CONSERVATIVE MEP FOR SCOTLAND

Deep Sea - Déjà vu All Over Again

Back in November I wrote an article on the seemingly never ending repetitious discussions around attempts to regulate deep sea fisheries. I titled the piece, ‘Groundhog Day,’ in honour of the movie in which Bill Murray re-lives the same day over and over and over again. Well, I have just dragged myself from the latest meeting of the European Parliament deep sea negotiators, and it's like déjà vu all over again.

10.03.2016.

Back in November I wrote an article on the seemingly never ending repetitious discussions around attempts to regulate deep sea fisheries. I titled the piece, ‘Groundhog Day,’ in honour of the movie in which Bill Murray re-lives the same day over and over and over again. Well, I have just dragged myself from the latest meeting of the European Parliament deep sea negotiators, and it's like déjà vu all over again.

The same issues were discussed once more, and the same positions proposed, despite the fact that since the last meeting, a power of work has been done to broker a deal. Spending the first 40 minutes discussing how we should discuss the issues was perhaps not the most productive use of the time of the MEPs present, but the French lead negotiator was not to be dissuaded from her approach. Think Groundhog Day in French, without subtitles.

Having lost patience with the French socialist lead negotiator some time ago I have spent the least few months meeting with each of the negotiators of the political groups in the European Parliament seeking compromise.

So where are we? Well setting aside the position of the French negotiator, it seems likely that the rest of us will strike agreement on a 800m depth ban limit on fishing. This might sound like the thin end of the scabbardfish, but when you see the original position of the Green Group (to which the SNP belong) and the Communists, you realise that 800m is not as bad as it sounds. 

We are also slowly approaching agreement on the issue of on board observers.  The Green Group want 100% observer coverage, the Socialists and EPP group favour 50% observer coverage on all vessels using bottom gear and 10% for all other vessels. My position is to secure a menu of options for determining what is happening on board, which will include observers but also CCTV (pioneered in Scotland in other fisheries) and other options. The last thing I want is a lack of qualified observers preventing boats from going to sea.

We are also coming close to a compromise on by-catch flexibility, with the likely position somewhere between 15% and 30%.  An agreed depth limit for Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems may also close at hand, with 400m the likely limit.

However the real impasse remains the scope of the regulation. The proposal on the table limits regulation to the EU zone alone, and ignores the international waters beyond (ICES sub-areas V, VI, VII and international waters of ICES division XIIb). The waters beyond are managed under by NEAFC, where the rules are less onerous. The key question is therefore, do the fish stocks straddle the boundary.  If they do, then Spanish fishermen, for it is they who are most affected, would inevitably fish where the regulation is lightest. Scottish fishermen don’t fish in the NEAFC area (with the exception of area to the west of Rockall Bank) begging the question, why should Scottish fishermen be bound by EU rules while the Spanish vessels slip gently over the border? I am not sure where the deal will end up. Needless to say the Spanish negotiator sees things quite differently from the rest of the room.

So what now? Well, to quote Churchill, this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning (maybe). If compromises can be found (and I am doing what I can to find them) then progress will be made. The next stage is another round of ‘technical’ discussions, which are not as much fun as they sound. Then it is on to the big meeting, the trialogue, when we parliamentary negotiators sit with representatives of the Council of Ministers and the Commission to really thrash out the deal. This show could run and run…