Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eighteenth Report




COM(01) 764

Draft Council Regulation fixing for 2002 the fishing opportunities for deep-sea stocks.

Legal base:Article 37 EC; qualified majority voting
Document originated:10 December 2001
Forwarded to the Council:12 December 2001
Deposited in Parliament:16 January 2002
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration:EM of 25 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:None; but see (22939) 14130/01: HC 152-x (2001-02), paragraph 1 (12 December 2001)
To be discussed in Council:April 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:For debate in European Standing Committee A (together with the proposal setting TACs for the main species for 2002)


  2.1  The Community has for some 20 years set annual total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas for the main fish stocks in waters within its jurisdiction, and it is also a member of a number of international organisations, such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), whose aim is to conserve stocks in international waters. However, the measures taken have not hitherto extended to the deep-sea stocks caught in waters beyond the main fishing grounds on the continental shelves, and there has been growing scientific evidence that these have been over-exploited. In view of this, the Council and Commission adopted at the Fisheries Council on 14-15 December 2000 a declaration inviting the Commission to propose catch limitations for these stocks by 2001 at the latest, together with an allocation among Member States.

The current proposal

  2.2  This proposal would in fact fix fishing opportunities for the Community in 2002, in both its own and international waters, for a range of deep-sea species (alfonsinos, black scabbardfish, blue ling, forkbeards, greater silver smelt, ling, orange roughy, red seabream, roundnose grenadier, and tusk). The Commission says that its proposals are in accordance with international agreements covering precautionary management and the sustainable use of fisheries resources; and it points out that the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management has recommended action implying a restriction on fishing opportunities according to the stock in question, whilst for those stocks for which little biological information is available, it has recommended that any expansion of the fisheries should be restricted until comprehensive data collection systems have been put in place.

  2.3  The Commission adds that, because of the urgent conservation need in respect of these species, these measures should be implemented unilaterally, whilst agreement on harmonised steps is sought through NEAFC. It also says that it intends to complement the proposed limitations on catches with a proposal on a licensing system as a first step towards effort management measures for these species as soon as possible in 2002.

The Government's view

  2.4  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 25 January 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the proposal would fulfil part of the declaration made by the Council and Commission in December 2000, and that the UK recognises that the species in question are vulnerable to exploitation and would take many years to recover if they are overfished.

  2.5  However, he also says that, whilst the UK's over-riding aim is to offer the most effective protection possible, it does not believe that establishing TACS is the best way to achieve this. In particular, he points out that many of the fisheries involved are mixed, and that TACs for different species could be taken at different rates, leading to discards of over-quota species by vessels fishing on under-subscribed stocks (and hence to high mortality levels, given the fragility of most of the species concerned). In addition, he is concerned that fixing TACs could encourage the development of new fisheries of these species; that, as TACs are not proposed for all such stocks, non-quota species will be targeted by vessels seeking to build up a track record for any future allocations; and that the measures proposed would still leave non-Community vessels free to prosecute the stocks.

  2.6  Consequently, the Minister suggests that, to be effective, action needs to be taken by all contracting parties to NEAFC covering the North East Atlantic as a whole, and involve a reduction in fishing effort, based on either days at sea or a restrictive licensing approach, perhaps coupled with other technical conservation measures, such as gear restrictions and closed areas.

  2.7  In the meantime, he points out that, since there are currently no specific restrictions on catches of deep-sea species, vessels — including those from the UK — currently fishing them would in future be obliged to respect the quotas allocated.[2]


  2.8  We note with interest this new development, and the Minister's reservations about the method proposed by the Commission to protect these species. We can see the force of his objections, and that ideally it would be preferable to secure agreement within the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission on effort limitation measures, rather than for the Community unilaterally to adopt catch quotas. The crucial question, of course, is how quickly it would be possible to secure such an agreement, and, whether — in the event of this proving difficult — the setting of TACs along the lines proposed would be better than nothing. The Minister does not comment on this possibility, and we would be interested in his views. Also, although he has indicated that UK vessels would be affected if the new TACs were to be adopted, it would be helpful if he could be more specific — for example by comparing current catch levels for the most important of these species with those proposed by the Commission.

  2.9  In view of the new ground being broken by this proposal, we think it should be debated in European Standing Committee A, though we propose that this be done at the same time as the debate we have recommended on the Commission's proposals for the main TACs and quotas for 2002.[3]

2   For the majority of species, the UK (in common with other Member States) would receive a nominal quota of 10 tonnes. The main exceptions are tusk (300 tonnes), blue ling (750 tonnes), ling (about 8,000 tonnes) and forkbeards (about 750 tonnes). Back

3  (22939) 14130/01; see HC 152-x (2001-02), paragraph 1 (12 December 2001). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 15 February 2002