Documents considered by the Committee on 18th November 2016 Contents

5Fisheries: catch quotas and effort limitation for 2017

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; but scrutiny waiver granted; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2017 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and for, Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters

Legal base

Article 43(3) TFEU; QMV

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Numbers

(38227), 13797/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 698

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

5.1The EU Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for particular fish stocks need to be agreed by the Council before the start of the calendar year to which they apply, but the requirement to take into account scientific advice means that official texts have often been available too late to be scrutinised properly before their adoption. This has been a particular problem for those stocks (including a number of considerable importance to the UK in the North Sea) which are jointly managed with third countries, notably Norway, since the EU share has to be negotiated with them.

5.2Even though no figures are yet available for jointly managed stocks, or those subject to management by regional fisheries organisations, the Commission has sought in this draft Council Regulation to set TACs for 2017, as well as effort (days at sea) limits for certain stocks, with the proposals reflecting scientific advice, the EU’s commitment to restore stocks to levels which will achieve maximum sustainable yields, and meeting the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) objectives of ensuring that EU fisheries are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable. The hope is that the proposals will be agreed by the Fisheries Council on 12–13 December, when the Government’s objectives will be to obtain the best possible outcome for the UK consistent with following scientific advice, achieving maximum sustainable yields by 2015 where possible (and no later than 2020), and minimising discards.

5.3As noted, the relevant negotiations in the Fisheries Council will take place on 12–13 December, and, although this document contains proposals on a number of stocks, it excludes many of great importance to the UK which are managed jointly with Norway (and which we assume are unlikely be available much in advance of the Council), or on which further scientific advice is awaited.

5.4In view of this, and the desirability—which we recognise—of establishing the TACs in question before the start of 2017, we can do little more at this stage than report the current position to the House. However, since it is clearly desirable that as many Members as possible should have a chance to raise points with the Government before any decision is taken, we hope that, as in recent years, it will be possible to hold a general debate on fisheries (either in Westminster Hall or preferably on the Floor of the House). Indeed, whilst this would in any case be desirable in relation to the situation in 2017, we think that such a debate would be of particular value at this time, as it would enable the Government to share with the House its thinking on the sort of arrangements which might apply in this area from 2018 onwards in the light of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

5.5On condition this debate occurs, we are prepared to grant a scrutiny waiver in advance of the Council so as not to fetter the Government’s negotiating freedom, but we also think it right to hold the proposals under scrutiny, pending information on the outcome of that meeting, particularly as regards those stocks subject to joint management. We are also drawing the document to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2017 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and for, Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters: (38227), 13797/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 698.

Background

5.6The EU Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for particular fish stocks in the following calendar year are based on scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), and then have to be agreed by the Fisheries Council following a proposal from the Commission. Since agreement is ideally needed before the start of the calendar year to which the proposal applies, this has habitually presented scrutiny difficulties, in that the requirement to take into account the scientific advice means that official texts have often been available too late to be considered properly beforehand: and this has been a particular problem for those stocks (including a number of importance to the UK in the North Sea) which are jointly managed with third countries, notably Norway, since the EU share has to be negotiated with them.

The current proposal

5.7Even though no figures are yet available for jointly managed stocks, or those subject to management by regional fisheries organisations, the Commission has sought as far as is possible in this draft Council Regulation to set the relevant fishing opportunities for 2017, and, in addition to establishing annual catch limits, it deals with effort (days at sea) limits for the management of certain stocks.

5.8A Table showing the TACs proposed for the stocks of principal interest to the UK is at Annex A. According to the Commission, these reflect both the scientific advice, and the EU’s commitment—first articulated following the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, and now incorporated in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)—to bring the stocks to levels which will achieve maximum sustainable yields by 2015 (or 2020 at the latest), and are consistent with the objectives of the CFP in ensuring that EU fisheries are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable. In cases where the necessary data are limited, it has adopted a precautionary approach, and, where appropriate, the TACs set are in line with the multi-annual management plans which have been adopted for a number of key stocks. (The TACs for jointly managed stocks at this stage are currently marked as “pm” (pro memoria), in anticipation of specific proposals when the relevant discussions have been concluded, whilst other such entries apply to stocks where the scientific advice is not yet available).

The Government’s view

5.9In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 November 2017, the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice) observes that this is the third year in which fishing opportunities will be set under the reformed CFP, and that it is important to note the progress being made towards more sustainable fishing and stock recovery, in line with those reforms. At the same time, he also says it is clear that more needs to be done to get EU fisheries management onto a sustainable basis, although the challenge varies significantly between different regions.

5.10In the meantime, he identifies the Government’s objective at the Fisheries Council on 12–13 December as being to obtain the best possible outcome for the UK consistent with following scientific advice, where he will be looking to maintain stocks currently managed at the maximum sustainable yields (MSY), and, where possible, to move more stocks to MSY levels. He adds that due consideration needs to be given to the mixed fisheries approach, and that, if a stock is not covered by the landing obligation, the UK will also need to avoid increasing discards.

5.11The Minister goes on to highlight the following aspects of the proposals:

EU /Norway

The priority will be to secure a fair and balanced exchange with Norway which is in the best interests of the UK and does not disproportionally disadvantage its industry. The Government will work closely with the Commission throughout to identify the most appropriate stocks to include in the offer to Norway, and to secure adequate quota transfers from Norway on a variety of stocks, particularly quotas for potential choke species. As the cod targeting segment of the UK fleet will be subject to the landing obligation in 2017, the Government will not be negotiating additional quota for fully documented fisheries (FDF) for 2017, but it is in contact with current participants to continue such a scheme next year.

Landing Obligation

For stocks which will become subject to the landing obligation in 2017, the TAC will be adjusted to include a quota uplift for catches which can no longer be discarded.

Maximum Sustainable Yield

The UK fully supports the Commission in moving stocks to their MSY by 2020 at the latest in line with the objectives of the CFP. However, each stock needs to be considered on a case by case basis, particularly with regard to timing when a stock is contracting.

Management Plans (MAPs)

The UK supports MAPs as the key tool for managing fisheries, and in particular the development of flexible and robust mixed fishery Plans which include MSY targets expressed as ranges. It welcomes the proposal36 brought forward in August 2016 for a North Sea MAP, and urges the Commission to publish its proposal for a North West Waters MAP as soon as possible.

Data-Limited Stocks

The UK welcomes the continued work undertaken by the ICES to assess stocks based on limited evidence. However, although it supports the management of such stocks on a case-by-case basis, it opposes a “use it or lose it” approach, considering that decisions on TACs should be informed by all available evidence, including directional trends in fishing mortality, biomass and fishing effort. Thus, for example, it believes that where stock trends are negative, a reduction in TAC should be followed; where stock trends are stable, mixed, or only slightly positive, the TAC should be rolled over; and, where stock trends are significantly positive, the TAC should be increased.

As regards specific stocks, the Government is considering the options for those in which the UK has an interest, and will be looking to finalise its position in the light of a detailed analysis of the Commission’s proposals, taking account of views from scientists, the fishing industry and environmental NGOs. However, it cautions that, for North Sea stocks which are jointly managed by the EU and third countries, the outcome will depend on what the Commission are willing and able to negotiate with Norway.

Blue whiting

Coastal states have recently agreed to total catch limits at MSY for 2017, alongside a long term management strategy. However, the parties were unable to agree shares, which has resulted in uncertainty over future levels of exploitation: and, without an agreed allocation, there is no mechanism to ensure that total catches will be respected by all Parties, meaning that the sustainability of the stock is therefore not guaranteed. Upon conclusion of the negotiations, the UK noted that it was not in the position to lend its support to the agreement on the grounds that it risked the sustainability of the stock, and would be likely to result in overfishing. (Were the UK’s share to be maintained at the level set for 2016, this would be likely to see an increase in its quota, providing over £8.5m estimated additional fishing opportunities.)

Atlanto-Scandian Herring

An agreement by coastal states for the level of catch which corresponds to the long-term management plan was recently agreed, but (as with blue whiting) the Parties were unable to agree a sharing arrangement, and the UK expressed a similar view. (If the UK’s share were to be maintained at the level set for 2016, this would be likely to see an increase in quota, providing over £1.25k of additional fishing opportunities.)

Mackerel

A continuation of the arrangement between the EU, Norway and Faroes was recently agreed, establishing a TAC and shares of that TAC for each of these parties for 2017. This is likely to result in around £15m extra fishing opportunities for the UK fleet in that year.

Seabass

The UK Government wants to build on the package of recovery measures applied at EU level to ensure continued recovery of this important stock, and, as ICES recommended zero catches for 2017 due to uncertainties in the scientific assessment, the proposals produced by the Commission in response— though not going as far as a moratorium on catches — are necessarily stringent. In particular, they re-establish the commercial fishing ban on Union vessels fishing for bass in Irish waters, and apply this in remaining areas of the North Sea and North Western Waters, including the Channel, with derogations for a 1% by-catch per day for demersal trawl/seines, capped at one tonne per vessel a month; Union vessels using hook and line with ten tonnes a year, with a February and March closure; and, for recreational fisheries, a ten fish per month per person limit in all the management areas, and catch and release only during February and March.

The Government will be working with stakeholders to develop the UK negotiating response to these proposals, and recognises the level of challenge presented by the proposed restrictions, particularly for commercial vessels using netting fishing methods which have no derogations featured.

North Sea Nephrops

The UK awaits the revised ICES advice for this stock, and supports setting the TAC in line with this. In the meantime, it recognises that the Farn Deeps Nephrops stock located off the Northumberland coast is heavily depleted, and, from 1 April this year, the UK Fisheries Administrations (working with industry) have put in place a package of emergency recovery measures. They will continue to implement this at least until its effectiveness can be reviewed in June/July 2017, when the first scientific advice is published after the measures have been in place for a full catching season.

Western Nephrops

Although there is as yet no proposal for this stock, the UK supports the TAC changing in line with the change in the scientific advice.

Irish Sea Haddock

The Commission has not yet brought forward a proposal for this TAC, but the UK has submitted a scientific case indicating that the spawning stock biomass for the stock has grown rapidly, and arguing that an increase above the 20% limit currently allowed is justifiable.

Western Waters Skates and Rays

Advice for this stock has only recently been finalised, and the Commission has not brought forward a proposal for a TAC. However, as in previous years, the UK is opposed to automatic 20% cuts in the TAC cuts for these stocks, and notes that a precautionary buffer has been applied to each of them, resulting in the majority of individual stock trends now being either stable or increasing. As such, the UK supports these stocks being managed under a rollover of the current TAC.

Common Sole in the Eastern Channel

The UK supports the implementation of the management strategy for common sole in this area which was developed by the Advisory Council in 2015 to deliver the recovery of the stock. The 2017 TAC should be considered in this context aiming to reach MSY before 2020.

Previous Committee Reports

None.

Annex: EU TACs and UK quotas in 2016 and 2017 (tonnes)

2016

2017

Change %

UK quota

North Sea

Cod

27,930

pm

Haddock

47,688

pm

Saithe

31,284

pm

Whiting

12,610

pm

Sole

13,252

pm

Plaice

122,454

pm

Hake

3,492

3,928

+12

707

Monkfish

11,267

pm

Megrim

2,639

2,639

0

2,540

Dab and flounder

18,434

pm

Lemon sole

6,391

6,391

0

3,904

Ling

2,912

pm

Turbot and brill

4,488

4,488

0

693

Nephrops

13,700

13,686

-0.1

11,854

Northern prawn

2,446

pm

Sprat

330,000

pm

Skates and rays

1,313

pm

Eastern English Channel

Cod

1,961

pm

Plaice

12,446

10,022

-19.5

2,915

Sole

3,258

2,257

-31

434

Western English Channel

Cod

4,565

1,447

-68

114

Haddock

7,258

7,751

+7

775

Whiting

22,778

pm

Hake

61,902

69,629

+12

12,513

Pollack

13,495

10,796

-20

1,882

Sole (English Channel)

979

1,178

+20

693

Sole (Bristol channel)

779

782

+0.4

220

Sole (Western approaches)

382

382

0

64

Plaice (Bristol Channel)

420

405

-3.5

95

Plaice (Western approaches)

135

108

-20

14

Monkfish

33,516

29,534

-12

5,311

Skate and rays

8,032

pm

Irish Sea

Cod

146

pm

Haddock

1,654

pm

Plaice

1,098

1,098

0

562

Sole

40

0

-100

0

Nephrops

23,358

pm

West of Scotland

Cod

0

0

0

0

Whiting

213

0

-100

0

Haddock

6,462

pm

Monkfish

6,375

pm

Plaice

658

658

0

400

Ling

10,297

pm

Megrim

5,214

4,900

-6

1,537

Nephrops

16,524

pm

Saithe

6,448

pm

Blue ling

4,746

pm

Pelagic stocks

North Sea herring

310,945

pm

Eastern Channel herring

57,007

pm

Irish Sea herring

4,575

4,127

-10

3,053

West of Scotland herring

0

3,480

2,102

Blue whiting

207,657

pm

Mackerel

357,587

pm


36 (38011), 11636/16: Thirteenth Report HC 71-xi (2016–17), chapter 3 (12 October 2016).




21 November 2016