A seminar in Brussels, organised recently by the European Commission, was held to take stock of…
December 2012 Fisheries Council Outcomes
The noticeable feature of the NFFO team in Brussels at the December Council is that reflects and represents the true diversity of the UK fishing fleets.
NFFO Chairman Paul Trebilcock
North Sea, Irish Sea, South West, South East, North East, Pelagic and External Waters (from small inshore boats to the largest pelagic ships in the UK fleet) are all covered by individuals with direct knowledge and understanding of their particular fisheries. This can prove invaluable when complex issues arise during the Council negotiations.
I think it is important to recognise and indeed pay tribute to the professionalism and commitment of Richard Benyon and the Defra negotiating team. They worked throughout the Council with diligence and intelligence right up to the final agreement. Even if not totally satisfied, the UK fishing industry can be assured that the UK has extracted the very best deal available from a complex and sometimes perverse system for arriving at decisions.
I am personally disappointed that we have not yet begun to make headway on the issue of a prohibition on landings for spurdog, porbeagle, skate and undulate-rays. To date the Commission have simply not been willing to discuss this issue and appear to be interested in only a cosmetic gesture which can only paper over the fact that there is a policy vacuum on this question.
Stability is highly prized by an industry that has been through such turbulent times in recent years. There are signs that the wild policy fluctuations that characterise TAC and management decisions in the past, may be on the way out. The increasing prevalence of management plans and now an approach to data limited stocks that hold TACs steady for five years is an important development.
DECEMBER 2012 FISHERIES COUNCIL
The December Fisheries Council finished in the early hours of Thursday 20 December in Brussels, when the TACs and quotas for 2013 were finally agreed.
The negotiations took place against the background of extreme proposals from the Commission for big reductions in a number key TACs and quotas for the CFPO.
Non TAC issues:
Sole Recovery Zone (VIIe) effort levels remain unchanged for 2013.
The Trevose Closure remains in place for 2013 from 1 February to 31 March.
The UK Minister, Richard Benyon, and his team were fully briefed before the negotiations began were made acutely aware of our key priorities. The NFFO delegation maintained close contact with officials throughout the Council.
In terms of outcomes:
- The reduction in Haddock TAC was very disappointing despite moderating the proposed cut from 55%. This short-sighted decision will have implications, not least in increase discards.
- The most frustrating outcome was on Spurdog, Porbeagle and Skate which remain under zero TAC. Despite all the rhetoric from the Commission about the importance reducing discards, these stocks were not up for negotiation. This amounts to a counterproductive, irrational, not to say schizophrenic approach from Commission. The UK Minister and negotiating team were made fully aware of all the arguments and implications of such an outcome on these stocks but whilst he acknowledged and agreed with these he was unable to deliver due to the Commission’s immovable position. We all know this will deliver nothing expect increase discards and do nothing for conservation. The CFPO will continue to work with CEFAS and DEFRA to develop alternative management proposals during 2013.
The December negotiations are always complex with an ever growing green influence offstage. We are clear about how we can influence the political process, even if we don’t win every battle, every time:
- Provide clear, evidenced based, arguments
- Work with officials and scientists throughout the year (only so much can be achieved in the last lap)
- Work with fishermen in other member states where our interests coincide and in the RACs
- Use fisheries science partnership projects to strengthen the science base for decisions
In the early stages of these negotiations we made it clear that the outcome in the South West would necessarily be judged as an overall package. From that perspective and the outcome has been disappointing in some important respects. What is clear is:
- That without the NFFO’s efforts things would be much worse.
- We need to begin work immediately to ensure that next year’s outcomes are better
Positive Result for Northern Ireland’s Fishermen – Alan McCulla, ANIFPO
The EU’s December Fisheries Council negotiations concluded at 6:30am on Friday morning, after a marathon all night session.
In advance of the talks the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation had identified four priorities for fisheries in the Irish Sea, which were in line with sustainable fisheries management. These were;
- Prevent any further cut in the days at sea
- Secure a rollover with the Area 7 prawn quota
- Secure a rollover on the Irish Sea cod TAC
- Secure a rollover with the Irish Sea haddock TAC -
The results were as follows:
Stock2012 TAC 2013 Proposal 2013 TAC 7 Prawns21,759 18,57623,065+6%6 Prawns16,65016,65019,647 +18%7a Cod 380 285 285 -25%7a Haddock 1,251 1,001 1,189 -5%7a Whiting 89 7180 -5%7a Plaice 1,627 1,627 1,627n/c7a Herring 5,280 4,9934,993-5%7 Anglers30,677 24,542 29,144 -5%6/7 Hake30,90020,86030,900n/c
Overall this was a positive result for Northern Ireland’s fishing industry, with significant increases in Northern Ireland’s most important fisheries for prawns, underlining the stability of those stocks in the Irish Sea and to the West of Scotland.
With the exception of cod, other quota reductions were minimised to levels that will not impact on local fishermen. The 25% reduction in cod flies in the face of the European Commission’s own scientific advice and is an obvious disappointment in what otherwise is a good result. The decision to freeze days at sea in 2013 at their 2012 levels represents another welcome and significant boost for the local fleet.
Alan McCulla Chief Executive of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation said,
“The Northern Ireland team came to Brussels with shared objectives and with the exception of cod we secured our objectives. Our Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has secured a result that underpins the very significant steps our fishermen have taken in ensuring sustainable fisheries in the Irish Sea. It is right to thank her, as well as our MPs, MEPs and other MLAs who intervened in London and Brussels to ensure a fair outcome for Northern Ireland’s fishing industry.”
“We share Minister O’Neill’s disappointment with the result on Irish Sea cod. A 25% cut on what is classed as a choke stock in unjustifiable and will work against us assessing what exactly is happening with cod in the Irish Sea.”
“Nevertheless, we cannot complain about the overall result from this Fisheries Council, which provides Northern Ireland’s fishermen with additional catching opportunities over and above what they had in 2012.”
Ned Clark Chairman NFFO North East Committee
Inevitably, the main focus in the North Sea has been the important developments in breaking out of the downward ratchet on days-at-sea and also the implications of the Council decisions for the EU negotiations on the TAC for cod. Management plans are working well for our main demersal stocks with substantial increases anticipated in haddock, plaice, saithe and whiting when the EU Norway talks resume in January.
In a fishery of such central importance to so many vessels, the significant cut in the TAC for North Sea nephrops has sent a shiver of alarm through the industry. The work being done in the North Sea RAC on a long term management plan will, I believe, be central to the future management of this stock and all potentially affected should make themselves aware of this work.
Without the NFFO’s work throughout the year I am certain that we would be in a very much worse situation.
Tony Delahunty Chairman of NFFO South East Committee
An immense amount of groundwork from May onwards has paid off in the Council results for the diverse South East fleets. The work that the NFFO has done throughout the year with Cefas and ICES scientists and Defra officials, has paid off in a substantial increase in the flatfish TACs (increase of 26% for Eastern Channel plaice and +6% for sole). The result for skates and rays was however disappointing (10% cut), although this was reduced from a proposed 20% reduction. The position with undulate ray is particularly indefensible given that the ICES science does not require a ban on landings but a tailored management plan.
I believe that this points to the need for us to work on the science and species identification on skates and rays throughout the coming year to (at least) reverse this cut for next year.
Although Norway is a long way away from the Channel, the complexities of the Norway negotiations have had an impact on the Eastern Channel cod TAC because it is linked to the North Sea. We are hopeful that the Council has cleared the way for a rollover, status quo, TAC, when the negotiations are concluded in January.
One area of remaining concern lies with the quota split between Defra and the devolved administrations following the concordat agreed earlier in the year. The longer this decision is delayed and the more opaque the principles being used to make the split, the greater the anxiety amongst vessel operators in our area.
European Parliament CFP Vote
Commentators are still assessing the significance of the vote in the European Parliament Fisheries Committee in 18th December. It is probably too early to assess its real relevance.
On the face of it the Committee voted for a reformed CFP that includes:
- A discard ban that covers catches of all regulated species, with some flexibility on deadlines and species which survive discarding
- An obligation to manage fish stocks to some level above MSY
- A rejection of a European level system of ITQs
- Support for a form of regionalised management within a broad statutory framework and default to centralised management if regional measures fail
However, perhaps the most significant development of the day came after the Committee had finished voting (13 to 10 with 2 abstention) to support the package, when the Commission suggested that the narrow vote was insufficient to give the Parliament an adequate mandate to enter “trialoge” negotiations with the Commission and the Council of Ministers on the final shape of a reformed CFP.
One of the main political groupings, the European Peoples’ Party, voted on block against the package, and as they account for 40% of the eligible votes winning their support for a final compromise package in Plenary, sometime in the New Year, will be critical.
It is not immediately clear what the EPP’s positions will be then as there is a swirl of cross-cutting party political, national as well as fisheries factors in the mix.
The NGO’s have lobbied the European Parliament with an intensity that reflects the financial resources to which they have access. But as is often the case with European legislation it is not clear what exactly has been voted for, what its significance will be in 6 months time and what it means in terms of practical implementation issues.
The Irish hold the EU Presidency for the next six months and it is widely felt that this provides the best prospect to secure an agreed reform through the “trialogue” process of negotiation between the parties. The delay in agreeing an EP negotiating mandate, which passes a vote in Plenary, could turn out to have serious consequences for the timing and perhaps the substance of the reform.
A Federation delegation was present for the European Parliament vote. We will be meeting with senior Defra officials in the New year to take stock of these most recent development and discussing how to achieve the UK’s and the industry’s priorities for the reform.
Council Breakthrough on Flawed Cod Plan
The Council of Ministers 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.
The 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.
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 now 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.