It is difficult to glean much from the official statements made by the EU and the UK after each…
2017 Council Overview
This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations were delayed by weather; UK fisheries Minister George Eustice returned early to London to participate in a crucial parliamentary vote; and we felt the sharp end of the EU’s inflexible approach to maximum sustainable yield. The Commission was in fact particularly intransigent throughout the negotiations. It also seemed to forget that the centrepiece of its policies is the landing obligation that fully comes into force on 1st January 2019 and that all TAC decisions ought to support, rather than undermine, that particular policy - which is going to be difficult enough to implement as it is.
The Council was unusual also, in the sense that it is likely to be the last of its type, as next December, with Brexit ahead in March 2019, will have to mean significant changes in the way decisions are reached on TACs and quotas.
The Commission, then, for the time being, remains the ringmaster, and the UK is the only member state with an interest in 120 stocks but the same status as any other member state.
Celtic Sea haddock is a case study in what is wrong with the CFP. There is widespread discarding of mature haddock in the mixed fishery because of a mismatch between available quota and catches.
Part of the problem lies with the assessment and the TAC; part of it lies with the UK’s relative stability share. Fishermen, utterly fed up with discarding beautiful and valuable haddock, resolved early this year to work with the scientists, fisheries administrators and the NWWAC, to find a better way forward. Catches were validated by CCTV cameras; the NW Advisory Council provided new advice on an innovative approach and the UK opened discussions with the Commission. All of that came up against an obdurate Commission which ignored the fishermen’s efforts; ignored ICES mixed fishery advice; ignored the use of F ranges (that are designed to smooth out mixed fishery divergences); ignored the Advisory Council advice; and ignored the inevitable increase in discards that will result. Instead, only one thing mattered – getting another stock on the MSY list, the only way success can be measured in Commission-world.
The Commissioner can notch one more stock on his MSY legacy belt. But at what cost?
Thousands of tonnes of mature haddock will now be discarded in the Celtic Sea in 2018; disillusioned and angry fishermen will now doubt the value of collaborating with fisheries scientists; advisory council members are left wondering why they bother. A member state, is left thinking there has to be a better way and there is a prospect ahead of taking a different road as an independent coastal state. Wreckage to the left, wreckage to the right.
Part of this sorry tale lies with the EU’s MSY approach that elevates a moderately useful way of benchmarking optimum fishing mortality to the level of a holy grail and legal requirement with zero scope for common sense or flexibility. The NGOs and their distant financiers and their collaborators in the European Parliament, bear some responsibility for this state of affairs.
This was not an intractable, impossible problem. With a bit of good will all round, a degree pragmatism, and using ICES mixed fisheries advice, it was perfectly possible to land and sell the dead haddock; reduce fishing mortality and improve the quality of the assessment.
Instead ideology in the form of a doctrinaire view of MSY got in the way.
South West Mixed Fortunes
Cornish Fish Producers Organisation
“Finally, after two long days in Brussels and tortuous through-the-night negotiations, fisheries ministers from across the EU eventually agreed quotas for the year ahead, including those important for the SW.
For the 12 months before the Council and throughout the negotiations themselves, the CFPO, working with the NFFO, liaised closely with CEFAS, DEFRA officials and the UK minister to ensure that the scientific, economic and community based arguments were well understood in an effort to deliver the best possible deal for our members.
Celtic Sea Cod, Haddock & Whiting
Although a small increase in the cod TAC (9%) was achieved, nothing should take away from the significant problems the wholly unnecessary reductions in the haddock TAC (11%) and whiting TAC (19%) represent.
Despite the ritual calls to “follow the science” the Commission throughout elected to reject the ICES evaluated scientific advice based on mixed fishery maximum sustainable yield (MSY) range. Instead, it prioritised the arbitrary timetable for achieving maximum sustainable yield. The option was available to continue progress towards MSY in the mixed fisheries of the SW, whilst simultaneously reducing discards in the year before the full implementation of the landings obligation. Bizarrely, the Commission chose to ignore the realities of our ultra-mixed fisheries and, aided and abetted by the NGOs, went for the option which can only lead to a significant increase of discards in 2018.
It is certainly true that the cuts in haddock and whiting were not as large as originally proposed but ultimately this was a missed opportunity to harness the industry’s support and engagement to build the stocks and reduce the level of discards in these complex fisheries.
The Defra delegation in Brussels argued long and hard for the mixed fishery MSY range advice (supplemented and supported by work done by CFPO members working with Cefas during 2017) to be used but the Commission was from the beginning completely intransigent, obsessed with adding to the number of stocks under MSY. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this Council illustrates everything that is bad about the CFP decision-making process.
Cuts in the 2018 TAC for hake and megrim were driven by single stock MSY advice. Although the cut for hake was mitigated (from 19% to 7%) it was not possible to make any further progress on these stocks. This will have a negative impact on SW fishermen, particularly those working from Newlyn.
There were more positive outcomes for SW flatfish. Bristol Channel sole (7.fg) and Western Channel sole (7.e) saw increases of 9% and 2% in TACs respectively, whilst for sole7.hjk a rollover of the 2017 TAC was secured.
There were also increases in TACs for Plaice in the Bristol Channel and English Channel as well as a rollover secured for 7.hjk plaice from the Commissions initial proposal of a zero TAC.
The ray TAC in area 7 saw a welcome overall increase of 15%, although specific small-eyed ray restrictions remained in place that are problematic.
A rollover in the TACs for ICES area 7 pollack, saithe, ling and monkfish were all welcomed.
The Commission’s approach on bass is difficult to understand. In SW mixed trawl fisheries where bass are taken as an unavoidable by-catch, the Commission has chosen to ratchet down the by-catch provision. The only possible outcome will be to increase dead discards with no effect on bass mortality. Surely this approach represents the exact opposite of sound fisheries management and it is difficult to understand the logic of an approach that will only increase discards.
A promised review of the science on bass during the first part of 2018 offers some hope that the measures agreed can be subsequently amended. Hopefully, a more sensible and practical approach can be introduced then.”
Although the overall package for the south-west fisheries was a mixed bag in terms of TAC increases and reductions, the way the negotiations were conducted, and the outcomes on the Celtic mixed fisheries and bass, will do nothing to convince the vast majority that the sooner we can leave the CFP, and its dysfunctional way of reaching management decisions, the better.
North Sea TACs follow positive stock trends
The steady rebuilding of the North Sea stocks has been reflected in this year’s scientific advice. This has, in turn, been translated into the quotas agreed between EU and Norway in the annual fisheries agreement negotiations, after a single round in Bergen. With top-ups for those stocks included in the EU landings obligation in 2018, and some transfers from Norway, whiting will be increased by 40%, haddock by 24%, saithe by 8% and cod by 10%.
Separately, monkfish was increased by 20%, nephrops by 22%, skates and rays by 15% and turbot and brill by 20%. Plaice, despite being at historic levels will see a reduction of 13%, sole minus 3% and megrim minus 4%
The UK avoided being in the strange position of arguing for a poorer deal than could be available, by agreeing to a balanced approach on the use of blue whiting in both the directed fishery and for currency to secure more valuable species.
Overall, the positive stock trends, the package of TACs and the efficiency of the negotiations, made this one of the easiest, most streamlined EU negotiations over the 40 years that EU and Norway have managed shared stocks jointly.
Norway outlines its Post-Brexit Vision for the North Sea: Sustainability requires cooperation
During the annual EU/Norway negotiations, the Norwegian delegation gave a presentation of its preliminary views on the type of joint management arrangements for the North Sea that it thinks will be necessary to accommodate the UK as an independent coastal state after March 2019.
The presentation, entitled Future Framework for management of joint fish resources in the North Sea, was not a formal agenda item but it is clear that Norway considers that it is important to begin thinking now about what format the new arrangements should take.
Future Cooperation: Basic Principles
The essential elements in the Norwegian vision are:
- Relevant modern management principles
- Goal: increasing long-term total out-take
- Goal: utilisation of all fish; and all of the fish taken out of the sea
- Respect for the different starting points for the management systems of the parties
The new tripartite setting after the UK leaves the EU, and therefore the CFP will require the establishment of new legal and institutional structures. To this end, Norway proposes a joint EU, Norway, UK Fisheries Commission, responsible for managing the joint stocks in the North Sea. The North Sea Fisheries Commission would be responsible for an annual agreed record; it would also make decisions on total allowable catches for shared stocks; and decisions on what stocks to include in the agreement.
Norway made the point that quota exchanges are the glue that holds the agreement together and these could be included as (bilateral) annexes to the annual agreement. Permanent sub-groups could work on areas such as monitoring control and enforcement, technical regulation and the development of management plans.
A new framework agreement would:
- Define the geographical scope of the Agreement
- Outline the main principles for cooperation
- Shape the institutional framework for negotiations etc
There is a question-mark over the appropriate legal status of the Agreement. This could take the form of a legally binding document according to the internal procedures of the parties, or a less formal type of agreement.
Sharing and Access
Crucially, the Agreement would also cover the important areas of future sharing of the stocks (which are currently not codified) and access arrangements. These could be included in the form of bilateral annexes to the framework agreement, or agreed record, or could take a trilateral form. The EU/Norway agreement in 1979, pioneered zonal attachment as the basis for establishing the resources in each exclusive economic zone and therefore the basis of national quota shares.
As the UK has no fishing interests in the Skagerrak, a separate agreement would be required for that sea area.
This was a brief but highly significant intervention at a crucial juncture, as the UK seeks to disentangle itself from the EU. It acknowledges, as we do, the biological, geographical and legal realities that shared stocks must be managed cooperatively and managed well if we are to optimise the benefits.
This was a welcome and timely intervention which may shape the way our North Sea fisheries are managed for years to come. It will also be important to begin thinking about similar but not necessarily identical arrangements for our fisheries in Western Waters.
A New Beginning for the Irish Sea
Alan McCulla, Anglo North Irish FPO
“The EU’s December 2017 Fisheries Council has just concluded in Brussels with one of the best results for Northern Ireland’s fishermen in many years. Some Total Allowable Catches (TAC) in the Irish Sea have been set at their highest level in almost 20 years
Whilst starting from a historically low baseline, the TAC for Irish Sea cod has been increased by 376%. The amount of herring that can be harvested from the Irish Sea has been increased by 70%, haddock by 23% and nephrops, which is Northern Ireland’s most economically important catch has been increased by 15%. Taken together, these increases will contribute additional catches for Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet valued at several million pounds.
The vast majority of fish taken from the Irish Sea are now harvested according to internationally recognised sustainability rules and whilst there is still a long way to go to return fisheries like cod to what they were in their heyday, decisions taken overnight in Brussels represent a very significant step in the right direction.
However, contradictory European fishery rules remain in place for 2018, typified by the loss of nearly 50% of the additional cod that should have been available to United Kingdom fishermen in the Irish Sea to the Republic of Ireland under the EU’s Hague Preference quota allocation mechanism.
Alan McCulla OBE, Chief Executive of the Kilkeel based fishermen’s co-opertaive ‘Sea Source”, who was part of the Northern Ireland delegation in Brussels for the Council said,
“Northern Ireland’s fishing industry strategy is starting to pay off. This positive outcome comes as a result of a much closer and better working relationship between the industry and AFBI’s fisheries scientists in Belfast, as well as fisheries officials in DAERA.”
“As part of this annual round of fisheries negotiations, the European Commission had at the last minute, also proposed a technical conservation rule that could have had far reaching consequences for the fishing fleet in the Irish Sea. However, evidence was presented to the Commission showing that Northern Ireland’s fishermen, together with AFBI and DAERA were continuing to work on measures designed to minimise unwanted catches. As a result the Commission withdrew their proposal.”
“Decisions made in Brussels early this morning certainly lay a good foundation for the future of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland and around the Irish Sea. By increasing the allowable catches for fish stocks, this allows us to carefully diversify some of our trawlers away from their dependence on nephrops. This will slowly allow us to rebuild a mixed fishery in the Irish Sea, which was successful in the past both for the sustainability of fish stocks and the economic viability of the industry itself.”
“There remain challenges, but this is an exciting time to be involved in the fishing industry in the Irish Sea. Brexit is looming closer and whilst clearly we have to manage shared fish stocks with our European neighbours, we are looking forward to the day when the United Kingdom becomes an independent coastal state, leading to the removal of discriminatory quota allocation rules being removed and UK fisheries managers wielding much more influence over decisions concerning allowable catches in our own waters.”
Channel Prospects Better/ Bass Measures unhelpful
Tony Delahunty, NFFO President
“Progress was made during the Council on skates and rays, with a 20% increase in the TAC for area 7 and a 15% increase in the North Sea. This is a step in the right direction, starting to repair the damage from repeated 20% reductions in the past when the Commission insisted on an over-precautionary approach to data-limited stocks. The composite TAC for skates and rays does no one any favours: neither allowing sufficient scope for a sustainable fishery on the individual species like thornback, that are abundant or affording adequate protection to the species that are more vulnerable. Work has been ongoing throughout the year on a more flexible regime and hopefully will bear fruit next year.
The outcome on bass is a travesty that will contribute nothing to rebuilding the stock. It would have made much more sense to have address this in the New Year when we will have more solid science to work with. The bass fishery is closed during the first part of 2018 anyway, so there is little scope for harm in this approach. Instead we have measure that we know will lead to increased discarding.
Otherwise, the 25% increase in sole in the eastern Channel is welcome, as is the small (3%) increase in plaice. We were expecting an increase in cod in the eastern Channel in line with the North Sea and were surprised by the 16% reduction, which we suppose is related to the methodology for calculating the landing obligation uplift. We are checking with Defra on this.
Recognising that it is not possible to have Zero TACs and a landing obligation, the Commission in a declaration made at the Council, has vested responsibility for squaring this particular circle with the regional member states and the advisory councils. They have 12 months to come up with a solution. The options seem to be to add the stock to the prohibited species list (not what the list was for), a high survival exemption (if there is sufficient evidence to justify it), or remove TAC status from the stock and replace it with an alternative form of management. This is likely to be high on the priority list next year.
Bass – Wrong Direction
Jim Evans - Wales
Landings of bass from the commercial fisheries have been reduced by around 70% in recent years, as a direct result of the draconian management measures taken, including closed seasons and an increase in the minimum landing size. By contrast the mortality attributed to the recreational anglers has stayed stable or increased.
ICES is scheduled to review the quality of the bass assessment in February/March at which point it would make sense to review whether the management measures are working, what adjustments might make sense and what the prognosis for this valuable stock might be.
It is difficult, therefore, to explain the Commission’s approach at the December Council – to force through restrictions that will do nothing to reduce fishing mortality on bass - but will certainly increase the discarding of bass unavoidably caught in the mixed demersal fisheries. This seems to be gesture politics – but with calculable adverse consequences. The UK strongly opposed this approach in favour of a more balanced package.
After all the push and shove was over, the new measures adopted by the Council, restrict landings from the bycatch fisheries even further and can only lead to an increase in discards. Recreational anglers can only catch bass if they are immediately returned to the sea.
Landing bass will remain prohibited in February and March. From 1st April to the end of the year the following bycatch fisheries will be permitted:
- Demersal Trawl: not exceeding 100kgs per month and 1% of total catch in a single day (down from 3% and 400kgs)
- Seines: not exceeding 180kgs per month and 1% of total catch in a single day
- Hook and Line: 5 tonnes per vessel per year
- Fixed gill nets: 1.2 tonnes per vessel per year
The only other thing that I would add is to acknowledge the support and hard work of the Defra and Welsh Government officials who were on the front line on this issue.
Leaving the Common Fisheries Policy
The political turbulence associated with the progress of the Withdrawal Bill through Parliament and the EU/UK negotiations on the terms of departure has certainly preoccupied the media of late. Behind the scenes, however, solid work continues on preparing for the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state. In addition to the Federation’s close detailed work with Defra through monthly meetings, stand-alone subjects such as the future of international fisheries agreements and trade in fisheries products are also being addressed systematically.
In the next eight months or so, we will pass two key waypoints – the new Fisheries Bill which will give ministers the power to set quotas and determine access rights over who is allowed to fish in UK waters and under what conditions; and how fisheries will be dealt with in the exit negotiations.
On the Fisheries Bill, the Federation will be working to build a good level of understanding of the issues in Parliament. The UK Parliament will in future play a much more direct role in managing our fisheries and it is vital that MPs have a solid understanding of what is at stake.
It can be anticipated that the EU side will do all it can to stay as close to the status quo as possible. Voices in the Commission have already suggested that a two year transition period will mean the whole acquis communitauire (the accumulated body of EU law) will apply to the UK during that period, including the CFP.
But that ain’t necessarily so. Norway is part of the EU single market but manages its own fisheries and the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have both said that the UK, so far as fisheries are concerned will be outside the CFP from day one.
In this regard, fisheries will be a litmus test for Brexit and from what we hear it remains amongst the top priorities for Brexit within Downing Street. Our job will be to ensure that it stays there. One of our very successful initiatives so far has been a breakfast meeting with the political editors. At a venue provided and funded by the Fishmongers Company, kedgeree was served to the Times, Financial Times, The Economist, Guardian, Reuters, The Express, Press Association amongst others, providing an opportunity for us to spell out the fishing industry’s case
In some cases the ensuing articles came immediately; with others on more of a slow burn but giving them a deeper understanding the fishing industry’s case in preparation for the Brexit issues as they arise over the course of next year.
Another useful event coordinated, in part, by the Federation was a conference in London sponsored by Fishmongers and Blue Marine, which invited fisheries experts from the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Norway to spell out what works and what doesn’t work in their systems and what might be relevant to UK fisheries after the UK leaves the CFP.
The Federation in September also undertook a study tour to Norway, the UK’s closest fishing neighbour outside the EU to speak to government officials, regulators and fishing industry about what is possible as an independent coastal state.
Looking forward, a briefing meeting for UK legislators is being planned for next year. In this way, the Federation is maintaining the momentum in the political sphere and the media towards a good outcome for fishing.
The NFFO Team in Brussels the year was:
Tony Delahunty (President and Channel)
Mike Cohen (Chairman and North Sea)
Arnold Locker (East of England)
Andrew Locker (East of England)
Linda McCall (Northern Ireland)
Alan McCulla (Irish Sea)
Jim Evans (Wales and Irish Sea)
Jane Sandell (External Waters)
Chloe Rogers (External Waters
Mathew Cox (Pelagic)
Paul Trebilcock (South West)
Barrie Deas (Chief Executive)
May I take this opportunity to wish all of our members, supporters and allies, a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.