This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
TACs and Quotas for 2010
This year’s quota negotiations were unusual in two respects. Firstly, the breakdown of the EU Norway negotiations in December meant that only interim TACs could be set for North Sea shared stocks like cod, haddock, whiting, saithe and plaice, pending the resumption of talks and presumable agreement with Norway in the New Year. These provisional TACs have been set at 65% of 2009 levels.
Secondly, the elephant in the sitting room is the major reduction in days at sea for vessels in the cod recovery zone; this was not even discussed at the Council because Ministers last year signed up to a three year cod recovery plan with automatic reductions linked to biomass levels. The Irish Sea and West of Scotland face further 25% reductions whilst the North Sea faces a 10% cut. The Celtic Sea remains outside the cod recovery plan.
In terms of TACs not covered by EU Norway, we saw the now familiar process through which member states try to fend off the most brutal elements in the Commission’s proposals, using a mix of science, socio-economic arguments, tactical manoeuvring and deployment of scarce political capital.
The December Council is a fundamentally flawed process that allows, indeed promotes, strange linkages between wholly unrelated issues. The conclusion of the Council was delayed for something like 12 hours whilst Spain tried to secure an advantage in the integration of the southern component of the mackerel fishery into an overall mackerel agreement. As a result, a wide range of UK issues were put on hold until the very last stages of the Council negotiations and the outcomes may have been affected as a result.
This Council therefore again underscored the clear need to move towards regional decision-making at sea-basin level, where unrelated issues can be decoupled and a more sensible approach to setting catch limits within long term management plans can evolve.
NFFO and UK Priorities
The NFFO’s and UK’s priorities were only partly achieved.
- The cut in the Irish Sea nephrops quota was reduced from 30% to 9%, with the likelihood that this will be contained to 6% through swaps with the Irish Republic. The UK devoted a great deal of its negotiating capital to minimizing the impact of this reduction, not least because CCES science has confirmed that the Irish Sea nephrops stocks are fished sustainably
- Although much remains to be discussed, there may be scope in the catch quota scheme agreed in Brussels for whiting catches in the North Sea to be landed rather than discarded as at present. The crucial questions will be whether the additional quota will be sufficient to encourage vessels to participate in the scheme and how participants will document their activity. The reduction in “use it or lose it” TACs like turbot, lemon sole and witch was limited to 4%.
- The diversity of the South West fleets, tied to the potential impact of the Commission’s proposals, presented a particular challenge. On the one hand a rollover on Celtic Sea cod was achieved and a significant increased obtained for monkfish (15%) and hake (7%). On the other hand the lack of movement on “use it or lose it” TACs such as VII hjk sole and plaice and pollack was very disappointing. Likewise, the “cosmetic” TAC reductions such as porbeagle and spurdog will have no effect than other to increase discards. Equally, the 15% cut on skates and rays will hurt. The reduction in the Western Channel sole TAC was however limited to 5%.
- The cod TAC in the Eastern Channel is not part of the EU Norway agreement but will reflect whatever TAC change is finally agreed. A Council declaration paves the way for separating eastern from western channel plaice at some point in the future. In the meantime the sole TAC faces a 20% reduction.
As always, much detail will emerge from the negotiations in coming weeks and days. We will circulate full details to members as we receive them