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Stability delivered for Scottish fishing industry as science and common sense win, says Lochhead
Published:  20 December, 2012

Fishermen across Scotland will not have the number of days they can go to sea reduced in 2013.

The deal struck in the early hours of this morning, December 20, in Brussels saw a freeze in cuts to days at sea and a mechanism delivered which will stop automatic cuts in quota in 2013. This means the Scottish fishing fleet can achieve a better balance between having quota to catch and enough days at sea to catch it.

Following this week's key win on changing the cod plan, all decisions regarding quota and days at sea will ensure a fair deal for fishermen as well as ensuring stocks remain protected.

The talks also produced increased quotas for Scottish west coast nephrops (18 per cent) and west coast herring (20 per cent).  There was a reduction in west coast haddock (30 per cent – but this stock had received a 200 per cent increase last year). Several stocks rolled over.  Many of these stock changes are part of a long-term management plan.

Quotas for Scotland’smost valuable north sea stocks including cod, haddock, herring, whiting and mackerel won't be confirmed until EU Norway talks conclude at the end of January.

The importance of this year’s talks was underlined by a big turnout from industry in Brussels who were at the heart of the night’s events as they unfolded.

Commenting shortly after the talks concluded just before 7am, Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "It was great news for Scotland's fishing industry that very early on we succeeded in securing some key priorities which removed the threat of a further automatic cut in days at sea and avoided a 20 per cent cut in cod quota. 

"Tonight's talks have given us a good result, offering the industry long overdue stability and hopefully giving them a little bit of festive cheer.

"It was a tough battle as the Commission had proposed cuts in TAC for the economically important stocks such as megrim on the west coast and I am pleased that we were able to strike a good deal on this.

“Our fishermen can leave Brussels knowing the tide might be finally starting to turn for them.  It will not all be plain sailing, but instead of having to face wave after wave of cuts each year, there is now the opportunity for sensible decisions to be made that are not strangled by legal red tape.

“If we had not stood up to the EU lawyers it would have been a very different story – we must not forget that. 

"This year’s automatic cuts would have kicked in, crippling many vessels and leaving a trail of discards across the north sea. 

"Instead we have an outcome where our fishermen have enough days at sea to catch their quota, sustainable fishing is supported, less cod will be discarded and we have the freedom to negotiate with Norway to provide for a rollover for the TAC for cod. 

"The ending of Brussels’ bureaucratic madness on the deeply flawed Cod Recovery Plan is a victory for common sense and is long overdue.  It is now important, as we look forward to continuing reform of the discredited CFP in the next few months, that we continue this momentum and make progress on bringing more common sense to all EU Fisheries decision-making."

Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP said: “The benefits of the UK and Scottish Governments working hard together for local fishermen are clear. Brussels had dangerous proposals that would have clobbered our boats.  

“Most of these appear to have been dropped which is important and right. But the EU Norway negotiations in January still include a 20% cut in cod quota which would increase discards, not cut them. Ministers therefore need to keep their eye on the ball in these on-going negotiations.” 

Scottish Conservative Euro MP Struan Stevenson has sounded a warning shot over the future of such talks.  

Speaking following the end of three days of negotiations Struan said: “The results are good news for UK fishermen. Keeping the permitted days at sea at 2012 levels rather than cutting them by up to a quarter as the Commission had recommended is a major breakthrough. 25% cuts in days at sea would have devastated the industry and there was no scientific justification for such a move.

“In addition, increases in catch quotas for Channel plaice by 26% and sole by 6%, Celtic Sea whiting by 29%, Irish Sea herring by 5%, West of Scotland prawns by 18% and Irish Sea prawns by 6% is all excellent news for the sector, as is the restriction in proposed cuts for haddock in the Celtic Sea to 15% instead of 55% and West of Scotland megrim to 7% instead of 40%.

“I congratulate Richard Benyon, our UK Fisheries Minister, for doing a good job in difficult circumstances. However, the question of 20% cuts to cod under the controversial cod recovery plan is still on the table and cannot be resolved until complex negotiations between the EU and Norway have been resolved in January.”

Commenting on the difficulties presented by the current negotiation format, Struan said: “Despite such positive outcomes this year, it remains the case that these annual marathon fisheries talks just before Christmas every year are an outdated and inefficient way of deciding the future for our fishing fleet. It is ridiculous that ministers are supposed to take rational decisions on catch quotas at 7am, after all night sittings and three days of constant negotiations. This is no way to conduct business, but proposals by the European Parliament to implement long-term management plans for fisheries which would do away with the need for the annual gladiatorial combat meetings in the Fisheries Council, have been repeatedly blocked by the Council of Ministers.

“Lawyers representing the European Commission, the Parliament and, bizarrely, even the Council’s own lawyers, agree that the European Parliament should have a say in drawing up these so-called ‘multi-annual plans’. Yet it is the ministers themselves and their senior civil servants who are refusing to accept this interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty. We cannot have a meaningful reform of the Common Fisheries Policy without multi-annual plans which will give the sector confidence and enable them to know what they will be allowed to catch over five to ten years, instead of waiting in tenterhooks for the result of the annual December negotiations in Brussels.

“It looks likely that this logjam on the question of ‘who does what’ under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, will have to be resolved by the European Courts in 2013. This won’t, however, affect the outcome of this year’s catch quota negotiations which will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to the industry.”

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