Friday, 20 December 2019

CFPO December Council Latest!

Latest News from December Council
I’ll begin with the positives: the UK Government team at this Council led by UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, was amongst the best that we have ever worked with. There was a solid understanding of our priorities, as well as the challenges and potential implications of different options for South-West fishermen. Communication in the run up to and throughout the Council was excellent – even if the final outcome was not.

Some good news did emerge from the Council discussions for important South-West quotas like monk (increase 7%) megrim sole (increase 3%), and rollover quotas for pollack, ling and saithe in area 7.

On the other hand, a reduction of 21% in the Western Hake quota was a disappointment, given the ongoing healthy status of the stock. The cut was another reflection of the EU Commission blindly following the MSY rainbow, whilst ignoring the wider impacts and consequences for both fishing communities and the fishery as a whole. There were less dramatic catch options that were available to the Commission, which were consistent with the MSY approach, but these were not taken – or even considered. Everything was staked on the arbitrary timetable which the EU set for itself. The consequences of this one-dimensional approach are now playing out.

You can access a full list of TACs for 2020 here
Celtic Sea Cod

Like at many of the previous Fisheries Councils, the UK found itself isolated and fighting through the night to resist the Commission’s hard-line proposals on both the TAC and its desire to implement additional technical measures.

The Commission deliberately ignored the fact that cod represents much less than 1% of catches in all the diverse fisheries in the South West. It is only caught as an unavoidable by-catch when targeting other species. The Commission’s proposals, combined
with the EU landing obligation, raised the very real prospect of a choke* which would have tied the South West Fleets up early in the year, foregoing a substantial part of the main fisheries for other species. This is a massively disproportionate and a wrong approach to mixed fisheries management – but it was pursued anyway under its self-imposed legal constraints and pressure from NGOs.

Whilst the scientists calculated the unavoidable by-catch of cod to be around 1300 tonnes, after the application of the UK’s Relative Stability share, deductions for a solidarity pool to sustain countries like Spain (who have zero cod quota) and The Hague Preference invoked by Ireland, the Commission’s proposals would have left the UK with a risible share of 8 tonnes. Scientists said that this level of TAC was nonsensical; fishermen were clear about the fact that it was unworkable; ministers said it was “challenging”; but the Commission said they had to do it legally: and NGOs just chanted their familiar mantra of MSY in one year with zero concern for fleets and communities. This is nonsense and the sooner we are out of this mad system the better. We need responsive and adaptive science-based fisheries management, not dogma disguised as concern.

Throughout this year’s quota round, the Commission claimed that its hands were tied by the advice of its legal services and that it was legislatively bound to apply the Western Waters Multi Annual Plan (MAP), which holds that cod is a target species, leaving close to zero room for fisheries management.

This is the central failing of the Common Fisheries Policy. Even when the rules are demonstrably leading us in the wrong direction, there is no way of rapidly adjusting the policy to make sense. In the end, the Commission was forced to move on the cod quota level to a still problematic 800 tonnes but for the UK a cut of over 50% is still likely to be way below unavoidable by-catch levels.

In addition, the Commission also sought to introduce a series of blunt technical measures which, if accepted would have decimated the trawl fleets in the south-west. The UK team, including CEFAS, worked to amend and change this approach. Ultimately, some ground was gained but the final agreed wording of article 13, which introduces new technical measures for some trawlers is reproduced below. It will take a bit of digesting, but this is undoubtedly likely to cause significant and unnecessary problems and challenges for many south-west trawlers. Of that, there can be no doubt.

More information here. 

“Article 13
Remedial measures for cod and whiting in the Celtic Sea

1.     The following measures shall apply to Union vessels fishing with bottom trawls and seines in ICES divisions from 7f, 7g, the part of 7h North of latitude 49°30' North and the part of 7j North of latitude 49°30' North and East of longitude 11° West: a)       Union vessels fishing with bottom trawls whose catches consist of at least 20% haddock shall be prohibited from fishing in the area referred to in paragraph 1 unless they use one of the following gear options:
  • 110 mm cod-end with 120 mm squared mesh panel;
  • 100 mm T90 cod-end;
  • 120mm cod-end;
  • 100mm with 160mm square mesh panel until 31 May 2020.
b)       As from 1 June 2020, in addition to measures mentioned in point (a), Union vessels shall use:
          (a) a fishing gear that is constructed with a minimum of 1 meter spacing between the fishing line and ground gear,
    or (b) any dispositive proven to be at least equally selective for the avoidance of cod, according to the assessment of ICES or the STECF.

c)       Union vessels fishing with bottom seines whose catches consist of at least 20% haddock shall be prohibited from fishing in the area referred to in paragraph 1 unless they use one of the following gear options:
  • 110 mm cod-end with 120 mm square mesh panel;
  • 100 mm T90 cod-end
  • 120mm cod-end
2.     Except vessels falling under Article 9(2) of the  Delegated Regulation  2020/xxx  (discard plan for the north western waters), Union vessels fishing with bottom trawls and seines in ICES divisions from 7f to 7k and in the area west of 5°W longitude in ICES division 7e, or Union vessels fishing with bottom trawls in the area of paragraph 1 whose catches consist of less than 20% haddock, shall be prohibited from fishing unless they use a minimum cod-end mesh size of at least 100mm. This minimum cod-end mesh size requirement does not apply to vessels whose bycatches of cod do not exceed 1,5%, as assessed by STECF.

3.     According to Article 15 of (EU) Regulation 1380/2013 and Article 27, paragraph 2, of  Regulation (EU) 2019/2141, the catch percentages shall be calculated as the proportion by live weight of all marine biological resources landed after each fishing trip.

4.     Union vessels may deploy an alternative highly selective gear to those listed in points a) and b) of paragraph 1, the technical attributes of which result, according to a scientific study evaluated by the STECF, catch less than 1% of cod.”

Throughout the whole of this year, CFPO members have worked with scientists and fisheries administrators to develop a balanced approach to gear selectivity. These approaches would make a serious contribution to rebuilding steadily, whilst simultaneously protecting, the viability of local fleets. The complicated and unsatisfactory outcome agreed by the Council presents a massive challenge for our prospects as an industry next year and for future cooperation on progressive management measures. This is especially disappointing given the work and time put in by fishermen and CEFAS throughout the year to put forward credible alternatives.

Commission officials again claimed that their hands were tied by CFP legislation, but in reality, their approach displayed an astonishing ignorance when it comes to the diversity of mixed trawl fisheries and existing selectivity at a fleet level. We can only hope that Brexit will provide us with us an opportunity to introduce better, more selective, more sustainable measures that have a positive effect on fish stocks, fishermen and fisheries.


A welcome increase of 30% was secured, but this should be viewed in the context of ICES MSY advice, allowing for catch levels corresponding to a 100% increase in this TAC. The justification for holding down the level of haddock TAC was that it would be part of a workable compromise involving cod and whiting TAC levels in the mixed fisheries advice. This was not the case in the final outcomes.


A significant cut of 44% in this TAC will bring it into the category of choke risk in the mixed fisheries in the South West.


There were some positive outcomes for these important South-West flat fish quotas:
  • 7e sole quota continues to improve with a 19% increase reflecting the health of this stock.
  • 7fg improving stock health was reflected in an increase of 96% from the initial 2019 TAC (an in-year increase during 2019 was made available following positive stock assessment advice.) 
There was less positive news on 7hjk sole with the Commission’s original proposal of a 44% reduction in relation to the 2018 quota being reduced in severity but not eliminated as we had hoped. Our objective of roll-over was missed and a reduction of 14% was finally agreed.


A rollover of the 2019 quota was a reflection of stable catches experienced by fishermen and was welcomed.

The prohibition on landing common skate and restrictions on small-eyed ray landings remain in place and continue to be a frustration that once again was not addressed.


Some recognition of improving stock status was reflected in the final agreement:

  • Hand-line limits were increased to 5.7 tonnes per vessel per year.
  • Gillnet by-catch limits remained at 1.4 tonnes per vessel per year.

However, the final agreement did take on board, in part, the strong and credible arguments put forward by South-West fishermen to alleviate the pointless discarding of dead bass in the ultra-mixed trawl fisheries in the South-West. The 1% by-catch provision was increased to 5% per trip for 2020. It is not ideal but nonetheless a move in the right direction. It might be reduced but will not eliminate the continued unnecessary discarding of unavoidable dead by-catch of bass, with zero effect on the mortality of bass in these fisheries.

A summary list of TAC changes for South West Stocks is provided below:

Cod 7e-k                 -50%
Haddock                  +30%
Whiting 7e-k            -44%
Monk 7                    +7%
Megrim 7                 +3%
Hake 6/7                 -21%
Pollack 7                 roll-over
Saithe 7                   roll-over
Ling 6/7                  roll-over
Sole 7fg                  +96%*
Sole 7hjk                 -14%
Sole 7e                    +19%
Plaice 7fg                +23%
Plaice 7hjk               -42%
Plaice 7de               -12%
Rays 6/7                  roll-over
*on 2019 initial allocation

Click here to see the full summary of TAC agreements from the December 2019 negotiations.
Looking Ahead
2020  - Another Challenging Year Ahead

Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your efforts and contributions over the last 12 months. Together, we have tackled a wide range of issues and challenges.

I genuinely believe the CFPO continues to be regarded at the highest level and one of the most credible, progressive and effective fishing organisations in the UK, and that is only possible because of you.

For many, it has been a reasonable year but when you factor in quota shortages, ever-increasing running costs, current regulations and the uncertainty of what new madness Brussels or Westminster will come up with next, it has also been stressful and tough for many.

There are plenty of big issues, some concerning and some positive, facing the fishing industry in the coming year. There will be many diverse challenges that impact CFPO members such as bass management, inshore fisheries management, shellfish management (particularly the Western Waters regime), and many others.  We will be endeavouring to vigorously defend the interest of all of our members.

The CFPO is your organisation and any concerns, views or experiences you have are welcomed at any time and appreciated by us.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Christmas and hopefully a prosperous new year from all at the CFPO.

Paul Trebilcock
    Fathom Podcast
    Have you heard about our new podcast for commercial fishermen?

    Episode 3 of Fathom, which is going live tomorrow, gets below the surface of this year's December Council negotiations. The Fathom Team de-mystify the process behind TAC & quota allocations, quiz key players and announce the outcomes of the discussions. 

    Click here to listen online or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other major podcast platforms. You can also listen on the CFPO website.