This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
Quota Negotiations for 2010
Preparation for this year’s quota negotiations began in April, with preliminary discussions with Defra officials but have increased in intensity since ICES advice was published towards the end of May.
Assessing the strength of the science has become an integral part of the process of setting TACs, not least as ICES estimates that the data deficiencies and other weaknesses in their assessments means that the precise status of around 60% of the stocks assessed is “not known”
Equally, working with other member states to identify allies with shared interests is particularly important to the UK which because of its geography has a much wider range of quota interests than most member states. It cannot concentrate its firepower on a few stocks and so alliances are essential.
The NFFO meets directly with Defra officials on a number of occasions throughout the year to discuss and refine the UK’s TAC priorities, apart from the formal “stakeholder meetings”, which tend to be relatively arid tick-box exercises.
The Federation expends a great deal of effort and resources on the annual negotiations with Norway for a reciprocal fisheries agreement. Apart from the fact that North Sea joint stock TACs such as cod, haddock, whiting, saithe and plaice, are agreed here, these negotiations have an important bearing on fishing opportunities for the UK fleet in the Barents Sea and on important pelagic stocks such as mackerel and herring. The hot house of the EU/ Norway negotiations can also lead to the introduction of measures that are subsequently adopted more broadly in EU waters. An example of this type of measure is the poorly thought-through “high grading ban”. It was only because its legal vehicle, the Technical Conservation Regulation, was rejected by member states, that this particular piece of unenforceable PR oriented legislation has not been extended to all EU sea areas in the Atlantic zone, although the Commission may yet secure its introduction through an alternative legal route.
This year’s EU/ Norway negotiations began in early November in Bergen and have been though a second round in Brussels before foundering in a short third round back in Bergen. They have been dominated by the issue of access to the mackerel stocks. After a long period of stability the pelagic fisheries have been thrown into chaos by Iceland, Faeroes and Norway who have abandoning international agreements to set autonomous TACs on their own. (See NFFO News item: Norway Talks Breakdown
A strong NFFO delegation will attend the December Council to see through the work started earlier in the year in establishing UK priorities. Sometimes the Federation is called upon to make judgements in difficult policy areas where Ministers are unsure of industry reactions; sometimes we provide technical advice. But the main purpose of attending and lobbying the Council is that whilst ministers are inside the negotiating chamber they are constantly aware that they will have to account for their actions on emerging from the talks. It is right and proper that where the Council’s judgements can have direct and serious consequences for livelihoods that ministers are open to this kind of democratic pressure.
To those in the environmental NGOs who exaggerate the influence of the fishing lobby and suggest that without it ministers would take tougher decisions there is an answer. It is this: ICES provides its advice on an exclusively biological basis, generally on a single stock basis. The Commission has long abandoned its role as a filter, balancing socio-economic and biological advice and works actively to limit the Council’s scope for action. The Commission’s Scientific, Technical, Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) is constrained by its (changing) terms of reference and has yet to match its biological expertise with economic and management input. In these circumstances, it is only the Council of Ministers that balances conservation with livelihoods, often in terms of the timeframe for management measures and taking multi-species dimensions into the picture. This is an entirely legitimate and democratic function.