Documents considered by the Committee on 8th December 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

6 Fisheries: catch quotas and effort limitation for 2011



COM(10) 658

Draft Council Regulation fixing for 2011 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable to Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required

Legal baseArticle 43(3) TFEU; QMV
Document originated10 November 2010
Deposited in Parliament15 November 2010
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 24 November 2010 and SEM of 6 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in Council13-14 December 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information awaited


6.1 The Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for particular fish stocks in the following calendar year are based on advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), and then by the Commission's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). In those cases where particular fisheries are jointly managed with third countries, the Community share then has to be negotiated with the countries concerned; and the relevant TACs for the Community as a whole agreed by the Fisheries Council (and allocated between Member States according to a predetermined key) on the basis of a proposal put forward by the Commission.

6.2 Since these proposals have to be agreed before the start of the calendar year to which they apply, they have habitually presented scrutiny difficulties, in that the need to take into account the scientific advice means that official texts have often been available too late for them to be considered properly beforehand. When this happens, the Government has in recent years arranged on its own initiative a debate on fisheries on the Floor of the House in late November/early December, in order to enable Members to raise points in advance of the Council.

The current proposal

6.3 Notwithstanding the annual nature of this exercise, the EU's commitment at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to restoring stocks to levels which achieve the maximum sustainable yield by 2015 means that the stocks in question have increasingly been subject to long-term management (and, in some cases, recovery) plans. In addition, as we noted in our Report of 8 September 2010, a Commission Communication[36] has sought to establish a set of general principles for other stocks, for which there are currently 11 different approaches according to the scientific assessment of the state of the stock. In particular, it has suggested that, where a stock is over-fished but within safe biological limits, the permitted change in TAC from one year to another should be up to 25%, whilst in the case of stocks where no scientific advice is available (or the state of the stock is not known precisely) TACs should be adjusted towards recent real catch levels.

6.4 Against that background, the Commission has now produced a set of proposals for catches in 2011 for the majority of stocks, based on the relevant long-term plans and/or appropriate management principles. However, as the annual negotiations with Norway and other third countries are still in progress, the precise level of quota in some cases will depend upon the agreement reached on shared TACs and on the balance of fishing opportunities between the interested parties. It points out that the scientific advice is that the majority of stocks across the Community continue to be in a poor state, and that catch reductions are therefore required in most, though not all, cases in order to move towards the maximum sustainable yield. In the case of species of principal interest to the UK, the resultant catches for those stocks for which quotas have been established are set out in Annex A.

6.5 The proposals do not yet address the effort limitations[37] needed because the STECF is still considering a number of technical issues relating to the various management plans: and nor do they deal with so-called technical measures, such as gear and minimum landing sizes, and area closures (which, as a result of the Lisbon Treaty, are now subject to co-decision, whereas the setting of TACs is still reserved for the Council).

The Government's view

6.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 November 2010, the Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Richard Benyon) says that, whilst TACs must take into account appropriate scientific advice, and seek to ensure the sustainability of stocks and the marine environment, it is at the same time important to maximise the fishing opportunities which can responsibly be taken, and allow associated stocks to be exploited when the impact on recovery stocks can be minimised. He adds that this is particularly necessary in order to protect the viability of vulnerable sectors of the UK fleet and the interests of fisheries dependent communities, and that measures must have a clear objective, be well balanced between Member States and different sectors of the UK fleet, and be capable of rapid implementation. He also stresses the need to have regard to the present economic climate.

6.7 The Minister notes that the proposals outlined by the Commission are consistent with the EU commitment at the WSSD to achieve maximum sustainable yields by 2015, and he says that, in the majority of cases, the UK is likely to be able to accept them. He also highlights the fact that, where recovery or management plans have been introduced, it has in many cases produced positive results for the fisheries concerned, but that, in other areas, — for example, cod in the west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea — further significant cuts in quota are proposed in order to rebuild stocks, with significant cuts also being proposed for Celtic Sea cod, West of Scotland haddock and whiting and Irish Sea whiting.

6.8 As regards other aspects of the proposals, the Minister says that:

  • for species which are vulnerable to overexploitation due to slow growth and low reproductive potential, the scientific advice continues to be that there should be no targeted fisheries or by-catch quotas — a course which the Government supports until more bespoke management measures are out in place, despite having some concerns about discarding;
  • in a number of cases, where a quantitative catch forecast is not available or no advice given by scientists, the "use it or lose it" principle has been applied, which implies an automatic 15% cut in quota: the Government's view remains that, whilst it is unfortunate that scientific advice on which to base a proposal is unavailable, automatic reductions in TACs are not an appropriate policy, and that catch levels should be maintained until more detailed advice is available, as long as this does not increase fishing mortality;
  • it is disappointing that more progress has not been made on managing stocks where the scientific status is uncertain, given that the Commission had undertaken to devise a new approach where information was not sufficient for ICES to undertake a quantitative forecast, and he notes that the proposals for next year continue, in many cases, to be for 15% cuts.

6.9 The Minister also notes that, as it did for 2010, the Commission has proposed an additional 5% quota for North Sea cod for Member States participating in catch quota[38] trials. He acknowledges that, since living within such a quota requires significant behavioural change, has some costs in terms of the market value of landings, and could result in inability to catch other quota species, an increase in quota is needed to encourage vessels to move to this new management system, which will remain voluntary in 2011. He also says that this system offers the prospect of removing excessive regulation and control by putting the emphasis on fishermen to use their skills and knowledge to fish more selectively in order to optimise the value of their catch, and that it offers as well the prospect of greatly improving scientific data.

6.10 However, he says that, instead of an artificial cap on the amount of additional quota, the UK will be pushing for any vessel or group which agrees to participate in a fully documented fishery to receive a significant quota increase, in line with already estimated and anticipated levels of discards in the absence of a catch quota system. He also believes that expanding the scheme to include a wider variety of species and vessel types is essential in order to understand how it can work in a mixed fishery and to obtain the necessary evidence to assess its feasibility in advance of CFP reform. The UK will therefore be seeking a larger amount of additional quota for North Sea cod, haddock, whiting and plaice. (In the meantime, together with Denmark and Norway, it has recently declared support for further trials in 2011 through the Ardoe declaration.)

6.11 We have since received from the Minister a supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 6 December 2010, enclosing a partial Impact Assessment. However, the latter does not cover those stocks which are still subject to negotiation with third countries, or the pelagic sector (which accounted for 28% of landings in 2009) and the inshore fleet. To the extent it contains any meaningful information, it suggests that one fleet segment (beam trawlers in the south west) might directly benefit from the level of TACs already proposed, but that the other sectors might suffer a reduction in earnings of nearly £16 million: the Assessment does not, however, quantify the benefits, which it says are essentially long term, and where it not possible at this stage to say when the stocks in question will be restored to levels consistent with the maximum sustainable yield.


6.12 We understand that the production of annual catch quota proposals depends upon the availability of up to date scientific advice, and in the case of many important stocks is subject to the outcome of discussions with third countries. Nevertheless, it is disturbing that, having produced its proposals for 2010 by the middle of October, the Commission has once more reverted to a timetable which leaves very little time for us to consider the issues involved before decisions are taken by the Council. Also, although we were pleased that there has again been a three hour general debate on fisheries in advance of the Council, that debate took place this year in Westminster Hall,[39] rather than the Floor of the House, thus inevitably lowering its profile.

6.13 Given this background, we have considered carefully how best to proceed. Whilst we believe that it would premature to clear the document, we also recognise that the Council will, for good practical reasons, be seeking to adopt the proposals on 13-14 December, and, in view of the Westminster Hall debate, we would not want to prevent the Government from agreeing to this, if it is otherwise minded to do so. We would, however, like to receive as soon as possible after any such agreement has been reached an account of the outcome, with an indication of those areas where significant changes have been made to the Commission's proposals. At that stage, we will consider whether to release the document from scrutiny or recommend it for further debate in European Committee.

Annex: Commission proposals for TACs in 2011 (tonnes)
UK quota
Policy category

% change

North Sea
Cod33,552 13,0674 tbc
Haddock35,794 22,6984 tbc
Saithe107,044 8,4354 tbc
Whiting12,897 7,3916 tbc
Sole14,100 6024 13,600-3,5
Plaice 63,825 16,9514 tbc
Hake1,935 3484 tbc
Monkfish11,345 9,2339 9,643-15.0
Megrim1,757 1,6909 1,7570
Nephrops24,688 21,3846 22,580-8.5
Eastern Channel
Cod1,955 1814 tbc
Plaice4,274 1,2436 4,018-9.0
Sole4,219 8113 4,156-1.5
Western Channel
Cod4,023 2937 3,420-15.0
Haddock11,579 1,1588 11,5790
UK quota
Policy category

% change
Whiting14,407 1,4638 14,4070
Hake30,900 5,5538 30,9000
Sole (English Channel) 618363 4710 +15.0
Sole (Bristol channel) 993279 11,241 +25.0
Sole (Western approaches) 49883 6423 -15.0
Plaice (Bristol Channel) 45163 3410 -9.0
Plaice (Western approaches) 21814 7185 -15.0
Monkfish32,292 5,8076 27,448-15.0
Megrim18,300 2,6246 15,555-15.0
Irish Sea
Cod674 1944 337-5.0
Haddock1,424 6819 1,210-15.0
Whiting157 6110 118-25.0
Plaice1,627 4918 1,6270
Sole402 833 320-20.0
Nephrops22,432 7,3586
West of Scotland
Cod 240 1454 120-50.0
Whiting431 24610 216-50.0
Haddock2,673 2,0814 2,005-25.0
Monkfish5,567 1,7131 3,748-25.0
Megrim3,079 9669 3,0790
Nephrops16,057 15,6776 13,681-15.0
UK quota
Policy category

% change
Pelagic stocks
North Sea herring164,300 24,2234 tbc
Irish Sea herring4,800 3,5508 4,8000
Clyde herring720 72011 Not set
West of Scotland herring 24,24014,356 422,481 -8.0
Mackerel295,366 172,2684 tbc

tbc: Agreement to be reached with third countries
CategoryScientific advice
1Stock exploited at MSY
2Stock over-exploited, but inside safe biological limits
3Stock outside safe biological limits
4Stock subject to long-term plan, and scientists advise on corresponding catch
5 Stock is short-lived, and one-year forecast cannot be provided
6 State of stock not known precisely, and STECF advises on appropriate catch level
7State of stock not known precisely, and STECF advises to reduce fishing effort
8State of stock not known precisely, and STECF advises it is increasing
9State of stock not known precisely, and STECF advises it is decreasing
10STECF advises a zero catch, a reduction to lowest possible level, or similar advice
11 No STECF advice

36   (31624) 9888/10: see HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 36 (8 September 2010). Back

37   However, the Government has told us that informal indications are that the Commission will propose a reduction of 15% in the permitted days at sea under the Sole Management Plan, and in the North Sea and Eastern Channel under the Cod Recovery Plan, plus in the latter case reductions of 25% in the Irish Sea and west of Scotland. Back

38   Catch quotas are a new way of managing fisheries, based on absolute mortality, under which all fish caught (including juveniles) count against a fisherman's quota, and he has to stop fishing, once this quota is reached. The UK has run trials in England (with 6 vessels) and Scotland (with 17 vessels), and interim results are positive, with a reduction in discards and fishermen operating more selectively in order to maximise the value of their catches.


39   HC Deb, 2 December 2010, cols 341WH-386WH. Back

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