23 October 2012
In the sometimes fractious exchanges within the fishing industry about quota shares, sight is sometimes lost of the big picture: the Total Allowable Catches.
Squabbling about the size of one’s share of the cake can distract attention from the size of the overall cake; and the size of the cake, in the form of TACs, may be of much greater significance than the domestic share out to the fishing opportunities available, and therefore the economic viability, of individual fishing vessels. There have been enormous changes in TACs over the last 20 years, both in downward and upward directions.
Although an increasing number of quotas are agreed within the framework of multi-annual management plans, the late-night decisions during the December Council of Ministers will still, this yea, determine the outlook for a number of important UK fisheries over the next 12 months.
What is different from the past’s sudden death decisions by ministers on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, is that the process and run-up for deciding TACs now extends over most of the preceding year, if not a number of years. The Federation is involved every stage:
- Throughout the year ICES Benchmark meetings provide the opportunity for scientists and stakeholders to analyse every aspect of a particular assessment to determine whether it is fit for purpose. Over a number of years all the major stocks will receive this treatment. Stakeholders including the NFFO are now central to the benchmark process.
- The Commission’s Policy Statement is usually published in late May, detailing its approach to TACs and quotas for the coming year. The RACs’ response to this paper provides a good weathervane about whether the Commission’s approach is sound or flawed. The NFFO plays an active role on four RACs.
- Mixed fishery considerations: Most of our demersal fisheries catch a mix of species but the scientific advice is largely provided on a single stock basis. Increasingly we will see a move to management decisions based on mixed fishery and multi-species considerations. This approach is still in its infancy but it is inevitable that as our understanding of fleet and species interactions becomes more sophisticated they will be increasingly taken account in management decisions. The Federation recently attended an ICES meeting in Copenhagen to discuss some of the practical implications of a multi-species approach.
- ICES advice for demersal stocks on which TACs in the subsequent year will be based is now published towards the end of June, with pelagic advice published in September. The main themes in the advice are presented to stakeholders, including the NFFO, by CEFAS scientists at a Defra chaired meeting in London in early July.
- The regional advisory councils engage with ICES to discuss the advice and prepare comments on the Commission’s approach to TACs and quotas
- Annual State of EU Stocks meeting in Brussels: This has become a major landmark in the quota year when the Director General chairs a meeting with the RACs and others to discuss the main issues confronting managers and the industry
- Meeting with UK Ministers: UK ministers are acquainted with UK stakeholders’ priorities and concerns. This year’s meeting is in Cardiff on 26th October.
- NFFO meeting with Defra officials: This is one of the most important meetings in the annual cycle, in which the main themes and details in the Commission’s proposals are analysed and discussed in relation to specific stocks of importance to the UK industry
- EU Norway: Two or sometimes three rounds of negotiations are required to arrive at agreement between the EU and Norway on a number of stocks of importance to the UK. For jointly managed stocks like North Sea cod, haddock, saithe, whiting and plaice and herring, these negotiations are really where the TACs are decided, with the December Council only providing a rubber stamp. An NFFO delegation attend all of the EU/Norway rounds, which begin in Brussels on 19th November and hopefully will conclude in Bergen in the week commencing 3rd December.
- November Council: On occasion, the October and November Council have been used to agree TAC decisions on stocks relevant to our fisheries. In any event they can provide a barometer for the Commission and Presidency’s approach to this year’s negotiations.
- December Council: The December Council has acquired the not wholly unjustified reputation of a cross between a circus, an ordeal through sleep deprivation, and an arena in which horse-trading can undermine the coherence of decisions. Whist there is an element of truth to all of these descriptions the December Council also provides a backstop where timely decisions can be made, across hundreds of individual stocks, in time for the new fishing year. As de facto fisheries managers, ministers must balance single-species advice, in a multi-species and mixed fisheries context, bearing in mind the need to reduce discards, and the economic viability of the fleets. It is an imperfect arrangement but until the main strain is taken by long term management plans, it is difficult to see how to avoid this or a similar mechanism.
Because there can be numerous technical aspects to TAC decisions, it is important that individuals with direct knowledge of individual fisheries are at hand to feed advice into the decision-making process when requested.
The NFFO fields a balanced team in Brussels to ensure that all of its members’ interests are covered:
- Irish Sea
- Celtic Sea
- North Sea
- West of Scotland
- External Waters
A pre-council meeting is held with the UK Fisheries Minister to underline and clarify the NFFO’s priorities and concerns and the Minister consults the Federation, as necessary, through the Council. Contact is maintained with officials on a regular basis through the two, or sometimes three, days and nights of the Council negotiations.
Eventually the Council will diminish in significance as more stocks come under agreed long term management plans. For now the December Council remains critically important. This year key decisions will be made on:
- Whether automatic, pre-programmed reductions in days-at-sea will be continued. The EU Cod Management plan has been evaluated and found to be fundamentally flawed and the Commission’s Co-decision Proposal for change lies with the Co-legislators.
- How to move in the direction of reducing discards in mixed fisheries
- How data poor stocks shall be treated for TAC purposes
- Where the appropriate balance between rebuilding stocks and the economic viability of the fleets should be struck
- Whether or not new TACs covering additional stocks should be added and if so on what terms
These decisions will have significant implications for many of our members and that is the reason why the NFFO puts so much effort into the December Council outcomes throughout the year.
- Media During and post December Council there is usually a heightened media interest in fishing. Frequently NGOs use this wave of media interest to launch various initiatives of greater or lesser relevance. Frequently these require comment.
- Post December The Federation begins the year in a series of sometimes intense discussions with fisheries managers on how the TAC and effort decisions made in the December Council should be implemented.