Both sides of the Christmas break have seen intense activity at Westminster as the Fisheries…
NFFO Takes Position on North Sea Plan
Through its work with the North Sea Advisory Council, the NFFO has been centrally involved in the preparation of NSAC advice in the lead up to the Commission’s proposal for a multi-annual plan for the demersal fisheries in the North Sea. In particular, we have been supportive of the potential flexibility provided by F ranges in setting TACs that are compatible with both MSY objectives and implementation of the landing obligation.
Having been launched by the Commission, we suppose that the proposal will now go forward and the co-decision process will run its course. We cannot but think, however, that there is a degree of wishful thinking, or ignoring the elephant in the room here. The UK’s departure from the EU will mean that the UK will be responsible for managing the fisheries within the UK exclusive economic zone. Consequently, the area of EU jurisdiction in the North Sea (and therefore the sea area covered by this plan) will be radically curtailed. Even more significantly, the institutional arrangements for setting TACs for shared stocks will also change – probably in the North Sea to a trilateral arrangement involving Norway, EU and UK, as an independent coastal state. The EU multi-annual plan will have no legal traction with Norway or the UK, and only as much political influence as the other parties will allow.
Against this background there must be a high probability that this proposal will stall going through the co-decision process. And if it does not stall, and is adopted, the capacity of Norway to block its influence when setting TACs for joint stocks suggests to us that the plan is already dead in the water in its central purpose.
We fully understand that until the UK leaves the EU it is bound by the rights and responsibilities of the EU and the CFP. For instruments like the landings obligation, which the UK fisheries minister has suggested in large part will be absorbed into UK legislation, there is every reason for the UK to stay engaged in the development of the legislation. However, the same does not apply with the multi-annual plan. In the post-Brexit TAC setting arrangements for shared stocks, the UK will have a stronger hand after it has left the EU, than as one of twenty-eight, and we cannot see the advantage in pretending that nothing is about to change in this respect.
Apart from anything else, the assumptions on which the stakeholder consultations and impact assessments, by which the plan is underpinned will have altered radically, invalidating the results. This in itself is sufficient to question the legality as well as the rationality of continuing as though nothing is about to happen.
There may be sound reasons why, in the context of annual negotiations towards a fisheries agreement with Norway and the EU, it might be considered expedient to rescue some of the specific measures contained in the Commission’s proposal. But we think that the kindest approach to all, considering the circumstances, is for the UK to suggest to the other co-legislators, that it might be sensible for all concerned to wait the outcome to the Brexit negotiations before adopting a piece of legislation designed for a different era.
I am sure that we can all put our time to better use.