A View from Brussels – Dr Ian Duncan MEP
EU negotiators will foregather this week in Copenhagen for the first round of the EU-Norway fish quota negotiations. For folks of a certain generation, mention of Copenhagen usually results in the warbling of a few lines of ‘Wonderful, Wonderful, Copenhagen!’ from the 1952 Danny Kaye biopic of Han Christian Anderson, Danish weaver of tales. For the younger generation, Copenhagen is the city of political intrigue or densely complicated murders; after fish and bacon, ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Killing’ are Denmark’s two greatest exports.
Perhaps Borgen and its complex plotting is a more fitting introduction to fisheries negotiations than the fairy tales of HC Anderson. The EU-Norway negotiations, usually in two rounds, establish the total catch allowances (TACs) for the shared fish stocks of the North Sea basin and they can be fiendishly complicated. Whilst everyone focuses upon the December fishing negotiations in Brussels, for most of the vital Scottish stocks - cod, haddock, whiting, coley, plaice, mackerel and herring - the deal is done by the end of Norway II. Once the the EU and Norway agree the allowable catch limits, national quotas are allocated by fixed formula - the magical ‘Relative Stability Key’. Each Scottish fisherman will know his exact quota down to the last fish almost before the last drop of Aquavit has been downed by the negotiators.
For Pelagic fishermen, the negotiations began last month with the ‘tripartite’ meeting between Norway, the Faroese and the EU. There negotiators agreed to hold catch reductions in mackerel to 15% in the face of (dubious) scientific advice which sought cuts of up to 30%. Also agreed at the meeting was a long-term management strategy for mackerel to support the stock and the fishermen who depend upon it.
Another negotiation likely to have passed you by, unless you are a dedicated follower of fish, took place two weeks ago in Reykjavik last week. Under discussion were the Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting fisheries. Although progress was made, no decision was reached and the December Council must now set temporary quotas, almost certainly at only 75% of the scientific advice. Not ideal by a long stretch.
So what can the fishermen in the North Sea expect from Norway I? If the scientific advice is followed, the outcome (whisper it quietly) could be pretty positive. Cod is back (something the fishermen have known for long time) with a 15% increase recommended. Haddock would increase by a third, herring by 16%, Plaice by 16% and Hake by 6%. Like the best fish suppers, these figures have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, it is a good sign, all the more so with the demersal discard ban pending.
So the question facing Scottish fishermen, as Hans Christian Anderson might have put it, will the ugly duckling blossom into a swan. We shall see.