Mixed bag for final EU Council meeting on fishing limits for the UK

Date posted: 19 December 2018

The last fisheries December council negotiations in the EU before the UK leaves have just come to a close. The discussions lead to catch limits being set for the coming year and are meant to lead to sustainable management of fisheries, but just like previous years, a real mixed bag of agreements have been reached on the quantities of fish that can be caught by EU national fishing fleets next year.

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© Kate Wilson

Whilst MCS accepts the need for some flexibility in quota setting, we had very much wanted and expected these fisheries to be subject to greater monitoring.

Debbie Crockard,
MCS Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate

The official EU council press release about the agreements states that the number of fish stocks managed at sustainable levels (maximum sustainable yield - MSY) will rise in 2019. This is encouraging but still a long way from having all stocks managed at MSY by 2020 which is the legal deadline under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). There is also a disappointing lack of progress on recovering some depleted stocks.

By-catch quotas have been agreed for several stocks which scientists advised should have a zero catch e.g. cod in the West of Scotland and whiting in the Irish sea. For these stocks the agreed quotas substantially exceed the scientific advice and there are is no clear pathway for the recovery of these fisheries.

Debbie Crockard, MCS Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate, says: “Whilst MCS accepts the need for some flexibility in quota setting, we had very much wanted and expected these fisheries to be subject to greater monitoring. This would improve the data we hold for these species, to inform future management, and would help ensure that catch limits are fully adhered to. We were very disappointed that the proposal requiring fleets accessing these fisheries to have additional remote electronic monitoring such as CCTV cameras has not been agreed to.”

Seabass, which has become a hugely controversial debate in recent years following substantial overfishing of the species, has seen moderate increases in response to estimated improvements in the state of the stock. Crockard says: “While we are pleased that the seabass stock is showing signs of recovery at the moment, there remains a need to show caution when setting catches in response to these increases; the stock has not yet recovered to levels that can be harvested sustainably and recruitment remains uncertain.”

While MCS feels that the agreed approach for seabass could keep catches at low levels, this depends on these limits being adhered to. Ongoing improvements in monitoring and control are needed in this fishery due to suspected illegal and unreported fishing that occurs on this stock.

On a more positive note, an important step has been made during these negotiations to encourage quota swaps between countries to limit potential “choke” situations for some stocks as a result of the full implementation of the discard ban. A choke situation occurs where a lack of quota for a certain fish stock prevents fishing for other species in the same area, and effective quota trading between countries is essential to ensure available quota can get to where it is needed.

Crockard says “Chokes due to a lack of available quota have been a concern for many aspects of the fishing fleets and a barrier to the implementation of the discard ban, so we welcome this new regulation for a better mechanism for trading to take place, although we still remained very concerned about the lack of plans to better monitor catches at sea under the discard ban”.

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