EU-Norway Fish Talks

Most of the key quotas of interest to Scotland are set in the bilateral negotiations between the EU and Norway. The 2016 talks are underway.


Each year, just before Christmas, politicians of all parties, and press the length and breadth of the land re-discover the fishing industry. The all night bun-fight in Brussels - also known as the European Fisheries Council - which sets the fish quotas for the year ahead is the subject of parliamentary debates and usually merits a couple of column inches in the broadsheets and some jokey headlines about fish suppers in the red tops. (I exempt the papers from the port towns, since they carry fish tales throughout the year). 

Great theatre of course, but the curious thing is, most of the key quotas of interest to Scotland were set the previous month in the bilateral negotiations between the EU and Norway. The 2016 talks are underway.

As the North Sea is shared by Norway and the EU, both parties must agree the catch limits. So for stocks such as cod, haddock, whiting, plaice, mackerel, herring and saithe, the deal will be done by the end of the second round of EU-Norway negotiations, this Friday. Once the total catch limits (Total Allowable Catches (TACs), in the jargon) are set, the national quotas for the EU states are allocated by a formula known as the Relative Stability Key.

Brexit is going to change all of that. In the future, since the northern North Sea is shared by the UK and Norway alone, there will be no role for the EU in the setting of the TACs. In the southern North Sea there will be, for the first time, a trilateral negotiation to determine the catch limits.

Further, since fisheries is devolved, once the brexit deal is done, Scotland’s role in fisheries negotiations will be considerably enhanced. Not just a seat at the negotiating table, but the top seat. After all, the waters of the north are Scottish waters. All negotiations involving Norway, or Iceland or the Faroes must necessarily be led by a Scottish minister. To the west, not only will Scotland have a greater say, but so will Northern Ireland.

So what can we expect to hear from the EU-Norway talks this year? Well, if scientific advice is followed (actually not a given) and the implications of the discard ban are taken into account, it should be a good deal for Scottish fishermen.

Scientists have finally conceded that the abundance of saithe which fishermen have been claiming is not just a fishwife’s tale; a quota increase of 94% is expected. Cod is recommended to increase by 17%, whiting by 29%, plaice by 10% and mackerel by 5%. Herring would see an 18% decrease. A question mark hangs over haddock as a result of a cock-up last year, when fishermen were erroneously given a higher quota. A cut of 46% is currently forecast.

You probably won’t see any of this in the papers and politicians won’t toss in their tuppence worth. Not until December that is, when all eyes will be on Brussels!