Documents considered by the Committee on 3 July 2019 Contents

12020 Fishing Opportunities

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

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

Document details

Commission Communication on the State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2020.

Legal base

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

(40673), 10186/19 + ADD 1, COM(19) 274

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

1.1Each year, the European Commission sets out its assessment of the state of the EU’s fish stocks and its intended approach to setting fishing opportunities—Total Allowable Catches (TACs)—for the following year. This document presents the Commission’s latest assessment and its intentions for the 2020 TACs. The timing and nature of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will be an important factor when the TACs come to be set for 2020.

State of play of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)

1.2The Commission says that pressure on fish stocks shows an overall downward trend in the Northern Atlantic and adjacent areas (those of direct relevance to the UK) and healthier stocks have also boosted the economic performance of the EU fleet. However, further significant efforts are needed—notably in the Mediterranean Sea—in order to make sure that Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) objectives are met, particularly to ensure that all stocks are rebuilt and fished at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels

1.3The Commission notes that, for stocks subject to negotiation with the Coastal States (Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands), only the blue whiting TAC for 2019 was in line with the long-term management strategy and with scientific advice on fishing at MSY. The EU-Norway negotiations led to a less ambitious result in terms of conservation, as only 9 out of 17 TACs were set in line with MSY.

1.4An important innovation in the most recent reform of the CFP was the greater regionalisation of decision-making. The Commission reports that this has proceeded well. Regional groups of Member States have played an important role in the phasing-in of the landing obligation (“discard ban”). Furthermore, Advisory Councils involving stakeholders are playing a greater role in the regionalisation process.

1.5The current fishing year, 2019, marks the first year of the landing obligation’s full application but implementation has been challenging, with particular issues around addressing potential choke situations.1 The Commission reports that it has worked with Member States and stakeholders to come up with possible solutions. These include commitments by certain Member States to swap quotas, or agreements on “bycatch-only TACs” accompanied by by-catch reduction measures. As enforcement of the landing obligation remains weak, the Commission will continue to pay close attention, and promote the use of remote electronic monitoring (REM) systems.

Setting of fishing opportunities for 2020

1.6The main objective of the Commission’s proposals will be to reach MSY for all MSY-assessed stocks by 2020 and the proposals will also continue to look at ways of facilitating the effective implementation of the landing obligation. Concerning Brexit (see below for further information), the implications of the UK’s withdrawal for setting fishing opportunities will be reviewed in the light of the latest developments. The Commission acknowledges that, under a no-deal Brexit, the EU and the UK will have to consult each other on the joint management of the stocks they share.

1.7Fishing opportunities for stocks in the North Sea and Western Waters will be set in accordance with scientific advice and on the basis of the relevant Multi-Annual Plans, which define MSY ranges of fishing mortality and therefore offer a degree of flexibility. To continue facilitating the full implementation of the landing obligation, all available mitigation tools should be utilised. The Commission also indicates that, for stocks subject to consultations with non-EU countries, it will aim for an agreement in line with long-term management strategies and scientific advice on achieving MSY.

UK’s withdrawal from the EU

1.8In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a negotiated deal before the end of 2019, the EU’s arrangements2 propose that the status quo (as previously negotiated for the whole of 2019) would apply for the remaining months of the year. The Government did not make a reciprocal commitment to that effect, but our position3 was that it would be in the interests of all concerned to maintain the status quo until the end of 2019.

1.9No arrangements are currently in place from 1 January 2020, the beginning of the new fishing year. As of that date, the UK will either:

1.10Of the above scenarios, the second is the most stable for the 2020 fishing year as the first could move towards an in-year non-negotiated exit and the third could move towards an in-year negotiated arrangement.

1.11In the event that the Withdrawal Agreement as previously negotiated—including a transition period ending on 31 December 2020, but extendable until 31 December 2022—entered into force, almost all EU law (including the CFP) would apply to the UK. The UK’s fishing opportunities would thus be set as though the EU was a Member State, although the UK would only be consulted. During 2020, the UK would negotiate fishing opportunities for 2021 as an independent coastal state assuming that the transition period was not extended.

1.12Regardless of any extension of the transition period, the draft Withdrawal Agreement requires the EU and UK to “use their best endeavours” to conclude and ratify a future fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quotas before 1 July 2020 (which is also the deadline for deciding whether to extend the transition period). The Political Declaration makes clear that this should be agreed in the context of the overall economic partnership, thus linking fishing opportunities to trade.

1.13If, however, the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it would become an independent coastal state with immediate effect and would be required under international law4 to cooperate on the management of shared stocks. This might include the swift conclusion of an EU-UK fisheries agreement.

1.14The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently wrote5 to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs requesting an update on the Department’s EU exit preparations in the area of fisheries. The Committee posed specific questions about: preparing to negotiate 2020 fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state; plans for a future UK-EU fishing agreement; and alternative arrangements in place in the event that the Fisheries Bill has not been passed before any no-deal exit.

Government position

1.15The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Rt Hon. Robert Goodwill MP) says in his Explanatory Memorandum (EM) that the Government shares the Commission’s view that, if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 31 October 2019, the EU and UK should consult with each other on the joint management of shared stocks.

1.16The Government welcomes the assessment that continuing progress is being made towards more sustainable fishing and stock recovery in the North East Atlantic, and notes the positive economic trends reported in fleets which target stocks exploited sustainably. The Government agrees that fishing opportunities should be set so that stocks achieve their MSY where possible in 2020, but also recognises the need for some exceptions, for example to minimise discards of bycatches from mixed fisheries to allow for effective implementation of the landing obligation.

1.17The Government recognises that this is the first year that fishing opportunities for most internal fish stocks will be set under the basis of a Multi Annual Plan. It welcomes the intention to use MSY ranges to set fishing opportunities, where possible under appropriate scientific advice, as this flexibility is one of the key tools to avoid choke risks in mixed fisheries.

1.18The UK notes the potential improvements that the bycatch reduction plans for the North Western Waters can deliver but has also emphasised that there is more that can be done to reduce unwanted catch and improve how specific mixed fisheries, for example in the Celtic Sea, are managed.

1.19Concerning the landing obligation, the Government has focused its efforts to date on ensuring the fishing industry has the right information available to enable them to comply. Control and enforcement efforts by the Marine Management Organisation are being increased to improve compliance. This includes exploring the potential future use of Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) as part of the UK’s compliance and enforcement toolbox. However, the UK continues to push for a formal review of the landing obligation’s operation to identify and solve persisting challenges in order to truly make it a success. The UK will continue to work with the Commission and Member States to solve ongoing choke issues, and prevent new chokes developing, especially in fisheries that are economically important to the UK.

1.20The Government supports the commitment to use long term management strategies compatible with relevant MAPs to set opportunities for jointly managed stocks wherever possible. This year, the UK has emphasised the importance of agreeing with Norway a new management strategy for North Sea cod, in order to develop sustained, long term solutions in the face of challenging advice. In relation to data limited stocks, the UK opposes automatic precautionary cuts and considers that decisions on TACs should be informed by all available evidence, including directional trends in fishing mortality, biomass and fishing effort.

1.21The Government will make a detailed assessment of the Commission’s actual proposals when they are issued later this year, in accordance with the Government’s established principles for these annual negotiations: sound science, sustainability and the elimination of discards. The UK will submit written comments to the Commission before 1 September.

Analysis and conclusions

1.22On the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, an obvious issue for the setting of fishing opportunities in 2020, the Minister says only that the Government shares the Commission’s view that, if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 31 October 2019, the EU and UK should consult with each other on the joint management of shared stocks. In fact, the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas uses more robust language, requiring Parties to “seek to agree upon the measures necessary to coordinate and ensure the conservation and development of [shared] stocks.” The UN Fish Stocks Agreement provides that this legal requirement to cooperate should begin with consultations. It must, among 12 obligatory conditions, be based on scientific advice and must seek to preserve the sustainability of stocks. We look to the Minister to confirm that the UK would not only consult the EU but would actively seek to agree on measures to conserve shared stocks in line with the UK’s responsibilities under international law.

1.23The Commission highlights the challenges of negotiating sustainable fishing opportunities outside a clear framework such as the Common Fisheries Policy. It observes that, for stocks subject to consultations with the Coastal States, only the blue whiting TAC for 2019 was in line with the long-term management strategy for this stock and with scientific advice on fishing at MSY. In the EU-Norway negotiations, says the Commission, only 9 out of 17 TACs were set in line with MSY. We ask the Government whether it agrees with the Commission’s observation that the agreed 2019 TACs for stocks shared with non-EU Coastal States are, for the most part, less sustainable than those for EU-only stocks and, if so, why the Government considers that to be the case.

1.24Looking forward to 2020, the Commission says that, for stocks subject to consultations with non-EU countries, it will aim for an agreement in line with the long-term management strategies and scientific advice on fishing at MSY. The Government agrees with this approach. We ask the Minister to confirm if this means that the existing EU multi-annual plans which now form the basis for EU fisheries management decisions and are an important tenet of the Common Fisheries Policy would form the basis for future UK-EU cooperation on sustainable fish stocks.

1.25Under all foreseeable scenarios other than a long extension of Article 50 or revocation, the UK will need to negotiate a fisheries agreement with the EU expeditiously. The negotiated Withdrawal Agreement includes a requirement for the UK and EU to make best endeavours to conclude and ratify an agreement by 1 July 2020. In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, would the Minister agree that it would be preferable to negotiate the management of shared stocks on the basis of an agreed framework set out in a UK-EU fisheries agreement? Should that not be the case, how else would the UK and EU comply with the international legal requirements on them?

1.26We ask the Minister what steps the Government is making to prepare any such agreement. Given that the UK currently operates fisheries management within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy, to what extent would it make sense to base future cooperation on that same framework, particularly bearing in mind the requirements of international law? What elements of the current CFP framework—aside from access and opportunities—does the Minister consider inappropriate for future management of shared stocks and could be rejected while remaining compliant with international requirements?

1.27Finally, we trust that Parliament will be fully engaged from as early as stage as possible in scrutinising the Government’s approach to the future UK-EU fisheries relationship. We ask the Minister to set out the Government’s detailed plans for parliamentary scrutiny.

1.28The document is retained under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and we look forward to a response by 17 July.

1.29We will subsequently look forward to sight of the Government’s written comments to the Commission to be submitted by 1 September, including the Government’s thoughts on measures to support implementation of the landing obligation.

Full details of the documents

Commission Communication on the State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2020: (40673), 10186/19 + ADD 1, COM(19) 274.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


1 A choke situation could arise in mixed fisheries where a vessel is fishing a target species, but catches small amounts of another species for which the vessel has no quota but would be required to land it under the landing obligation. A lack of any “bycatch” quota for the other species could therefore restrict the harvesting of the target species.

2 Regulation (EU) 2019/498 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 March 2019 amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 as regards fishing authorisations for Union fishing vessels in United Kingdom waters and fishing operations of United Kingdom fishing vessels in Union waters.

3 Sixty-fifth Report HC 301–lxiii (2017–19), chapter 3 (8 May 2019).

4 Article 63(1), UN Convention on the Law of the Seas and United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

5 Letter from Neil Parish MP to Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP, dated 19 June 2019.




Published: 9 July 2019