“Less than what we hoped but as much as was possible under the circumstances”

fishing-boat‘Challenging’ is how both Fergus Ewing, Fisheries Secretary in the Scottish Government and Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) have described the last negotiation on Fishing quotas  the UK Government participates in as a member of the EU.

Fergus Ewing said:

“I’m sure that many within our fishing industry will share my disappointment at some of the outcomes agreed, but recognise that the Scottish Government made the best of a bad situation, and is returning with something close to the best possible deal that could realistically be secured. We had always suspected that this would be a particularly difficult Council, and so it proved to be.

Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the SFF  said:

“The talks have been difficult, as they always are, with the additional element this year of politics related to Brexit.

“For the Scottish industry, the central issue has been the inclusion of measures to limit the risk of ‘chokes’ by swapping between member states.

“The Scottish delegation worked long and hard along with their UK colleagues to give the best chance of avoiding fleet shutdown during 2019.

“In the end, it is clear that our best interests can only be put first when we have left the CFP and are able to decide who catches what, where and when in UK waters.”

The much disliked Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is used to manage at a sustainable level fish stocks in the waters of EU countries.

This year’s agreement will see some increases and decreases in particular stocks and improved protection for the European eel . Full details here: Total allowable catch 2018

The European Commission propose what catches will be allowable and then this has to be agreed at Council level. The UK is the member state representing fisheries for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Neither the Scottish Government nor any other devolved administration negotiates – they can only make the case for their respective nations within the UK negotiation team.

The agreement covers all the fishing nations of the EU and separate agreements are made with countries outside the EU such as Norway and the Faroes so that fishing is carried out in a sustainable and responsible way.

“EU/ Norway Fishing Deal Unfair and Unacceptable to Scotland”

Choke Species

One of the main issues is with ‘choke’ species. This happens when a vessel’s catch includes a mixture of fish and might lead to the full quota of one species being caught in with all the other species.

“The issue of choke species in mixed fisheries, i.e. species with a low quota that can cause a vessel to stop fishing even if it still has quota for other species, was addressed through enhanced inter-area and inter-species flexibility. Moreover a new quota exchange mechanism was created for member states without a quota for by-catches in five fisheries: cod in the Celtic sea and west of Scotland, whiting in the Irish sea and west of Scotland, and plaice in the south-western part of area 7.” European Council

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is shared between each EU member. There is a different % permitted for each stock but countries can exchange quotas with other EU members. The quotas are based on scientific evidence.

The CFP has been going through a process of reform. Readers might recall the dreadful images of unwanted fish being dumped at sea. That is to end from 1st January 2019.

Karmenu Vella of Malta is the  European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

He said:

“We have agreed on fishing opportunities for European fishermen worth more than 5 billion euros, and benefitting more than 50 000 fishermen. The catches agreed today will continue to make the European fishing industry highly profitable also in 2019.

“We were able to agree on increased quotas compared to last year, fully in line with scientific advice, on a number of very important stocks, such as northern hake, northern haddock, horse mackerel, seabass and some stocks of Norway lobster.

“Out of the 57 stocks managed by the EU only, for which MSY [maximum sustainable yield] advice was available, we have set limits at sustainable levels for 50 stocks. Most importantly, if we look at the expected landings next year, we can say that almost 99% of landings in the Baltic, North Sea and the Atlantic, managed exclusively by the EU, will be fished at sustainable levels.”

The UK Government has stated that the fisheries agreement supports the whole of the UK’s fishing industry and the long-term health of fish stocks.

map of international boundaries

Map of international boundaries by Andmoreagain0815

Fishing is not a major industry for the UK as a whole although it is crucial for the traditional coastal communities of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and it is a key industry for Scotland.

George Eustice, Fisheries Minister in the UK Government said:

“These negotiations were the culmination of months of government-led work with the Devolved Administrations, industry and environmental NGOs, to secure the best possible deal for the whole of the UK fishing industry.

“We entered into discussions knowing that a good deal needed to carefully balance progress towards sustainability targets, while ensuring that we listen to the scientific evidence on the health of fish stocks and safeguard a profitable future for our hard-working fleet.

“We welcome quota increases for important species like megrim and hake, and progress towards achieving sustainable fisheries – in what was a particularly challenging year of negotiations for all Member States.”

When the UK leaves the EU on the 29th of March 2019 it is likely that there will be a transition arrangement. The UK will remain part of the CFP for perhaps 2 Years. The UK has also issued advice if there is a no deal scenario.

How to Prepare if the UK Leaves the EU with No Deal: Fishing

Whatever happens annual negotiations on fish quota and access to UK waters will not be a simple process. It will involve negotiations with the EU and non- EU member states. It will also have to abide by scientific advice and be under the regulations of UNCLOS- the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas.

The Scottish Parliament sought to protect its powers over the management of fisheries in Scotland but this was challenged by the UK Government in the Supreme Court. The judgment stated that although at the time of the overwhelming passing of the Bill in the Scottish Parliament that it was in its rights to protect powers it already had – including those over fishing – changes made by the unelected House of Lords to the European Withdrawal Bill meant that in actuality the Scottish Parliament cannot protect the powers it has. This means that the powers over fishing which Scotland currently has will transfer to the UK Government when Brexit takes place.

Mike Park, Chief Executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association said of the latest round of negotiations over fisheries conducted by the UK Government that the result was:

“less than what we hoped but as much as was possible under the circumstances”. 

A comment which sums up the uncertain future ahead of Scotland’s fishing industry.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame





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