Documents considered by the Committee on 13 November 2017 Contents

35Fisheries: catch quotas and effort limitation for 2017

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny (decision reported on 22/03/2017); 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


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

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

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

35.1Each December the EU sets the fishing opportunities (“Total Allowable Catches”—TACs) available for EU fishing vessels fishing in EU waters and certain non-EU waters. The decision is based on scientific advice and, increasingly, on long term management plans.

35.2The predecessor Committee considered the Commission’s proposal for 2017 fishing opportunities in November 2016 prior to agreement in December. A general debate on fisheries was held on 1 December 2016 during which the proposals were debated.562

35.3When the predecessor Committee considered the outcome of the December Council at its meeting of 22 March, a request for information on the outstanding issue of bass fishing restrictions and on Brexit-related considerations was made.

35.4The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) has now responded. Entitlement to bass quota in 2017 was linked to a vessel’s historical record, thus raising concerns as to the position of those who wished to retain quota but replace their vessel. The Minister explains that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has indicated that any previously established bass catch eligibility is retained for any replacement vessel, but that skippers should consult with the MMO on the vessel’s characteristics before commissioning a new vessel. A formal amendment has also been made to the EU Regulation to provide for this flexibility.

35.5On Brexit, the Minister is non-committal, but he emphasises his commitment to sustainable fishing and to cooperation in the management of shared stocks. He says that “the issue of fishing allocations for 2019 is under active consideration”. Finally, he confirms that the Department’s internal analysis of the zonal attachment563 of stocks in UK waters is ongoing, with good progress being made.

35.6The Minister’s clarification of the approach to bass quota for those wishing to replace their vessel is welcome. The non-committal nature of his comments on preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU is unsurprising. He covers, albeit with no clear answers, the various issues raised by the Committee with the exception of the Committee’s query as to how the annual process for negotiations between the EU and third countries could be improved. We note his recent comment in a letter to the House of Lords EU Committee that unsustainable levels of fishing have been set in the past as a result of weak cooperation between the EU and third countries.564 While we look for no further clarity at this juncture, we flag this outstanding point as an issue of continuing interest to us as it will be fundamental to delivery of a sustainable fisheries policy.

35.7We note also that the time available to reach agreement is diminishing, subject to the flexibility over Brexit implementation as set out by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech on 22 September 2017. The European Commission issues a consultation paper each June on its approach to the setting of fishing opportunities the following year. Its next such paper, in June 2018, will cover the year 2019 and will need to reflect the UK’s withdrawal from the EU at the end of March 2019. That timetable—and the desirability of giving industry some degree of clarity—would point to the need for agreement on future fishing arrangements within the next six months. We trust that it will be a priority area for discussion in Phase two of the withdrawal negotiations once the European Council has given the go-ahead for that phase of the negotiations to commence.

35.8The European Commission’s proposals for the 2018 Atlantic and North Sea fishing opportunities were recently published, and we look forward to the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum. We require no response to this Report but we may pursue some of the Brexit-related queries in our scrutiny of the 2018 proposal. We draw this chapter 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.


35.9The agreement reached on the 2017 fishing opportunities was set out in our Report of 22 March 2017. In that Report, we raised issues around bass management and around Brexit, as set out below.

35.10Certain derogations from the restrictions on the capture of bass were agreed based on catch history over the period 1 July 2015 to 30 September 2016. The Committee sought clarity as to whether the catch history applied to the vessel, skipper or both.

35.11The Committee welcomed comments on the following Brexit-related issues:

The Minister’s letter of 4 September 2017

35.12On the implementation of the bass management measures, the Minister explains that MMO was conscious of the need to ensure there would be no unnecessary impediment to any vessel replacement conforming with modern construction and outfit standards. The MMO updated its initial bass guidance, therefore, including the intended approach for vessel replacement.

35.13The MMO’s approach allows for vessels with a bass catch or by-catch eligibility, established during the July 2015-September 2016 reference period, to be replaced with a new-build vessel. This would be on a ‘one in, one out’ basis, retaining any previously established bass catch eligibility for the new vessel. The MMO advises that those planning any vessel replacement, in relation to transferring any bass catch eligibility from an old vessel to new one, should consult with the MMO on the intended vessel characteristics before commissioning, or proceeding, with a new build.

35.14The Minister adds that the MMO’s implementation approach is now supported by the added clarification in the latest in year amendment to the fishing opportunities Regulation: “In case of a replacement of a Union fishing vessel, the entitlement may be transferred to another vessel provided that the number of Union fishing vessels subject to this derogation and their overall fishing capacity do not increase.”

35.15On the Brexit-related issues raised by the Committee, the Minister writes:

“[It] is too early to say exactly what shape any process for agreeing Total Allowable Catches and annual fishing opportunities with the EU might take. However, we will remain committed to fishing sustainably and to cooperating over the management of shared stocks in a way that limits potential disruption or delay. It is also too early to estimate the extent to which fisheries talks might be linked to the wider negotiation, although the issue of fishing allocations for 2019 is under active consideration. Finally, the Department’s internal analysis of the zonal attachment of stocks in UK waters is ongoing, although I am happy to say that the work is on track with good progress being made.”

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-sixth Report HC 71–xxxiv (2016–17), chapter 5 (22 March 2017); Eighteenth Report HC 71–xvi (2016–17), chapter 5 (18 November 2016).

562 HC Deb, 1 December 2016, cols 1727–1775 [Commons Chamber].

563 The spatial distribution of a stock over time and over its various life stages.

564 Letter from George Eustice to Lord Boswell dated 20 September 2017.

565 Used in the allocation of stocks between the EU and Norway, this is the spatial distribution of a stock over time and over its various life stages.

20 November 2017