Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Second 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
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 18 March 2002
Previous Committee Report:HC 152-xviii (2001-02), paragraph 2 (6 February 2002)
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 (decision reported on 6 February 2002)


  4.1  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.

  4.2  In December 2001, the Commission put forward this proposal, which would fix fishing opportunities for the Community in 2002, in both its own and international waters, for a range of deep-sea species in accordance with international agreements covering precautionary management and the sustainable use of fisheries resources. It considers that, because of the urgent conservation need, 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

  4.3  In our Report of 6 February 2002, we noted the Government's recognition that the species in question are vulnerable to exploitation and would take many years to recover if they are overfished, but that it did not believe that establishing TACs was the best approach. In particular, it was concerned that TACs for different species could be taken at different rates, leading to discards of over-quota species; that fixing TACs could encourage the development of new fisheries; that non-quota species would 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. Consequently, the Government had suggested that, to be effective, action needed to be taken by all contracting parties to NEAFC covering the North East Atlantic as a whole, and involve a reduction in fishing effort, perhaps coupled with other technical conservation measures, such as gear restrictions and closed areas.

  4.4  In our conclusion, we said that, in view of the new ground being broken by this proposal, we thought it should be debated in European Standing Committee A at the same time as the debate we had already recommended on the Commission's proposals for the main TACs and quotas for 2002.[10] We also said that, whilst we could see 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 was 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. We asked for the Government's views on this, and on how UK vessels would be affected if the new TACs were to be adopted.

Minister's letter of 18 March 2002

  4.5  In his letter of 18 March 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that, since the proposal was published, there has been little progress in resolving the level of TACs which should apply to these species, and that, although there is expected to be a compromise proposal from the Spanish Presidency, any final compromise is likely to be presented at the Fisheries Council in June.

  4.6  On the points raised in our earlier Report, he says that he is not optimistic about obtaining a quick outcome in NEAFC, where other contracting parties have shown little interest and have argued that further scientific data should be collected before any measures are introduced. Also, on whether the introduction of TACs and quotas at Community level would be preferable to doing nothing, he says that he remains of the view that those measures are inappropriate as an across the board mechanism for protecting deep water species, the key points being that they have no biological foundation (being based on historic catch information), that reducing catches in no way guarantees the reduction in effort needed, and that, being mixed species fisheries, the stocks in question are not likely to be managed successfully by an approach based on quotas.

  4.7  The Minister adds that he is strongly of the view that the Community should develop urgently a regime for applying real effort control over these species, both for their protection and for that of non-commercial by-catch species. He considers that, to be properly effective, the regime would need to be binding on all NEAFC contracting parties and applicable in the NEAFC regulatory area, and that he therefore welcomes the appearance of the further proposal[11] which the Commission has made recently for an effort limitation scheme, and on which we are also reporting.

  4.8  Finally, in response to our query on how UK vessels would be affected by the TACs proposed, the Minister has provided the information set out in the table at Annex I.


  4.9  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which we are drawing to the attention of the House as being relevant to the consideration of this document in the debate in European Standing Committee A on the total allowable catches for 2002.

10  (22939) 14130/01; see HC 152-x (2001-02), paragraph 1 (12 December 2001). Back

11  (23305) 6918/02; see paragraph 6 of this Report. Back

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