 2000 there was a dramatic reduction in fishing pressure and from then to 2015 the stock biomass increased steadily annually. This changed again around 2015, two years after the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
Shellfish interests from across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands met recently in London to form a cross-industry working group. The intention is for the group to work collaboratively with fisheries scientists and government, to define a strategy which would deliver sustainable and profitable shellfisheries for the future. The group is focused on the pot fisheries for crab, lobster and whelk without losing sight of the wider fisheries management context.
The NFFO has today, launched its fishing manifesto which consists of three key themes; independence, fairness, and sustainability and collaboration.
One of the few bright spots in the depressing downturn of the North Sea cod stock has been the way that the fishing industries of the countries affected have taken ownership of the problem - and worked collaboratively to develop workable solutions. This is the first time that the fishing associations right across the North Sea, including Norway, which is outside the EU and CFP, have cooperated in a collegiate way.
Leaving aside the possibility of a hiccup in these politically turbulent times, it is now possible that the UK will leave the EU on 31st October, or shortly after, within the context of the UK/EU withdrawal agreement settled in Brussels last week.