Documents considered by the Committee on 15 December 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

16 Cod recovery plan: effort limitation restrictions




COM(09) 505

Draft Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 754/2009 excluding certain groups of vessels from the fishing effort limitations laid down in Chapter III of Regulation (EC) No 1342/2008



COM(09) 506

Draft Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 43/2009 as regards fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks
Legal baseArticle 37 EC; consultation; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationMinister's letters of 18 November 2009 and 6 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportHC 19-xxviii (2008-09), chapter 3 (21 October 2009)
Discussed in Council19-20 October 2009
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


16.1 Regulation (EC) No 1342/2008,[123] which establishes a long-term plan for cod stocks, allocates fishing effort to Member States on an annual basis, but it also enables the Council to exclude certain groups of vessels, subject to the provision of data on cod catches and discards, to cod catches not exceeding 1.5% of the total catches of the vessels concerned, and to the likelihood that there would be a disproportionate administrative burden.

16.2 In August 2009, the Commission put forward a proposal recommending that vessels from Sweden and Spain should be subject to this exemption, and this amendment was subsequently incorporated into Council Regulation (EC) No 754/2009.[124] At the same time, it also noted that similar requests had been submitted by a number of other Member States, and it subsequently proposed in document (a) that further changes should be made to accommodate requests from Germany, France and Poland (and Spain), with corresponding changes being made (document (b)) to the effort limits set out in Council Regulation (EC) No 43/2009,[125] which established the fishing opportunities in EU waters for 2009. However, the Commission said that, for all other requests — including those put forward by the UK — the information submitted was insufficient to establish compliance with the necessary conditions.

16.3 Our predecessors were told by the then Government that, although the Commission might be prepared to exclude a group of Queen Scallop vessels, the UK believed that further consideration should be given to other groups of vessels for which it had sought a similar exemption. It added that that the UK's request fitted squarely within the terms of the exemption, since cod catches of its vessels were considerably less than 1.5%: and that it considered that the fair and reasonable application of the cod recovery plan was being put into question by what appeared to be an over-rigid interpretation of the relevant provision.

16.4 In their Report of 21 October 2009, our predecessors commented that it was not entirely clear exactly what exemptions had been requested by the UK, and precisely why these had been rejected (or what steps might now be necessary to persuade the Commission to take a more favourable view). However, they said that, either way, it was disturbing that a request from the UK should have been rejected, whilst those from other Member States appeared to have been accepted, and they therefore sought further clarification from the Government as to why this was so. In the meantime, they decided to hold these two documents under scrutiny.

Minister's letter of 18 November 2009

16.5 Our predecessors subsequently received a letter of 18 November 2009 from the then Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Huw Irranca-Davies), which said that the UK had submitted comprehensive data to exempt a number of Nephrops vessels in the west of Scotland and Irish Sea, and beam trawls in the English Channel, but that the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) had rejected these because — unlike the successful Swedish and Spanish applications — they asserted that, should the cod stocks in question recover, it could not be proved that the vessels' cod catches would remain below the threshold level. He added that the UK had made clear to the Commission that it believed this to be disproportionate, and that a more risk-based approach was appropriate, given the low impact which these vessels would have had on cod, but he said that the Commission had yet to respond formally. However, he said that, at the Commission's request, the UK had re-submitted its applications.

Minister's letter of 6 December 2010

16.6 Our then Chairman replied to this letter on 25 November 2009, indicating that the Committee would report further to the House when the Government had had a response from the Commission. However, this letter appears not to have reached the Department, and we have only now received a letter of 6 December 2010 from the present Minister (Mr Richard Benyon). He says that, after the further submission of data, the Commission did in fact exempt from the days at sea limits a number of Nephrops trawlers fishing west of Scotland, but that the request for a number of other fisheries, where the UK felt there was a similarly strong case, had been denied.

16.7 The Minister adds that demonstrating categorically the vessels do not take cod as a by-catch is very challenging, because it implies near total observer coverage on board, which is prohibitively expensive, whereas the UK's discard sampling currently covers 1-2% of fishing trips annually. He says that this is why the UK feels it important to pursue exemptions where vessels can demonstrate categorically, through Remote Electronic Monitoring under a catch quota system, that their removals of cod are accounted for: and he adds that this is being addressed in current "catch quota" trials, which the UK will use to seek exemptions from days at sea limitations for vessels which take part in that scheme in 2011. He adds that, whilst the Government cannot guarantee to persuade the Commission of the benefits of this approach, it believes that it makes a strong case for changing the approach to fisheries management in this way.


16.8 We are grateful to the Minister for this, albeit belated, explanation, and, whilst it remains something of a mystery how some Member States have managed to persuade the Commission to grant exemptions, whilst others — including the UK — were less successful, it is clear that there is nothing further which can be done at this stage about the arrangements to which these documents relate. We are therefore releasing them from scrutiny, coupled with the hope that the UK will indeed persuade the Commission to take a more favourable view of any application it puts forward for exemptions in relation to 2011.

123   OJ No. L 348, 24.12.08, p.20. Back

124   OJ No. L 214, 19.8.09, p.16. Back

125   OJ No. L.22, 26.1.09, p.1. Back

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