Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report






Draft Council Regulation establishing measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks.

Legal base:

Article 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting



Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

SEM of 11 July 2002

Previous Committee Report:

HC 152-xxii (2001-02), paragraph 13 (20 March 2002)

To be discussed in Council:

See paragraph 2.7 below

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; further information requested



    1. While the general state of the fish stocks in Community waters has given rise to concern, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) identified in November 2000 that particular problems had arisen in respect of the cod stocks in the North Sea and West of Scotland and the Northern hake stock. The Fisheries Council therefore agreed in December 2000 that the Community should establish a recovery plan for these stocks, and in February, June and October 2001, the Commission adopted various emergency measures, including a temporary closure of fishing and increased mesh sizes.
    2. The current document

    3. The current document contains Commission proposals for the conservation of these stocks (and of cod in the Irish Sea and Kattegat) in the longer term. These would include:

    • the setting of quantitative targets for the adult populations of cod and hake;

    • the setting of multi-annual total allowable catches (TACs) at a level to assist biomass to increase annually by 30% in the case of cod and 15% in the case of hake;

    • all fishing vessels authorised to land cod and/or hake being restricted to fishing effort limits linked to their average catch of those species;

    • additional monitoring arrangements, including an extension of satellite monitoring systems to vessels over 15 metres in length;

    • a 20% increase in the maximum rate of Community financial assistance for scrapping vessels engaged in fishing these stocks, together with a relaxation of the rules for subsidising temporary laying-up and on the granting of aid for vessel renewal and modernisation.

The Government's view

    1. In his Explanatory Memorandum of 28 February 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) said that the UK accepted the need to bring fishing effort into better balance with available fish stocks, but had some reservations about the extent to which the proposed measures would achieve this. In addition, he believed that the potential resource implications for both the administration and enforcement of the scheme nationally were likely to be significant. The Minister said that the Government was currently seeking the views of the industry, and would then provide a Regulatory Impact Assessment. In the meantime, he pointed out that a number of other Member States, including France, Spain and Portugal, were opposed to the principle of effort control, and that the Commission had recognised that achieving agreement on the package will be difficult.
    2. In our Report of 20 March 2002, we commented that we had hitherto merely noted the temporary measures taken to protect these stocks without reporting them to the House, but that these longer-term proposals were clearly of greater potential significance. We therefore thought it right that the House should be aware of them. We also said that we will reserve judgement on them until we have received the Regulatory Impact Assessment promised by the Minister.
    3. Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 11 July 2002

    4. The Minister has enclosed with his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 11 July 2002 a Regulatory Impact Assessment, though he points out that, since the Government intends to continue its dialogue with the industry, this is still in draft form. Nevertheless, the Assessment makes it clear that the industry favours taking no action until the impact of existing measures can be assessed, its view being that these will already have reduced pressure on the stocks concerned. However, the Government's scientific advice, like that of the Commission, is that, whilst there will have been some impact, this will have been significantly below the level need to ensure the required recovery. Indeed, the Assessment says that scientists advising the Commission have recently indicated that cutting effort by the amount required by the proposal would involve a recovery period of more than five years. Consequently, the Assessment concludes that failure to take any action at this stage would place the stocks at high risk of collapse, particularly as it says there is unlikely to be much scope for further improvements in technical conservation. Such a collapse would in turn affect the long-term livelihood of the catching sector, reduce supplies to some 540 processors (employing around 22,000 people) and consumers, and increase UK imports of whitefish.
    5. As for the likely compliance costs, the Assessment says that, although the fishing effort by vessels under 10 metres is relatively limited, there are in the UK approximately 1200 vessels over 10 metres targeting cod, and a further 1100 or so targeting hake. The proposal would require an overall cut in the time at sea, which (after fuel savings and any increase in fishing efficiency) would reduce net vessel revenue. The extent of any such reduction would, however, depend on a number of factors, including the alternative catching opportunities available, though the Assessment says that the evidence is that a large number of vessels are already operating with limited profitability. It adds that, although vessels over 24 metres must already have satellite monitoring terminals, the proposal would require these to be fitted to the 1000 or so vessels between 15 and 24 metres which land cod and hake. The cost of a new terminal is put at about 3,000, with annual operating costs of about 1,000.
    6. As regards timing, we understand that this proposal was discussed at the Fisheries Council on 11 June 2002, but that, since it was not possible then to reach agreement, the matter has been referred back to an official working group.
    7. Conclusion

    8. Although we are grateful to the Minister for this further information, and have noted the position, it is clear that there are still a number of major uncertainties, which require further consultation between the Government and the industry. In view of this, we are continuing to hold the proposal under scrutiny and will await information on that further consultation.


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