North Sea Cod

16th December 2019 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, North Sea

After three rounds of talks with Norway, probably two more than necessary, during which the Commission stuck doggedly to its view that there should be a 61% reduction in the TAC for cod, a settlement was reached in Brussels, on the Friday before the December Council, at a 50% reduction. The TAC will be 17,669 tonnes and further talks will be held in January and February over a range of additional supporting measures designed to aid recovery of the stock.

North Sea Cod

Setting quotas for the year (2020) in which the EU has set itself the arbitrary deadline of achieving harvesting of all stocks at maximum sustainable yield, required an element of theatre before the climbdown. There is no particular significance or logic to choosing the -50% figure. It simply splits the difference between the two positions held by Norway and the EU (more or less).

Setting aside the implications for global warming of dragging large delegations to London then Bergen and then Brussels, the Commission had to be seen to be brought to this agreement kicking and screaming. Norway argued with a great deal of validity, that a TAC set at Fmsy, implying a 34% reduction, supported by strong supporting measures, backed by the fishing industry, would be sufficient to rebuild the cod stock over a reasonable timeframe. In the end, Norway with almost all the member states and the whole North Sea fishing industry (including Norway) ranged on one side and the Commission on the other.

After a meeting in Brussels between the Norwegian Fisheries Minister and the New Fisheries Commissioner before the start of the third round, a new EU negotiating mandate was sanctioned and after a short further tussle, the agreed record was signed on Friday afternoon.

In a new departure, some NGOs made a brief appearance on the margins of the EU/Norway negotiations in Bergen, evidently concluding that their contribution justified their flights, and the CO2 generated.

Fishing Industry

A 50% reduction in the TAC for cod could be really problematic for the North Sea fishing industry, depending on the abundance found on the grounds next year. There is certainly scope for chokes in the haddock and whiting fisheries, an issue which, surprisingly, was not central to the discussions in London, Bergen and Brussels.

As described elsewhere the North Sea fishing industry has taken the initiative in proposing an integrated package of rebuilding measures. A 50% reduction in the TAC will make it more difficult to arrive at a workable package that the industry can support. It will be of the utmost importance that the industry is involved in the design and implementation of the new arrangements which will include spatial, technical and control measures.


The almost complete dominance of the negotiations by the optics of North Sea cod, obscured the fact that for the other stocks under the EU Norway agreement, either followed the ICES advice or rolled over the same arrangements as last year.