Quota Talks Begin in Brussels

16th December 2009 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, TACs and Quotas

The annual quota negotiations have begun in Brussels following a late evening meeting between an NFFO delegation and UK Fisheries Minister Huw Irranca-Davies to finalise the UK’s priorities.

The Federation delegation, with representatives from all NFFO regions and fleet segments, reiterated our key priorities for the Council. These are:

  • To resist a reduction in the Irish Sea nephrops quota, not least because ICES scientists confirm that the Irish Sea nephrops stocks (as opposed to the rest of the broader Area VII) are fished at sustainable levels. A cut of the magnitude proposed by the Commission, if accepted, would have devastating consequences in the Northern Irish and English west coast fishing ports.
  • To secure a multi-layered approach to the problems in the North Sea whiting fishery. The abundance of whiting off the UK east coast at the same time that the overall stock levels are at a low ebb means that a blunt approach based on TAC reductions will deliver precisely nothing. The NFFO is pressing for an approach that would deliver quota to the east coast fleet, whilst simultaneously reducing discards and fishing mortality on whiting. This win-win-win outcome is possible if a more flexible approach on TACs, swaps, transfers and improved selectivity are combined in a package.
  • The diversity of the South West fleet means that a wide range of TAC decisions have a potential impact on the fishing industry. Tactical work with other member states to secure positive outcomes on shared stocks like monkfish, hake and megrim is critical, but the areas where the gap between the Commission’s proposals and manageable allocations is seen at its most acute in Celtic Sea cod, porbeagle, spurdog and skates and rays. A TAC that reflects the increase abundance of haddock has also been a priority.
  • The irrational “use it or lose it” principle has been fought hard and continues to be a main NFFO priority. There are a myriad of reasons why a member state or whole fleet might not take its full quota or TAC, including more economically attractive alternative fishing opportunities in that year. It makes no sense to penalise this kind of economically rational behaviour in subsequent years. Someone with a cynical mind might think that this tack was taken to exhaust member states negotiating capital.
  • The failure of the Norway talks this year has added an unexpected layer of complexity to this year’s quota decisions. For the most part, provisional TACs at 50% of 2009 levels will suffice to allow the fleets to be operational until a new deal is finalised. However, it is critically important that this formulae is adapted where, like with the mackerel fishery there is a strong seasonality, or whiting where the issue cannot be fixed by TAC adjustments alone.
  • On pelagic issues we are strongly opposed to the realignment of the Horse Mackerel TAC areas that would, if accepted, seriously damage our interests.

Although the formal scope for changes to the Cod Recovery Plan within this Council is very limited, there is mounting concern over the repercussions of punitive reductions, required by its provisions. The 25% reductions in effort and TAC will mean the displacement of significant numbers of vessels from the Irish Sea and West of Scotland into the North Sea with a range of consequences for cod recovery and other stocks. The Federation is pressing for early recognition that the Commission and Council have (again) gone down a largely self-defeating path.

Finally, the December Council has often been described as a circus, which can attract a great deal of media coverage at a time of year when other news sources are slowing down for Christmas. In recent years this kind of superficial, poorly informed, press coverage has been highly damaging to the industry’s reputation.

Responding to this press feeding frenzy, environmental NGO’s who generally work constructively and collaboratively with the NFFO and other fishermen’s associations in RACs throughout the year, now distance themselves from the industry and revert to the language of catastrophe and professional doomsaying.

This is frustrating but it is part of the problem when the media, with few honourable exceptions, is largely driven by sensationalism.