Eighteenth Report of Session 2019–21 Contents

4Fishing Opportunities 20218

This EU document is politically important because:

  • it relates to the setting of fish quotas for the EU and the UK in the UK’s first year outside the Common Fisheries Policy; and
  • the future fisheries relationship between the UK and the EU — and thus the basis for agreeing quotas — is yet to be resolved.

Action

  • Write to the Minister as set out below.
  • Draw to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Overview

4.1Each 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 2021 TACs. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will be an important factor when the TACs come to be set for 2021.

4.2The Commission states that its approach to setting fishing opportunities for 2021 will be based on scientific catch advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), including where appropriate any ICES advice on the mixed fisheries approach. Fishing opportunities in the Baltic, North Sea, and Western Waters will be set in accordance with the relevant Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) for EU-only stocks. The main objective of the Commission’s proposals will be to maintain or reach fishing at maximum sustainable yield (FMSY) for MSY-assessed stocks.

4.3The Commission notes that the COVID-19 pandemic may affect the delivery of scientific advice and the continuity in submitting data compared to preceding years. The Commission aims to cover as many stocks as possible in its proposal, but it expects that stocks shared with Norway and the UK will be presented as ‘pro memoria’ until negotiations for them are concluded.

4.4Last year, says the Commission, the Council set 62 out of 78 TACs for 2020 in line with FMSY and concludes that, in 2020, more than 99% of landings by volume from the Baltic, the North Sea and the Atlantic managed exclusively by the EU will come from sustainably managed fisheries. As for the 11 shared stocks in the North-East Atlantic, which are managed with non-EU countries, the Commission confirms the positive overall trend observed in EU waters until 2014. After that, however, an increasing number of stocks have been exploited above FMSY. In the North-East Atlantic overall (EU-only and shared stocks), the Commission reports that the proportion of overexploited stocks has decreased from around 71% in 2003 to 38% in 2018.

4.5Beyond TAC-setting, the Commission reports that, in 2019, the Council adopted remedial measures under the EU’s Multi-Annual Plans to allow certain fish stocks to recover, such as Celtic Sea cod and whiting and eastern Baltic cod. Remedial measures were also agreed for North Sea cod, Skagerrak and Kattegat cod in the EU-Norway consultations.

4.6Concerning the implementation of the landing obligation, the Commission acknowledges that compliance in general appears to be low and reporting of discards has so far been insufficient. The Commission believes that, in 2019, the Member States’ regional groupings successfully addressed potential ‘choke’ situations,9 using solutions developed with the Commission and other stakeholders.

4.7In her Explanatory Memorandum, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Victoria Prentis MP) notes that this will be the first year that the UK will be negotiating as an independent coastal State outside the Common Fisheries Policy. The process of developing UK priorities for the annual negotiations for 2021 has just started, she says, and as part of that process the UK will examine carefully the Commission’s proposals when they are issued later this year.

4.8The Minister makes some initial observations on the Commission’s approach:

Our assessment

4.9We note that the Government is pleased with the Commission’s overall assessment of the state of stocks in the North-East Atlantic but does not comment on the reduced sustainability of those stocks shared with non-EU countries. As the UK will be negotiating as a non-EU country, we believe that the UK must be alive to these issues. We will seek the Government’s view on why this position has developed and what action the UK will take to manage that risk, particularly in the event that the UK and EU are unable to conclude a fisheries agreement.

4.10The Commission points to remedial measures undertaken both within the EU’s Multi-Annual Plans and through the EU-Norway consultations. Noting the Government’s view that it wishes to base its future fisheries relationship on the EU-Norway relationship, it would be helpful to understand the Government’s approach to the development of such remedial measures between the UK and EU. We would be particularly interested to know if any such measures should be ad hoc, or whether there would helpfully be a broader framework, similar to the Multi-Annual Plans already in place under the Common Fisheries Policy.

4.11Finally, the Government notes the pressure that COVID-19 has placed on the timing and nature of scientific advice and that there are consequently implications for the annual negotiations. We consider that the wider EU-UK negotiation is another source of pressure on those negotiations. Bearing in mind those pressures, it would be helpful to know the approximate timeframe to which the Government is working for coastal state negotiations and final agreement. This, in turn, should include a timetable for the development of the UK’s priorities which — according to the Minister — has just started.

Action

4.12We have written to the Government raising the issues identified above. Our letter has been copied to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Letter from the Chair to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Victoria Prentis MP), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have considered your Explanatory Memorandum on the above document.

We note that the Government is pleased with the Commission’s overall assessment of the state of stocks in the North-East Atlantic, but the Commission also mentions the reduced sustainability of those North-East Atlantic stocks shared with non-EU countries. Given that the UK will be negotiating as a non-EU country, could you tell us if you agree with the Commission’s assessment and, if so, why you believe that the state of those stocks has deteriorated? Finally, what action will the UK take to manage the risk, particularly in the event that the UK and EU are unable to conclude a fisheries agreement?

The Commission points to remedial measures undertaken both within the EU’s Multi-Annual Plans and through the EU-Norway consultations. Noting the Government’s view that it wishes to base its future fisheries relationship on the EU-Norway relationship, would the Government be supportive of similar remedial measures between the UK and EU? Should any such measures be developed in an ad hoc manner, or would the Government favour a broader framework, similar — although not identical — to the Multi-Annual Plans already in place under the Common Fisheries Policy?

Finally, the Government and Commission note the pressure that COVID-19 has placed on the timing and nature of scientific advice and that there are consequently implications for the annual negotiations. We consider that the wider EU-UK negotiation is another source of pressure on those negotiations. Bearing in mind those pressures, could you tell us the approximate timeframe to which the Government is working for coastal state negotiations and final agreement and the underlying assumptions? This should include a timetable for the development of the UK’s priorities, which you note is a process that has just begun.

We ask for a response by 12 August 2020.


8 Commission Communication — Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2021; 8871/20, COM(20) 248; Legal base: —; Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC number: 41347.

9 Whereby the lack of quota for an incidentally caught catch “chokes” the catching of target species.




Published: 29 July 2020