Against the background of high level discussions on where fisheries powers should be located…
December Council outcomes
The December Council, as usual, generated a mixed bag of winners and losers. The underlying science reflects a broad continuing trend towards improving stocks; but the legal obligation to achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks by 2020 is generating casualties, especially in the Channel and Celtic Sea, where in some cases, cuts of more than third on 2016 quotas have been made. (Celtic Sea Cod -38%, megrim 25%). More casualties can be expected next year and 2019 as the EU adheres to the arbitrary MSY timetable that it has set itself. It is frustration over inflexible policies such as these that has fuelled the UK fishing industry's enthusiasm for Brexit. There is a possibility that next year’s Council could be that last in which TACs and quotas are set in this way.
Positive Stock Trends: Since 2000, there has been a dramatic reduction in fishing pressure and in general terms that stocks are responding positively. The increasing biomasses of some stocks like North Sea Plaice and Northern hake are nothing short of spectacular. Similarly, the haddock stock in the Irish Sea and North Sea saithe has seen a significant increase. This are the good news stories that are sometimes obscured by the focus on stocks like bass that are bucking the general trend, through a combination of weak recruitment (environmental conditions) and fishing pressure. More of bass later.
Mixed Fisheries: The Commission doesn't yet seem to have grasped how to manage mixed fisheries. The bottom line is that the TACs applied in the ultra-mixed Celtic Sea can only generate significant levels of discarded cod. Discards will also be a feature of the bass fishery, although the Council has introduced some flexibility in the trawl fishery that should help a bit in 2016 (a 3% rather than a 1% bycatch). Keeping a provision for an (albeit heavily restricted) gill net fishery was important too. The Commission's ridiculous proposal to give recreational anglers an unenforceable 10 fish per month bag limit was quite rightly bounced out of court by the member states.
In some fisheries like Eastern Channel sole, ministers have used their responsibilities to ease savage quota reductions, through a staged approach, that reduces at least some of the adverse socio-economic consequences for fishing communities. Another feature of this year's Council has been the continuing implementation of the EU landings obligation, with quota uplifts in the fisheries brought under the landing obligation for the first time in 2017. In the industry there are concerns about the quality of the data on which these uplifts have been based. If the discard estimates are out of line with the actual levels, then significant chokes will begin to appear. This problem will intensify as the landing obligation is progressively implemented to 2019.
DEFRA in North East Arctic Quota Grab to Appease Scotland
The NFFO has bitterly criticised George Eustice's decision to grab quota from the Humber based Fish Producer Organisation to appease clamour from Scotland for more benefits. The move has been criticised by the NFFO as "opportunistic and nakedly political"
During the December Council negotiations, the UK Fisheries Minister announced a deal that had been agreed with Scottish Fisheries Minister, Fergus Ewing, to top-slice 1500 tonnes of the 2017 quota North East Arctic cod. The Scottish minister had said earlier that they had been working for several months on the plan, which had been kept secret from those affected.
NFFO Chief Executive Barrie Deas said, "That the Scottish Government is pursuing an aggressive nationalist agenda is a surprise to nobody. Why government in Westminster is offering concession after concession, to the serious detriment to the English fishing industry, to appease Scottish demands, is less easy to explain. This seems to be part of a wider government strategy to dilute conditions that would favour a second independence referendum in Scotland. As such this is a nakedly political manoeuvre of extreme disadvantage to the English industry.”
"What is clear is that there is a UK minister but there is nobody at ministerial level that can be relied upon to look after the interests of the English fishing industry. This decision makes no sense in terms of the UK as a whole, which will lose out as a result."
"We are not against moving quota around to deal with potential chokes that arise as a result of implementing the of the EU landings obligation - if this was done systematically, transparently and across the board, and following proper discussions with those affected. But this is just a crude, opportunistic, highly political quota grab, to appease constant, unrelieved pressure from Scotland. The fact that it hits Humberside, which is not exactly part of the government's heartlands, should not be overlooked.
"The very minister who is charged with looking after our interests, has shown a contemptuous disregard for the English fishing industry in this matter; and also in agreeing a concordat with Scotland that is monstrously against England's interests. Time will tell where this quota will end up. But it is no surprise that the Scottish minister was eager to claim joint ownership of the quota grab."
South West Overview
Paul Trebilcock, Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation
After two long days of talks in Brussels, fisheries ministers from across the EU eventually agreed fishing opportunities (quotas) for the year ahead, including those for important stocks in Area VII.
Ahead of the Council and throughout, the CFPO working with the NFFO, liaised closely with DEFRA officials and the UK minister, to ensure that scientific, economic and community based arguments were understood and used in an effort to deliver the best possible deal for our members.
Celtic Sea Cod, Haddock and Whiting
The Commission’s line on Cod was inflexible throughout the Council and despite the UK deploying arguments based around mixed fisheries modelling, a savage cut in the cod quota (of 38%) will have a major impact on many vessels and contribute to increased discards.
The modest increase in Haddock (7%) was welcome but fell short of our aspiration to better match the TAC with abundance being seen across the majority of fisheries in the South-West.
Monk VII, Megrim VII and Hake VI/VII
The positive outcomes for the economically important stocks of hake (increase 9%) and Monk VII (rollover TAC) were soured by the dramatic and unnecessary cut in Megrim TAC (25%). The fact that the biomass of this stock is at an historic high and fishing pressure has reduced significantly in recent years, did not stop the Commission sticking to its dogmatic pursuit of MSY within 1 year.
There is good news for sole fishermen in South West, with increases in the Western Channel (20%) and Bristol Channel TAC (8%) and a rollover of the VIIhjk TAC, reflecting the good state of these stocks and the sustainable practices of the fleets catching them. These are important, high value, stocks for South West fishermen.
The 10% cut in this TAC, based on insufficient/poor data, was extremely disappointing. The sustainable gill-net and hand-line fishermen who target this stable economically important stock both inshore and offshore will be bitterly disappointed with this nonsensical cut. There is a possibility that this decision will be reviewed early next year and it needs to be.
Against the background of massive pressure from anglers, greens and poor scientific perception of the stock, the outcome was not as catastrophic as feared.
The bycatch allowance in the trawl fishery from 1% to 3% of total catch, will not eliminate discards but at least is a step in the right direction. Gill-netters will have a monthly 250kg landing allowance. Both measures still present potential problems with discards but at least our reasoned arguments have been recognised and generated some movement. Hand-liners have a 10t per year landing allowance. (There remains a prohibition of landing any bass in the spawning months of February and March for all gears).
Ray in Western Waters
The increase in this TAC (5%) is welcome but this result was tarnished by the continuation of specific restrictions on small eyed ray, with heavily restricted landings only allowed from VIIfg. There is much work to be done on skates and ray management if we are to avoid more problems this in future.
Although the TACs and Quotas Regulation is adopted by the fisheries ministers of all EU member states, it is important to recognise that the UK Minister agreed to these TACs (and associated regulations) and must share responsibility for the consequence of these decisions, whether these are in the direction of sustainable fisheries, increased discards or unnecessarily hard consequences for fishing communities.
South East: Damage Limitation
Tony Delahunty, NFFO South East Committee
Tony Delahunty, NFFO President and Chairman of the NFFO South East Committee commented:
“We work hard all year to secure the best outcomes from the year-end quota negotiations but there is still a lot at stake during the December Council. A lot of what we have to do is damage limitation. This was evident in fighting off a 32% cut in the Eastern Channel sole quota, which was moderated - but is still a tough 15% cut.
Bass: Securing the continuation of a net fishery for bass was a priority for us, as well as getting more flexibility for the trawlers. The bass measures will still difficult for us but at least we successfully fought off the Commission’s proposal for what effectively would have been complete ban on gill nets. However, the Commission remains adamantly opposed to a drift net fishery for bass, despite the arguments that were put forward. The recreational angler’s ruse to land an unenforceable 10 fish per month was blocked.
Skates and Ray: After years of continuous cuts on skates and ray, a more positive approach is emerging, although it may take a while to come to fruition. The TAC in area the eastern Channel was increased by 10% and there is a commitment to work on a more sensible regime next year that avoids the fishery being dragged down by the lowest common denominator.”
North Sea Stocks Continue to Build
Arnold Locker, East of England Fish Producer’s Organisation
As the principal stocks in the North Sea are shared with Norway, the EU/Norway negotiations over two rounds in Copenhagen and Bergen, in November and December were of critical importance for next year’s fishing opportunities in the North Sea.
The biomass of the iconic North Sea cod stock continues to grow, as does the plaice stock and many others; reflecting a broad consistent trend that applies right across the North East Atlantic. A dip in recruitment meant that the TAC for haddock had to be reduced but there is a significant increase in the saithe quota.
The TAC for nephrops has been increased by 46%, reflecting increased abundance overall in the North Sea. The measures currently applied to the Farne Deeps will be reviewed in June. Whiting remains challenging, not because of excessive fishing pressure but because of changing stock dynamics and the distribution of the species. A proposed reduction of 29% was softened to a rollover and when uplift is added, the final result is an increase of 17%.
Cod and whiting will be added to stocks under the landings obligation in 2017 and therefore the quota uplifts to cover quantities of these stocks previously discarded are highly significant. The Federation continues to work intensively on the problem inherent in applying a landing obligation to mixed fisheries.
Positive outcome to for Irish Sea
Alan McCulla OBE, Anglo-North Irish Fish Producer’s Organisation
After two days of negotiations in Brussels, EU Fisheries Ministers have agreed fishing opportunities for the year ahead, including those for the most important stocks in the Irish Sea. In advance of the Council, ANIFPO worked closely with the NFFO in identifying the priorities and issues for the Irish Sea quota species and overall the result has been a good one for the fisheries in the area.
Against the background of Commission proposals for zero TACs on Irish Sea cod and sole, the Council agreed quota rollovers for these two stocks. Indeed, 2017 will mark the first time in 12 years that Irish Sea cod has not witnessed a year-on-year TAC reduction. It should be noted that ANIFPO and the NFFO worked closely with the Northern Ireland MEP Diane Dodds, who was instrumental in delivering crucial amendments to the EU's Long Term Cod Plan, which were critical in paving the way for this week's decision on the Irish Sea cod TAC.
A welcome 25% increase in Irish Sea haddock, combined with the 9% increase in the western hake TAC will allow for the continued redevelopment of a directed demersal fishery in the Irish Sea.
Working alongside the UK Minister, Northern Ireland's Minister with responsibility for Fisheries Michelle McIlveen MLA secured a written statement from the Commission and Council confirming that many of the Irish Sea TACs will be further reviewed early in 2017 following an ICES benchmarking exercise. One of the stocks included in this review is Irish Sea herring and there is optimism that the 10% cut applied to this TAC at the Council will be reversed in advance of the season opening mid-year.
The most economically important fishery in the Irish Sea and for the Northern Ireland industry is nephrops. The increase of nearly 9% in this TAC reflects another year of positive scientific advice on the stock and is clearly good news for the entire industry at sea and onshore.
2016 has been a positive year for fisheries in the Irish Sea. The decisions taken at the December 2016 Fisheries Council should help continue to fuel the recovery of the fishing industry in the area, specifically Northern Ireland. It is further hoped that the ICES benchmarking exercise scheduled for early in 2017 will result in further TAC incentives for Irish Sea fishermen.
Irish Sea Stock Commission Proposal 2017 TAC
Nephrops -18% +9%
Cod Zero TAC Rollover
Haddock -6% +25%
Whiting Rollover Rollover
Plaice Rollover Rollover
Sole Zero TAC Rollover
Herring -10% -10%
Mike Cohen, NFFO Chairman
And so the dust settles on December Council 2016. Two drawn-out days of activity by the minister and his officials – preceded by long months of lobbying and debate from fishermen and their representatives – will now be followed by a still longer period in which the industry works out how to live with the deal that our minister has signed up to.
As a way of managing the shared natural resources upon which thousands of livelihoods depend, it is undeniably a strange, unwieldy system, all too capable of throwing out the capricious and unsatisfactory results with which British fishermen are so familiar.
Not for much longer, though, will we be part of this unsatisfactory annual ritual. 2017 may well be the last time that the UK participates in the December Council as we know it.
As with every other facet of Brexit, what comes next is still unclear. The NFFO’s job now is to be part of developing the new process by which TACs and quotas will be shaped. Whatever form this may ultimately take, it must rise above the manifest inadequacies of the current system. We need an evidence based route to delivering economically sustainable fisheries, freed from the arbitrary political timetables that have hampered us for so long.
May I take this opportunity to wish all of the Federation’s members, supporters and staff a very happy Christmas and healthy and prosperous New Year.