A delegation from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations was today travelling to Brussels for the annual round of EU Council of Ministers quota decisions, warning that failure could lead to big cuts in North Sea, Irish Sea and West Coast of Scotland cod catches.
The Federation said it outlined its priorities, fleet-sector by fleet-sector and area by area. Issues were grouped, in recognition of the fact that despite its diverse fisheries interests, the UK only has a finite amount of negotiating capital, which must be deployed efficiently during the Council.
The main grouped Council issues for the Federation are:
Issues related to the EU Cod Plan
Stocks subject to the Commission’s drive for Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by 2013, rather than 2015, despite the fact that ICES has outlined a stepped MSY transition approach explicitly to minimise socio-economic hardship
Where an over-precautionary approach has been applied to data poor stocks
Stocks in mixed fisheries where there are divergent TAC proposals which can only mean a surge in discards
Zero TACs – with an inevitable consequence discards
Use it or lose it TACs where cuts are proposed on the basis of a crude underutilisation, leaving a single member state to bear the brunt of a real reduction.
The importance of working with other member states to achieve these objectives, where our interests coincide was agreed. The NFFO then set out the difficulties that lie ahead with the Cod Plan and cod catches for the North Sea, Irish Sea and West coast of Scotland.
It said: "The danger, as we enter the December Council is that the EU political process will fail us. If it does, we could be facing:-
A 20 per cent cut in the North Sea Cod TAC, leading to an increase in discards and a backward step for a wide range of cod avoidance/discard reduction initiatives. The Cod TAC and TACs for other species in the mixed fisheries moving in radically divergent directions
Even more punitive cuts in the Cod TACs for the Irish Sea and West of Scotland, with similar consequences for forward movement on rebuilding cod stocks
Further significant cuts in permitted days-at-sea in the North Sea, Irish Sea
A delay in securing a legal base for an effort freeze, more reasonable TAC setting arrangements
No exemption from the effort regime for vessels under Fully Documented Fishery arrangements
A movement towards increased discards at a time when the whole thrust of the CFP reform is towards a reduction if not elimination of discards
A loss of focus on other issues of importance to the UK during the Council (UK with more and more diverse fisheries than most member states tends to have a longer “shopping list” at the December Council.)
Above all, all those involved in these decisions face a credibility test. Failure to deliver a pragmatic workable solution because of the failure to resolve inter-institutional EU conflicts will not be easily forgiven. The parties have a heavy responsibility to get this right.
Another important lesson to learn from this mess is that every long term management plan in future should have an escape clause that allows the parties to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
The NFFO also warned there was danger that the heavy shadow cast by the difficulties on the cod front will spill over to the way the commission deals with other stocks. To guard against this, the Federation emphasised the need for satisfactory outcomes on a number of issues including nephrops, southwest monkfish and hake and the North Sea plaice management plan.
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