This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
First Round of EU Norway Talks
The first round of negotiations towards the annual fisheries agreement between the EU and Norway was held recently in Brussels.
A second and hopefully final round will be held in Bergen later this month. An NFFO delegation, as usual, attends both rounds of the negotiations. North Sea Joint Stocks
The Agreement’s ever increasing reliance on long term management plans means that there are now fewer surprises when it comes to setting TACs for jointly managed stocks in the North Sea. Whilst in these kind of negotiations, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and formal ratification will be required by the EU Council of Ministers meeting in December, unless there is some kind of upset, it is likely that the outcomes for next year’s joint stock whitefish quotas will be:
North Sea Cod - 1%
North Sea Haddock +15%
Plaice + 15%
The difficult situation facing the western mackerel stock in the absence of an agreement with Iceland and Faeroes, who are both behaving irresponsibly by autonomously setting very large TACs for themselves, casts a dark shadow over the pelagic industry. A meeting in Ireland later in the year will again try to restore some semblance of order in this fishery, once a model for stability, profitability and good management.
The news on North Sea herring is good, with discussions centring on how soon to harvest the stock at the full maximum sustainable yield level, given that the stock already has the biomass to support this, but the existing management plan is more conservative. Norway appears to be pressing for a settlement towards the higher end. Catch Quotas and Discard Reduction
Decisions will be required within the EU Norway Agreement on the future of the Catch Quota projects in EU member states. These require additional quota (moving quota from the discards column to the landed column) as an incentive for fisheries fully documented by CCTV cameras and with no cod discards. The evidence so far is that the vessels involved in the projects have successfully and substantially reduced their discards, and overall cod catch with an overall benefit to the stocks. This approach, despite its success will not be appropriate for all fisheries and it is important not to lose sight of other successful cod avoidance and discard initiatives. But hopefully Norway will cooperate further in progressively extending the Catch Quota scheme in a careful and measured way.
The EU Norway Agreement depends on a reciprocal balance of quotas and access to each others’ waters, although the management regimes in each are often quite different. In recent years maintaining the balance at a high level has been difficult for a variety of reasons and both the EU and Norway have committed themselves this year to working to ensure that the final balance is at the highest possible level. Norway was urged to be more flexible in its “shopping list”, in other words the stocks it will accept as currency for transfers of Norwegian quota to the EU.
The first round of the EU Norway Negotiations was remarkable for the positive spirit in which it was conducted. Much of the acrimony seen in recent years was absent and this allowed a more businesslike approach to prevail. There are still pressure points and differences of approach, emphasis and interest. But it was possible to see underneath those inevitable elements in any negotiations that these are sovereign countries engaged, as partners, in managing joint stocks in sometimes difficult circumstances of a biological, scientific, economic and political nature.