What can we expect from the end of year Fisheries Negotiations?


December is always a busy month for the fishing industry. Next week’s European Council talks in Brussels will bring an end to this year’s quota negotiations. Agreements with Norway and the Faro Islands have already shaped a number of the fishing opportunities for 2015,  bu there is still much to be resolved.

Discussions with the Norwegians concluded last week and saw good news for cod and haddock with catch limits raised by 5% and 6% respectively for next year.  For mackerel, a 15% reduction was agreed.

All of this is a pre-cursor to December’s ‘big’ Fisheries Council, when Europe’s Fisheries Ministers determine catches for the remaining waters. With arrangements for the North Sea and the mackerel stock already agreed, remaining discussions will focus on the waters to the west of Scotland. Last year, the total value of these fisheries was £75M.

Scientific advice is for cuts to saithe (15%), hake (4%) and prawns (7%). Better news for other key white fish stocks, however. West of Scotland haddock looks set to follow the deal hammered out at EU/Norway talks (a 6% rise), while monkfish (20%) and megrim (1%) also have bigger catch limits proposed.

There are a few further issues of real importance to Scotland that are worth keeping an eye on:

First up is the cod recovery plan – the health of the cod stocks in Scottish waters is certainly improving. The overall stock has been improving in recent years, yet an incremental decrease in effort (the number of days that a fisherman can spend at sea) is still in place. This was necessary when the cod stock was less healthy but it certainly created problems for the western fleet particularly since cod is part of the mixed, fishery any further reduction in the effort will have a knock on effect for the other white fish.

Also on the agenda will be discussions around fully documented fisheries (FDF); that is the extent to which all catches made at sea are recorded. Traditionally, Member States are given a particular quota for a stock in a given area, with assumptions made regarding discards. However, with the advent of the discard ban from 1st January 2015, this approach will nbe progressively phased out. Scottish fishermen have been happy for FDF trials to take place and are happy that they continue on in to the New Year. Other countries, however, are less content and feel that documenting their fisheries in full could have a negative impact on their own national quotas. There must be a level playing field. If Scotland’s fishermen are playing by the rules, then so should everyone else’s.

One further bone of contention will be the 4 degree line of flexibility. Relating to saithe and haddock stocks, the 4 degree line of longitude dissects Scotland’s north coast in two. On one side of the ‘divide’ are Western waters and on the other the North Sea. Needless to say, fish do not respect borders and shoals of both fish are found on either side. By allowing fishermen to catch a proportion of their Western catch in North Sea waters (and vice versa), the need for discarding (which is still permitted in the demersal stocks until 1st January 2016) is reduced. Maintaining flexibility for fishermen is important.

Let’s see what emerges from the talks.