The View from Brussels


Just before the last Euro-election, opinion pollsters asked the British electorate a simple question: could you name one of your local MEPs?  Bearing in mind that each region has at least six, you would have thought the odds were not too bad.  The answer, only 1 in 10 were confident they could name one MEP or more. (The figure would have been much lower if Mr Farage had not been standing).

Opinions vary as to how much influence an MEP has upon your day to day affairs.  Unless you are a fishermen, and then you know.  Whilst quotas may remain the exclusive preserve of the Council of Ministers, everything else is co-decided with the Parliament. I was a negotiator on the discard ban landings obligation. I am currently negotiating on deep water fisheries. In the months ahead the North Sea management plan will land on my desk, closely followed by revision of technical measures.

It’s not all the glamour of sitting in anonymous rooms banging your head on the desk whilst colleagues, who’ve never been to the pier-head, debate what fishermen ‘really need’. Another aspect of the role is holding the European Commission to account. This week, I did just that when I wrote to Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella regarding the patently lopsided EU-Faroese bilateral fisheries agreement.

As many of you will know, last year, the EU and Faroe agreed that vessels from the Faroe Islands would be allowed to catch a proportion of their mackerel and blue whiting entitlement in EU waters. In return, EU vessels could catch a share of their quota in Faroese waters. Given that the mackerel caught in UK waters are of better quality than their Faroese  brethren - by the time the mackerel reach the northern waters after spawning, they are ‘knackered’, to use a technical term - the deal was always a bit fishy.  However, in a sustainable fishery with a booming market, few seemed to pay heed to the issue.

What a difference a year makes; with the Russian trade embargo still biting, devaluation of the Ukrainian hryvnia and a shrinking the Nigeria import market on the back of the becalmed oil price, the future for the pelagic sector looks far more challenging.

All the more reason to ensure that the fish brought to market are of the highest quality and command the highest price. The trouble is, just as Scottish fishermen warned, our pelagic sector is now competing against Faroese fishermen catching mackerel in our own waters. Seafish report that last year Faroese fishermen caught 93% of their mackerel and blue whiting quota in EU waters, whilst at the same time no EU vessels lifted any mackerel or blue whiting from Faroese waters. As Ian McFadden of the Scottish Pelagic Processors Association has said, ‘In essence we have turned the value of Faroese mackerel from bronze to gold.’

So, the question I posed to Commissioner Vella [albeit in slightly more diplomatic terms]: what the hell are you doing about it?  We must have an answer before the   8th December when the negotiations on the agreement begin.  I will press the Commissioner until I get a response.  So you may not know the name of your MEPs, but be assured that this MEP is fighting on your behalf.