European Scrutiny Committee Contents

36 Fishing opportunities for 2011



COM(10) 241

Commission Communication: Consultation on fishing opportunities for 2011

Legal base
Document originated17 May 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 2 June 2010 and Minister's letter of 15 July 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilSee para 36.8 below
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


36.1 The Council sets for each calendar year the total allowable catches (TACs) which may be taken by EU vessels in the major fisheries in its waters, these being divided between Member States according to a pre-determined key. Because of the need for the Commission's proposals to be based on the latest scientific advice, this has often meant they have not been available until very near the time when decisions need to be taken, which in turn has presented problems both for decision-makers in Brussels and for proper Parliamentary scrutiny. The Commission has therefore sought of late to put forward in the middle of the year a general assessment of the position and of its intentions as a basis for consultation with the industry and Member States, and the current document seeks to do this for fishing opportunities in 2011.

The current document

36.2 The Commission says that its approach follows seven guiding principles:

  • setting fishing opportunities at a level which ensures sustainable exploitation of resources in environmental, economic and social terms;
  • limiting changes in catches from one year to another as far as practicable, in order to provide a stable and predictable framework for fishermen;
  • respecting the EU's international commitments, notably those at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), to rebuild stocks so as to reach their maximum productivity by 2015;
  • ensuring the implementation of long-term plans;
  • reducing fishing of over-exploited stocks, and re-building those which are depleted;
  • basing proposals on scientific advice, usually provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES); and
  • application of the precautionary approach.

36.3 The Commission notes that, if the aim of reaching maximum sustainable yields by 2015 is to be met, many of the long-term plans having this as their objective now need to be implemented, and that it will be making appropriate proposals: it also says that, where no such plans have yet been proposed, it would be right to move towards the maximum sustainable yield by reducing fishing mortality in four equal steps, starting in 2011.

36.4 It then assesses the state of the EU's fishing resources, commenting that the number of stocks known not to be over-fished has increased from two in 2005 to 11 in 2010, with good progress having been made in areas such as the North Sea; that the number of stocks subject to advice to stop fishing has decreased from 20 to 14; that the number of stocks outside safe biological limits, but not subject to advice to stop fishing, has diminished from 30 in 2003 to 22 in 2010; and that, whilst TACs have still been set at much higher levels than those advised by scientists, this excess has decreased from 47% to 34% in 2010. On the other hand, it says that there are more stocks, not least in the west of Scotland and the Celtic and Irish Seas, where scientists have not provided advice because of concerns over data quality or other reasons. It also highlights the fact that the absence of an agreement on migratory pelagic stocks for 2010 implies catches of mackerel nearly 40% higher than the sustainable catch which would have been set if the long-term plan agreed in 2009 by the EU, Norway and Faroes had applied, and suggests that, although this stock is currently at a high level, there is a risk of rapid depletion if good management is not restored. Overall, it suggests that, whilst there are signs of improvement, success is far from guaranteed, and that efforts to eliminate over-fishing have to be maintained.

36.5 On the setting of fishing opportunities, the Commission notes the continuing need to restrict catches and effort, and suggests that a reinforced move towards an approach based on maximum sustainable yields should help to reduce the gap between the scientific advice and the actual TAC, with there also being a need for adaptations in fishing effort in a number of long-term plans. It adds that such plans remain at the core of its policy, and that, although no new ones came into force in 2009, it intends to propose measures for west of Scotland haddock and Celtic Sea herring in 2010, when work will also continue on bringing more stocks under long-term management. It also addresses the rules for setting TACs where no long-term plans are in force, where there are currently 11 different approaches according to the scientific assessment of the state of the stock. It suggests that, where a stock is over-fished but within safe biological limits, the permitted change in TAC from one year to another should be increased from 15% to 25%, whilst in the case of stocks where no scientific advice is available (or the state of the stock is not known precisely) it says that TACS "should be adjusted towards recent real catch levels".

The Government's view

36.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 2 June 2010, the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Mr Richard Benyon) says that the improvement in the scientific prognosis for some stocks is encouraging and reflects efforts to reduce exploitation rates in fisheries over recent years. However, he says that the UK shares concerns that a number of stocks continue to be outside safe biological limits and agrees that efforts need to be made to reduce exploitation levels. In particular, he is concerned at the increasing number of stocks for which scientific advice or full analytical stock assessments are not available, which he suggests hampers the management of the fisheries for long-term sustainability, and he also believes that efforts need to be made to take account of all sources of information on the state of stocks, including that collected and provided by the fishing industry.

36.7 More specifically, the Minister says:

  • that the move towards fishing rates based upon maximum sustainable yields is to be welcomed, that the Government is committed to meeting its international obligations under the WSSD, and that it is encouraged that ICES is this year providing scientific advice on this basis for the first time (though he highlights the need for full consideration of the economic impact on fishing communities);
  • that long-term management plans have clearly contributed to the success of measures to reduce exploitation levels in the North Sea, and that the UK will continue to work with the Commission and other Member States towards the development of further plans, adding that a clear framework for the setting and allocation of fishing opportunities is essential;
  • that the Government shares the Commission's concerns over the lack of agreement with coastal states on mackerel, particularly given the economic importance of the stock to the UK, and will continue to press for a solution to this issue in the coming weeks;
  • that further reductions in effort under the cod recovery plan can be expected to result in a reduction in 'days at sea' for vessels fishing West of Scotland, in the Irish Sea and in the North Sea, and that, since the UK industry has made considerable efforts to increase the sustainability of its fishing practices, the Government will continue to argue that the management of fishing effort should reflect the need to reward fishermen for these undertakings; and
  • that the Government supports the need for a more satisfactory approach to the setting of TACs in the absence of scientific advice, and will continue to work with the Commission in finding a solution, though it does not believe that reducing TACs to average landings in the absence of advice (the 'use it or lose it' approach) is consistent with advice not to increase effort, and considers that such a policy not only encourages fishermen to see the TAC as a target, not a limit, but fails to recognise that catches fluctuate for a number of reasons independent of the state of the stock.

36.8 In the coming months, the Government says that it will undertake extensive consultation with stakeholders on both this document and in reaction to the scientific advice released in the second half of the year, in order to inform the UK position for the autumn negotiations on the TACs for 2011 on the Commission's formal legislative proposals, which are expected at the end of October 2010. He observes that, although this Communication is not itself a formal legislative proposal, and the agreement of Member States on its content is not being sought, the Council will have an opportunity on 29 June to discuss the framework set out in it, and that the UK Government and organisations will also be able to submit written comments.

Minister's letter of 15 July 2010

36.9 The Minister concluded by saying that scientific advice on the most significant commercial demersal species was due to be issued by ICES on 30 June, and he has since sent us a letter of 15 July, summarising the main points. He says that for many (though not all) of the fisheries covered, the situation is similar to last year, with stocks below recommended levels and reduced or poor entry levels of young fish. As a result, there are a significant number of key UK stocks where further cuts are advocated, including North Sea cod (20% cut in TAC, and 15% cut in effort), haddock (5% cut in TAC), whiting (15% cut in TAC) and saithe (13% cut in TAC); Irish Sea cod (25% cut in both TAC and effort), haddock (15% cut in TAC), whiting and sole (20% cut in TAC); and West of Scotland cod (25% cut in TAC and effort), haddock (25% or more cut in TAC) and whiting.


36.10 As we have indicated, the Commission has in recent years produced reports of this kind in order to help prepare the ground for subsequent discussions on the level of TACs and fishing effort for the subsequent calendar year, and, although these have not always warranted a substantive Report to the House, there are two reasons why we believe such a Report would be appropriate in the current case. First, the Commission's analysis suggests that there have in certain cases been some improvement in the state of the stock as a result of the action taken. Against this, however, it is clear from the advice since provided by ICES that, despite such progress, further quite significant cuts could well be proposed in TACs and effort levels for a number of stocks of importance to the UK.

36.11 Since the Commission intends to bring forward legislative proposals in the autumn, we do not believe it would be sensible at this stage to recommend that further consideration should be given by the House to this document given that it is the subject of a widespread consultation, and that it is likely to be overtaken by events before any such consideration could take place. Nevertheless in clearing it, we think it right to draw it to the attention of the House.

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