The EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting of December 2012 took place in Brussels on 18-19 December 2012.
The Council discussed and reached agreement on fishing opportunities for 2013 for the main commercial fish stocks of the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Black Sea.
Over two days and nights of negotiations, the Council reached a compromise on several important points.
Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said: “The Commission proposal was more ambitious but I think the outcome is satisfactory. It is a great achievement that we have better scientific advice for fish stocks. We moved from last year’s situation, where we had 61% data poor stocks, to 15 % this year. It’s a great change. An agreement was achieved to reach sustainable exploitation levels (Maximum Sustainable Yield, MSY) by 2015 for the great majority of the stocks on which we have scientific advice.
“Only for 4 stocks Maximum Sustainable Yield will be reached by 2017: this is to avoid discards. This is a good message for our fishermen and for our citizens. We can have healthy stocks, more jobs and more income for our coastal communities. It is not a dream. It can be done. If we have the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in place next year, this will improve the decision making process and the progress made in the European Parliament this week gives us good hope.”
O’Neill Delivers 6% Increase in Prawn Quota.
NI Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has hailed the 6% increase to the prawn catch limit as a great result for the local fishing fleet.
Speaking after the annual Brussels Fisheries Council in the early hours of Thursday morning, Minister O’Neill said: “We achieved our main negotiating objectives in the tough negotiations that took place over two days. The first breakthrough came on Tuesday when Ministers agreed to a Regulation to amend the Cod recovery plan. These amendments ensured that the Council were able to stop automatic cuts to the number of days the fleet can fish and instead maintained ‘days at sea’ at the same level as last year.
“My top priority for these talks was getting a good deal on the catch limit for Nephrops (prawns). Despite improvements in the scientific advice since last year which showed a greater abundance of prawns in Area 7 the Commission had initially proposed a 12% cut. I and my counterpart from the south of Ireland, Simon Coveney TD pressed the Commission for an increase. Our arguments were rational and firmly grounded on scientific evidence. As is the nature of these negotiations the Commission made several small concessions but we held fast and the final agreement was for a 6% increase.”
The local industry takes around 6000t of Nephrops from the northern part of the Irish Sea annually worth around £15m. The science demonstrates that this stock is stable and is being fished sustainably. The Minister added: “The 6% increase in the allowable catch adds some £900,000 to the sector which is already worth £15m and means a sustainable supply to our local fish processing businesses which have sales in excess of £70m and employ over 550 workers.
“The condition of other fish stocks in the Irish Sea is not so good and this was reflected in the catch limits set. Haddock fell by 62 tonnes, Cod by 95 tonnes, Whiting by 5 tonnes and Plaice remained unchanged. Although disappointing, these species are mainly caught as a by-catch of the Nephrops fishery on which 95% of our fleet depend.
“Yet again this has been a long and difficult negotiation, it is an unsatisfactory process but I’m more than satisfied with the outcome this year,” added Minister O’Neill.
Mixed Feelings on Summit Decision – Dick James, NIFPO.
Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation (NIFPO) Chief Executive Dick James has welcomed the increase in the prawn qiota for local fishermen bringing the potential landing up to 600 tonnes. But he added: “I am disappointed at the position with the cod quota and the discussions over the Cod Recovery Plan. We can only land 45 tonnes for the whole fleet. We thought that after discussions on Tuesday that there would be a relaxation of the previous cuts we have seen year on year but we once again ended up with a 25% cut.
“In the summer this year we provided objective research to the Fisheries Commission on cod stock based on studies by three trawlers with independent observers in the Irish Sea, yet the Commission did not head this data when making its decision. There is a total lack of adequate scientific data on cod and the Commission simply just keeps cutting the cod quota each year.
“We found that there are more cod in the Irish Sea now and that the stocks are in fact ageing to the 6-8 year bracket, instead of the young 3-year old stock they maintain that exists. I am disappointed that the Minister did not come out strongly on this outcome from Brussels.
“Also, we have seen the hake quota stay the same, but there were once again smaller cuts in the quotas for haddock (5%), whiting (6%) and monkfish (5%). Again these cuts are not based on proper scientific findings and this is greatly affecting the wellbeing of the fishing industry.
“There has been a 53% cut in sole which is a huge blow to the local fishing industry. Not sole too will have to be dumped when the quota is reached.”
“The herring quota had been agreed early on in the year and there was no change there.”
Ritchie Gives Cautious Welcome to Fisheries Decisions.
South Down Margaret Ritchie has given a cautious welcome to some of the decisions that have emerged following the annual Fisheries Council negotiations in Brussels.
Ms Ritchie, who sits on a Westminster Fisheries Committee, said: “The most encouraging outcome is the freeze on any effort cut. I know for many in the fishing industry this was an absolute priority and any significant cut here could have cast a doubt on the viability of many businesses.
“I would also welcome the rollover on the prawn quota where there was an actual increase in the TAC limit and the rollover on haddock, which saw a 5% cut rather than the proposed 25% cut, will come as a relief to many. These decisions will provide a degree of support to many fishermen in my own constituency and across the North who have faced a very difficult economic climate over the past decade as a result of previous decisions taken in Brussels.
“However the decision to introuduce a 25% cut to the Irish Sea cod quota casts a large shadow over the more positive announcements. EU officials needs to re-engage with the scientific evidence that suggests cod stocks are much higher than stated in official estimates. It is only by doing so that they can provide the robust data necessary to create a sustainable future for cod fishing.
“Beyond these negotiations it is critical that the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy avoids the problems that have plagued the industry for the last ten years. Foremost here will be the introduction of meaningful regionalisation that extends the remit of the Regional Advisory Councils. This is the only way to introduce the flexibility that is needed given the distinct variability in local conditions and circumstance. It would also give the local industry much more faith in the system and greater access to the decision making bodies.
“While officials in Brussels seem to be slowly waking up to mistakes of the past we need a new fisheries regime that is responsive to local fishermen and provides a sustainable future for the industry and the marine environment.”
Hazzard Welcomes Fisheries’ Decision on Prawns
South Down MLA Chris Hazzard said he was delighted that Minister Michelle O’Neill has successfully negotiated a 6% increase in the local prawn quota.
Mr Hazzard said: “With 95 per cent of our fleet in the north fishing for prawns and the previous threat of a proposed cut by the EU Commission of 12 % in our prawn quota, the successful negotiation of a 6% increase is a welcome boost for our local fishing industry.
“This represents an increase of £900,000 to value of the prawn catch, which in itself is worth £15 million to our local fishing industry. This will help sustain the 550 jobs in our local processing sector
“The Minister was also successful in achieving an effort freeze in relation to the flawed Cod Recovery Plan which will protect the amount of days at sea that our fishermen can fish.
“In all, this has been an excellent result for local fishermen and I would like to congratulate the Minister and her team for delivering such an outcome from the week-long negotiations,” added Mr Hazzard.