Threat to Scots fishing fleet averted as EU Fisheries Ministers insist on common-sense rather than ill-fitting regulation.
Positive action by the Council of Ministers at the EU fisheries negotiations in Brussels has ensured that the Scottish whitefish and prawn fleets will not have to endure further unnecessary cuts in the number of days they can put to sea next year.
This was the key outcome of the talks that concluded this morning (Thursday 20 December), and which has removed the threat of further automatic cuts in effort as part of the EU’s Cod Plan. There were real fears that the continuation of cuts in fishing days would jeopardise the economic viability of the fleet and lead to an increase in discards. Since 2008, the Spawning Stock Biomass of cod in the North Sea has doubled.
Against this background of a recovering cod stock, which has been aided by innovative conservation measures adopted by the Scottish fleet, the Council of Ministers over-ruled the legal red tape surrounding the cod plan and has instead adopted a more pragmatic approach that will freeze fishing effort next year at 2012 levels.
The agreement also paves the way for the EU to negotiate with Norway a cod total allowable catch for 2013 for the North Sea that is at the same level as this year, rather than the 20% cut originally proposed.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “Considerable credit has to go to the Scottish and UK Governments for their negotiating stance, which has ensured that a common-sense approach on fisheries management based on the science has been adopted. We were facing the very real danger of the decision-making being caught in legal red tape that would have caused immense economic hardship and done nothing to aid fish stock conservation and sustainable harvesting.
“Fishing effort in Scotland has been slashed by almost 70 per cent over the last 10 years and we were quite simply at a stage where the fleet could not sustain any more cuts. These were hard fought negotiations but on balance the package of measures agreed brings a degree of stability for the Scottish fleet in 2013.”
On the West coast of Scotland, a proposed 48% cut in the haddock quota was reduced to a 30% fall to reflect better the long term management plan for an increasingly healthy stock. A 990 tonnes quota was also agreed for Rockall haddock that will incorporate enhanced scientific data collection to ensure further development of the management plan for the fishery and protect juvenile year classes.
A commitment was also given by the Scottish and UK Governments at the talks to continue with pioneering and positive selectivity measures adopted by the fleet that have dramatically reduced discards in recent years. For example, new prawn trawls developed by the Scottish industry have reduced cod discards by up to 87%.
“Developing and refining these conservation measures will help ensure the steady growth in stocks that we are currently experiencing,” said Mr Armstrong. “These unilateral measures have not been undertaken without a considerable degree of sacrifice by the fleet, which underlines our commitment to a sustainable future. Although the deal reached this morning had some notable successes, there are still considerable challenges to be met, especially with increased operating costs and difficult markets, and most particularly for fishermen on the west coast where catching opportunities are still severely curtailed."
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