Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Hot off the meeting table - 2017 EU Fisheries Council quota allowances.

The EU has agreed to hike sustainable quotas for cod in the North Sea and haddock and sole in the Western Channel.  Fisheries minister and Camborne and Redruth MP George Eustice insists the government will keep pushing, after Brexit.  The increases for some valuable species were agreed at the December EU Fisheries Council.

Here is the breakdown:
North Sea: Cod +16.5%, 
Whiting +17%, 
Anglerfish + 20%
Saithe +53%

Irish Sea: 
Haddock +25% 
Nephrops (Langoustines) +8.6%

Western Channel: 
Haddock +7%
Sole +20%

Area VII in detail for the benefit of SW fishermen courtesy of Jim Portus:

Herring 7ef (west Channel) we were expecting rollover that was secured.
Cod 7ek (Celtic Sea) the 67% cut proposed was limited to 38% cut.

Megrim 7 (Celtic Sea) the proposed 28% cut was limited to 25% cut. This is very unwelcome for Newlyn.

Anglerfish 7 (Celtic Sea) was to be cut by 12% and a rollover was achieved. That is good news for all SW ports.

Haddock 7bk (Celtic Sea) was increased by the expected 7%, giving a welcome extra 49 tonnes for the UK fleet. 

Hake 7 (Celtic Sea) was increased by the expected 9%. This stock is fished at sustainable rates and has MSC Accreditation for the Newlyn fleet of netters.

Plaice 7de (Channel stock) has been cut by the expected 19.5%. This follows 100% increase a year ago and is based on poorly understood science advice. 

Plaice 7fg (Bristol Channel) has been cut by 3.5% without good explanation. 

Pollock 7 (Celtic Sea) was to be cut by 26%, but that cut was limited to 10%.

Sole 7d (eastern Channel) was to be cut by 31%, but that cut was limited to 15%.

Sole 7e (western Channel) was increased by the expected 20%. This stock is harvested sustainably and the welcome extra quota should deliver £1Million to Brixham & SW fleet of beam trawlers. 

Sole 7fg (Bristol Channel) was unexpectedly increased by 8%, giving a welcome boost to Newlyn. 

Skates and rays quotas rise by 5%, except in the east Channel where the increase is 10%

Whiting 7ek (Celtic Sea) was increased by 10%. 

Sadly the Minister failed to secure a rollover of the Channel Sprats quota that was cut by 20%. This is a small but significant winter fishery for Brixham inshore boats. Steps will be taken to increase scientific knowledge of this stock during 2017 in an effort to secure an in-year increase. 

Bass detail:

The controversial Bass stock was subjected to increased protective measures to secure stock recovery. 

There will be a closure of the fishery during February and March, as was the case in 2016.

Demersal trawlers and seiners will then have a 3% by-catch, with a 400Kgs monthly limit.

Fixed-Gill-Netters will have a 250Kgs monthly limit. 

Hook and Line commercial licensed fishers will be limited to 10 tonnes of Bass per year. 

Anglers will be on a 1 fish per day bag limit during the open months.
Drift netting and pair-trawling effectively is outlawed.
Where the latest scientific evidence supported it, the UK Government also lobbied against unnecessary quota cuts proposed by the European Commission, securing the same quota as last year for many species, including Cod and Sole in the Irish Sea, Anglerfish in the Celtic Sea and Whiting in West of Scotland.

Speaking after the conclusion of negotiations in Brussels, Fisheries Minister George Eustice said: "To deliver a profitable fishing industry, we must fish sustainably now and in the future. This year we were able to agree further increases in quotas on some valuable species as stocks have recovered, especially in the North Sea.

"There have been some challenges especially on stocks like Bass and Cod in the south-west where action to curtail catches has been necessary, but we have worked hard to secure an agreement striking the right balance that delivers for both our marine environment and coastal communities.

"As we prepare to leave the European Union we have an opportunity to build on progress made and improve the management of fish stocks in our waters, but we will continue to follow the principles of fishing sustainably and ending the wasteful practice of discarding fish."

Challenges remain to help reverse the long-term decline of some fish stocks, with the science showing a cut of 38% on cod was necessary in the south-west (Celtic Sea) and new fishing restrictions on commercial net fisheries targeting sea bass. This builds on action taken over the last two years.

Next year, sea bass catches by gill net fishermen will also be limited only to a by catch allowance of 250kg per month - a reduction around 80% on last year while hook and line commercial fishermen saw their allowance cut by around 23%.

Other outcomes from the negotiations included securing extra flexibility around where vessels are able to fish.  This will remove current constraints around fishing for northern shelf haddock, and provide more choice over fishing grounds, resulting in reduced costs for vessels.  Ahead of the EU Fisheries Council, fishing negotiations between the EU and Norway and EU and the Faeroe Islands wrapped-up.

Fishermen in England and Scotland benefited from the formal acceptance of early agreements with Norway on fishing opportunities in the North Sea. The UK Government secured a quota rise in North Sea cod worth over £4.3 million to the UK. That is the third successive rise in three years.  Increases were also secured for blue whiting, around £5.9m, and Atlanto-Scandian herring, worth over £1m.

Following the conclusion of the negotiations with the Faeroe Islands, fishermen will benefit from a rollover of the same catch limits as last year for species including cod, haddock and blue whiting.

Increases included:

North Sea Hake (+12%) 
Western Hake (+9%)
Sole in the North Sea (+14%)
Rockall Haddock (+45%)

Reducing cuts to a number of important fish quotas by providing sound scientific evidence to the Council:
Megrim in Western Waters (-25%)
Sole in Eastern Channel (-15%)

Maintaining 2016 quotas for a number of stocks: Megrim in the North Sea
Accepting proposals for cuts where necessary to protect stocks: Plaice (-19.5%) and Sprat (-20%) in the Channel.

Ahead of the annual meeting, the NNFO made a clear statement about the December Council and its work over the coming period before Brexit is actioned.

"The December Council remains (for the time being) an important date in the fishing calendar.  The earnings potential for next year for thousands of fishing vessels hang on the decisions made by a couple of dozen fisheries ministers cloistered in late night meetings with their officials.

The year-end negotiations do have a passing resemblance to a circus. However, what we see in December is the end point of a process which takes most of the year.

The starting point for this process can be taken as May/June, when two documents are released. The first is the publication of ICES scientific advice, containing catch options and TAC recommendations. The second is the Commission’s Communication, which spells out the broad principles that will be applied when the Commissions TAC and Quota proposal is published sometime around the beginning of November.

The NFFO’s work begins well before these documents are published, in challenging and questioning the scientific assumptions, data and methods used; and in making the case for better approaches to TAC decisions. Much of this work has been done in recent years within the advisory councils.

As the autumn approaches, the NFFO goes into a higher gear with detailed discussions on the UK’s priorities with Defra officials, and broader discussions with fisheries ministers about the approach to take to defend the UK’s interests. Making alliances with those member states whose interests are aligned with ours is an important part of the picture at this stage.

EU Norway

For those stocks jointly managed with Norway, the annual negotiations with Norway, which have just concluded, are where the critical decisions are made. An NFFO team was at both rounds, in Copenhagen and Bergen and the outcomes were as follows:

North Seas Joint Stock TACs

North Sea cod: 5% TAC increase plus 11% uplift. Moves the stock towards MSY whilst avoiding the 2% cut.

Saithe: 55% TAC increase plus 4.1% uplift

Haddock: 45% cut to correct the error last year’s advice and ensure fishing at FMSY. Now fully under landing obligation so TAC fixed at ICES total catch advice.

Whiting: rollover plus 17% uplift. Moves the stock towards MSY whilst avoiding the 29% cut.

North Sea Plaice: rollover plus 1.2% uplift

North sea Herring - 7% decrease due to poor recruitment


To EU:

Haddock (IV) - 500t

Whiting (IV) - 300t

Others - 9,500t

Anglerfish (IV) - 1,500t

Ling (IV) - 1,350

Arcto-Norwegian cod – 23,000t

Arcto-Norwegian Haddock – 1,200t

Saithe (I, II) – 2,550t

Greenland Halibut (I, II) – 50t

Others (I, II)– 350t

To Norway

Ling (IV,Vb,VI,VII,IIa) – 6,500

Tusk (IV,Vb,VI,VII,IIa) – 2,923

Horse mackerel (IVb,c) – 3,550

Saithe (IV, IIIa) –250t

Saithe (VIa) - 510t

Others (IV, IIa) 5,250

Blue whiting – 110,000t

Redfish – 740t

These decisions will, in the normal course of events, just be ratified by the Council of Ministers.


This year the December Council will take place in Brussels on 12th/13th December.

Ministers at this time of year often come under intense pressure from some of the more dogmatic green organisations for “departing from the scientific recommendations.” It is important therefore to understand that in the EU system, ministers have a unique and specific responsibility in setting TACs for the following year, to balance out a number of important factors. These include:

Taking into account single stock advice produced by ICES
Taking into account recent and relevant fisheries information
Balancing these with mixed fisheries considerations
Avoiding TAC decisions that will merely result in an increase in discards
Taking into account socio-economic concerns, by for example phasing reductions when these are needed
Taking into account, legal obligations, including the MSY timetable
For as long as TAC decisions are made (or ratified) by the December Council, it is important that this important balancing function is understood and recognised.

Maximum Sustainable Yield

Having the ambition to manage our fisheries so that they consistently deliver high yields is an eminently sensible policy. Ignoring biological and socio-economic realities in a blinkered race to an arbitrary MSY timetable, applied to all stocks irrespective of circumstances, makes no sense whatsoever - except perhaps to a handful of fundamentalists. As we approach the MSY deadline of 2020, the gap between aspiration and the reality inevitably becomes starker. The Commission has proposed gigantic cuts for some stocks. Channel cod with a proposed cut of 68% and Area VII megrim with a proposed cut of 28% are cases in point. At some juncture the Commission and member states will have to face the realities of a bulldozer MSY policy and adapt it to something more nuanced and workable. It the mean time ministers have a responsibility to keep things on an even keel.


Those fisheries and stocks brought into the landings obligation in 2017 should see their catch limits increase in line with the fish that was previously discarded. There are a number of difficulties to face:

The question of how accurate the discard estimates are. In some fisheries these will be quite accurate; in others there will be a substantial misalignment. This can only lead to problems during the quota year, intensifying the choke problem
Will the uplifts be directed to the right place? this is a political decision for each member state but will determine where in-year problems might be expected to appear

There seems to be an axiom that the more a stock is in the spotlight, the more decision-makers tend towards knee-jerk measures that sound like something that is being done but instead leave a legacy of carnage. The dead bass – a highly valuable species – discarded, that now litter the seabed, is the legacy of an EU decision last year to limit trawlers to a 1% bycatch. If the Commission’s proposal this year is followed by the Council, this problem will get worse – with absolutely minimal advantage in terms of reduced mortality. By banning gill nets from retaining bass caught in their nets, bass will be killed and discarded unnecessarily – for no conservation advantage; and at great cost to the many vessels which catch some bass. The solution lies in applying a bycatch over a longer period, say 6 months, which would even out the peaks and troughs and allow the vessel to retain a higher proportion of the bass caught.

It is frankly difficult to square the introduction of regulatory discards into the bass fishery, exactly at a time when all the rhetoric is about reducing discards across the EU.

This is not an argument against bringing bass back into a healthy conservation status: strong measures have already been put in place, including an increased minimum size and stringent catch limits. But scientists tell us that the effects of these measures, in terms of increased biomass, will take some time to work through. This is why hysterical over-reaction is best avoided.

The pressure to ban gill nets for fishing for bass is mainly coming from the recreational angling lobby, who have their own selfish reasons. Like many others, we are interested to hear how a 10 fish per month bag limit on recreational anglers could ever be enforced….

Skates and Rays

Managing skates and rays is certainly tricky. Species recognition can be poor and the TAC covers some 15 separate species. Things have been made worse in recent years by the Commission’s blunt approach to data-poor stocks, which has forced a series of year-on-year 20% reductions which has made the quota all but impossible to manage.

At the 11th hour, the Commission has circulated a paper suggesting that each individual species should have its own TAC. We are not sure that this is the right way to go. It is important to have some kind of understanding of the potential consequences before embarking on such a radical change.

Apart from anything else in is not right the member states and their fishing industries are ambushed by last minute changes – the example of small-eyed ray last year being a good example of how not to make fisheries legislation.


An NFFO team will be present throughout the whole Council, using every opportunity to guide decisions to the right outcomes. Meetings have been held, written submissions have been made, priorities clarified. We are now dependent on our minister and his officials to deliver.

Our team has been selected to give cover to all NFFO interests which include:

Western waters
North Sea
Irish Sea
External Waters
Leaving the EU

Longer term, the December Council will not be the fora which makes TAC decisions for the UK fleets. For the 100 or so stocks that we share with other countries new and different TAC decision making process will be required. Work is continuing within the Federation on this and the many other aspects of the UK’s departure from the EU. For the next couple of weeks however the focus will be the December Council.

Keep in the picture with the NFFO website.