NFFO: ‘December talks still crucial until Brexit’

Problems facing fishermen over bass, skates and rays and spurdogs were among a wide range of issues discussed last week as vital pre-December Council talks between the industry and government got underway, reports Tim Oliver.

The talking began when NFFO leaders met DEFRA and CEFAS representatives in London to look at Council priorities. This year’s December Council will be one of the last in which the UK will take part before Brexit, but until we leave the EU and CFP the annual Fisheries Council remains vitally important for the UK industry.

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas, who attended last week’s meeting, said the Council decisions ‘still have direct and significant consequences for our industry’. He said it is important that the UK remains ‘fully engaged’ until it leaves the EU and decisions on TACs and quotas are made elsewhere.

He pointed out that because of its geography and the sheer number of stocks within its waters, the UK has ‘always had to fight on a very broad front’ at the December Council, compared with other member states that have only a handful of priorities.

“The lesson has been learnt over the years that being well-prepared with evidence-based arguments is the way to achieve the best outcomes from the Council that decides TACs and ancillary measures for the following year,” he told Fishing News.

“We know that the Commission will make its proposals for next year’s catch limits on the basis of achieving MSY in a single year. But ministers, as de facto fisheries managers, also have a responsibility to balance mixed-fishery dimensions, discard reduction and socio-economic consequences, as well as the scientific advice.”

He said the general picture on NE Atlantic stocks for a number of years now has been one of steady progress towards achieving high yield fisheries, with low levels of fishing mortality and increasing biomasses.

“This year’s ICES science has again been broadly very positive, reflecting the scientific view that not only are we fishing sustainably but we are well on track to achieving high average long-term yields,” said Barrie Deas.

But within this broadly positive picture he said there were some ‘tricky issues’ to deal with, and they were the main focus of the meeting. These included (non-exhaustive):

Bass: how to shift from blunt measures that generate a discard problem where none previously existed, to a more intelligent long-term plan to rebuild the biomass, without crippling those dependent on bass for an important part of their livelihoods
Skates and rays: how to provide realistic fishing opportunities on those ray species that are abundant, while simultaneously providing adequate protection for those individual species that are struggling
Spurdog: how to permit sustainable levels of fishing while reducing the level of dead discards and continuing to rebuilding the stock
MSY: how to continue progress towards high yields, within the context of an arbitrary deadline (2020) and EU legal requirements that are based on political posturing rather than scientific literacy
Third countries: how to best handle the important annual fisheries agreement with Norway and other bilateral and multi-lateral fisheries agreements
Mixed fisheries: the NFFO and Cornish FPO have been working on an innovative approach to the problems facing Celtic Sea haddock
Quota uplifts: how to manage the quota uplifts associated with the implementation of the landings obligation – the issue of the quality of the discard estimates is the critical issue. (Separate meetings are being held on the other aspects of implementing the discard ban)
Devolution: how to best manage the tensions within the UK’s unique constitutional arrangements
Nephrops in the North Sea and Irish Sea: the best outcomes for these economically-vital fisheries
Pelagics: best outcomes for the pelagic fisheries, bearing in mind that the main decisions are taken through coastal states agreements
Long-term management plans
TAC issues: an assessment is currently underway in CEFAS, ICES and through a Commission research project looking at which stocks it makes sense to manage through TACs, and how to ensure that secondary species continue to be managed and fished sustainably.

“This meeting provided a snapshot of the ongoing work within the NFFO, DEFRA and CEFAS, all focused on those crucial decisions in December,” said Barrie Deas.

“Further meetings will be held with officials and ministers during the autumn, after the Commission’s proposals are published, and throughout the December Council itself.”

Read more from Fishing News here


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!