These EU documents are politically important because:
5.1As part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013, the EU agreed that all captured fish should be landed. This is the landing obligation, known as the “discard ban”. It was accompanied by provisions allowing for exemptions for a small “de minimis” volume of discards and for “highly survivable” species (those species with a high chance of surviving if returned to the sea after capture).
5.2Late last year, the Commission published new discard plans for demersal and pelagic fisheries in the North Sea 2021–23 (document (a)) and for certain fisheries in the Western Waters (document (b)). Notably, they fixed exemptions from the discard ban.
5.3While the two plans do not apply to UK waters, the EU and UK agreed in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to cooperate on the management of shared fish stocks, notably through a Specialised Committee on Fisheries.
5.4In her of 2 February 2021, replying to our of 20 January, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis MP) commented first on the discard exemptions. She noted that most of the exemptions in force in UK and EU waters are the same subject to several operability changes. The UK, for example, has removed a “high survivability” exemption for North Sea nephrops (scampi) due to a lack of supporting scientific data and replaced it with a new “de minimis” exemption for undersized North Sea nephrops caught by bottom trawls of mesh size 80–99mm. The EU has removed a “high survivability” exemption for plaice in North Western Waters, but the UK has retained it. There is one example of an identical change being made by the EU and UK, where both have amended the exemption for plaice in the North Sea so that it also covers mesh sizes of 100–119 mm.
5.5Turning to the Specialised Committee on Fisheries foreseen under the TCA, the Minister summarised its functions and composition as set out in the TCA but did not address our queries concerning:
i)her expectations in general terms for the work of the Specialised Committee on Fisheries, including its initial priorities;
ii)the process for setting the agenda of meetings of the Specialised Committee on Fisheries; and
iii)the expected composition of the UK’s delegation.
5.6Concerning parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the Specialised Committee on Fisheries, the Minister offered no information aside from reiterating the arrangements set out in the Rules of Procedure, annexed to the TCA, stating that meeting agendas for the Specialised Committees should be made public before meetings take place and that meeting minutes, once agreed by both parties, should be made public afterwards, subject to any confidentiality requirements.
5.7The Minister did not engage with our questions concerning the work, and scrutiny, of the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. While this is disappointing, the Minister’s approach no doubt reflects wider uncertainty about how these Committees will operate and when they will even begin to meet.
5.8We look forward in due course to monitoring the establishment of the Specialised Committee on Fisheries and observing the degree to which issues such as discard exemptions are discussed in that forum.
5.9We have no outstanding queries. We report the Minister’s reply to the House and draw it to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
81 (a) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) …/... of 21.8.2020 specifying details of implementation of the landing obligation for certain fisheries in the North Sea for the period 2021–2023, (b) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) …/... of 21.8.2020 specifying details of the implementation of the landing obligation for certain fisheries in Western Waters for the period 2021–2023; Council and Commission numbers: (a) , C(2020) 5640, (b) , C(2020) 5645; Legal base: (a) Regulation (EU) 2018/973, (b) Regulation (EU) 2019/472; Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC number: (a) 41518, (b) 41519.