Council Breakthrough on Flawed Cod Plan

18th December 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The Council of Ministers has today unanimously agreed to amend the parts of the EU Cod Plan which deal with setting quotas and days-at-sea limits. This vote provides a legal basis on which the Council can now apply a freeze on pre-programmed effort reductions in the North Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland. It also allows the Commission to argue for something other than a 20% cut in the North Sea cod TAC, when negotiations reopen with Norway. Today’s decision also allows the Council to break with the provisions of the Cod Management Plan in setting quotas in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland.

Evaluation

After scientists evaluated the EU Cod Management Plan in 2011, it was only a matter of time until the political process initiated the changes recommended: a move away from undue reliance on quota reductions and days-at-sea restrictions. The Commission has proposed many of the changes suggested.

But the time issue became of utmost importance. There was a great deal of concern, within the industry and beyond, that the conflict between the Council and the European Parliament on long term management plans would hamper and delay a move towards more intelligent fishing. In the meantime, the fleets have been struggling under punitive reductions that were never foreseen by those who signed the original Plan

In an extremely important decision, the Council has cut through the impasse. The apparent legal contradiction over which European institution has the authority to set TACs within the context of a management plan is an issue for another day – possibly in the European Court.

Without this breakthrough there was a real prospect that all the progress that has been made on catch quotas, real time closures and improved selectivity in the cod fishery would have been put into reverse. It means also that there will not be a huge increase in discards in 2013, because the North Sea cod quota can be set in harmony with the quotas for haddock, saithe, whiting and plaice. The TACs for all of these quotas are set to increase in 2013 mainly by the maximum amount permitted +15%.

At times the EU Cod Management Plan has seemed like a runaway train. The Council has now limited the damage that it can do and there is a realistic prospect of moving forward.