Documents considered by the Committee on 18 March 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


10 Fishing conditions for deep sea stocks

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny, but scutiny waiver granted
Document detailsDraft Regulation establishing specific conditions for deep-sea fishing
Legal baseArticle 43(2) TFEU; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Document numbers(34133), 12801/12 + ADDs 1-2, COM(12) 371

Summary and Committee's conclusions

10.1 Deep sea stocks are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing, and have therefore been subject since 2003 to detailed management restricting fishing opportunities and effort, augmented latterly by restrictions on the use of certain gears and of fishing effort in areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems. In particular, a Member State is required to issue a permit to vessels which catch more than 10 tonnes of these species a year, the number of eligible permits being determined by the corresponding effort in either 1998, 1999 or 2000.

10.2 However, the Commission says that the stocks in question remain vulnerable, as do various marine ecosystems, and it proposed in July 2012 this draft Regulation putting in place new rules, which would include requiring a vessel targeting deep-sea species (ie where those species comprise more than 10% of its catch on a given day) to be subject to a fishing authorisation; the aggregate fishing capacity of vessels holding an authorisation should not exceed that of the Member State's vessels landing more than 10 tonnes of deep sea species in either of the two calendar years preceding the entry into force of the Regulation; and a limit on any use of bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets to the two years following the entry into force of the Regulation.

10.3 Whilst the Government supports the protection of vulnerable species and marine environments, it wished to focus primarily on the criteria used to define deep sea fisheries (and their implications for mixed fisheries), and to be satisfied that any ban on targeted deep sea fisheries involving sea bed contact achieved the stated environmental conservation aims. In addition, catch data profiles for UK vessels would be examined to establish the likely impacts of the catch percentage criterion.

10.4 It subsequently confirmed that basing the regime on a percentage criterion was a central flaw, and would affect many more vessels; that the proposal limit on permit numbers meant that a large number of UK vessels requiring a permit could not be issued with one; and that, as much of the deep sea species caught represented a by-catch in mixed fisheries, it could not be landed, and would hence have to be discarded. It saw this as a key objection to a percentage criterion, and would therefore be pressing for an alternative approach which limited where such activity could take place.

10.5 However, in December 2013, the European Parliament suggested two significant amendments. First, instead of relying on catch percentages, it recommended a spatial approach of the kind advocated by the UK, with activity confined to a fishing footprint established by deep sea activity in specified reference years. Secondly, ling, tusk and conger eel would be removed from the list of deep sea species, thereby drastically reducing the number of vessels which would be affected. As this had attracted general support from Member States, this raised the prospect of progress in the Council, leading to the adoption of a general approach paving the way for trilogue discussions with the Commission and European Parliament.

10.6 We have now been told that, although little headway was made when a draft Presidency compromise was tabled last year, the current Latvian Presidency now intended to resurrect this — a development which the UK welcomes, as most of the elements are in line with the approach it supports. The Government believes that it should be possible for an agreed Council position to be achieved during the current Presidency, making it likely that a vote will take place before a new Committee is formed, and it has suggested that it might be prudent for us to grant a scrutiny waiver, so as to enable the UK to vote in favour of a text which supported its main policy stance.

10.7 This is a technical and complex proposal, and, although a number of detailed issues have still to be resolved, it would appear that a solution acceptable to the UK is in prospect. Consequently, although we believe it would be premature to release the proposal from scrutiny, we are willing to grant a waiver for the purposes of agreeing a General Approach in the Council in order to provide the Government with the necessary negotiating freedom.

Full details of the document: Draft Regulation establishing specific conditions for deep-sea stocks in the North-East Atlantic and provisions for fishing in international waters of the North-East Atlantic and repealing Regulation (EC) No 2347/2002: (34133), 12801/12 + ADDs 1-2, COM(12) 371.

Background

10.8 Deep sea stocks in the North-East Atlantic are caught beyond the main fishing grounds of the continental shelf in both EU and international waters, and are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. They have therefore been subject since 2003 to detailed management restricting fishing opportunities and effort, augmented latterly by restrictions on the use of certain gears and the deployment of fishing effort in areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems. In particular, a Member State is required to issue a permit to vessels which catch (and retain on board) more than 10 tonnes of these species a year, the number of eligible permits being determined by the aggregate power and gross tonnage of its vessels which landed more than 10 tonnes of deep-sea species in either 1998, 1999 or 2000. In addition, vessels with a permit must provide information on their fishing gear and operations, and any landings in excess of 100kg must be at designated ports.

10.9 However, the Commission says that the stocks in question remain vulnerable, as do various marine ecosystems, and, as we noted in our Report of 12 September 2012, it proposed in July 2012 this draft Regulation, putting in place new rules, which would:

·  require a vessel targeting deep-sea species (ie where those species comprise more than 10% of its catch on a given day) to be subject to a fishing authorisation, with a separate, and clearly distinguishable, authorisation where these species are taken as a by-catch;

·  require that the aggregate fishing capacity of vessels holding an authorisation should not exceed that of the Member State's vessels which landed more than 10 tonnes of deep sea species in the either of the two calendar years preceding the entry into force of the Regulation;

·  prohibit the landing of more than 100kg of deep-sea species other than at a designated port;

·  limit any use of bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets to the two years following the entry into force of the Regulation;

·  require fishing opportunities to be fixed at a rate of exploitation consistent with the maximum sustainable yield;

·  enable the Council to decide that fishing opportunities should be based only on the limitation of effort, rather than on both effort and catch limits; and

·  require Member States to put in place accompanying measures.

10.10 We were told by the Government that, whilst it supported the protection of vulnerable species and marine environments, it was likely to focus primarily on the criteria used to define deep sea fisheries and the implications for mixed fisheries (in which they are an important by-catch). It would also wish to be satisfied that any ban on targeted deep sea fisheries involving sea bed contact achieved the stated environmental conservation aims, and did not have unintended consequences.

10.11 In addition, we noted that typical catch data profiles for UK vessels would be examined to establish the likely impacts of the catch percentage criterion; that, although the Government supported achieving maximum sustainable yields, it did not agree that the stocks should be managed entirely by effort, or with giving the Commission power to specify measures where it deemed Member State provisions to be inadequate. We therefore decided to draw the proposal to the attention of the House, but to hold it under scrutiny, pending further information.

10.12 On 28 November 2012, we reported that we had recently received a letter from the Government, which said that basing the regime, not on the weight caught, but on a percentage criterion was a central flaw, and would affect many more vessels, as it required both targeting and by-catch vessels to be considered together. Also, as the proposal limits the capacity of each Member State to that under the current regime, a large number of UK vessels which would in future require a permit could not be issued with one. Furthermore, much of the deep sea species caught represented a by-catch in mixed fisheries, which they would be unable to land, and would hence have to be discarded. The Government describes this as a key objection to a percentage criterion, adding that it would therefore be pressing for an approach replacing a reliance on defined catches of deep water species by one which limits where such activity can take place, a shift in approach which it says the industry would welcome.

Subsequent developments

10.13 On 25 October 2014, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice) wrote saying that, whilst discussion in the Council had been limited, the European Parliament had suggested two significant amendments. First, instead of phasing out bottom fishing methods by relying on catch percentages, it had recommended a spatial approach of the kind advocated by the UK, with activity confined to a fishing footprint established by deep sea activity in specified reference years. Secondly, it would remove ling, tusk and conger eel from the list of deep sea species, thereby drastically reducing the number of UK vessels which would be affected. He added that there was general support from Member States for a spatial approach, and that, with a "bible" document recording their views having been finalised, the Presidency had indicated a wish to make progress in the Council, leading to the adoption of a general approach which would pave the way for trilogue discussions with the Commission and European Parliament.

10.14 The Minister has now sent a further letter of 12 March 2015, saying that a draft Presidency compromise based on the "bible" document, and aimed at agreeing a general approach had been tabled last year, but had made little headway. However, the Latvian Presidency now intended to resurrect this — a development he welcomes, as most of the elements are in line with the approach supported by the UK. He believes that it should be possible for an agreed Council position to be achieved during the current Presidency, making it likely that a vote will take place before a new Committee is formed, and he suggests that it might be prudent for us to grant a scrutiny waiver, so as to enable the UK to vote in favour of a text which supported its main policy stance.

Previous Committee Reports

Twelfth Report HC 86-xii (2012-13), chapter 2 (12 September 2012) and Twenty-first Report HC 86-xxi (2012-13), chapter 6 (28 November 2012).



 
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