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Brake on EU cod 'runaway train' plan welcomed
Published:  19 December, 2012

NEWS that UK fishermen had won an early victory in the EU fish talks was welcomed last night by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations as finally halting the runaway train that was the EU Cod Management Plan.

EU fisheries ministers have, to the surprise of many people, voted against an automatic cut in fishing quotas and reduction in the number of days fishermen can spend at sea. They agreed to ignore legal advice which said that the Cod Recovery Plan had to be implemented, despite evidence of improving stocks.
The NFFO said: "This vote provides a legal basis on which the Council can now apply a freeze on pre-programmed effort reductions in the North Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland. It also allows the Commission to argue for something other than a 20 per cent cut in the North Sea cod  total allowable catch (TAC), when negotiations reopen with Norway.  Last night's decision also allows the Council to break with the provisions of the Cod Management Plan in setting quotas in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland."

The NFFO said that after scientists evaluated the EU Cod Management Plan in 2011, it was only a matter of time until the political process initiated the changes recommended: a move away from undue reliance on quota reductions and days-at-sea restrictions. The Commission has proposed many of the changes suggested.

"But the time issue became of utmost importance. There was a great deal of  concern, within the industry and beyond, that the conflict between the Council and the European Parliament on long term management plans would hamper and delay a move towards more intelligent fishing. In the meantime, the fleets have been struggling under punitive reductions that were never foreseen by those who signed the original Plan
"In an extremely important decision, the Council has cut through the impasse. The apparent legal contradiction over which European institution has the authority to set TACs within the context of a management plan is an issue for another day – possibly in the European Court.

"Without this breakthrough there was a real prospect that all the progress that has been made on catch quotas, real time closures and improved selectivity in the cod fishery would have been put into reverse. It means also that there will not be a huge increase in discards in 2013, because the North Sea cod quota can be set in harmony with the quotas for haddock, saithe, whiting and plaice. The TACs for all of these quotas are set to increase in 2013 mainly by the maximum amount permitted  plus 15 per cent.

The Federation concluded: "At times the EU Cod Management Plan has seemed like a runaway train. The Council has now limited the damage that it can do and there is a realistic prospect of moving forward."
Commenting after the Committee vote, Scotland's Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

"This is a key milestone on the long road of reforming the badly broken CFP, and I am pleased progress is now finally being made.

"I support the committee proposals on sustainable fishing and to phase-in a package of measures to end the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly good fish at sea.

"The committee have importantly rejected proposals for transferable quotas, proposals which would have seen Scotland's fishing rights be  owned by those with the deepest pockets, and have also watered down crazy proposals for blanket closed areas.

"Although I welcome the Committee's vote, there are certain aspects that we feel can still be improved, particularly in relation to regionalisation.  The proof of the pudding will be if this delivers decision making back to Scotland so that our fisheries can be managed in the way that suits them best."
Footnote: Members of the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee yesterday voted in favour of major reform to the CFP by ending overfishing in and by the EU by 2015 and for the recovery of fish stocks by 2020. This is a major step in ensuring the future sustainability of EU fish stocks and for the long-term stability of the EU fishing fleet.

As part of this landmark vote on the  CFP , the Committee also agreed to require EU member States to assess and eliminate fishing overcapacity and to provide financial aid only to member States or operators that observe EU fisheries rules.
But like most EU votes, the devil will be in the detail  which will  become clear  next year.

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