December Council Outcomes

20th December 2013 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, TACs and Quotas

The “short and brutal” Council which delivered TAC decisions for next year on 18th December was atypical in a number of ways, apart from its brevity. It is simply unknown not to have even begun to discuss North Sea joint stocks and the wider EU/Norway agreement by the time that the December Council meets. The mishandling of the mackerel negotiations and Faroese obduracy combined to put strain on the EU Norway relationship.

Then there was the timing. Following CFP reform in the summer and the imminent departure of the Commissioner from her period of tenure this spring, the pressure was on for her to demonstrate at the Council, for her legacy, that things had changed and we are in a new reformed CFP. Her way of demonstrating this was by insisting on a hard line that TACs must be set in line with maximum stable yield.

But underneath this veneer there was more consistency than change. Severe quota reductions such as those seen in the South West and Irish Sea speak volumes of the focus on presentation rather than substance and the failure to get a grip of the management of mixed fishery and multi-species fisheries. Being able to say to that TACs have been set in line with MSY, and therefore is the CFP moving towards sustainability, when the reality is that they will generate higher discards, is at best self-deception.

This is still the top-down CFP that we are familiar with and until we move to a functioning form of regional management quota decisions are likely to be vulnerable to this king of hijack for presentational purposes.

Nevertheless, apart from the fact that member states are beginning to work together there are other reasons to think that change is possible. In the Council declarations there is a statement smothered in caveats and qualifications which none the less could open the door for fisheries like Irish Sea and West of Scotland cod where TAC cuts and effort control have patently failed. It allows for additional quota to be used for pilot trials to prepare for the landings obligation. The NFFO pressed for the inclusion of this declaration and it may just prove to be the way out of the current discredited approach. It is natural to focus on the bad news but we should not forget that overall, fishing mortality has dropped dramatically and stocks are rebuilding right across the North East Atlantic. North Sea Plaice and hake are just the leaders in the field