Fishermen prepare for final EU showdown

UK fishermen are this month preparing for one of the last December European Councils before Brexit.

Some of them met with sleeves rolled up in London recently as large teams from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and Defra got to grips with what is likely to be coming in Brussels in December.

The NFFO said that while UK membership of the EU may be drawing to a close the decisions that will be taken at the European Council shortly before Christmas still have direct and significant consequences for the UK industry industry.

The NFFO is telling members: ‘It is important, therefore, that the UK remains fully engaged until the point that it leaves the European Union and decisions on TACs and quotas are made elsewhere.

‘Because of its geography and the sheer number of stocks within our waters, the UK has always had to fight on a very broad front at the December council, by comparison with those member states that have only a handful of priorities.

‘The lesson has been learnt over the years that being well prepared with evidence based arguments is the way to achieve the best outcomes from the council that decides total allowable catches and ancillary measures for the following year.

‘Further meetings will be held with officials and ministers during the autumn, after the commission’s proposals are published, and throughout the December council itself.

‘We know that the commission will make its proposals for next year’s catch limits on the basis of achieving maximum sustainable yield in a single year.

‘But ministers, as defacto fisheries managers, also have a responsibility to balance mixed fishery dimensions, discard reduction and socio-economic consequences, as well as the scientific advice.’

The NFFO said the general picture on  stocks for a number of years has been one of steady progress towards achieving high yield fisheries, with low levels of fishing mortality and increasing biomasses.

This year’s ICES science had again been broadly very positive, reflecting the scientific view that not only are we fishing sustainably but we are well on track to achieving high average long term yields.

Among the many issues to be discussed in December are:

  • Bass: how to shift from blunt measures that generate a discard problem where none previously existed, to a more intelligent long term plan to rebuild the biomass, without crippling those dependent on bass for an important part of their livelihoods;
  • Skates and rays: how to provide realistic fishing opportunities on those ray species that are abundant, whilst simultaneously providing adequate protection for those individual species that are struggling;
  • Spurdog: how to permit sustainable levels of fishing whilst reducing the level of dead discards and continuing to rebuild the stock;
  • Maximum sustainable yield: how to continue progress towards high yields, within the context of an arbitrary deadline (2020) and EU legal requirements that are based on political posturing rather that scientific literacy; how to phase the introduction of reductions in fishing pressure where this is necessary within this impossible legal structure;
  • How to besthandle the important annual fisheries agreement with Norway and other bilateral and multi-lateral fisheries agreements’
  • Mixed fisheries issues: the NFFO and CFPO have been working on an innovative approach to the problems facing Celtic Sea haddock following a meeting of fishermen, scientists and administrators in Newlyn in February.

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