This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
The EU and Norway delegations paused in their negotiations in Bergen for an annual reciprocal fisheries agreement, to mark the 40 year anniversary of the talks.
The annual EU/Norway agreement is an important staging-post in each fishing year, setting total allowable catches, access arrangements and quota shares for the coming year. North Sea cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, plaice and herring TACs are set in this way. In addition quota exchanges between the parties are agreed. The agreement is hugely important for the fleets concerned, largely determining their fishing opportunities for the coming year.
The Norwegian Head of Delegation, Ann Kristin Westberg, remarked that the talks had seen their ups and downs over the years but geography and shared stocks meant that there is no realistic alternative to cooperation on the management of shared stocks. However, she observed that this would be the last year in which the talks would take their current form because the UK would leave the EU in 2019 and the 2018 negotiations (for an agreement in 2019) would need to take account of that change.
In fact, post Brexit, the EU’s sea area in the North Sea will only amount to around 20% of the total, with UK and Norway then being the main players. After Brexit, it is expected that the UK will participate in the bilateral or trilateral negotiations as an independent coastal state. At present, despite contributing the bulk of the EU’s sea area and fish resources, the UK is only one of around 15 member states who are coordinated by the European Commission. Coordination of the EU position often swallows as much as half of the time allowed for the talks.
Although, over the years, the negotiations have seen bad tempered breakdowns and walkouts, they are currently in a relatively calm businesslike phase.
The talks continue and are expected to be concluded by the end of this week.